From October 2014

Highlights from the week – October 27-31

This week was full of ease and flow. I feel like we are harvesting right now the fruits of having a group of kids that has been working on how to be in community with one another for over a year now.

Some quick highlights from the week:

  • I visited a teen program in Asheville – they are beginning to use Agile tools and practices! I wrote a blog post earlier this week with more details on that trip.
Morning circle at Endor
Morning circle at Endor
  •  Tomis taught the kids a super fun strategy game called Tictactics. It’s tic-tac-toe to the extreme. What was really interesting is the he presented the game the morning after I read an article called, “How Guessing Games Help Kids Solve Math Problems.” While the article focus on numerical guessing games, I see the link to strategy guessing games also providing a strong mathematical foundations. Both girls and boys got into the game during our Math Club hour and I loved seeing that!
Tic-Tac-Tics
Tic-Tac-Tics
Level 3 of the Egg Drop Challenge
Level 3 of the Egg Drop Challenge
  • Our Language Club visited Pura Vida in NoDa to practice our Spanish skills and see the Day of the Dead Altar. Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on Nov 1 of each year in Latin America. I’ve been taking kids to Pura Vida to see the Altar for 5 years years now! The owner and all the employees are very friendly and kind to the kids. The let the kids pretend to buy items in the store using the Spanish they knew. @Sassygirl26 could speak fluently of course and also taught us what she knew about Latin American traditions! She saw egg shells filled with confetti and told us that they are used to crack over the heads of others we want to wish good luck on. We bought 12 eggs for $1.25 and used them to wish each other luck the next day! It was a mess, but lots of fun 🙂
  • Our Fall Festival! Oh man, what a fun day. We had face painting, bobbing for apples, fashion shows/clothing displays, a costume contest, and an International Display where we tasted food from various parts of the world. @Sassygirl26 and @Tessa were really excited to plan this day and met many times over the weeks leading up for it to prepare a runway, make decorations, and plan activities and a schedule.
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Prepping for the Fall Fashion Show
After the costume contest
After the costume contest

We certainly ended October with a bang, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

Visiting Endor Initiative: Self-Directed Learning for Teens & Budding ALC!

After a whirlwind weekend making it to two weddings in Virginia and Maryland, I arrived back to my home in Charlotte 9pm Sunday night to meet @Alonalearning. She was spending the night because we were waking up at 6:45am to head to Endor Initiative with @Gabe.

Liam Nilson is running this self-directed learning initiative for young people ages 14-22 out of a dance studio in Asheville, NC. Last year they met in various places around the city, but this year they have a set place to be together for 3 days a week. Liam came to visit Mosaic a few weeks ago and has begun using some Agile tools and practices at Endor. I’m so excited for this new collaboration with educators in North Carolina!

Our plan was to see what a self-directed learning program for teens looked like so we could brainstorm ideas for what a teen program could be here at ALC Mosaic. Alona and Gabe are our two oldest students, both 11, and our only middle schoolers. I left Monday morning with Alona and Gabe feeling immensely grateful for the opportunity to see Liam’s program.

OUR DAY AT ENDOR

We arrived just a few minutes late, but made it to the morning intention setting. This was a big group, and we had new faces to also get to know! With so many other versions of “school” out there, it felt so safe and comfortable to go to Endor and to easily understand and know how to start the day. Alona, Gabe and I are used to the practice of setting intentions for the day, even if our intentions are to just watch and observe – or to have no intentions.

Morning circle at Endor
Morning circle at Endor

Next up was their Monday morning Change Up meeting, something else our Mosaic group knows about and is comfortable with. I had the pleasure of being asked to lead the Change Up meeting, which I did happily!

I wish I was writing this blog post the day of my visit instead of two days later – I can’t remember every detail, but I remember Alona chiming in at one point and that’s when I realized what a benefit it is to have similar tools and practices present in our network of schools. Every ALC is different, but we can move easily to and from each ALC with students and know that some fundamentals are the same. It’s not that every ALC needs a Change Up meeting, but knowing that each community makes agreements together and works on evolving those together helps newcomers understand where the community is and how they can engage in it to be supportive rather than disruptive.

