Tone Setting Camping Trip Vignettes

As we drove up highway 85 towards Hanging Rock State Park, I racked my brain for items I may have forgotten to pack. Sunscreen, check. Bathing suit, check. Hiking boots, check. Coffee…uh oh. No check. Hmmmm…oh well. Tomis roasts coffee at home and we have become quite the coffee snobs lately. We wanted to bring our own special coffee with us to enjoy during this trip. I was surprised at how this realization didn’t bother me at all. The thought of being in the woods for the next three nights was exciting and only brought the feeling the joy, not having coffee wouldn’t ruin the experience. Either I’ll go without or another one of the adults would have some to share, I thought. Hoping Tomis would feel the same way, I picked up my phone to let him know.

“Hey babe, I’ve got some bad news.” I said.

“Um, okay, what’s that?” he replied through the hazy sounds of the bluetooth car connection.

“I forgot to pack the coffee beans. I packed the filters, pour-over mug, and the grinder, but I forgot to put in the jar of beans.”

“Oh, I did that this morning,” he tells me.

And so it was, we had coffee for the trip! After I hung up the phone, I reflected happily on the fact that during the few minutes I thought we wouldn’t have coffee, I didn’t waste any energy being mad at myself for forgetting to pack it. I decided to keep that mentality going for the rest of the trip. There are many things in life that just aren’t worth the time being upset over!

On our second night, a child lost their toothbrush.

“Alright, well I know we’ll find it somewhere. I’m happy to help you look! Let’s imagine what it’ll feel like when we find it,” I said.

“Oh, I’m not worried at all. I know I’ll find it. If I have to go a night without it, it really isn’t the end of the world,” he replied.

We looked a little, didn’t find it, and released finding it for the night. Neither of us was upset. About 30-45 minutes later, before going to tent for the night, there it was in plain sight on tree stump nearby. Off the child went to joyfully brush their teeth!

 


 

On the second morning at camp, I woke up in the morning to the sound of quiet clapping.

“Ayan.” Clap. “Ayan.” Clap. “Are you awake, Ayan?” Clap. In my head I’m laughing hysterically. Tomis looks over at me with a huge smile on his face, also holding back gales of laughter.

“Well, he’s certainly going to be awake after that,” I whisper, trying to keep quiet so we could listen to what would happen next.

The conversation of the boys tenting right next to us kept us going to bed and waking up with huge smiles on our faces.

Me, in front of our tents. Ours is the little orange one, the boys shared the bigger green tent. We were VERY close to them, as you can see, and could hear every rustle and whisper from their tent!
Me, in front of our tents. Ours is the little orange one, the boys shared the bigger green tent. We were VERY close to them, as you can see, and could hear every rustle and whisper from their tent!

“What are your top five favorite animals? Do you know all their top speeds?”

“What do you mean you don’t know how fast a peregrine falcon can go? This is your favorite animal, you need to know this!”

“My dad’s a graphic designer and a broker, do you know what that means?”

“Um, well a graphic designer is different than a designer right?”

“Yeah, and it means he gets samples. Do you know what a sample is?”

“Yeah I do, samples are like a smaller thing of a bigger thing. Like a little model of what the bigger thing is that you want to make.”

“No! It’s like if my dad designs 6 shirts, he’ll get one shirt before those 6 shirts are made. Like it’s another whole shirt outside of those 6 shirts. It’s the same size as the actual shirts. He gets one so he can see what it looks like first. We get hats too.”

“Oh! Okay. What’s a broker?”

“Oh well, he’s a graphic designer. So he can design things and not leave the house. He’s also a broker so people send him things and he sends them to other people, and he gets more money that way.”

Tomis and I look at each other. During this trip I tell him, “I now know that if we have a baby, I will be totally happy if it’s a boy or a girl. The boys are so fun to be around!” Previously, I thought I would only want a little girl. This is no longer the case for me! (By the way, Tomis is my husband).

 


 

Huffing and puffing I climb the stairs up to Balanced Rock and Moore’s Knob, the highest peak of Hanging Rock State Park. It’s straight up. The map said this hike would be strenuous, and it certainly was! As I approached each curve, I thought, Please let this be the last set of stairs. For many of those bends it wasn’t. Behind me, I could hear Caleb and Tomis talking, Tomis patiently supporting Caleb up the many stairs. Caleb was already down one water bottle in the first 30 minutes of the trip and, having not had much breakfast, asking to turn back.

I look back at Alona, whose face was as red as mine, and smiled. She smiled back and said, “I don’t know if I would’ve signed up for this hike if I knew this is how it started!”

“Well, if there is one thing I know about mountains, it’s that if you get to the highest peak, the only way off is to go down. So after we get to the top, it’s got to get easier!” We laugh at my response.

“That’s totally true,” she responds, still determined to go up.

I glance up at the backs of Andrew, Gabe & Tessa. “How do they do that?” I ask aloud. The boys are far ahead, talking to each other as they quickly and efficiently climb the stairs. Tessa is right behind them, determined to catch up. I think to myself, she’s so low to the ground at her height, that’s how she’s making it look so easy.

“I don’t know!” Alona exclaims, “It’s like they are robots!”

I slow down to chat with Tomis. “Hey babe, I think we should give the boys a map and tell us to meet us at the tower. Let’s let them go. I think they can do it. As long as they stay on the trail with the red circles, they can’t get lost. I can show them where everything is on the map. How does that feel to you?”

“I have no issue with that. Is that what you really want to do?”

“Yeah. I mean, people let their kids loose in New York City with a subway map. This is way easier than that. The worse case scenario is that they get hurt and sit for a bit while we catch up. But obviously, I would only have them do this if they actually feel comfortable going up ahead.”

“Sounds good to me,” he responds.

I catch up to the boys. “Hey, do you want a map? You can just go up ahead and meet us at the tower.”

Andrew quizzically looks at me. “Like just go ahead and meet you there?”

“Yeah, if you want to. Here, look at the map.” I show him the trail, and remind him that the Moores Knob Loop is marked by red circles. I point out Balanced Rock and the Fire Tower that are coming up ahead. “This is where we are going. There will be signs, so stop at one of these and we’ll find you for lunch. We’ve got to be halfway there already.”

“Awesome! C’mon Gabe, let’s go!” They take off up the mountain, as the rest of us prepare for a water and snack break.

“Can I go to?” Tessa asks, already climbing up after them.

“Well, I’d love to have you stay with us, but I’m totally cool with you deciding what you prefer,” I respond.

“I’m going!” she yells down to me, her back already a flash of red, disappearing up the mountain.

I look at Alona and shrug. “Well, let’s see how this goes!” I think she’s a little shocked that I let them go up alone. I was confident the signage was clear, and knew that with the freedom, they would be even more careful than if they were with us. I know these kids. If they felt unsafe, they would turn around and come back or stop and wait. I had not one shred of fear about them getting lost. Okay, well maybe one shred, but I knew that was my “panic-how-I-was-raised” mind, not my grounded, centered mind.

We keep climbing, and about 15 minutes later (it really wasn’t that far off that I let them go ahead), we reach the signs for the fire tower and balanced rock. “Andrew? Gabe? Tessa?” I call out. No signs of life. “Hmmmm….” I wonder aloud. I had run up a little ahead of Tomis, Caleb and Alona, wanting to find the other kids. There were no kids here.

Well, I think to myself, somehow they have missed all these signs and walked past it. Knowing that we actually weren’t that far behind them, I guess that if I yelled pretty loud, they’d hear me.

“ANDREW!” Why I chose his name to yell, I don’t know. It just came out that way.

Faintly I hear, “Yeah.” Sighing, I melt into relaxation. It felt good to hear his voice, confirmation that everything I was sensing was on point.

“YOU MISSED THE SIGN! TURN AROUND,” I yell. I hear faint yelling in response. A couple minutes later, the three of them come tromping back.

“We were already on our way back when we heard you yell!” Tessa says excitedly. “We felt like we must have gone to far.”

I smile, totally happy to know that the kids did exactly what I knew they would do: turn back if they felt uncomfortable so they could find us again.

We eat lunch together on balanced rock, laughing and joking with each other. Caleb has totally bounced back after having food, water, and a break. He’s eating his sandwich, and we are all laughing hysterically at the breadcrumbs falling off his sandwich. We bought gluten free bread, and unfortunately for all of us who are GF…it was more terrible than usual. It literally crumbled apart when you touched it. The rest of us opted to not eat the bread today, (we suffered through it already for lunch the day before), choosing to make sandwiches out of tortillas instead. Caleb was dedicated to sticking to his GF diet this trip, and didn’t want us to waste the money we spent on this bread. In the morning, he proudly made his sandwich, and was now determined to eat it.

