Introducing Mission Vision, a monthly newsletter providing an in-depth look at how students and their families experience Sycamore Valley Academy. This publication highlights the organization's mission statement and looks at how the mission is put into practice at SVA. 
The mission of Sycamore Valley Academy is to provide a rich, meaningful education in a nurturing environment, where students are continually challenged and their natural curiosity, creativity, and talents can thrive. Sycamore Valley Academy is a collaborative community of educators and families working together to help our students grow into virtuous, courageous, and intelligent citizens, equipped with a love of learning and a love of life, and eager to contribute to a better world.
Each month, Mission Vision examines one phrase of the Sycamore Valley Academy mission statement. This first volume begins at the beginning: meaningful education. 
"The educative process is a continuous process of growth, having at its aim at every stage an added capacity for growth." -John Dewey
Founded on the principles of constructivism and progressive education, Sycamore Valley Academy operates under the belief that a meaningful education is an education which maximizes the capacity for more learning and inspires a love of learning for a lifetime. Capacity for learning is developed through cultivation of habits of mind. Through inquiry and discovery, love of learning is nurtured as students are taught to delve deeper into every topic for an increase in understanding and development of self-confidence. This article will discuss how SVA students are taught higher level thinking skills, what this type of instruction looks like in the classroom, and what the expected outcome will be for students. 
How does one teach the capacity to learn and the love of learning?

At Sycamore Valley Academy, habits of the mind are valued and emphasized as Habits of a Scholar. Each Habit is a quality which allows for life-long learning. Emphasizing critical thinking, imagination, and grit; these scholarly Habits shape how students learn. Each month of the academic year different Habits are emphasized and students are honored for their growth and development of these Habits. 

Students at SVA grow confident in their scholarly abilities as they embark on deep inquiry into complex topics, finding meaning and understanding through the use of Dr. Sandra Kaplan's Icons of Depth and Complexity. These Icons are thinking prompts which guide students to go beyond the surface and seek greater understanding, to dig deeper before moving forward, for a richer more meaningful education. Used across all grade levels and subjects, the Icons activate higher levels of thinking and allow students to understand a topic of study in a much deeper and more complex way.

SVA scholars begin from a concrete starting point of what they see and know, then they journey into the abstract through the use of depth Icons: language of the discipline, details, patterns, trends, unanswered questions, rules, ethics, big ideas, impact, process, motive and proof.

Students learn to connect concepts by examining relationships between and among ideas through the use of complexity Icons: change over time, multiple perspectives, looking across disciplines, context, translation, original ideas, and judgement.
What does all of this look like in the classroom?

Step into a classroom at SVA and the first thing you will note is a high level of student engagement. Teachers guide student exploration and discovery of knowledge, rather than simply dispensing information. The learning at SVA is hand-on, active learning. Students cannot help but be engaged in their learning as they lead their own inquiry into relevant, interesting and challenging projects in collaborative groups.

The instruction occurring in SVA classrooms is authentic, based on real-world tasks, allowing students to immediately see how the curriculum relates to life both inside and outside of the classroom. The instruction is also collaborative, teaching students to listen to each other and share information. Learning is a social experience and working in collaborative groups is not only fun, it also increases individual achievement.

Flexibility is essential to the educative process at SVA. Teachers are guides in democratic classrooms where student interest, readiness and learning profiles shape instruction. Teachers understand, appreciate, and build upon students' differences; and instruction is differentiated to best serve the needs of each learner.

To all of this instructional technique is added a healthy heap of emotional support and guidance. SVA supports the belief that the best learning occurs in the context of supportive relationships. With an eye on developing competent, confident, and empowered individuals who are also empathetic and responsible, social-emotional learning (SEL) is emphasized. 
What is the outcome of all of this intentional instruction?

The instruction at SVA is intentional, designed with a clear purpose in mind: to maximize growth and individual success and to nurture a love of learning. Through intentional instruction, students learn to value the learning process as well as the product. Developing confidence and competence, empathy and responsibility, students become empowered by their education.
Through cultivating the Habits of a Scholar and teaching sophisticated thinking through the Icons of Depth and Complexity in a safe and supportive social-emotional learning environment, Sycamore Valley Academy models transformative change in education.