Endor's Community Mastery Board for Change Up Meeting
Endor’s Community Mastery Board for Change Up Meeting

We also saw all the different activities that have happened or could happen at Endor – this board looks similar to the walls of stickies we have up in Mosaic’s big room!

Stickies of possibilities!
Stickies of possibilities!

When I spied @Charlotte’s “Seeds to Bloom” board at Endor, my heart skipped a beat! Here is a concrete example of how educators united across a network can support each other – we can visit a different ALC and try out different tools that are used to support the community and try them out at our own ALC.

Charlotte noticed the kids at Mosaic constantly coming up with ideas for trips, projects, or activities they wanted at school, but then not knowing how to move those ideas to fruition. She created our Seeds to Bloom board to support them. When they come up with an idea, they plant it as a seed by placing the sticky in the Seed section. They plant the seed by setting up a meeting time with other people that want to make the idea happen. The seed is growing after this first meeting if steps and an action plan has been created. Then when the idea comes to fruition, the whole school celebrates that the seed is finally in bloom!

We love empowering self-directed learners to take their ideas and make them into reality.

 

Endor's Seeds to Bloom board - appropriate for teens!
Endor’s Seeds to Bloom board – appropriate for teens!

 

Mosaic's Seeds to Bloom board - more suited for young children!
Mosaic’s Seeds to Bloom board – more suited for young children!

 

One of Liam’s intentions for the day was to make the schedule board clearer, something that came out of the Change-up meeting. The Mosaic kids opted to keep up Language Club as we normally do from 10-11am each morning, and then to have some open time after, then go to the tea house for Ethics, followed by the clay workshop at 1pm. It was a full day!

Liam’s new schedule board @ Endor Initiative

10am: Language Club

Alona and Gabe practiced on Duolingo and I finished translating a chapter of my Spanish reader for @Sassygirl26 to check.

Rochelle, who is working with Liam at Endor (and will hopefully be more present at Mosaic this year!), also speaks German and she and Alona compared silly Duolingo phrases that they’ve encountered. Rochelle had never seen Duolingo on a computer (she always uses the phone app), so Alona showed her how the computer offers more options – like timed practice.

Gabe also shared some silly Spanish phrases taught through Duolingo and worked from his phone app since he didn’t have his computer with him.

11am: Group discussion about self-directed learning

This was a discussion that organically happened and ended up including almost all of Endor along with the visitors – Mosaic & fellow Agile SOLE board member Steve Cooperman along with Robyn who is planning to open a center for young children in Asheville.

Steve, Rochelle & Robyn had questions about how Mosaic started, including financial and structural questions. This flowed into an engaging discussion of how to support all types of kids in a space – those who are self starters along with those who sometimes need a nudge to try things out. Around this time, the Endor kids popped their heads into the room and asked to join us. Hearing from them about what works well for them and what they want for their own education was exciting to me. I listened to a teen girl talk about the struggle of balance. She recognized that sometimes she wants to be pushed to try something new out, but that if she’s pushed too much she will resist. However, that line is not always clear about when the push is needed or when there is too much push. This was a teen who also spoke up in the Change Up Meeting about how she wanted 5 minute check-in’s each week with a facilitator. Her point was that even if things are going well, knowing that there will always be a check in would bring her comfort in case a time came up where things weren’t going well.

For me, this reaffirmed that it’s the relationship between a facilitator and a student in a self-directed learning environment that is the most important thing to establish. A conversation I feel like I am constantly having with other educators and parents are about boundaries and structure and how much to have when large groups of students are together. This is ever changing because the needs of the kids are constantly changing! Facilitators need to first know each child and recognize when a child needs a loving push, a little more structure, or when to back off.

12pm: Ethics Discussion at Dobra Tea Room

At Dobra Tea Room for Ethics discussion
At Dobra Tea Room for Ethics discussion

What a treat! Literally! @Alonalearning and I were so excited to see that EVERY baked good was gluten free! We split a hummus plate with gluten free pita bread & veggies and then each picked a cookie to have.