The breadcrumbs dotted his face like grains of sand, and he was laugh-crying as he ate. “It’s like eating cardboard with meat inside,” he wails, smiling though, knowing he is providing entertainment for the rest of us. The foil he has wrapped his sandwich in is the only thing keeping his bread from falling completely apart.

“Caleb, it’s okay, just don’t eat the bread. It’s so terrible! Why not just eat the meat out of the sandwich?” I didn’t want him to feel like I was going to force him to eat this mess of a sandwich.

“What?” He says, still laugh-crying, “I’m NOT gonna waste this sandwich. I’m eating this whole thing. I don’t care how bad it tastes!”

“Oh boy, I’ve guess I’ve told my story about my mom eating raw potatoes and raw fish one to many times. Now you all will never complain about food!” On our last roadtrip, after the kids complained about how much PB & J we ate, I told them how my mom survived her escape from Vietnam on a small boat with only raw potatoes and raw fish to eat for 30 days (I don’t actually know how many days they survived this, perhaps I should clarify this with my mom, but 30 days feels like a nice dramatic touch to the story). I told them they had no idea what starving was, that the most they’ve experienced is hunger and being uncomfortable and that eating PB & J wasn’t the end of the world. We were trapped in a food desert in Kentucky when I first told my mom’s story, in the middle of nowhere with one grocery store option to shop from. I remember walking in the grocery store and realizing that I didn’t see much that I would consider actual “food” inside. We did the best we could to feed the kids edible items for those two days…And from that point on I would hear, “I’m starv- I mean, I’m hungry.”

As Caleb struggled to finish his cardboard/styrofoam/sand sandwich, we noticed birds beginning to circle above.

“What are those?” I ask, squinting my eyes up to the sky. Three of the kids tell me they are turkey vultures.

“How do you know this?”

“We just know. Look at their wings. Those are turkey vultures,” Alona responds.

Andrew backing her up firmly says, “Those are definitely turkey vultures. I know it.”

I’m impressed. I have been to the raptor center several times and have also taught bird units to kids during my time conventionally teaching, and I still can’t seem to tell the birds of prey apart when they are flying way up above me. I have this memory problem that school taught me, the one where you remember something good enough to pass the test on Friday, and then the information just melts away into oblivion. The kids are describing to me how to tell raptors apart, and I’m glad to see they do not suffer from the same affliction.

Caleb begins laugh-crying louder now. “They are coming after my sandwich because it’s falling apart everywhere!”

Now we are all laugh-crying.

Here our group is on top of Balanced Rock, right before lunch.
Here our group is on top of Balanced Rock, right before lunch.

After lunch, we climbed to the top of the old fire tower, now simply a lookout for tourists to visit. Being a weekday, it was completely empty and we had the 360 degree views to enjoy to ourselves.

Caleb is dramatically making a statement about how hard the hike was up to this point in this picture...
Caleb is dramatically making a statement about how hard the hike was up to this point in this picture…

The highest point was about a third of the way into the 4.3 mile loop we were doing. As I predicted, this mountain was, in fact, like all other mountains I’ve climbed up: after getting to the highest peak, the only way back is down. We very quickly descended the mountain, Caleb, fully recovered now that he had eaten (albeit, a terrible sandwich), was at the head of the pack with Andrew and Gabe. Had Tessa been just a few inches taller, she would have been right up there with them. She wasn’t too far behind them, though. I felt like we were practically running down the mountain, and was carefully watching each one of my steps so I didn’t twist an ankle. Alona kept pace with me, trying to playfully place her steps where my step was just a moment before.

“They are robots,” I grunted back repeatedly to Alona. She was just as incredulous as I was at the speed they could maintain. Tomis was quiet at the very back of the group, I guessed just keeping up the best he could. We all made it back in one piece to camp, very proud of ourselves for completing this strenuous hike!

 


 

You can see more photos with captions of our trip here!

Week 2

Throughout our second week of school, I have been remained incredibly grateful for the smaller spawn point size, allowing me to get to know different students better. Before the year started, Jess, Melissa & I reconfigured spawn points, changing who was in each spawn point. I swapped siblings for two of my spawn participants, desiring to develop a connection to the sibling I didn’t get to be with last year. I also now have Ayan in my spawn point, who has never been in my spawn point for the two years we’ve been at our current Branches campus.

I find myself spending parts of every day now with Ayan, and I’ve really enjoyed this. It’s fascinating how simply switching spawn points has given us the boost we needed to get to know each other more. The spawn point really is the “preventative medicine” for our culture-setting. It’s the little family group within the big family. We practice listening and we each get a turn to be the focus of attention. We practice facilitation skills with a small group and feel out what that’s like. We play games and talk about our feelings. This year, I’ve even added a little “Spawn Point CMB” to our room, so if another person were to join our spawn point, they could read that and know exactly how spawn is run through what we are currently practicing.

For those reading who are starting ALCs this year, here are a couple activities we have done in spawn (and I would love for you to share back of what you are doing in your spawn point!):

  • A couple of students really like the ritual of ringing a singing bowl before the opening of spawn point. When I do it, I walk around the room with it, suggesting the kids close their eyes as I ring the bowl above their heads. The tone of the bowl is vibrationally grounding.
  • I also have waved a turkey feather over them, kind of fanning them. I always ask for consent before doing this. A couple kids ask for it and love it, some try it out and are fine with it, one says no – which is of course totally fine! The feather and bowl are just little ways to add ritual to spawn point. We do this to set the tone that the time we have together is sacred time. It has meaning and we aren’t just doing it because we have to – we do it because it’s important.
  • A couple kids decided to make a sign-up board in the room, so kids sign up to facilitate 2 times a week (either morning or afternoon). If someone is absent, they protocol is to switch that name with another. I started the year with a different process to rotate facilitation and happily changed it when the kids came up with an idea they preferred!
  • We’ve played a team challenge together: One person stands on one side of the room with their eyes closed. The other kids make obstacles all over the room, tossing books on the floor, moving furniture, etc. Then they describe to the person with their eyes closed how to cross the room to the other side, just giving verbal directions.
  • We have passed around question cards that Jess made to go with a “get to know you” game.
  • We have done feelings check-ins with our intentions or reflections.
  • I introduced the idea of “clearing” to the kids for two different spawn points I facilitated. If we want to, we share something on our mind that we might be worried about, or a problem we have that may or may not need solving or that is simply on our mind. The point isn’t fix anything, but hold space for a person to share what’s going on for them.

Another team challenge I want to do after we get back from our camping trip is a Lego building challenge. You get two sets of identical legos. Split the group into two, one group builds a design with the legos. The other group is in the same room but in a place where they can’t see the design. Group one explains the design to group two, with the goal of having both constructions the exact same at the end!

This week I also discovered Mystery Science, a really neat website with interactive discovery-based science lessons for kids. Ayan was showing me some magic videos on his computer one day and when he closed the window, this site was still open on another window. I asked him what it was and he told me that he’s been watching the videos at home and really liked them, but wasn’t able to print out the activities to do.

The next day, I went through one of the lessons on my own and loved it! I appreciate how the title of each lesson is a fascinating question to pursue. I decided to make a poster to hang in the food room where I list a bunch of the questions and the kids could write their names under the questions they want to explore. I am excited to go through more of the inquiries with the kids!

I’ll have to wait until next week to do that, tomorrow a group of 19 is headed to Hanging Rock State Park for our Tone-Setting Camping Trip!  I am really excited to spend three nights in the woods with the people I love. Tomis is coming with us, which I really appreciate. It makes a difference to have a male-bodied person come along.

Hopefully you’ll see blog post next weekend with pictures and reflections from that trip 🙂

Back to School, Year 4!

We started our 4th year of Mosaic on Wednesday, and it feels SO GOOD to be back to school! Actually, it really doesn’t feel like back to school because I’ve seen so many of the kids over the summer.

