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!

Off-site Opportunities!

One of my favorite things to do is go on trips with kids. When I taught in public schools, I would relish the days we could go on a field trip. My first year teaching, I organized an overnight trip via bus to Williamsburg, VA with 40 kids! I love the feeling of going out and learning through cool experiences.

At Mosaic, trips seem to be a regular weekly occurrence. Students, facilitators & parent volunteers are always out and about in the city. One trip the kids have loved recently is going to Amelie’s French Bakery to write during Writer’s Workshop. There, they get to do what many self-employed adults do – work from a coffee shop. Groups of us also regularly go to the library, Children’s Theater, weekly hikes, bike rides, volunteer at the Recyclerly, work in the community garden, deliver meals for friendship trays, visit farms, and so much more.

For this post, I want to focus on the most unique trip I’ve gone on yet – to see horses get their teeth cleaned & checked by a horse dentist. One of our students, @alonalearning made a post in our private school Facebook group letting everyone know that she was interested in learning about animals. She asked to tag along for any vet visits they might schedule. One of our parents who owns horses let her know that she had a unique animal care opportunity coming up and we made a plan to visit.

The family lives almost 2 hours away from school (yes they commute this far regularly!). I decided that it made the most sense for us to spend the night there since the farrier was coming at 8am. I did not want to get up at 5 am to get down there on time. I told the girls who went that the only request I had for this trip was that they blogged about it afterwards. I’m sitting at home typing this post across from @libby who is blogging with me right now!

We had so much fun! @libby and I spent the night in my tent under the stars. The weather was perfect for this.

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When we woke up, I made everyone breakfast burritos while we waited for the farrier to come. None of us knew what a farrier was, but we learned that this is a person who trims and shoes horses’ hooves. I did not understand the anatomy of a horse’s foot, but I got a lesson in that while asking him questions. I watched him pry off the metal horseshoes and then nail them back on after he trimmed the nail. I originally thought that the whole bottom of the foot was its hoof that you can trim off (like our nails). It’s really just the outer layer. When he nails the horseshoe on, the metal nails have to go right on the outside, and are just milometers away from the base where it could hurt the horse.

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The farrier grunted a lot, and later we learned that this was his way of being even-keel and communicating in a non-reactive manner when the horse was resisting his efforts. We got to watch him take off each horseshoe, clip the hooves, file them down, and then nail the horse shoe back on.

After the farrier visit, @libby, @alonalearning and I went for a fun nature hike. We didn’t really know where we were going, and it felt like an amazing morning adventure. We found a creek and walked along board bridges that went over it.

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(Side note: we later found out that we wandered off the property we were visiting…fortunately the neighbors didn’t come after us.)

Around 11am the horse dentist arrived. The girls went to get the horses from the paddock. I loved how they were taught how to do this and responsible for helping in this way.

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The horse dentist was amazing!! He was incredibly friendly, and it was quite evident that he loved his career and enjoyed sharing it with young people. He has two daughters himself and has hosted groups of homeschoolers before. I really appreciated how he took the time to explain everything he was doing and also answered any questions we had.

Here is an explanation of his process, one that we observed four times on the different horses:

First he sedates the horse. It doesn’t knock them out, but gets them sleepy. Their heads droop down a bit and it only takes about 2 minutes to kick in.

Sedating the horse.
Sedating the horse.

He feels around the horses mouth to check for which teeth need filing and feel for any loose teeth. He files some of the teeth in the front.

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He puts a metal bit on the horses that keeps their mouth open. He files down more teeth in the back and pulls any that need pulled (we only saw this once on this visit). Then he rinses their mouth with water and takes the bit off. That’s it!

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Some things I learned:

  • Horses have 6 sets of 6 teeth (36 teeth). There are 6 on the top front, 6 on the top bottom, 6 on the right side bottom, 6 on the left side bottom, 6 on the right top, and 6 on the left top. Geldings (males) have 4 extra canine teeth that they use for defense if they need to. So mares have 36 teeth and geldings have 40.
  • Their mouths are huge. It goes all the way back to their eyes. Their tongues are super long. It curves like a corkscrew in the back to shovel the food down. We got to put our hands in the horses mouth to feel their teeth and tongue!

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  • Their teeth keep growing like a rabbit. So they need to be filed down. In the wild, horses spend most of their day with their heads down, grazing. The gravity of having their heads down and their chewing all day actually helps them take care of their teeth naturally. The dentist said that the horses with the worst teeth are the ones kept in stalls all day because they are looking up and out all day and only have their heads down eating when hay is thrown in. These tend to be the very expensive show horses. I was saddened to hear that horses have to live this way.
  • Horse teeth are very big! We saw one get pulled. In the picture below, the root of the tooth should be another inch longer. It was very loose and needed to come out. It was tooth 109 on the top. If it didn’t get pulled it would get infected and could spread to the nasal cavity.

