Real Boys, R.E.A.L. (Relational, Experiential, Active & Lifelong) Learning

Stories, know-how, and guidance from the experts in educating boys.

Real Boys, R.E.A.L. (Relational, Experiential, Active & Lifelong) Learning
Trevor Stern

Real Boys, R.E.A.L. (Relational, Experiential, Active & Lifelong) Learning

At Avon Old Farms, we are passionate about educating boys. Boys learn differently; this is reflected in the way in which we educate our students, shape our curriculum, our residential program, and our philosophy as an institution. The core of our efforts in working with the young leaders of our future is centered around educating the whole boy; this is a lofty goal, yet in our pursuit to be the best all-boys preparatory school in nation, we are continually examining the changing landscape of education to determine what works best for our boys and the ethos of Avon Old Farms.

R.E.A.L. Learning is a systematic methodology that Avon Old Farms has established to guide and support our mission of educating our students – our boys. The tenants of R.E.A.L. Learning—Relational, Experiential, Active, and Lifelong—establish a foundation that wholly aid not only in how we educate boys, but also why we educate boys. How we educate is important, but why we educate boys is paramount.


Boys are relational learners. At Avon Old Farms, our students establish lasting and meaningful relationships with teachers. With an opportunity to interact with faculty members in the classroom, extracurricular activities, and residential programs, our students become enmeshed in a supportive environment. Success in my English class is directly correlated to the relationships that are forged between my students and me. Pondering the morality embedded in Shelley’s Frankenstein is no easy task, yet there is a shared learning in the classroom where my students feel comfortable to take risks and find support when it is needed.


Boys learn best through experience. Traditional methods of teaching hold value; however, boys find enormous meaning and lasting knowledge through applicable experience. Whether students are in the Oak Grove learning by a fire with our legendary teacher and Civil War reenactor Art Custer, or they are throwing harpoons at the Mystic Seaport after reading Moby Dick in my Literature of the Sea course, it becomes apparent how momentous and important these experiences are to learning. A teacher only needs to look at the concentration and luminosity of a boy in this moment to know that there will be a lasting impression. Memory is strongly connected with narrative, and at Avon Old Farms, we work hard to have our boys learn through experience in order to create their own story and relationship with learning.


Boys need to be active in class. I’m certain that no student enjoys sitting at his desk for an extended period of time. Naturally, when the body is stagnant, focus can fade. So, it’s incredibly important for our students to be moving around during class when it is appropriate. While reading Shakespeare causes many boys to shutter, some of my best classes have been when students are having fun acting scenes or soliloquies; it can also become somewhat competitive, too. Who really acted like the most evil Iago from Othello? Also, learning must have an active approach, meaning that we try to encourage our students to take ownership over their studies. Ultimately, this ownership is truly essential when transitioning to college and beyond. 

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Boys need to continue to evolve. I’m a firm believer that true knowledge encompasses the understanding that there is always something to learn. Intellect becomes incredibly valuable when it is fueled by curiosity. We want our boys to be curious not only on campus, but also in life. At Avon Old Farms, we strive to have our learning go well beyond the walls of the classroom. Lessons learned from Othello do not simply apply to analyze literature; the true aim is for my students to understand and feel the merits and pitfalls of leadership, loyalty, love, and life. These lessons apply to a life well lived….. being a good son, brother, or friend. If we do our job well, students will become lifelong learners – driven by curiosity and finding ways to grow.

About the Author


Academic Dean, English Teacher