We ended the school year June 17. I took a week to see my sister in Colorado, and then I facilitated two week-long summer camps with lots of ALC students after I returned. After that, ALF Summer (3 weeks) began, a week with adults, a week with the kids, and another week with adults and @libby. Directly following ALF Summer, @Jesslm and I took 7 students on a 8 night, 9 day roadtrip adventure, which I absolutely loved doing! We got back on August 9 and school started August 24, so I had about two weeks of “downtime” as I waited for the school year to start back up. I feel really great about how I spent my summer. It feels easy starting school again because I honestly didn’t take much of a break from my regular routine of waking up and being with kids. I also genuinely like being around the kids, many of whom I’ve known for years now.

There has also been a big surprise that happened about a week before we re-opened, adding to the ease of starting the year: Melissa, who has been volunteering for the past year, let us know that she wanted to ALF full-time. She acknowledged our situation of not having the finances to pay a full time staff member, especially with the exciting one campus news, by saying that she wants more responsibility at no cost to us. Her intention is to dive back into education (which was her prior career path before being disillusioned by it – something I totally get) and to work with kids again in a school that she is inspired to help make more awesome.

Jess and I were prepared to start the year with 9 or 10 kids in a spawn point, and just making that work. However, with Melissa around full time, excited to facilitate a third spawn point, we’ve been able to start with just 6 or 7 kids in a group instead. On Friday after school, I got to listen to a couple students excitedly share how they feel spawn points are so much easier and more fun to be in with fewer kids. They have time to share intentions and reflections and to play games together, or just hang out and talk. I’ve felt this way too, happy and excited to go to spawn. This is really energizing for me.

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I moved my spawn point room from the Food/Art Room to the Quiet Room. I wanted a more cozy environment, like Jess’s Cloud Room Spawn. I really think the addition of wall hangings, a lamp, and twinkle lights make a big difference!
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In just one day, Melissa was able to make a cozy nook that the kids love in the big room for her spawn! Added bonus: her spawn point has the weekly schedule board in the room 🙂

 

Highlights From The Week

There is also a lot of ease in starting our 4th year, and 3rd year in this particular building, with a large group of students who have been in together for at least two years. We can more quickly dive into creating what we want because we don’t need a lot of time spent on figuring out what agreements we need in the space.

In the short span of three days, the kids jumped right in to reinstate the offerings they liked from last year. They met to plan what books they wanted to read for the Book & Movie Club, met with Jess to talk about what kind of hikes they want to do this year, a student led a Writer’s Workshop meeting where she facilitated a conversation about what kind workshop they would start out with, and Tomis met twice with our oldest students as he starts piloting the “Wings” (working title) program here at Mosaic.

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This week, we also had a lot of conversation about the trees getting cut down at the church. In particular, a huge tree that we played around and enjoyed the shade from, led to feelings of sadness and frustration. As the kids played on the trunk, using it as their own personal jungle gym, they talked of protesting and asked a lot of questions. While I listened to some conversations, I felt really grateful that the kids could see this happening and then take the time to talk about it and to go out and interact with the tree, rather than left to watch it happening from indoors and being told to think about some other subject.

My favorite conversation from the tree went as follows:

Child 1: When I die, I want to come back and live as a tree.
Me: Can you say more about that?
Child 1: Because trees live so long and I want to know what it’s like to live as long as they do and experience what they experience.
Child 2: I would want to come back as an animal because I want to move around. Being a tree might get boring.
Child 3: But what if the tree doesn’t know that its life is boring? What if they would think walking and talking was boring? Because the tree is just seeing life through its own perspective.

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The time and space the kids have to discuss how a tree may perceive the world is something really valuable to me. I want to see more gentle discussions in the world where we are wondering how an experience might be for someone else. From personal experience, I know that rushing through life and trying to “prove” my worth (mostly by being a good girl who got good grades) led me to grow into a more self-centered person than I’d like to admit. Most of my 20’s involved understanding how I became what I became, learning to not beat myself up for how I became that way and then rebuilding. I can see that we are building a group of kids who have the time to think about more than just themselves, and this feels really good.

One Campus Fundraising

During the first ALF Summer, Sara S. (an aunt of two of our students who is getting a master’s degree in creativity), came and presented a workshop on The Creative Problem Solving (CPS) Process. It was really fun and since then, she’s come in a couple times to facilitate this process.

Coming back to school, the kids were all really excited about our new home and want to feel like they can help in some way. I also had several parents reaching out to me with ideas for ways the kids could get involved. Whatever happened, I really wanted the kids to be involved because they were inspired to action rather than adults suggesting they do something we thought was a good idea. So I thought it was a good time to get the kids and staff who were interested in more discussion to experience Sara’s CPS process and see what happened from there.

I took key elements of what I learned from Sara and tried to deliver a simplified version of what I felt capable of doing:

First I told the kids we would warm-up our brains to think big and think creatively, just like our bodies need a warm-up before a work out, our brains need work outs too. I led them through a silly exercise (copied from Sara) where everyone had to help me think of solutions to a made up problem: a hippo was stuck in my bathroom, what should I do? 

As the participants came up with potential solutions, I asked them to practice 4 key elements to help encourage people to think as creatively as possible:

  • build on ideas: write down any solution we think of, even if someone else put down something similar beforehand
  • seek wild ideas: try to think outside the box and write anything that comes to mind down!
  • defer judgement: make no good/bad judgments of any idea – your own or another persons.
  • come up with lots of ideas: push ourselves to write and write and write ideas!

We had fun doing that awhile – with sweet solutions like “make friends with the hippo,” dark solutions like “eat the hippo,” and practical solutions like “move” presented to the group.

Next, we practiced those same principles to come up with as many ideas as possible to try to help the school raise 45K in 45 days, our current fundraiser to help us renovate our building while still keeping tuition affordable.

The ideas were hilarious. When I reminded them to seek wild ideas, we got things like “pick pocket” and “have all the parents take all their money to Vegas and bet on red.” It was hard not to laugh at those! I appreciated how much fun we got to have while problem solving 🙂

I explained that we were going through a divergent process – where we are just generating tons of ideas, but that we would have to go through a convergent process of narrowing focus if we were actually going to be able to take action forward.

So after we had maybe 75 options down, I gave the participants stickers – telling them to only use 3-5 stickers to place on the ideas that they would like to have more discussion about. We then removed the ideas (which were on post-its) without stickers, posting them on a different board. I stated that they weren’t bad or good ideas, just ideas that we weren’t going to focus on now.

With the ideas left, we clustered them into groups if we saw similar themes. We labeled four groups: Community Events / Music Events / Social Media & Personal Appeal / Selling Things

Then, I drew a line under each grouping to make two columns where we could identify the pluses (+) and opportunities (o) for each grouping of ideas. Rather than saying that something is a bad idea, we can frame that wording in a “How Might” statement that allows for more a more positive conversation. Rather than “well that idea is too hard because…” or “that idea isn’t good because…” we can say “How might we pull this off in time and find it energizing, rather than exhausting.” It’s just a little word-smithing that leads to more open conversation rather than a culture around shutting down an idea that someone thinks isn’t “good.” You can see our pluses and opportunities in this doc.

At the end of our time together, we decided we had a great start to show the rest of the community. Not all the kids in the school were a part of this brainstorming, so we decided to read over our thoughts to all the kids in the three separate spawn points the next morning, and then have part of our change up meeting dedicated to next steps.

After being read the ideas in spawn point, one student built on what they heard and was excited to propose at change up The Spicy Pepper Challenge! This student and their friends have been bringing spicy foods to school for a year now, and they really enjoy seeing how spicy of food they can handle. One of these students has a goal this year of seeing if meditation will help them handle spicier food! After discussion at Change Up, the kids felt like launching the social media challenge was something they could do without adults helping, while arranging a community event is something that is more adult involved. So they set a time the next day to figure out what they wanted to say and how to move forward. A couple kids went with me to the community garden to pick jalapenos too 🙂

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Filming their video!

Here is their video, and we’ve already been received some donations from it!! Please share and add the link if you feel inspired. You can do the challenge yourself and challenge others to participate! The basic rule is to do the challenge and donate $10 or skip the challenge and donate $100.

 

Making Wishes to Create Culture

Relationships and trust take time to build, and it’s from these two foundations that you can grow a healthy culture. One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had as an educator since I’ve been working with children (over 17 years) has been here at ALC Mosaic where I’ve had the time to focus on building relationships with children and then creating the culture we want together at school. Some of the children here have been together with me for over three years now. We get to experience each other growing up, maturing, changing. Our relationships are an investment in the future, we aren’t just putting up with each other for one year before moving on. It’s worth it to actually know one another.

