From November 2014

Re-visiting My Roots

I remember thinking that there would be no book that would affect me like A.S. Neill‘s Summerhill when I read it. I read Summerhill during the AERO school starter course led by Jerry Mintz four months before I opened The Mosaic School, LLC in January of 2013. After reading Neill’s book I felt empowered and inspired to take action to create a school grounded in principles that I believed in. Neil showed me that an education centered around the needs of individuals – who they are, their passions, their interests – was possible.

democratic education     Summerhill book image2

Then I read Democratic Education by Yaacov Hecht in August of 2013, weeks before Mosaic officially launched as a full blown school. Hecht’s writing and story are incredible and I found myself blown away as I was when reading Summerhill. Even more remarkable, as I was reading his book during IDEC in Boulder, CO that August, Hecht ended up walking over and joining me and my friend @Alex for lunch. If that’s not divine universal intervention, I don’t know what is!

With Hecht (far right) after meeting him at IDEC 2013

Hecht founded the Democratic School in Hadera, Israel, the first school in the world to call itself democratic. His model was so appreciated by parents and students that when his waiting list grew to the hundreds, he ended up starting another school. He has since been called the “Father of Democratic Education” in Israel, establishing a network of schools serving over 7,000 students in his country. I highly encourage that educators and parents read his book, as he provides a very easy-to-read account of his journey, from how he grew up to starting his first school, how he expanded on his ideas, vignettes about students in a free school setting, detailed learning theories, as well as his current and future projects.

Before I met @Tomis at the Agile Learning Center in NYC, I had read Hecht’s book and knew that I wanted to be a part of a network of schools united in supporting each other. I had previously taught at a small school start up in Charlotte, called The Friends School of Charlotte, where I was one of 2 teachers. I knew how isolating and challenging it felt to try to create something so different than the social norm. I didn’t want Mosaic to only be one school. I wanted to have other schools and educators that I could learn, play and grow with. Reading about what Hecht had created inspired me to keep hold of a vision where I wouldn’t feel like I was creating alone. I knew I would one day be able to connect with other educators that wanted to create schools aligned with a similar philosophy.

What I am feeling extremely grateful for right now is how the reading of both of these books directly contributed to my next steps in the creation of Mosaic. I read Summerhill (by Neill who started and ran one school for his lifetime), and shortly thereafter, I was starting a school. I read Democratic Education (by Hecht who started a network of schools), and again, within months, I was joining forces with the team at ALC NYC to create a network of schools. I do believe that we all have the power to manifest what we want to see created in our own lives. Sometimes a little inspiration from the work of those preceding us helps us remember what is possible.

Recently, I’ve felt challenged to re-visit the reasons I started this school and ALC movement. This is a good and healthy challenge, one that I enjoy diving into so I can stay connected to the heart of what I do rather than live in my head and the stories I can tell myself. From time to time, I need to create space where I can get quiet with myself and remember why I do what I do.

Over the course of our ALF Intensive last summer, we identified the roots of ALC’s, which are what grounds & unites all of our ALC’s together. Each one may look different, but we have fundamental agreements that:

  1. Learning is natural. It’s happening all the time.
  2. When people make their own decisions, they learn better. (And children are people!)
  3. People develop their strengths through cycles of intention, creation, and reflection.
  4. People learn more from the culture and environment they are immersed in than from the material they are taught.
  5. The 21st century world demands the creation of visible, shareable value as evidence of learning.

The first four are roots that I really wanted to re-visit, and to do so, I’ve taken a journey back to Hecht’s writing that inspired me so deeply to action over a year ago. I remembered how Hecht so diligently described what he calls “pluralistic learning” that is able to happen in an environment where students make their own choices about what they are doing and learning. I have been re-reading Chapter 3 of this book and as I read his words and stories, I am reminded of what I see happening at ALC Mosaic in connection to Hecht’s words and our Agile Roots. I’ll attempt to share what I mean through my synthesis of this chapter of Democratic Education below.

