The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Adele Bates

Checking in, self-direction and learning cycles: an alternative to school?

If you could design your dream school, what would it look like? Adele Bates finds out how Kate McAllister is making her dream a reality at The Hive School. 

When Optimus’ Liz suggested that I interview someone for the blog, I knew who my first choice was: Kate McAllister (@Rethinking_Kate) and her team over at The Hive Worldschool in Dominican Republic. I interviewed Kate last year for my upcoming book, in which she shared with me her expertise on regulation for pupils and self-regulation for staff. Her wisdom was already exciting (and common sense!) when put in a preventative behaviour context, so to then know that she has been growing a school based on these principles meant I wanted to know more.

The interview took place online (a quick trip to the Caribbean wasn’t on the cards for me just yet unfortunately). In Kate’s backdrop I saw young people gently bustling around a communal kitchen and bananas hanging from the ceiling. Kate herself, as head of the school, was relaxed, smiling and full of time for me – a world away from the headteachers I am supporting in the UK education system at the moment!

The Hive’s mission statement is 'Education for a wholehearted, purposeful life'. With that in mind, I began…

AB: In three words, can you tell us what The Hive is?

KM: Alternative to school.

It is my answer to the question: ‘What if you could design your dream school? What if we could do things differently?’

AB: Wow, what does that look like in reality? Can you take us through a day in the life at The Hive?

KM: A day in the life follows the self-regulation cycle of a human being, so we begin our day where checking in to where we at:

  • energetically, physically, mentally, emotionally
  • what is in our environment, whether that’s our physical environment or our mental environment, that’s impacting on how we feel?

Once we’ve checked in, recognised it and named it, we make a decision as to whether that energy is something we want to channel positively and put to good use, whether we want to park it for later, or whether it’s something we want to try and move past. We do that in a range of ways.

We’ve been introducing a lot of regulation techniques to the children, so they now know if they want to go and do some yoga, whether they want to sit and read a book quietly, whether they need to sit and breathe, whether they want to run up a hill, whether they want to take the dog for a walk, whether they want to feed the chickens or sit under the meditation tree.

Our role as the practitioners is to support the young people to become more self-directed

Everyone has options to regulate themselves for half an hour in the morning – and the kids who don’t need to regulate can crack on with what they need to do. It’s not enforced, it’s an option.

Then we come together, to check in academically, considering our goals and targets.

  • Now we’re in the zone, what do we want to achieve today? What’s on our list of individual goals for today? How is that taking us towards our bigger goal?
  • Do we have what we need to get on with it now, or do we need more input and where are we going to get that input from? Are we going to get it from someone next to us? Do we need an adult to help us?
  • How can we ensure we are going to be successful?

We then have snacks all together, and there’s a chance to chat in general, then they’re self-directed – they’ve got their list of tasks, they know what they need to make it happen and they’re on their own. We (the adults) are there to guide them and help facilitate them for what they need.

We all have lunch together. The big ones help the little ones, and we have family style lunch. They all help each other serve, clear the tables and wash up, dry up and put everything away.

Inside our day we have a series of little learning cycles that open, go round and close; that’s fascinating here – noticing the children who want to close cycles and the ones who want to spin – and teaching them how to close down before they move onto something new.

After lunch we reflect: did we do what we wanted to do today? What are we going to do with our last hour? We check back in with where we were this morning and the journey we took today and think about whether we hit the target or missed it by a country mile. Then what do we want to take forward to tomorrow, what do we want to try not to do tomorrow and what are we going to integrate? What did we learn about ourselves, other people and the wider world?

In the wider world question, goes the knowledge: what did we learn about the topic that we’re studying? What did we learn about people in general?

There’s always those three layers that we are explicitly learning about every day:

  • ourselves
  • other people – could be the group you’re working with, your family – the people close to you.
  • the world.

AB: You’re using the sustainable development goals as your curriculum, aren’t you? Which topic are you on?

KM: We’re on goal number 3: good health and wellbeing for everyone. I chose it for the end of the year because I thought everyone (including me!) would need it!

AB: Can you describe the role of the adults at The Hive?

KM: Our role as the practitioners is to support the young people to become more self-directed. It depends where they are on their journey with self-direction as to what support they need. Our job is to notice who they are and where they are on their journey. Our job is to respond to what they need in the moment, and our job is to share ideas with them, to open up their horizons.

We need people who want to invite children to look at the world gleefully and joyfully

I think that one of the most justifiable criticisms of self-directed learning is that you’re just throwing children into the deep end, and they don’t know what they don’t know, and how are they supposed to find their way out of somewhere where they don’t even know where they are?!

So, our job is to bring to their attention things that they may not have necessarily considered, but not to force them to take those things on board. Our job is to invite opportunities for learning, to invite new people into the mix and invite children to look out of the window and ask: have you thought about looking over here? – to stimulate that curiosity.

AB: A final question: what does The Hive need right now?

KM: Practitioners – we’re looking for staff.

We’re growing more quickly than I expected us to, and what I have learned is that we need people who want to invite children to look at the world gleefully and joyfully. Want to join our team?!


As I sit looking out over an ever-stretched education system in Britain, where time is being devoted to discussions about mobile phones in school, rather than dealing with post-pandemic anxiety, behaviour and overwhelm issues, The Hive School could feel like a faraway fantasy.

Instead, I take it as a reminder that alternatives are possible – an addition to the list of the many educators I know who create brilliant learning environments here in the UK, despite many challenges. And it galvanises me to continue banging my drum for putting pupil and staff wellbeing first in our desire for learning and academic progress.

A distressed and unhappy pupil (or member of staff) has little capacity for learning. A regulated, calm pupil gets curious, has time to wonder, to think, and to want to know more about the world they live in.

If this interview has peaked your interest, check out The Hive’s website or contact Kate.

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