We have just completed our third year of Mosaic as an official school. Two and a half of those years we have been open as an ALC. Each year keeps getting easier and better. A huge part of this success is because we have a strong foundation built in trust, which has the chance to blossom because we have had more time to get to know each other. We feel like a big family at school.

I’m seeing this ease flow into our conversations at our weekly Change-Up meeting. When we first began using our Community Mastery Board during Change-Up, it was clunky and challenging to engage student participation in the creation of community agreements. However, over time, the kids see more how to use this tool as a means to creating community agreements and norms that serve the whole group and actually make a culture that is positive and fun to be in.

One specific example started with the making of “wishes.” At the beginning of the last school year, all the kids and the staff wrote down a wish that they had for the school. We put all those wishes in a bag and then over the course of the entire fall, we would pull one wish out to “grant” as a part of our Change-Up meeting. This was a really fun and engaging way for the students to participate in Change-Up, the kids would get excited to read the wish and then try to figure out a way to make it come true.

Over the course of the next two months, we found that more than one student wished for “boys and girls to play together.” The kids noticed a cultural norm of girls playing with girls mostly and boys playing with boys mostly. The process of granting this wish allowed us to talk about that openly and decide what we wanted OUR cultural norm around this to be. Through the discussion, it was decided that it would be great if we could try out playing one big group game each week to encourage everyone to play with one another in a fun way. The game could be anything – capture the flag, freeze tag, wizards and gelfings, hide and seek, etc. There were a few kids who were unsure if they wanted to play a big group game every week, but they were okay with trying it out for one week and then reporting back the following week if it was okay to do.

Playing a group game together every week did end up becoming something we continued practicing for several months. Each week at Change Up we would briefly check in, “Do we want to keep doing this?” and it kept getting a thumbs up. Then, in the spring, we did a more thorough check-in, going back to the awareness that brought this community practice into place. We reminded the kids that the idea of all school participation in community games came from wanting to encourage boys and girls to interact with one another more. We asked ourselves, is this actually happening?

The kids were emphatic that it had, citing several examples of how they have played with others of the opposite gender and they felt that this wish had come true for the school. They decided it was no longer important for us have the agreement that we all played a group each week, but acknowledged that there would probably be a large group game offered weekly because it’s something many people like to do. It’s simply become a cultural norm to do a big group activity regularly.

To me, this story is a beautiful example of how a community of mostly children can powerfully create the kind of environment they want to live in, deciding what practices they want have as a community while remaining connected to why they want it. Without the Community Mastery Board tool and Change Up meeting process, the kids wouldn’t have revisited the awareness of why they started having large group games weekly. New students who joined the school would simply think it’s something they had to do each week without connection to why. The kids were able to adjust and change their agreement about having a group game be mandatory for everyone each week because they understood that the actual point of the agreement had been served and that brought them joy to find out! So many times in this world we continue doing something because, “that’s they way we’ve always done it” without doing a meta-analysis (you can read my blog post here for a little video about how this happens). Here at ALC, the students are building those executive functioning skills to analyze their culture and practices, something I hope to see in the world more! I know that this is possible because we have had the time to build our relationships over time – years for some – which create a foundation of trust and desire to meet each other’s needs.

The Art of Facilitation & The Facilitation of Art

Intro & Context

ALF Summer, year three is in session! It’s been the most fun and collaborative ALF Summer yet. Last year, @artbrock spent many, many hours working on our Starter Kit with the ALFs and launched the Beta Starter Kit at the end of the summer. Since then, we’ve had around 500 downloads from around the world and have more than doubled our number of start-up ALCs. So many of our ALF Summer participants have already been in collaboration with someone from our network before coming, as well as already working within their own communities to create an ALC of some kind.

Week one of ALF Summer consisted of two days of planned offerings to support people new to ALC, as well as planned offerings for those who have already been to an ALF Summer (returning ALFs). And, of course, we simply acknowledge that everyone is an adult and has the free choice to attend whichever session feels best to them to be in. We simply recommend that new ALFs have some foundational content given to help them understand what an ALC is before diving into the rest of the fun.

The next 3 days of the first week was the creation of an ALC, where offerings were made and planned in a more open-space format. I decided to offer a session called “The Art of Facilitation & The Facilitation of Art” which is what this blog post is specifically about from here on out!

The Art of Facilitation & The Facilitation of Art

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Why?

I feel like I am bursting with stories I want to share about facilitating with children and how I have evolved through the past three years as I have been on this journey with Mosaic. However, as I experience ALF Summer for the third year, I am striving to create a place where more sharing can happen more naturally, in a way that might appeal to a more traditionally feminine way of sharing traditions and culture.

I imagine woman sitting in a circle sewing, canning, weaving, and talking. I had this thought recently about how societies have developed over time to appeal to the masculine. From my perspective, the dominant culture is male created and driven. I was thinking about how for many centuries before written language, most of history and learning was passed down through oral communication and story telling. I recognize that after the written word was created mostly men have been writing and passing down history, and this could be a contributing factor to how societies have become driven by masculine energy over time.

I believe in a powerful union of masculine and feminine energy. What I am holding for is a balance of this expression of energy so that our ALC Network becomes one that holds both men and woman sacred, equally. While the world predominately wants facts, figures, proof, there is another type of communication that can happen through vibration, togetherness, and nurture.

All people have both masculine and feminine energies in their bodies, their fields and their psyches. Feminine energies tend to be felt on the left side of the body and masculine energies on the right. We all have inner relationships made up of our inner masculines and inner feminines. It is very worthwhile to spend time getting to know these inner agents and to heal them using the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine.

Words to describe masculine energies, archetypes and cultural projections:

positive attributes: active, intelligent, logical, rational, linear, determined, reliable, strong, stable, protective, sensible, heroic, focused, single-minded, practical, goal-oriented, consistent, predictable, capable, smart, rugged, ordered, disciplined.

negative attributes: rigid, stubborn, aggressive, tough, ruthless, violent, non-communicative, self-centered, authoritative, dominating, dogmatic, closed-minded, autocratic, rule-bound, heartless.

Words to describe feminine energies, archetypes and cultural projections:

positive attributes: soft, warm, sweet, kind, loving, nurturing, gentle, creative, receptive, flexible, adaptable, yielding, forgiving, understanding, caring, care-giving, serving, passive, peaceful, open-minded, beautiful, mysterious, spontaneous, ever-changing, inspirational.

negative attributes: weak, emotional, irrational, illogical, unpredictable, bitchy, stupid, powerless, manipulative, controlling, indecisive, fickle.

-An excerpt from energyenlighten.com

When I hear myself and other woman lament about how “emotional” they are, I recognize the experience of immature feminine is present. When the world values goal setting, logical explanation, linear thinking (masculine expressions) over spontaneity, working from a place of inspiration, and constant change (feminine expressions), this leads to feminine energies within us feeling crazy, emotional, or that we don’t fit in or belong.

So when I see offerings of a Set the Week board where we are scheduling times and places for certain conversations to happen, with particular outcomes desired, I see that this meets the needs for the masculine energy and desire for logical and predicable way to have outcomes we want.

Then around (or during) those scheduled offerings, there is the time for the spontaneous feminine energy to shine, where you don’t know what will occur, but inspiration might strike and the outcome can lead to something beyond our imagination!

This week I felt a little out of place at times. Over the past three years I have slowly become more balanced internally with my own masculine and feminine energy. I have recognized where I have become conditioned by my schooling and American culture to value mostly the masculine energy within myself and to express that more than the feminine. This has led to me expressing those negative characteristics of both the masculine and feminine in the list above many times! I am in the process of de-conditioning myself and allowing myself to be more spontaneous, more nuturing, more understanding, more of all the positive aspects of my divine feminine nature.

Whereas three years ago at ALF Summer I was all about planning every minute of my day to maximize efficiency and productivity, this year I found myself wandering the halls and longing for a moment of inspiration to strike me into a flow that felt wondrous. I have been trained in my life that I need to force every minute to count productively rather than allow every minute to be lived in wonder.

I wanted to connect with other people, so I offered what felt to me like a setting that would encourage the feminine energies within us to connect: A room full of art supplies and seating in a circle-ish form where a group of people could be creating and talking and talking and creating.

Not only was I hoping to appeal to the feminine energy, but I was wanting to provide a living example of how much of “education” has happened for most of human evolution: orally. Most of the time at ALC, I see children learning when they are in communication with others just talking about their thoughts and observations of the world. This is hard to quantify and relay to the masculine, data-driven world, that most of the education and culture creation happens through organic and spontaneous conversation that cannot be planned for. And this is a rich, deep and dynamic education that is beautiful and honors those feminine energies within.