 

What is Pluralistic Learning?

Hecht chose the name “pluralistic learning,” describing it as “a learning process that recognizes the diversity among learners – learning based on the equal right of every individual to express his or her uniqueness.” He continues on in this description to explain how every individual has a “unique learning profile” and that “Human diversity means that the learning framework must acknowledge the fact that [every human is] different and unique.” (pg. 94)

Furthermore, in Hecht’s opinion (which I share), we are faced today with a new challenge for what human beings need for their education. According to Hecht, “The only man who is educated is the man who has learned how to learn; the man who has learned to adapt to change; the man who has realized that no knowledge is secure, that only the process of seeking knowledge gives a basis for security.” (pg. 98)

 

Areas of Strength & Growth

Our traditional education systems are set up in a way where there is a limited box of knowledge and skills of what administration & teachers want children to learn and be skilled at doing.

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Image from page 96 of Hecht’s Democratic Education

In the image above, Hecht represents what schools decided students need to learn with the little square, and the larger shape represents the world of knowledge available. This little box is what most education systems deem time “well-spent” for children. For those people who aren’t naturally good learning or doing what is in that little box, school is quite a frustrating experience. Hecht points out that many times, when children are doing things in school or in life that are not related to learning what is in that little box, adults consider it time wasted.

According to Hecht, “The purpose of democratic education is to provide students with the conditions that will encourage them to step outside ‘the square,’ to begin a process of searching for areas of strength where they can enhance their belief in their own abilities.” (page 104)

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Hecht speaking about pluralistic learning at IDEC 2013

It is when we venture outside of this box to find our areas of strength that we also find our area of growth, which is “the field which fascinates the learner, at the present time, more than any other area…characterized by intense emotions, such as enthusiasm, excitement, challenge and an acute desire to return to that area of interest again and again.” (page 105)

Hecht accompanies this explanation with descriptions of how children learn, first describing how when a toddler learns to walk the try so again and again even though they keep falling. They are so fascinated by how they have just figured out a new way to be mobile – of course they will want to try out and refine this skill at all costs, perhaps frustrating to parents wanting them to sit still at the dinner table! The same goes for babies when they learn to babble and then talk. Hecht also describes a child in his school who was obsessed with practicing handstands and cartwheels for a considerable amount of time. While to other educators this might be viewed as time wasted, Hecht understands that “When children (or adults, for that matter) are allowed to remain in their area of growth without being disturbed or forced to leave it, they acquire considerable emotional and cognitive skills.” (pg 107)

What does Hecht recognize from the child doing handstands over and over again? “The child who did the handstands succeeded, thanks to a belief in his own persistence; he learned about overcoming difficulties and about courage; he drew conclusions from his falls, and his learning ability grew. The next time he wishes to enter the learning process, he will be able to use the tools he gained from doing handstands. The ability to draw conclusions from failing, and understanding of the importance of persistence and patience – all these will serve him well when he tries to contend in other areas of learning.” (pg. 107)

The really important reminder that Hecht has given me as I re-read this chapter is that the content of what we are learning is never more important than how the process of learning occurs. We can have children learn content that we think is important for them to learn, but if that learning process occurs by telling them “This is important for you to learn because we deem it so. Even if this does not contextually make sense for your understanding of life and meaning, don’t think about that. Just learn it and show us you know this content by doing ‘X’ so we can prove to others you know it,” the student actually learns that learning occurs when you get information from others – and that others decide what information is important to know. They are learning a lesson that they are not to be trusted to determine what skills or knowledge is important for them to gain. To me, this increases the chance that the child will grow up to be disempowered to create change or meaning for their own life – they will think that other people who have authority are the ones smart enough to make change and decisions. They might learn that complaining about how things are is the only way to cope through life.