Dobra has a quiet and intimate setting, perfect to grab a snack, cup of tea, and to then debate ethical dilemmas. We took off our shoes and then sat with small tables, cozied up in a circle. One of the teens seemed to flow into a natural role as facilitator and we all went around the circle – we could either present an ethical dilemma to discuss or pass. The topics discussed were:

  • One teen read an article recently about an artist who copied famous works and gave them to museums for free. Is this ethical since they are not selling copied works?
  • One teen had a grammatical dilemma with a friend that they wanted to talk about with the group. This turned into an interesting topic of whether or not a person who hasn’t learned grammar rules should reproduce.
  • The last topic was about whether or not a doctor should conduct CPR on a person who has the Ebola virus. Should the doctor put their life in danger? If they contract the virus and spread it, is that causing more harm?

What I most admired was the level of respect the teens gave each other. They listened to each other, were able to jump into the conversation without the need for a strong facilitator and were engaged in each topic of discussion. Being a part of this group made me feel a lot of excitement for what is possible with a teen program.

1pm Clay!

Alona and Gabe partcipated in the clay workshop with a local artist. During this time I got to dive in more deeply with conversations with Steve, Rochelle & Liam about how we can collaborate more in the future.

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Working with the clay artist @ Endor

2pm: Wrap up and Reflection

Here is another practice our kids are used to – sharing a reflection at the end of the day. We shared a “delta and a plus,” something good and something that could have been better.

Gabe, Alona and I had to share quickly and then jump in the car to head home! On our way home, we talked even more about our day and what we wanted to see for a teen program at Mosaic. Both Alona and Gabe shared that they liked how it seemed like focused conversations could happen with older students. They felt like teens listened more than younger students and they liked that. We discussed the possibility of renting a room on the 3rd floor at our current location if we enrolled more middle schoolers and could afford to do so. Then there could be space for older kids to go if they felt like they needed to be separate from younger kids.

I had an incredible time visiting Endor. I was so appreciative of how easy-going Alona and Gabe were, they never complained about the long car ride and they simply joined into what the older teens were doing at Endor with ease. I loved collaborating with other educators that support self-directed learning, and I loved seeing Agile tools supporting the community to create a space where teens can self-organize and self-direct their learning. I hope to continue nurturing a collaborative relationship with our Asheville friends!

 

 

Intentions & last week’s failure…

Intentions for the week: 

  • Create a mail chimp fundraiser for the school
  • Prep some ideas I’d like to share about school structures at our community meeting
  • Create a clear admissions process with the admissions working group
  • Support Isabella with Fall Festival planning
  • Work with students on designing the perfect school (asking them to create potential schedules they’d like to have at school)
  • Visit Pura Vida with language & international club to see the Dia de los Muertos altar
  • Practice every day on Duolingo
  • Finish translating my 5th grade reader into English
  • Write an update for the Book Club for Punished by Rewards

Last week’s failure: 

I forgot to upload the trello boards for the kids in my small group. And now the boards are deleted. And now one week in the life of ALC for @animalfreak9, @john, @jamesisland, @gabe, @superleaf08, @hermoine are gone.

I feel badly about this and will intend to do this every Friday or remember to ask another ALF for support if I’m unable to (this Friday I left school early to travel to a wedding and did not do the trello updates myself or ask @Charlotte or @dthomasson for help…)

 

Movie Day Reflection

photo 2 (2) photo 1 (2)

 

Movie Day happened today! One of our students, Nate, added planning a movie day to our “Seeds to Bloom” board (You can read more about what that is in our Tools & Practices forum) a few weeks ago. Today our Movie Day was in full bloom! At the end of the day we congratulated the Movie Planning Committee and held a group reflection of the experience.