My Personal Reflections of This Offering

My highlight of this offering was seeing the amazing creations of those who came to the table. I loved hearing how grateful people were to have art supplies available, that this was something they were craving. I loved nurturing the participants and felt so much joy in telling them, “don’t worry, you go ahead, I’ll clean up,” when they needed to leave. This was me giving in a way that was replenishing; as I gave, I received. (Unlike doing something for others with resentment…I’ve never done that before 😉 HA!)

I felt like the sharing part was hard for me at first. Where I imagined a group of people working and talking and having the conversation flow naturally, in reality, I felt this anxiety about if I the people who came would walk away thinking it was time well spent. It didn’t feel natural or organic to just start telling them things about me facilitating. Nari, our participant from Cairo, looked up with me with this warm smile, and a twinkle in her eye and asked me to share about how I came to create Mosaic, and that provided the start to a Q & A format. I still felt nervous at times because I felt like I was talking too much and it wasn’t matching this ideal picture in my head. I also recognized that I was internally struggling with how to fit in this offering with the rest. I noticed that few men came and there was a part of me that thought this offering was perceived as a silly thing to do, like something “cute” that I was doing but not as valuable as a marketing session or a session on organizational structures of a school.

What I realize I desire is to see our ALC community fully value the both the feminine and masculine aspects of what makes an ALC magical. The children need both. You can logically plan an ALC for years and spend lots of resources and time marketing it, but in the end, you need to have place that feels nurturing, that inspires, that can flexibly respond to the needs of the children. There is no class or workshop that can train a person to ALF with children, it’s an experience that grows and evolves within you over time. It’s the experience of being WITH others that helps you understand that connection is more than words and rational thinking, that ALFs and kids can intuitively connect and communicate without words (or even using Language that Moves Things), we can look at each other and understand how to give and receive compassion.

It is crucial to me that others starting an ALC know that planning, logistics, marketing, and knowing in your head what to do isn’t enough. Feeling, BEing, and operating from intuition and your heart is how you truly connect with others and create change in a world that is desperately in need of balance of masculine and feminine energy.

The Content

I honestly can’t remember all of what was shared because I didn’t take any notes. Some things I remember speaking to that might be of value to other facilitators were about (1) how to create an inclusive culture (avoiding cliques) and (2) how our Change Up Meetings have evolved to better serve the children.

(1) Inclusive Culture: I stressed the importance of connection. Jess and I have reflected in the power of the spawn points and creating intentional space for the children to connect with each other in a smaller group. The kids spend time playing games, talking about a problem they have, doing feeling check-ins, or answering questions about themselves. You can force children to include each other, but then they are including others from place of “this is what I’m supposed to do.” I prefer seeing people really in connection with one another, hearing about how others think differently from them and being able to ask the group for what they need, i.e. “When I’m really upset, I like to be left alone” or “I don’t know how to join anyone during the day, could someone invite me to play today because I’m not sure what I want to do.” Reaching out to others from a place of genuine compassion and care comes more readily and easily when you feel like you know the person, so Spawn Points are a great opportunity to facilitate conversations (or games) that lead to deeper understanding of one another.

I also stressed that it just takes time for this to develop. People need time to get to know each other and see each other. During our first year of school there were lots of conflicts, including many physical ones between the kids. This past year (our third year), has been so much more peaceful and easy. The kids know each other and trust each other more. I know them and trust them more, and vice versa.

We also make an effort to really talk about what we value and check in on those values as a community with each other. You can read my blog post about our end-of-year rituals (please click within that blog post for the school report card link which dives even deeper) that have developed to get more context about that.

(2) Change Up Meeting: Many kids struggle with large meetings and do not want to talk about better and more efficient ways to clean up the school or keep the school quieter. It’s important to remember that ALCs honor “People Over Process,” so if your Change Up meeting is a horrible experience for the kids, everyone is empowered to remember what the purpose of the Change Up Meeting is (take make our community flow with more ease with one another, for example) and decide how to go from there.

One item to note is that the items in the “Awareness” column of the Change Up board do not have to stem from things you notice need to be better. At the beginning of this school year, we had students, staff, and some parents come together to write a wish they had for the community. At our Change Up meetings, each week we would pull a wish from a bag and read it aloud and decide if there were ways we could implement any practice to make the wish come true. Children are much more excited to “grant a wish” than to feel like they have to discuss some awareness that an adult brings up.

One example of this is when we pulled a student wish that “Everyone felt really connected.” To grant this wish, the kids decided that they wanted to try out playing one big group game every week and that we try doing this as a whole school. We did this for weeks, and eventually we made this optional for people to join, but now it’s in our cultural DNA to play group games together so we can be connected to one another.

I also shared about some of the ways Jess and I evolved Change Up over the year to better serve the kids. Jess would sing silly songs sometimes to start, because the kids really wanted to move their bodies and be silly together. We also started limiting the number of topics to discuss to 4. We would quickly go over what was in Mastery and Implementation, and if something felt like it needed more discussion, we would pull it aside. We would pull up to three topics for discussion aside, and then also pull a wish (as described above) to grant. Then the kids would self select which topic they wanted to dive deeper into to work on a solution and have 10 minutes to talk together about. We never really had issues getting people in each group, if one topic was empty, we’d just point that out and people would shift.

This is a wonderful practice in trust! When the group comes back together as a whole, each team would present what they think we could implement in regards to the topic. Unless it was totally off-base, which it typically would not be, we would try it out for a week and see how it goes. This practice really helps get all the students engaged, because some of them really just won’t speak up in a big group, but will much more readily speak up in a small group.

I know we discussed other things, and if anyone who attend this offering remembers anything else, please share in the comments or in the documentation folder we created for ALF Summer 2016!

 

 

Creating Culture, Year After Year

Yesterday, @tomis, @charlotte and I were in the school cleaning up after summer camps in preparation for this year’s ALF Summer program. All of our white boards will be repurposed for the use of the adults coming to dive into an intensive ALC experience, meaning that our Community Mastery Board (CMB) needed to go.

As I was cleaning in the Art/Food Room, Tomis calls out to me, “Well, what should I do with our CMB stickies? And the wishes the kids made from the fall? Want me to save them? Throw them away?”

With little hesitation, I responded that he could get rid of it all. There is this part of me that wants to save everything, but my gut told me this really wasn’t necessary. Last year we had the same conversation and I remember saying, “Well if it is something worth implementing next year, we’ll remember it and add it at the beginning of the school year.”

At the beginning of the year, it’s simple enough to ask the community, “Are there any community agreements you remember from last year that are worth implementing right away?” The usual, like, “no hitting,” “stop rule,” “eat only in the food room,” will come up and you’re off to a start. Then you’re again co-creating and figuring out with the community what other agreements need to be made to help the school function and flow.

While this may seem harder than just copying the rules from the year before, I believe this is a really important part of teaching children to create culture and to actually understand WHY community agreements are made rather than just blindly follow them. Knowing how to live, learn, and play in community is the most important part of what we do here at ALC.

Today, I saw a video shared online that re-affirmed to me why it’s healthy to start each year with a fresh and blank CMB. It’s a video I’ve seen before and I found it extremely interesting that I saw it shared the day after tossing the agreements from last year’s CMB.

 

So here’s a great answer to the question that pesky question I am always answering: “What do they learn all day?”

We learn how to co-create culture, we learn why agreements are needed between community members, we learn how to change agreements that do not serve us and make new ones. Imagine if every community acted from this place, rather than just doing what was done before because, “That’s the way it is done.” There will be agreements that do serve us time and time again year after year, and those agreements will be easily recalled and remembered as starting points.

Happy Summer Everyone!

 

End of Year Rituals

Today was the last day of our third year at Mosaic. Over the summer I’ll still almost all of the kids at some point, so it doesn’t really feel like goodbye! I love this. The students at the school are people I enjoy being with and we have authentic relationships that extend past school hours or days.

I am excited to document our Branches end of year rituals for future reflection and sharing with other facilitators at ALCs (or similar environments). In the comments below, please share links or a sentence or two about any end of year rituals you have! I really want to see what other communities do so I can get new ideas and insights.

This year’s end of year rituals included:

  • School Report Card Creation
  • Self-Assessments
  • ALF reflections to students
  • Community Gratitude Circle

I share more details below about each component. Enjoy!