What Hecht describes taking place in democratic schools is the ability for pluristic learning to occur where the learning is not about “what is done, but rather how processes occur….What is important and meaningful is the growth of inner strengths that enrich and enhance the repertoire of learning tools.” (pg 107) Students who are able to spend time learning in their area of growth are spending time practicing all the skills they need in order to learn any other type of content or skill. They are developing the connections in their brain for learning how to learn, rather than how to conform. Just like working out, what muscles we work out are the ones that end up being developed. I think parents and educators need to examine closely what “muscles” we are having our children practice in school settings.

 

Connecting Hecht’s Pluralistic Learning & My Observations at Mosaic

When I began re-reading this chapter, the vignette about the child doing handstands immediately had me thinking about two of our students learning to skateboard this year.

These two went out almost every day this fall to skateboard. Again and again they would ride down a gently sloping hill on our campus on their bottoms. It was only a couple weeks ago that the girls excitedly called for me and @Charlotte to see them finally standing up on their skateboards! Were they wasting their time at school this fall? Certainly this is not in the little box of knowledge that many educators deem important for children to learn.

I, and I believe Hecht would agree, observe that these children learned how to persevere. They learned how to commit to learning a skill. They learned how to be brave enough finally stand up on the skateboard. They gained so many skills that will help them learn how to accomplish many more things they commit to learning in their lives.

Re-reading this chapter inspired me to take a journey through our school’s Facebook photos, with a thoughtful perspective of all the amazing things the children are able to learn and practice in this free setting.

It’s all about perception – one might choose to perceive that some children have an unhealthy obsession with Pokemon. There is also a choice to perceive this game differently. You can take a look at @Charlotte’s lessons learned from Pokemon, including the skill of organization, equitable trade, planning, creation, and even the academic discipline: math. What I value most from Pokemon is how the children create their own value systems based on what they find important. Some value the cuteness of a character, some value the HP. Each create a meaning for why they covet a particular card higher than another. What muscle are they practicing here? Perhaps when they grow up these children will have a strong ability to discern for themselves what values are important to them politically. They won’t need to just take on the beliefs of those they deem smarter than them (i.e., repeat political agendas of their parents or a teacher they come across in school). They will have had the practice of learning to discern for themselves what values are important to them.

My last blog post was about the game Werewolves and observations I made about the perseverance and determination I saw demonstrated as the kids tried again and again to play this complex game. The kids gained experience in how to organize themselves, children of all ages, to listen to each other. I don’t think I need to explain how valuable this skill might prove to be for humans to gain…learning how to support different individuals to listen and respect one another. This is the “muscle” we practice the most at our school, one that I wish more human beings (including myself) had practice in growing up in schools. Perhaps if the privileged children in the United States learned how to support and listen to individuals coming from different perspectives than their own, global change might happen in how humans perceive and treat one another.

Why do I share this? Why blog these details? 

I want more parents and educators to rally to support educational reformation. The stories of children learning how to learn need to explained in detail, and I am committed to sharing these stories over and over again. I am committed to helping others draw the connection to the importance of play and autonomy in the lives of children to how those can create a future generation that is capable of creating positive social impact for all human beings.

This is the a part of the reason why I stated in the beginning of this post that re-visiting my roots is a good and healthy challenge for me. When I speak to people unfamiliar with alternative education, the questions I constantly face are, “Well how will they learn math? Don’t you think learning (insert academic subject here) is important?”

Sure, but learning how to learn is even more important. Learning how to commit, persevere, be courageous, make decisions, collaborate, share, create meaning and purpose, create your own life…all those things I find more important. Re-reading Hecht’s journey alongside my walk down Facebook photo lane has me feeling energized and excited about the adventure I have embarked on.

Werewolves & How We Learn

Werewolves. It’s totally trending in ALC’s. When the students came to visit from ALC Cloudhouse, they taught our kids this fantasy role-playing game that has recently made a huge surge in play.

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Playing Werewolves

What is Werewolves? Do you remember the game Mafia? It’s pretty much like that except we aren’t pretending to be gangsters (I like this change). It’s more fantasy based, with werewolves, a fortune teller, Cupido, the witch, the elder, defender, and more.

