Laura Sandefer

The romance of starting a new school year is fizzling.

We’ve been here before. Reality is settling in and we’re remembering how rugged the road ahead is for heroes on a learning journey. It’s already making us a little tired and we’ve started dreading the days when all we can muster is: “How was your day?” and “Did you learn anything new?”

How can we do this better? How can we keep that spark of excitement about learning alive when life gets hard? Is there a way to connect more deeply with our children that supports them on their journeys? A way that brings us joy, too?

It’s taken me a long time, but I have finally, finally, learned that asking questions is far more powerful than delivering answers – not just in our learning studios at Acton Academy, but in my life at home.

But it’s tough to come up with good questions when you’re under the stress of all that comes with children and “school.” So here’s a cheat sheet for those days. I hope you feel the sparks of curiosity getting stoked each time you have the opportunity to ask:

When did you feel most challenged today?
Do you want me to just listen, to give advice or to help?
What is one step you could take toward your goal?
What strategies could you use to move forward?
What story are you telling yourself about this situation?
Has something like this ever happened to you before? If so, how did you handle it?
What can you learn from this?
How did you participate in this?
What might be the other side of the story?
What part of the
Hero’s Journey is this?
What tools or resources do you have to deal with this?
What are the consequences of your actions?
Can you see an opportunity in this crisis?
Can you give me an example?
What would you advise someone in your situation?

I thank Shannon Falkenstein, my friend and founder of Acton Academy El Salvador, for sharing this list and reminding me to trust the Socratic process.

Co-founder and Chief Encourager for Acton Academy


Laura Sandefer is an author and the co-founder of Acton Academy, a school whose learner-driven model is spreading across the globe with over 130 locations in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Guatemala, Canada, Malaysia and more, and in 2019 is celebrating 10 years of letting children take learning into their owns hands.

Acton Academy bases their model of learning on the Hero’s Journey: a story pattern common in ancient myths and modern day adventures in which a hero goes on an adventure, wins a victory and comes home transformed. Children at Acton Academy know why they are being challenged to learn — they are on their own Hero’s Journey to find their passion in life.

Acton Academy and Sandefer have been featured in the Austin American Statesman, Inc., Forbes, National Review, Huffington Post and more. Sandefer has a bachelor of arts and masters of education degrees from Vanderbilt University. She currently lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, children and three dogs.