First we asked the Movie Planning Committee, “What did you do to make this possible?” They responded: 

  • Met as a group
  • Took notes on a google doc
  • Picked 5 movies to bring to the whole group to vote on
  • Formed a snacks committee to plan out a snack that everyone could eat (GF, no dairy)

Next, I reminded the kids that, just like any person who has experienced success would tell you, it takes lots of failures and do-overs to learn how to get results you want. We all agreed that some things could have gone better, and I reminded them that this is a huge learning opportunity and gift that the Movie Planning Committee has given us. We can all learn what we can do better next time!

When asked what could go better, the response was: 

  • tested movies first
  • made sure we had the right equipment
  • found DVDs for all movies b/c internet isn’t reliable here (Sand lot wouldn’t play correctly and kids had to crowd around Charlotte’s computer instead of watching through Dan’s computer and projector)
  • Tessa added, “I wish people didn’t give things away (parts of the movie).”

Then we celebrated what went well! Those responses: 

  • they liked the movies
  • everyone cooperated on making and eating the snacks
  • making the tickets and giving them out was fun

Then we became movie critics! We learned what that meant and reviewed the movies!

Critiques for The Airbender:

  • “It was good. I recommend it.” – @gabe
  • “It was appropriate and exciting.” – @sassygirl26
  • “I had a reaction to the casting choices.” – @Charlotte
  • “I liked the theme of the four elements.” – @Charlotte

Critiques for The Sandlot:

  • “I liked it because it was exciting and there was a dog.” @animalfreak9
  • “Humorous and great casting of adults, they looked just like how the kids would look when they grew up.” @sassygirl26
  • “I liked the morale of the movie.” @Alonalearning
  • “It was super-realistic.” @dragon

 

 

Week 1 after ALF Weekend…the journey continues

It seemed like @Charlotte, @dinospumoni, and @dthomasson and I were fueled by fire after leaving Chatham last week. The magic of the Quaker Intentional Village Community and being with other ALFers is something that stays with me…and I can see it staying with Charlotte, Dean and Dan too.

 

What have we been up to in the week we’ve been back? 

  • Our Book Club is underway! Join us in reading Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn! Check out that forum here.
  • I shared Charlotte’s “Seeds to Bloom” board for helping kids take their ideas to fruition at school. We shared her board at a breakout session during ALF Weekend and I promised to post a picture of it. You can see her board and others in our “Tools and Practices” ALF forum.
  • It looks like we might have an ALC in progress in Puerto Rico. @alex is a good friend of mine that I met at AERO in 2013. We’ve stayed close and Alex has been following along with our growth. He came to this year’s AERO as well and saw our ALC Presentation, and then he and his wife met @Tomis and I to talk more over dinner. That, interspersed with emails, calls & gchats has led to Alex currently translating our website pages into Spanish. Knowing Alex personally, I’m thrilled to have him working with us closely and can’t wait to see what the future brings! Check out & like his Facebook page here.
  • ALC Endor in Asheville, NC is also in progress! Liam came to visit us a few weeks ago, and I’ve arranged a trip to visit him and his teens on Monday October 27th with Alona and Gabe (our two oldest students). We’ll see what they are up to and hopefully use that to fuel a discussion of what our middle and highschool program can look like at Mosaic.
  • We are in the beginning stages of planning for ALF Summer 2015. We’ve got our working group setting up our first meeting to pick dates.
  • I went on an organizing spree this weekend at school and the school space is getting better and better.

 

Cool highlights from my week with the kids: 

  • @animalfreak9 and @libby writing play reviews of 101 Dalmations. I’m glad Charlotte asked them to write their thoughts – it’s their opinion and they are entitled to have it and share their reasons for not liking the play.