Every person plays in a circle and a DM moderates the game. This is a very important role. The DM is the person who tells the whole story and navigates all players through the game. It’s pretty fun for adults to play…the ALFs played for 4 hours one night during our ALF weekend. It was led by a student from ALC Cloudhouse who also taught the kids down here at ALC Mosaic.

What I’ve found fascinating is the determination the kids have to play. To play this game you have to be able to sit very quietly and still while the village is asleep (you must have your eyes closed and you don’t want to give away your role when it’s your turn to wake up in the night). You have to be able to take turns and hear each other.

I have sat in on many of the attempts to play this game with the kids and always leave wondering why the kids think this is fun. I love the game, but it appears to me that most of the time the kids are trying to quiet each other so play can happen, getting upset about others not following the rules, then clarifying the rules, then trying again…and again…and again.

Each time I leave thinking, “Man, they will never want to play again,” which I get sad about because the game is really so much fun to play. But to my continual surprise, a child the next day will offer Werewolves and EVERYBODY wants to play again.

This confused me because I couldn’t understand why the kids would willingly go through this tumultuous experience another time of trying to play a game that requires everyone to be still and listen. Why would they want to sit through the challenging process of getting kids of all ages to be quiet for this game? After all, it seems like a game that’s really better suited for older people, like teens or adults, to play.

However then I’m reminded of a truth that I know from all of my experience living and learning myself and watching children live and learn. We all learn and acquire new skills when we are motivated intrinsically to meet a need or achieve a goal. The kids are willing to go through an experience that is challenging because they are all choosing to be there and are intrinsically motivated to experience the joy of this game. Along the way, they have to learn how to be still and how to listen to one another.

Adults telling kids, “It’s important to listen to one another!” without them experiencing any context as to why this might be important proves to be a futile request in my experience. They will learn to listen to others through meaningful experiences in their own lives. The more time they have to meet and self-organize activities in groups that are meaningful to them, the more they will learn the importance of hearing and listening to each other. The more the adults organize for them and “make” them listen (or force compliance to make them look like they are listening) the more they learn about the social construct of adults having the power and them being powerless.

Again and again, I’m reminded of this lesson. I will get frustrated at times trying to teach the kids a lesson that I think is so important, yet I fail over and over again when I do this. People learn most powerfully when they:

1) Learn from their own experience firsthand.

2) Choose the person they want to learn from (and this stresses the importance of facilitators focused on building relationships with children rather then teaching children).

3.) Have content/an activity they are so motivated to learn/experience that they are willing to endure any challenge to achieve the outcome they desire.

I see this proved through my observation of the game Werewolves. For the kids, the motivation is to have the experience of playing a large group game involving storytelling, fantasy, and strategy. I’ve watched a 7 year old go from crying when they don’t get the role they want to saying, “I want to play and I’m not to get upset when I don’t get the role I want.” I watched the kids this week work together to build a giant fort so they could all go inside to play Werewolves together. That happened on Thursday of this week, after many unsuccessful attempts to play the game. I had given up on playing with the kids because it was so frustrating, yet the kids kept on going.

After building the giant fort together, the kids played with @Charlotte and then an entire game on their own to completion – something I think I’ve only experienced once in all the many times I’ve tried to play with the kids. Most of the time we just end the game in frustration. Yet there was something magical about having most of the kids in the school work together to build a structure for the sole purpose of playing this group game together inside. I think it increased the level of community awareness and bonding, and increased the determination the kids had to focus and try their hardest to contribute to the game in a way that would allow it to be played to completion.

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The kids going in the fort they made to play Werewolves

Through this experience I’m reminded again the power of games, intrinsic motivation, and when true learning happens. I’m grateful for all the lessons the kids teach me here each day.

In-ergize Charlotte

Today I had the opportunity to attend a local event, In-ergize Charlotte, with Kristen and Gaby (two parents of children at ALC Mosaic). The theme of this event was to “Be Awake, Be Authentic, Be Audacious.”