 

School Report Card

For the second year in a row, we used one of our last Change Up Meetings to evaluate our school using metrics that were important to the students and facilitators here. Last year, the kids were so engaged in this process that we excitedly did it again.

Please click here to read about this year’s report card (2015-16 school year), and click here for last year’s report card (2014-15).

 

Student Self-Assessment

In December of 2014 the students completed a self-assessment in the middle of the school year. We shared these with parents at a mid-year check-in. The assessment aimed to help the students see how they engaged with the tools and practices of the community. The hope I had in making it was for the students to understand that our ALC has tools and practices to support them in doing and learning the things they want to at school, and that they can use those structures (or help us make new ones) to support them in doing so.

As we were nearing the end of this year, I brought up the self-assessment idea to Jess during one of our staff meetings. Jess was a parent of student here for the 2014-15 school year and now is a facilitator at the school for the 2015-16 school year. Jess said that she loved the assessment tool and energetically supported it coming back. I appreciated hearing the feedback from the parent perspective, so I revamped the assessment a little and added some sections in about Self-Directed Education.

Please check out the updated 2015-16 Self-Assessment here!

Our last Change Up Meeting of the year was dedicated to filling these out. Just about all of the students were excited to do so. We told them earlier in the week that these were coming back and that we’d use our time in Change Up to do it, and they were prepared and ready for this. I handed it out and the kids went off to different parts of the room to fill it out.

I was tickled at how happy and engaged the kids were in this process. I think people enjoy having metrics to gauge how they are doing. The kids liked that they were making their own report cards for themselves. It’s important to me that if they are measuring themselves, that it’s about things that really matter to them and our community.

Another new item I added to the self-assessment was a write-in section. The kids could write-in metrics they felt were important to them. Some of the write-in’s included:

  • Happiness
  • Believing in themselves
  • Making more friends
  • Excitement
  • Funniness
  • Commitment (follow-through)
  • Trying new things
  • Listening, being polite, and helping
  • Talking to people
  • Being grateful
  • Being kind
  • Taking responsibility for myself
  • Talking in front of people

I got emotional seeing what the kids came up with as values that were important to them. They didn’t just put things that they would give themselves high marks on, many thought of things they were actually working on getting better at. It does take effort to be kind to others, because sometimes you are wrapped up in your own world and mood and you just aren’t naturally going to be kind to someone else. It takes effort to notice that and still try to be kind. It takes effort to try new things, practice gratitude, listen to others, and all of the above on this list. The students at ALC are learning how to do all of these things all the time, and I believe that this is the backbone needed for them to grow up knowing how to be in community and relationship with others. They can much more easily learn facts and algorithms than how to be reflective human beings that care about themselves and other people. 

 

ALF Reflection for Students

We sent the kids home this year with a manila envelope that had their self-assessment and a note from their Spawn Point ALF (either myself or Jess). They loved taking home what felt like a “report card.” Sometimes we “play school” here and pretend we are a school and do school-y things for fun. Every child here has exposure to a friend, book, movie, etc. that exposes them to the fact that most children in United States go to a traditional school. We can’t escape the reality that there are kids here who romanticize aspects of going to school and getting grades and going to formal classes. It’s natural for them to play out what they learn about what school is like here at ALC.

I agree with the principle of Sudbury Schools that the adults at the school should not be a child’s evaluators or judges. However, I recognize the power that relationships have, and I own my responsibility of being an older human being in the lives of the kids here. Some of them I’ve known for over three years at this point. I want the kids here to find their own value from within, not from outside of themselves and I do my best to model doing that myself. However, to think that what I say (or don’t say) doesn’t matter to them is irresponsible. I understand that who we are is always being determined in part by who we are in relationship with. We are social beings and we want to feel cared about and connected to the people in our community. Every human being has people in their lives that they respect and appreciate having attention from.

All that said, I know that most of the students here would appreciate hearing feedback from us (me and Jess) because this is just one way to show them that we respect, value and appreciate them. It’s not about us judging their worth, but taking the time to acknowledge their individual awesomeness and share how we see that light in them.

I created a sheet where Jess and I could write notes directly to each child. We added these to the self-assessments and that is what made up or “End of Year Report” for each student.

I do want to say clearly here that I would NOT recommend that the student self-assessment also be completed by an ALF for comparison. I think this would lead the student to compare their answers on this to the ALF’s answers, classifying one as right and one as wrong. This is why I made our sheet just general notes and reflections.

 

Gratitude Circle

Today we invited parents to stay a little after pick up to join us in an all-school Gratitude Circle, accompanied by delicious popsicles! Over the happy sound of slurping, we shared for the last time this school year what we were grateful for. It was wonderful to have parents join us for this, and I was working hard not to cry during some of those. This was a new ritual we decided to do this year, and one I really enjoyed!

 

I’d love to hear about what your ALC/Self-Directed Learning Community does at the end of a school year too! Please share!

Adult Day Of Play

Background

During a staff day we held in January, Branches staff & parent volunteers gathered for a facilitated workshop on Creative Problem Solving (CPS) led by Sara Smith, a former ALF Summer participant and aunt of two of our students. Sara is currently getting her Masters in Creativity and we enjoy getting to be her guinea pigs through her project work. Through the CPS process, we developed our vision and creatively worked to think of solutions/opportunities for challenges that we experience. I won’t dive into details about what the CPS process includes, but you can read an older write-up I made from ALF Summer 2015 if you want to learn more.

One challenge statement we worked on was “What might be all the ways to assist people coming from a variety of educational situations best assimilate into the unfamiliar structure of ALC.” We had a lot of juicy things come from this, but the one idea that we turned into an action plan was to host an Adult Day of Play.

Some intentions that are connected to the Adult Day of Play are:

– Connection for community members
– Opportunity for adults to experience an ALC for themselves to gain better understanding
– Opportunity for kids to lead adults through “how to create your experience & make choices.”
– To have fun and not take life so seriously 🙂

Parents (and any other special invited guests, friends, other family, etc) were invited to come and experience an ALC school day where they were able to attend offerings by others, make their own offerings, and practice being present in the moment & making their own decisions about how to spend their time 🙂

Some details/ideas for the Day of Play include:

– Hold it on a Saturday
– Get kids and adult involved in making offerings
– Start with a “Set the Day” meeting, facilitated by students
– Let students hold smaller spawn points where people state their intentions for the day
– Have fun
– End with gratitude circle or reflection of some sort in spawn points

Execution!

On Saturday, June 11, we had over 30 community members gather for our first ever Adult Day of Play!

We started our day 10am with a “Set the Day” Meeting, facilitated by two student volunteers. They were clear & efficient, and general announcements about the day and scheduling happened in less than 10 minutes!

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Set the Day meeting, facilitated by students for parents!

Next, we had excited student volunteers who wanted to lead the parents in Spawn Points! The Spawn Point I attended included a connection activity where we picked questions cards to answer about ourselves too. Connection activities help break the ice so we all feel more comfortable with one another.

 

One of our three Spawn Point groups.
One of our three Spawn Point groups.

We spent 10:30-2pm to participate in offerings made by community members! Offerings included: Hands-on Equations, Yoga, Basketball, Apples to Apples, Poker, Digital Writers Workshop, Pandemic, Stencil Bag Art, Corn-Hole, Drum/Percussion Circle, Next Generation Education Conference Videos, Native American Raven Trickster Tale

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Our schedule board for the day.

I didn’t get to participate in every offering, but tried to capture as many pictures as I could:

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I really enjoyed sharing Hands-On Equations! Several students at school have moved through the curriculum to practice foundational algebra skills.
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Kristine shared a really beautiful art project making decorative bags using paint and stencils.
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Making bags and vases using the stencils.
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Corn Hole
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Dean had lots of instruments and objects for an organic percussion jam to occur. People could stop in and jam for however long they wished!
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Percussion jam
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Apples to Apples
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Poker! A very fun way to practice counting by 5, focusing, and making decisions. We never play for real money, just for fun.

At 2pm we stopped for all school clean up, which was fast and efficient! Following clean up, we held our afternoon reflective Spawn Point. We kept it short and simple and shared what we did that day.

We ended the day with Gratitude Circle, a regular practice in our school where we share what we are grateful for, acknowledge others in the community, and share any personal achievements we have made.

Dean also had a unique extra offering after the Adult Day of Play: a piano recital! He has been teaching private piano lessons to a child outside of school for a year now, and wanted to create a space to showcase his work. Dean, his student, myself, and our visiting week student all played pieces for a small group. This was really fun!