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  • To become a horse dentist, he went to a special trade school for 3 months. Before this he had his 4 year degree in equine science. The special school he went to was a 7 day a week, 12 hour a day intense program with 8 students. He has been practicing now for 13 years and is the only horse dentist in Camden. So he puts his hands inside the mouths of a horse about $1,400 times a year. The horse visit today cost $75 a horse. That’s $105,000 a year!

I am so grateful that @alonalearning let parents know she was interested in vet trips! Otherwise I would never have thought to have this experience. I am so grateful that these two men were willing to share their work with us. And I’m grateful that I can take kids out on trips often so we can experience unique offerings like this.

Inward Dive

I haven’t blogged much recently. I’ve been enjoying an “inward dive” the past couple months, rebuilding myself from the inside out. I’ve been releasing a lot, and creating new thought patterns for myself through meditation..

I’ve been reading quite a bit, books that are new and very different as well as books that feel familiar and validating to the work I do. I also have been focused on being present in the moment, without thinking about what I will document. I’ve been thinking about a little cartoon from Dr. Quantum that I’ve watched several times with kids. In the video, Dr. Quantum shows how the observer can change what is being seen. I want to support the kids and myself in documentation, but I want to do so with this in mind. I want to be aware of how my own perceptions influence what I record and see in the world.

Having attended traditional schools all my life, I am aware that I have been trained to produce work that is geared toward a specific outcome. I have to undo all of this training to open my mind to all possibilities so I can see things that I would never expect!

In the rest of this blog post, I’ll share what I’ve been reading & internally focused on and then share some reflective documentation about what’s been happening at school.

What I’ve Been Reading:

What I’ve Been Practicing:

  • Meditation Mantra. I ask the universe to grant me an open mind to see perspectives I cannot grasp at the current moment. I understand that what I see is seen through the lens of my own perspective. I know that this is just what I see, however there are many different ways to see one situation, event, conversation, etc. If I am struggling with a particular situation, and I want to see it from another perspective, I must open my mind to allow for another view of the situation to become clear to me. This meditation has been incredibly helpful for me release stories and patterns I create and replay to myself that do not serve me. I do it quickly during the day as needed.
  • Meditating in the mornings. Right as we wake up, our brain is moving through our brain waves. We sleep in Delta and Theta, the brain waves where we are in our subconcious mind. In the morning, we are passing through Alpha brain waves before we are fully alert and in our Beta brain waves. Alpha is considered the gateway to our subconcious mind, so here is where we can really reprogram our thoughts & brain. In Alpha, we can imagine, play and create the feelings we want to feel. This is a very short and sweet article about brain waves if you are interested! I have been playing around a lot in Alpha brain waves. Last week, I woke up every morning for 5 days at 6am to listen to an hour long guided meditation by Joe Dispenza. I have enjoyed this practice, and also will admit that I fell asleep during several of these. This really doesn’t bother me, as I am really focused on just taking time each morning to be with ME. I am enjoying getting to know my own mind, thoughts, and feelings, and feeling at peace with myself.
  • Feeling my feelings. The kids really help me with this one. Children feel what they feel, and some do it very loudly! They allow anger, sadness, frustration, etc. to erupt from them with cries, yelling, tantrums. Then they are done. It’s out of them and they are back to playing. Their world isn’t rocked for the most part. A phrase one of the parents here has taught me is another mantra I tell myself when I am having big feelings: What you resist, persists. If I feel anger and I resist it, building a wall around it, I end up getting angry at myself for being angry (or sad, or frustrated, etc.). I see how this only builds up more of the same feeling inside of me! It feels better to just feel it. “Oh my, I feel so angry right now.” I allow all the thoughts to scream through my mind – calling names, yelling, cussing, all of it. This is actually a strategy I read about in Naomi Aldort’s book I mentioned above. If I need to cry, I cry. I feel fully, and then the feeling moves through me and then it’s off and out. I am back to playing and being.
  • Taking a several month long Live Empowered Class with a group (taught by Kristen Oliver). This has been powerful & exciting! We started in January with weekly classes, and then extended for a longer program going through May. This class has propelled me to journey within myself, guiding me to the bullet points I listed above.

Magic School Moments

Co-working, for kids.

Some students come to school to co-work mostly. Some students come to participate in group offerings. They all do a blend of this, all falling somewhere on the spectrum of mostly independent work to mostly group offerings. This month, I found out that a student published a book through Amazon’s Create Space. I knew the student was writing it, and spent much of their day writing. I knew the student took a publishing class from Dan. I didn’t know what would come from it, and didn’t really need to know that – this was the student’s own venture. I know the student is really mature and independent, and I know they ask for help when they need it. It was a really magical moment for me to not really be involved in a student project yet to see how one person’s own drive and initiative could lead to publishing their first book independently.

When I opened the school, I felt like everyone needed me. I’ve released this idea, realizing that when I decide to feel like that, I end up manifesting exactly that. I loved seeing a child have the time and resourcefulness to be what it is they want to be: an author. Children in this school do not have to wait to become something, they are something. The book is really funny and cleverly written! I haven’t finished it yet as I’m still waiting for it to arrive from Amazon (I have read parts of other copies at school). This student wants to remain anonymous. You can purchase the book here. I am inspired to write my own book! This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and here this student has shown me that it’s possible.