As we were driving to the event, we were of course talking about school! Gaby mentioned how @Sassygirl26 has recently gotten into a practice of blogging about her school day when she gets home so the events are fresh in her mind. Following that example, I am sitting down an hour after returning from the event so I can record the lessons I took away from each presenter.

The Structure

The structure of this event (conference? workshop? experience? I’m not sure how to classify this one!) was creative and engaging. There were 9 total presenters who spoke in segments of 3, allowing for two 20 minute breaks throughout the afternoon. Each group had a teacher who delivered a lesson of sorts, a story-teller who told a story about their life related to the theme, and then an experiential leader that had the audience engage in an experience. The first 3 presenters were delivering content on the theme “Be Awake,” the second group of 3 on “Be Authentic,” and the third on “Be Audacious.”

I found this structure to be quite engaging. Each presentation was 20 minutes long and distinctly different. Having the nature of the presentations switch from teaching/story telling/interacting was a very clever way to keep an audience’s attention!

The presenters at In-Ergize Charlote

My Take-Aways from “Be Awake”

The Teacher: Richard Vreeland

Vreeland opened with a vivid memory from childhood to explain the concept of being fully awake in life. He described the feeling of hiding during the game of hide-and-seek, where you would stay still listening for every sound. He reminded all of us that as adults we need to remind ourselves to remember to STOP and PAUSE, so we can actually be a part of the experience around us, rather than always listening to the narrative in our head of what our experience is. So many of us live in a state where “the experience of life is what we tell ourselves about life instead of having the actual experience.” Vreeland also reminded us that we are human BEINGS not human DOINGS. My take-away: to remember to BE.

The Storyteller: Mike Watson

Watson gave a powerful reminder, one that I strive to practice but still need to work on. He reminded us to make decisions from a place of possibility rather than self-doubt. I have a similar mantra I tell myself: To come from love and abundance rather than fear and lack. This is a practice that takes a lot of mindfulness to master.

Watson also gave a visual that sticks with me – to live vertically rather than horizontally. Living horizontally is where you are just mindlessly moving along a path and going through each day. One after another. They keep coming. You are not fully awake, you are existing.

Living vertically, from what I perceived him to be saying, is where you are growing and rising into possibilities with each day. I imagined this to mean a life where each experience in life is reflected upon to inform decision making for a new day. This means you are awakened to how you can continually rise above old patterns and stories you tell yourself.

The Experience: Laura Neff

Neff told us, “when we are more awake, we can choose from our center” and that “every moment is a choice.” She also stressed the importance of consistent reflection in order to be able to create.

Her comments completely resonated with me and what I believe 21st Century Education must provide to children. It reminded me of what we do for the students at ALC Mosaic. There is so much information available to us now – we can know what’s going on all over the world just by looking at our phones. It seems like the opportunities for what we can become are endless.

Therefore, rather than learning facts, the most important skill children need to practice is to remember and know who they are so they can make choices about how they want to engage with this world of possibility from their center. In order to learn to make choices, they must have practice making choices. Then they must practice reflecting on their choices – did that serve me or not? After Neff’s presentation, I felt overwhelmingly excited to see that our students get this practice every day at school.

 

My Take-Aways from “Be Authentic”

The Teacher: Matt Olin

Olin reminded us that “authenticity is a muscle,” and gave us a list of actions that we could practice daily to strengthen that muscle. One of my favorite action steps was where he told us to spend more time with children – they are masters at authenticity! They also can model for us how to fully feel a feeling and then let it go. Children can be in tears one moment and then happily playing the next. This had me thinking: What if adults allowed themselves to fully feel without judgement so that they can then move forward without baggage?

The Storyteller: Tamara Wallace Norman

Avid roller-skater and breast cancer survivor, Norman’s story was one of passion. She described how rollerskating is all she wants to do – she was even rollerskating as she presented! Norman reminded us to “love what you do and do what you love.” She’s opening a rollerskating rink here in Charlotte, and we are all invited!