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Reflection

I left this day walking on a cloud. The work I put into planning the event was to market it to the community and do some cleaning and organizing the day to before to get the space ready for more adults. Other than that, I just showed up because the kids facilitated and the event pretty much ran itself. I loved playing, joining in on offerings, sharing math, and just getting time to connect and have conversations with parents. At the end of the day, I had several kids and families reflect to me that we should do this event regularly. I plan to schedule a fall Day of Play and another spring one next year!

I personally think it’s highly valuable for our community to have regular events so we can feel connected to one another. This school is a constant creation and evolution in partnership with every community member. Knowing each other and spending time in a shared space helps us to see each other truly so we can continue embarking on sustaining and evolving our school of our dreams!

We also had two families new to ALC attend. One family is a friend of one of our students, and the other was a visiting week student and her mom. Experiencing the culture ALC for a day was a beautiful way to help them understand who we are and what we do. I feel like this experience is another beautiful way to share what we do in addition to the content we have available online and what we present in parent interest nights.

As I introduced in the beginning of this post, the “challenge” we were trying to problem solve was, “What might be all the ways to assist people coming from a variety of educational situations best assimilate into the unfamiliar structure of ALC.” I am so thankful that we dived in as a staff/parent team to think of creative ways to implement an action that met the need this challenge statement addressed. I feel that we have now incorporated a new regular practice to our school community that will meet this need!

 

 

 

ALC Mosaic Report Card 2016-17

Last year the students and facilitators at Branches evaluated our school culture with our first ever “report card.” We had fun making it! I wrote a blog post about that last year where you can read more about how the activity was introduced and facilitated.

We continued this practice this year, which felt really great as an end of year ritual for Branches students.

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Review of Year 2

We started our evaluation with a review of last year’s report card. The yellow stickies in the picture above are items from last year’s report. I placed them on the continuum of “Needs Work—-> Doing Ok —-> We Rock at This!” where we decided they belonged at the end of last year.

We discussed our continuum as levels 1-10. A level 1 means we really need to work on this, level 5 is doing okay, and level 10 means we rock at this time. The numbers between help us place every item on spectrum from 1-10.

I’ll review the items from last year below: 

  • If someone has a problem, there is time to talk about it: This item moved up from a level 5 to about a level 7. The kids and facilitators agree that we are connecting more in Spawn Points and that this feels like a good place for us to ask for help when we need it. Specific examples were brought up about times a kids was upset or had a problem and was able to share that in Spawn Point and receive care and support in return.
  • Being “re-friendly” (friendly & respectful): This item moved up from a 4/5 to an 8. We discussed how this applies being friendly and respectful to visiting students and each other. We had a couple new students and visiting students this year share that they felt welcomed when they came to school and confirmed that this item should be moved up considerably from last year.
  • Being able to lie down when need to: The kids moved this from a 6 to a 10! This item really speaks to having calm and quiet spaces for kids to go to when they need it. Last year, we had lots of big energy inside and it was much louder in the school. This year, we’ve increased outdoor time and made clear community agreements about loudness inside to help keep the inside calmer than before.
  • Being awesome: The kids moved this from a 7/8 to a 10+. They like having this item be a descriptor for the quality of their school!
  • Cleaning up: This moved from a 7 to a 8.5/9. The end of day clean up process has evolved during the school year. The students now rotate in teams around different areas of the school. One student articulated how much smoother clean up feels now, and also shared how it feels like the clean up teams communicate with each other and get right to work at 3pm. We did discuss that during the day clean up individuals with their crafts still needs work, but that this sticky just applies to the school as a whole for end of day cleaning.
  • Having Choices: The kids moved this from a 9 last year to a 10+. They all felt that this year they’ve had many choices for different types of activities/trips/learning experiences, and understand that this school is about having choices and making choices.
  • Spending Time Outside: This was a 10 last year, and remains so. The kids enjoy many hiking trips in addition to going outside on the campus and to the park. As noted in one of the items above, taking loud and rambunctious energy outdoors more allows for a more calm and quiet space inside 🙂
  • Being Creative: Was a 10, stayed a 10.
  • Going on Field Trips: Was a 10, stayed. We take trips weekly!

New Items for the 2015-16 School Year

Next, I shared some new items that I felt we could add to our evaluation for this year:

  • Self-Directed Learning: How are we doing on self-directing our own learning?
  • Resolving conflict through communication
  • Having quiet spaces for reading/writing/quiet activities available.

As a whole group, and also in small break out groups we came up with other items:

  • Being supportive of others and their dreams
  • Positive attitude
  • Feeling trusted by adults
  • Engagement in meetings to increase efficiency of meetings
  • Authenticity: being genuine & sincere with others
  • Including other people – two different small groups came up with this item, which I loved seeing. Last year, we had more dynamics of “leaving people out” occur, and this year the kids make more of an effort to include others in their play.
  • Paying attention to other people
  • Connecting with others
  • Believing in our ourselves
  • Focusing
  • Empowering space we can navigate confidently (this was a suggestion by an 8 year old!!!)

You may notice that some items are slightly repetitive and could possibly be clustered together. During this activity, it felt more important to honor the suggestions made by the students than to spend more time on clustering. Some kids felt very strongly about how they worded an item and wanted it in the evaluation, and we just let it be. As a facilitator, you have to just sense what is more important in the moment. Allowing the kids to feel connected to and ownership of this process was way more important than sidetracking into a conversation about repetition during the hour we had together (IMO).

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Our 2015-16 Report Card

Items from last year are listed in orange.

Items new to this year are listed in blue.

Please pardon the table formatting, and comment below if you have advice for me on how to re-format more attractively! 

1

 2 3  4 5 7

10

                        Focusing

Engagement in meetings/efficiency

Authenticity being genuine & sincere w/others

Quiet spaces available for reading/writing/quiet activities

Feeling trusted by adults

If someone has a problem, there is time to talk about it.

Being supportive of others & their dreams

Connecting with other people

Resolving conflicts through communication

Being “re-friendly”

 

 8.5 Empowering space we can navigate with confidence

8.5 Cleaning up 

Including other people

Self-Directed Learning

Positive attitude

Paying attention to other people

 

Believing in ourselves

Being Awesome (10+)

Being able to lie down when we need to

Having Choices (10+)

Spending time outside

Being creative

Going on field trips 

 

DC & Annapolis Trip – Year 3!

Two weeks ago, @tomis and I took 11 students on a road trip to DC & Annapolis. This is the third year this trip has been offered at Mosaic, and for some students, their third year attending. However this is the first year that none of their parents came along with them! At 8:30am on a Monday morning, we loaded up a van & SUV and off we went for the 8 hour drive to my parents house in Bowie, Maryland.

My parents very generously share their home with all the students, turning it into one big children’s hostel for three nights. My mom has dinner ready for us every night, a highlight for many of the kids. In fact, I wasn’t planning on going this year, but in the late winter the kids said they really wanted to go so they could see my mom. They didn’t care what we did in Maryland, they just wanted to see her!

An Overview of our Trip

Day One: Monday, May 23, 2016

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We left Charlotte around 8:30am Monday morning, arriving to Bowie around 4:30 that afternoon. After eating an awesome spread of Vietnamese/American food (my mother is Vietnamese), we visited the Owens Science Center Planetarium the first night for a lecture about stars. The talk ended up being more geared to adults than kids. Still, most of the kids sat through the entire hour and a half presentation – some even saying they liked it! I was blown away by their patience and respect to the presenter.

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Waiting for the presentation to start in the almost empty planetarium!

Day 2: Tuesday: May 24, 2016

On Tuesday, we went to DC for the day to explore the museums at the Mall. In the morning a group went to the Holocaust Museum with me and another group to the Museum of the American Indian with Tomis. We met up for lunch at a food truck rally behind the Air and Space Museum and then everyone went to the Museum of Natural History together.

The Holocaust Museum has a permanent exhibit that you need to get tickets to see. They are free, but very limited. We arrived at 10:15 (it opens at 10am), but the tickets were already all gone. We were able to still see several other exhibits, my favorite being one told from the perspective a boy named Daniel. His diary recounted his experiences of the Holocaust as a young Jewish boy. His family was taken to concentration camps and only he and his father survived, eventually being reunited after they were freed.