    At Children's Theater
    At Children’s Theater
  • Watching Hannibal the Liar at the Carolina Renaissance Festival. @Ayan drafted an email to him requesting he come visit our school!
At the Carolina Renaissance Festival
At the Carolina Renaissance Festival
  • Having a line of kids beg me for homework on Friday during small group time – they seem to think we are “playing” school and that homework is a part of the game! Hearing our youngest student, Jackson, yell out, “Give me math problems because I LOVE math,” made my heart skip a beat 🙂
  • Having @sassygirl26 (Isabella) check my Spanish homework again this week and not having very many mistakes! I’m translating a 5th grade level book to English.
  • Dan’s super awesome geocaching treasure hunt! Inspired by the interest we have in geocaching, Dan created a scavenger hunt around the building this week. He hid 7 keys that the kids had to find (and keys were hidden in places like under a KEYboard and on piano KEYs). Each key corresponded to a letter and the kids had to them unscramble the letters to enter the word that unlocks the cryptex in the picture here. In the codex is the final clue that led the kids to park where the treasure is hidden!!
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Cracking the codex for the last clue

I want to send lots of appreciation to @Tomis for supporting the behind the scenes work at Mosaic so I can spend most of my days working with kids. That is what I want to be doing every day!!! (I can’t stress enough how I don’t like office work…) I’m very, very grateful that I get to spend most of my time with young people, and that includes @Charlotte@dthomasson, and @dinospumoni who are young at heart!

I’m also incredibly grateful for the flow the staff team is currently in – as I said at the beginning of this post – it seems like our ALF weekend really lit a fire in each of us. I think about where I was over a year ago, not sure of how this “starting a school” thing would go…and now we’ve grown into a network of supportive educators that inspire one another. I’m seeing what’s possible and it’s exciting!

ALF Weekend #1 @ Cloudhouse in Chatham, NY

Well, ALF summer has come and gone and we’ve all gotten started with our various schools/homeschool groups. We’ve spent a few weeks open and operational, and converged the past weekend at our ALC Cloudhouse location in Chatham, NY for our first ALF Weekend!

We gathered for the following purposes: 

  1. Facilitators to share experiences and ideas in order to evolve our Agile Culture model and strengthen our communities
  2. Specialized teams of ALFers to work on network-­wide projects such as: web tools,marketing material, documentation, story­telling, etc.
  3. Relationship building with a focus on healthy communication among the ALF team
  4. Creative problem solving around ways to increase resource sharing within the ALC network ­­- exchange students, facilitator sharing, and alternative currency structures.

My experience at ALF Weekend #1:

The Roadtrip: Driving with Dean and Charlotte — A++++++++ experience. This provided crucial time for purpose #3 in the specific Mosaic Community. We spent 28 hours total in the car together, there and back, and being able to talk about our experiences so far in the school year at Mosaic, what we think could be better, and to simply connect was very beneficial. We all arrived back in Charlotte today feeling energized and clear about our work as ALFs with the students.

 

Group time: We started and ended our days with whole group time. We opened on day one with a discussion about what it means to “ALF from the Source” and answered the questions:

  • What do we see possible? (Our Vision)
  • What’s the difference we can make? (Our Mission)
  • Why do we play/do this work? (Our Purpose)
  • What can the world count on us for? (Accountability)

@artbrock, co-founder of the ALC Network, stated that this activity and the responses we gave would help us converge on what we want the mission, vision, and purpose of our network to be. We have notes on this and will be incorporating our collaborative efforts into the summer documents we started with the help of @Leigh and @Sarasmith (two ALFs that couldn’t be here this weekend, unfortunately).

Day 1 at ALF Weekend - setting up our priorities for our time together.
Day 1 at ALF Weekend – setting up our priorities for our time together.

During our closing group time session, it was clear that communication around roles of various ALFers was needed so that Purpose #3 could happen across the network. We are still in the beginning states of our collaboration between schools and evolving what it means to be a part of a network of schools as we go! Mosaic was the first big school to transition to an ALC and we now have our Everett, Seattle location started up. As we grow, new ALFs desire clarity as to who is responsible for what. We need to balance assigning roles with the need for everyone to constantly change and evolve their role as they gain new experiences and find different sweet spots for themselves in the ALC Network. We believe in constant upgrades to our experience and want to allow our roles to be agile!