Learning through imitation

We see the opera, they sing the opera.  I build bamboo teepees, they build bamboo teepees. They watch Annie, they play out Annie characters. Learning through imitation is something all animals do, and is just one of many ways to learn! I am noticing this a lot and being mindful of this. I see how the space and environment acts as another facilitator and thoughtfully consider how it influences the play of those in it.

I began building a bamboo village two weeks ago at school. It’s been really fun to do, and I’ve loved all the outdoor time I get. I am enjoying seeing the kids play beside me, some of them inspired to create with bamboo as I am.

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Light-Hearted Offerings

We do not need to be so serious all the time! I’ve been enjoying light-hearted group offerings that are for just for fun. This actually ends up being a really healthy community builder, allowing us to mix and play with people we typically might not play with!

One student offered Lip Sync Battles last week, and oh boy this has been incredibly fun. Adults, girls, and boys participate and get wild and crazy. And we all laugh and feel light.

Other fun group offerings that have been lighthearted and fun are silly songs before Change Up, squirrel and fox, a bird call game, and story shares.

After School Offerings

“School” isn’t confined to 9:30-3:30. Learning is life and you can get your education all day long! I enjoy getting to join in offerings around the city at any hour with the kids. Some things we done outside of school hours in the past few weeks:

  • Visit the Musuem of Modern Art on a day it was free
  • Watched an Indian Dance peformance at the Mint Musuem
  • Garden at the community garden
  • Saw the band Fish Out of Water perform (at a Brewery…)
  • Attended a lecture by Biologist Rob Dunn

The Rob Dunn lecture was pretty neat. Our students were the only non-adults there! Dunn’s thesis revolved around the idea that it’s important for all different types of people to exist in the world – and for them to communicate with one another. He showed how Leonardo DaVinci’s scientific ideas weren’t discovered for hundreds of years because he didn’t know any scientists. He was an artist, and saw the world through the lens of an artist. Scientits would benefit from having artists in their lives, and vice versa. Dunn also stressed that a revolution in education needs to happen. He said schools are teaching kids science in the way that is already known, but not setting up conditions for the unknown to be discovered. I wanted to jump up and tell him (from the very back of the lecture hall), that there were kids right here who are in an environment that honors different types of personalities and encourages them to communicate with one another – and that these kids know how to learn and think up new ideas!

Spawn Shift: Time to Reset

We focused our last Change Up Meeting on Spawn Shift. I am so grateful for our weekly ALF calls to inspire us to do this! @alex in ExALT shared that he needed re-set some cultural patterns at school, and gave his older students especially a wake-up call for what it means to be an agile learner. Coming to an ALC does mean that you get to create your day, and that you get to decide what you want to do. However, this does not mean that you do this independent of community. We are coming together and need to take responsibility for what it means to be in community. If you are older, it means that younger participants will emulate what you do. If you aren’t taking care of yourself emotionally, physically, or of others – they will copy that.

@ryanshollenberger and @abbyo shared too that earlier this year they dedicated three Change Up meetings to reviewing the Agile Student Agreement. They had a lot of new students in the space and said it was important to remind all the ALC participants what it means to be an agile learner.

I shared this with Jess, and we agreed that we also needed a culture shift, and we wanted to start with a deep dive into Spawn Points. We thought about what Ryan and Abby did in NYC and through it would also  serve our students to review the part of the Student Agreement in states, starting with the one that applies to Spawn: Productive participation in Morning and Afternoon meetings. Focus your mind, engage your heart, and listen to others.”

The kids were pretty engaged in the conversation! I was happy to see them sharing ideas about why we spawn – many understand that this is an important part of the day. I also appreciated that one of the kids spoke up about how spawn can be fun through the connections activities/games we do together. Her vocalizing this helped reiterate the point that you can go into something with a positive attitude and make it fun and productive, or you can just decide it’s awful and make it awful.

At Change Up, I asked the group to share responses to the question, “Why do we Spawn?” You can see the answers below – most responses are by students, not adults.

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If the image is to hard to read, you can read below:

  • this is how we record what we do each day (documentation)
  • Set what we want/need to do each day & then saw if we accomplished them (intention/reflection)
  • make ourselves aware of goals
  • to hear what my friends are doing, make plans, check in with the community
  • listen to what other people are saying, have fun while doing it
  • build relationships with each other – so we can support each other and help each other

Sometimes we just need a reminder of what we are doing as an ALC. I’m so grateful we have our ALF calls so I can hear what’s going on at other ALC’s and get ideas! It was honestly really comforting to know that other facilitators have similar challenges, and hearing how they respond help give me ideas for how to continue to shape the culture here. This is something I craved when I taught at a little private school before Mosaic, and I knew was possible when I met @tomis. It’s incredibly wonderful to be a part of a larger community where I can receive inspiration and support!