This was the first year I offered this musuem to the kids. The first year of Mosaic, our oldest student was 10. Now that same 10 year old is almost 13! It is such an amazing journey to watch the kids grow and mature. The Holocaust is a sobering and very heart-breaking historical event to learn about, so it was important that the students felt ready for the content. We had two almost 11 year olds (turning 11 in Sept), an almost 12 year old, two 12 year olds, and one 13 year old attend in this group. We had preparatory conversations before going and we also did a releasing process after (for those wanting this). One student was really sad after the museum, understandably, so we discussed feeling our feelings and allowing them to move through us. I always believe in feeling our feelings rather than ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist. When we keep those feelings in they fester in our minds and bodies. I prefer allowing the feelings to come and move through!

At the Holocaust Museum
At the Holocaust Museum
A group of us walking along the Mall in DC.
A group of us walking along the Mall in DC.
At the Natural History Museum
At the Natural History Museum

Day 3: Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The next day we went to Annapolis, where I used to live. It was really fun to take the kids walking around my old stomping grounds. We walked right by the house where I used to live on 3rd street in Eastport.

We started off our day at the Hammond-Harwood House, built right after the American Revolution. I loved this tour and the activities that followed. The tour focused on architecture and furniture of the time period. We learned about John Shaw and saw many chairs he designed, some of which still exist today. His furniture was high quality and in demand in the early 1800’s. The picture captions below share more details about this tour & following activities.

We learned what an 18th Century "security system" looked like - a series of 5 locks on the front door! Some kids even got to try locking and unlocking the many locks.
We learned what an 18th Century “security system” looked like – a series of 5 locks on the front door! Some kids even got to try locking and unlocking the many locks.
Here we are in the study of the house. You can see examples of the chair back designs in this picture that we used to inspire an art project after the tour.
Here we are in the study of the house. You can see examples of the chair back designs in this picture that we used to inspire an art project after the tour.
We could tell which rooms were designed for entertaining guests by the fancy molding.
We could tell which rooms were designed for entertaining guests by the fancy molding.
In the formal dining room we learned about symmetry. The whole house was designed to be symmetrical. This room had a false door just to match the entry door on the other side. There was also a hidden door disguised as a window to keep the appearance of symmetry.
In the formal dining room we learned about symmetry. The whole house was designed to be symmetrical. This room had a false door just to match the entry door on the other side. There was also a hidden door disguised as a window to keep the appearance of symmetry.
In the ballroom we learned that candles placed in front of mirrors helped reflect more light for parties at night.
In the ballroom we learned that candles placed in front of mirrors helped reflect more light for parties at night.
In the servant's quarters we learned about some superstitions about hiding shoes in the ceiling to ward off witches - this house had an old shoe found in it from the early 1800's. We got to see it! We also saw the locked spice cabinet - spices and coffee were very expensive and kept under lock and key.
In the servant’s quarters we learned about some superstitions about hiding shoes in the ceiling to ward off witches – this house had an old shoe found in it from the early 1800’s. We got to see it! We also saw the locked spice cabinet – spices and coffee were very expensive and kept under lock and key.
After the tour, the kids designed their own chair back designs!
After the tour, the kids designed their own chair back designs!
This was really fun, and I loved seeing all the beautiful designs they created!!! The kids jumped right into the project, it was really neat to see.
This was really fun, and I loved seeing all the beautiful designs they created!!! The kids jumped right into the project, it was really neat to see.
We also made satchels of lavender. Many people used this to mask smells. Bathing was not a regular occurrence during this time period, so carrying around lavender was helpful! We had a couple kids not bathe during the trip, so we asked them to carry these too ;)
We also made satchels of lavender. Many people used this to mask smells. Bathing was not a regular occurrence during this time period, so carrying around lavender was helpful! We had a couple kids not bathe during the trip, so we asked them to carry these too 😉

After the tour, our plan was to just find lunch in the downtown area, walk around Ego Alley (a dock where many people show off their boats by the restaurants), and then go home. However, we found out that it was the Naval Graduation week and that the Blue Angels were going to do an air show that afternoon! We decided to stay for the air show.

Annapolis was PACKED with people. Parking and eating downtown were out of the question. I took us over to Eastport (a town that annexed the city in 1951), where I used to live, and found us street parking in an area I was sure tourists didn’t know about. There was a little market/breakfast & lunch spot I knew about with healthy food options, and thankfully, it was still there after 9 years! I haven’t lived there since 2007. The kids got either salads, pizza, or gluten free pizza.

We then went to a little beach I knew about to play in the sand and water. There were tons of people there because of the air show coming up. Tomis stayed with a few kids there, and I walked a large group over to the main downtown area (about a 25 minute walk in the hot sun!), and we watched the show from Ego Alley. It was pretty awesome. We were amazed at how loud the planes were and how close together they flew. One tiny mistake could be fatal!

The downside of the Blue Angel show was the volume of people in the area. It took us 2 hours to get out of Annapolis and get back to my parents house! Normally this is a 30 minute drive. Still, it was worth it in my opinion. I think the kids agreed too, because many shared that the Annapolis day was really fun.

We spent one more night at my parents house, full of fun playing at the park, walking the trails and running around my parent’s house. My parents have a really great home for housing groups of kids with lots of bedrooms and a giant park behind the house that you can see from the kitchen and back deck. The trails also start from the park and come equipped with workout equipment along the way.

Playing at the beach in Eastport.
Playing at the beach in Eastport.
Making the long, hot trek to downtown Annapolis.
Making the long, hot trek to downtown Annapolis.
The planes were so fast it was very hard to get a good picture!! They came a lot closer than this, but this pic does show you how close together they fly.
The planes were so fast it was very hard to get a good picture!! They came a lot closer than this, but this pic does show you how close together they fly.

Personal Highlights/Reflections

  • Family: I was so happy that the kids felt comfortable enough to come on an 8 hour road trip away from their homes. The general culture and feel of our school is more family-like than school-like. I love this!
  • Gratitude: The kids expressed gratitude to my parents over and over again. They thanked my mom repeatedly for the meals, which were so yummy. They also thanked my parents for hosting them. I loved that they genuinely felt grateful and were willing to share that. This expression of gratitude really meant a lot to my parents.
  • Holding Space/Giving Compassion: Practicing how to hold space and give compassion for children was my favorite part of this trip. I obviously get to practice this during the day at school, however, it is a completely different experience doing this while on a trip far, far away from home. I think it is healthy and wonderful for kids (when they are ready) to experience life with different caregivers. Being away from mom and dad, they have to figure out how to find comfort in their friends and within themselves in new ways. There were times of “I miss my mommy, I wish she was here,” accompanied by tears and big feelings. I practiced empathizing and loving, as opposed to fixing and “making” them feel better. I remember one of the older students asking me if I was annoyed when someone got upset, and I could honestly share with her that I wasn’t. For many people (myself included), we are taught that problems and big feelings always need fixing. This is not the case in many circumstances. When feelings of sadness or frustration come up, many people simply want to feel heard and loved. Not all problems can be fixed. Sometimes it just takes being heard and validated for a feeling to move through a person. I cherish opportunities to practice in this area, and a trip that is this far away from home is a wonderful opportunity to do it! I found myself connecting with the kids in deeper and more meaningful ways. I am SO GRATEFUL that the parents trusted me to travel with their children.
  • Car Rides with Kids = FUN: The 8 hour car rides to and from Charlotte, and the two hours of traffic in Annapolis were actually really fun! Children talk and talk and talk, and they love to play games. They make the time go by so fast, and I find that I love the road trips with them. On the way home, the kids in my car were hoping we would get stuck in traffic so they could be in the car longer!
  • More Responsibility: This year we had more kids with their own cell phones. It was fun when were in the Natural History Museum to let a group go off on their own to explore so they could take the time they wanted in the exhibits they wanted to see. We set a time and meeting place, and we also stayed in touch via text message. Also, the kids were in charge of their own money, with a $20 daily budget for food. They chose and bought their own food and decided how to spend their leftover money for souvenirs. I think this is a wonderful learning experience for them!
  • Bonding: There are ways the kids bond with each other on multi-day trips that melt my heart. The kids found deeper connections to each other. This strengthens our community because of their increased care for one another. This has carried over to our time back at school. On my first day back to school after the trip from the long Memorial Day weekend, I came in late because I was traveling back from PA. I walked into the Food Room at school to find most of the kids in school sitting around the big table just hanging out and talking to each other, like they just couldn’t get enough of spending time with one another. It felt like walking into a family reunion. I am so incredibly thankful for this feeling!