The next morning, Arthur led us through an eye-opening session about membranes and boundaries that communities of purpose, like ours, need. Identifying levels and paths of engagement to people joining our community is helpful for maintaining its health. There are those that will join us for our summer programs that are new to many of our foundational roots and they will need a map to see how they can navigate towards a role in the community that they desire. This is helpful so we can maintain the integrity for what it means to ALF. We also want to be able to identify experienced ALFs that can support newer ALFs along their journey.

We created a diagram of membranes that newcomers pass through as they come in contact with our network – mapping a path for those who have never heard of us –> to newcomers –> to participants –> supporters (including volunteers) –> stakeholders (including parents, interns, staff).  We have started documentation on this, but need to fine-tune and add more to the diagram as a part of our growing compilation of ALF Network Resources.

What grew from this conversation was an idea I proposed to @tomis and @bear for an activity for our current ALFs as a way for us to self-identify roles and share those with the other current ALFers. My intentions for the activity were to:

  • Have ALFs self-describe what they do in the network currently and allow space for others to provide input if there is something missing from a self-description of a role.
  • Have each individual to reflect on their list of what they currently do and identify what parts of what they do “juices,” or excites, them. This reflection is important to me – if someone writes a list of what they do and cannot identify something they like in that list, that’s a problem! What can also be an important practice is to see that if what you are doing is actually what you like and enjoy as a way to identify if you are in your “sweet spot” within the community.
  • To have ALFs share with one another if there is something they wish to be doing within the network.
  • To have individuals brainstorm action steps that could help them do what it is they wish to be doing. This is a “do-ocracy,” where we can create our own realities. I have little patience for complaining – I believe we are all empowered to create a life for ourselves that we want – but sometimes it’s hard to think of a doable action step to get us started on that path.

We asked all the ALFs to answer four questions as the first part of this activity: What do you do in the ALC Network? What juices you (from what you do)? What do you want (if anything) to be doing? What action steps can you identify that will get you there?

We all did this and shared – which was a much longer process than I anticipated! We had just come from a session about Metamaps and decided to document what everyone shared using this tool. @drew, @abbyo, and @artbrock diligently documented our process so we could create a map of our current roles and wishes within the ALC Network. This turned out to provide an incredible map of where we are now. Many ALFs felt juiced to use this tool to document and share what is currently happening in our network and relate those to contact ALFs. For example, as our network grows, a new ALF could look at this map and quickly identify which ALFs share common interests, like math, outdoor education, science, etc and then get in touch with those ALFs. Current ALFs can also see who else is interested in collaborating on projects in the future. From this activity, we’ve already assembled a team that has begun plans for our next summer ALF program!

Overall, I found the activity really beneficial and useful. It became kind of a lovefest by the end with lots of time spent with ALFs sharing appreciation for other ALFs. The productive side of me was not excited by the amount of time this took and felt that it led away from the purpose of what we were trying to accomplish, however, as I reflected further on the way home, I realized that we are still in the “getting to know” each other stage of our ALC Network. Art, Tomis, Bear, and Ryan launched this project over a year ago, several of us joined over the last school year, and another group joined as recently as this July. The most important thing we need to do now is build healthy, trusting relationships with each other rooted in gratitude & love. Just like building relationships with students is my number one priority at the beginning of a school year or getting to know a new student, it’s important for me to do this with adults too 😉

 

Small group time: In-between starting and ending each day with group time, the middle of the day was divided in times for self-space, breakout sessions, community projects, and food prep & meals together. Here are some of what I observed/participated in:

  • “Book Club” breakout session: Nancy, @abram, @drew, @dinospumoni are starting an ALF book club. We picked our first book, “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn and are going to set times to meet virtually to discuss the book section by section. Our goal is to have a synthesis of the book created so we can link a shortened doc, or “cliffs notes” to each book link on our resources page. If you want to join, please do so here!
  • “How to motivate kids without manipulation” breakout session: This was an incredible breakout session where ALFs shared strategies with one another that have served to help kids that have appeared to need more support to become self-directed learners. I’ll be adding a recap of that session in our Tools & Practices page soon. This breakout session marked a dream come true for me. I’ve been wishing for a group of alternative educators to share best practices with, and now I have one!
  • “Metamaps” breakout session: We were given a presentation from one of the creators of Metamaps and brainstormed how we could use this tool to serve our community, then moving on to use it in our next group session! Learn more about Metamaps here.
  • Web tools development session: This involved @Drew, @Tomis, and @Artbrock sitting around a table with laptops. Sorry, no summary from me since I didn’t join this one!
  • Ultimate Frisbee: I learned how to play. I kinda liked it. I moreso just loved the support I had from my peers to learn a new game and try something out that I wouldn’t normally do.
  • Community Project Time: We wanted to show appreciate for the Quaker Intentional Village Community hosting our retreat, so we chopped & stacked wood and painted the side of the farm house for them! I really enjoyed getting outside and doing some manual labor.
Charlotte, Tomis, & Dean chopping wood for QIVC
Charlotte, Tomis, & Dean chopping wood for QIVC

Then, there was the Werewolves game, played on our last night after group time. This was led by 15 year old Milo, ALC Cloudhouse student, until 2am on Saturday night! This role playing game was probably the most fun I’ve had all year. All of us couldn’t stop laughing and playing round after round.

Where to go from here? 

Well we’ve got some loose ends to continue to work on – like the Metamap of roles, and continued collaborative effort to define our purpose, mission, and vision. We’ve also got ALFer’s already starting on projects that they have identified interest in working on.

I’m personally excited to work on the following:

  • The book club
  • Planning for next ALF Summer
  • Continuing my focus on the kids at Mosaic. During our group activity, it is clear that working with kids and then sharing my personal ALF practices that work or don’t work well with other ALFs is a sweet spot for me. This is why I am excited to plan ALF summer too – I believe that it’s the ALFs that spend most of their time with kids are the ones that need to be sharing their insights with new ALFs planning to spend time with kids 🙂

 

What if…? Vegas, Baby!

I just signed up to attend The What if…? Conference again – this time in Vegas, baby!

Last March I attended The What if…? Conference in Columbia, MO as a presenter on the topic, “What if More People Were Happy?(As a side note, I wasn’t crazy about this title, feeling that it was too light and fluffy for the content I was actually attempting to deliver. My talk describes how, after experiencing depression and hardships teaching, I actively made changes to how I lived my own life, empowering me to not only create a happier life for myself, but also for others through starting a school.) I left the conference dizzy with excitement over a successful public speaking experience. I also made lasting connections with new people, including having an attendee move to Charlotte from Columbia to come and volunteer at my school.

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What I didn’t realize then, that I do now, is the specific vision and purpose behind What if…? and how much value conferences like this could have for a lot of people. I’ve heard Matt and Andrew (the co-founders) explain this to me several times, but it only clicked after I recently attended a big ticket conference. There is a need and a market that is unique to the What if…? Conference. I’m not advocating for it to replace other types of conferences, but I see how it provides an experience that actually fills a gap between very well-known, expensive conferences and the loosely guided “unconferences” I’ve attended. ALL have their own ways of providing positive social change.

I’ll attempt to clarify what I mean:

The Big Conferences (think BIF, TED): 

These conferences display forward thinking, innovative, and dynamic speakers who have done incredible things in their lives. When I was starting my business, I watched these talks in conjunction with reading books as part of my learning and research.  These videos reach people on a large scale and serve to inspire many. They also serve as great tools to promote thoughts and ideas. It’s almost replaced the, “Oh, you should read this book about ____,” instead, we can now share 15-20 minute videos about topics we believe in promoting.

These conferences are structured in a way that has an audience seated, receiving the content. You have opportunities to mingle with and connect with others during breaks or scheduled outings. You may connect with others if you manage to bump into them and authentically start a conversation, are introduced by a mutual friend, or if you are forward enough to walk up and talk to the person you want to connect with.

The “Create Your Own Experience” Conference (think Unconference or similiar):

This is the ultimate empowering experience, the “medium is the message” experience. I firmly believe that we are always creating our own realities that we live in and that we are empowered to make real amazing experiences for ourselves. Grabbing a bunch of people who have this mentality and putting them together to collaborate with a very slim framework can be powerful. There are some that can leave a conference like this feeling like they didn’t get a lot out of it, while others leave on a high having sought out the people they needed to learn from and collaborate with. I personally can attest to having incredibly connective experiences at past AERO Conferences, IDEC, and ReInventED, but I had to proactively create this for myself. The responsibility isn’t on the conference to do this for you.

The Gap Filled: 

What The What if…? Conference provides is something uniquely placed between the these two conference types. 3 short talks, with a 45 minute break that is facilitated, 3 short talks, more facilitated conversation, lunch, and then repeat.

What’s key to me (and probably sticks out in my mind because of my experience as a teacher and starting a school), is the facilitated conversation between the talks. Rather than just taking a break where we all mingle around trying to connect or hand out business cards, we are instructed to sit at a table covered in butcher paper, armed with post-its and markers. Then we are led through a process of questioning that guides us as a group to decorate this paper in unique and collaborative ways.

It wasn’t following directions of a facilitated process that was the key, it was simply the act of telling us to sit down at table and ask each other to answer a question that then made it easier for us to get to know one another and connect on a deeper level. Think about the root of the word “facilitate,” it’s “facilis” in Latin, which literally means “the act of making something easier.”

What the What if…? Conference does is actually makes it easier to connect presenters and the audience. Presenters go on stage, and then go into the audience and participate in a lightly guided process. We are encouraged to change tables at each break to collaborate with different people. Where at The Big Conferences, one might be too intimidated or humbled to approach a presenter, What if…? makes it easy to sit at table and engage authentically with someone who just spoke ideas you want to talk more about. There’s more structure than at the “Create Your Own” Conference though, and you do sit down and listen to and learn from presenters because that is a part of of the experience too.

At one of the breaks with paper, post-its, and markers!
At one of the breaks with paper, post-its, and markers!

The Education Parallel 

There’s a parallel I see here with these conferences and my experience as an educator as well. I’ve worked in traditional schools, I’ve worked in a private school, I’ve started my own school. I’ve learned about so many different types of education models – from being super hands-off to the traditional, completely adult-led schools. After opening my school as a democratic free school (think: hands off!), I realized that I could make it easier for kids to become self-directed learners if the environment provided a little more support. I’ve since switched to the Agile Learning model, and that’s been a huge help. And I keep learning that I need to continually see each child and discern where each child is in their journey so I can help provide the facilitation needed to support them.

There have been times I’ve left an unstructured conference thinking, “I didn’t get what I wanted out of that conference.” There are times I just want to sit and hear a presentation to learn from. At the last big conference I attended, I felt too small and unknown to initiate conversations with the speakers. Right now I feel like Goldilocks, finding my “just right” conference!

I think about how, as an adult, it can take me lots of time to figure out what experiences are “just right” for me. This makes me think about the kids at school and how it might be harder for them to figure this out on their own. One of the reasons parents are sending their kids to this school because they believe in self-directed education, where their kids can pursue their passions and interests. But not all of the kids actually know how to do this, (and many adults do not know how to do this as well!). My role is to ask myself, what can I do to make this easier for them to figure out? Just telling a kid, “Hey You! Be Self-Directed!” is a tall order. There are some that come to us ready, but others that could use our support to get there.

So…I’m Going Back!

It’s this supportive aspect of The What…? Conference that I really appreciate, and I think many others could as well. I write this post because I gained so much value out of my last What if..? experience and made lasting connections with the people I collaborated with. I am really excited to attend again and make even more lasting connections!

What’s even cooler about this upcoming conference (besides going to Vegas) is that What if…? is also creating a fundraising option for this school as well. For every person that buys a ticket (which is only $350 for a room, a ticket, and a food voucher), our school gets $100.

So, you can join me and @Tomis at the next What if…? Conference on December 19th in Las Vegas. By signing up through this link, you will also be directly donating to our school as well!