Norman also shared a moving story about how authenticity supported her relationship with her son and husband during her breast cancer journey. Most moving was how she communicated with her young son about losing her hair, that she would be changing her appearance, but she is still herself.

The Experience: Jonathan Winn

Winn used breathing as an analogy to what it means to be authentic. When we are not paying attention, we are always breathing. We can also control our breathing and do different things with it – breathe rapidly, take short breathes, breathe deeply, etc. Authenticity is the same way. We are always ourselves, but many times we are presenting something different.

Winn led us through some breathing activities to remind us all that we can use our breathing as a tool to feel better. He actually owns a practice in Charlotte where he teaches this tool to others!

 

My Take-Aways from “Be Audacious”

The Teacher: LaPronda I. Spann

I loved the Disney quote Spann said during her presentation:

Spann told us about her experience quitting her corporate job to pursue entreprenuership, that it was like jumping off of a cliff. She told us that when we want something to change in our lives, we must ask ourselves, “Are you ready? Are you willing? Are you able?” She added a caveat to the last question, stating that she believes everyone is capable of pursuing their dreams.

I was reminded of my own cliff jumping experience in December of 2012. I put in my notice at my full time job to pursue my dream of opening an alternative school in Charlotte. The cliff analogy is one I often use myself to describe what this felt like. I felt like I was either crazy or finally free of all restraints I formally put on myself for what is possible. I now know that it’s definitely both!

The Storyteller: Robbie Warren

Warren told a story of herself growing up with an open heart and willingness to listen to her inner voice that would tell her, “Go!” She was the kid adventuring off into the woods alone on her horse, the 18 year old taking off to Italy, and an adult determined to only work for herself.  She recalls so many people telling her, “How are you not afraid of anything?” She related to us that she was afraid of typical concerns, like how she could have enough money, but that just didn’t stop her.

Warren reminds me of me! I tend to also dive in fully to life and experiences, and maybe it looks like it’s without fear. But for me, I am more afraid of living a life that isn’t rich with chance, excitement, and possibility than to not. Therefore, I have no other choice but to fully pursue my passions, and I’m guessing that Warren doesn’t either.

Warren also described a moment she had while hiking in Africa with two woman healers. She was behind them, and one was standing on a rock where she was heading, calling her forward with a stick that had an ox tail attached to it. At that moment, Warren said it hit her that, “This is my life,” in the most profound and beautiful way. She savored that moment and realized that she had created a life where this moment was possible.

Again, I found a similarity to my character and Warren’s. I had that moment very recently in October. I was in Chatham, NY walking in the woods with @Tomis and I realized where I was. I was at an Agile Learning Facilitator retreat that I was a part in making possible. I was with a group of adults that all cared to change the way education is delivered to children, and dedicating their lives to making this possible. When I opened this school, I remember thinking, “One day I will have a group of people with me all passionate about creating alternative schools.” That was two years ago, and already I am achieving my dreams. I can remember the smell fall air in that moment and the colors of the beautiful fall leaves. I remember thinking the exact same phrase Warren spoke, “This is my life,” and thinking that with joy.

The Experience: Jan Luther

Luther ended our afternoon at In-Ergize by leading us through an EFT experience. I had never used this tapping method before and found it quite energizing. It definitely seemed to increase my blood flow and wake me up. She demonstrated how the EFT tapping can be used to help us release mental baggage we carry with us through voicing what we are feeling and what we want to feel while we tap various points of our hands, head, face, and body.

This was new to me, and something I will have to look into more!

To Summarize

I’m very grateful for Kristen Oliver telling us about this event and bringing us. As a business owner of a pretty alternative practice here in Charlotte, I want to know about others here that are open to exploring new ways of thinking about health and education.

Now I know about many things I didn’t before, like Your Community Connector and SHIFT Charlotte where Kristen will be speaking in March of 2015. I am looking forward to that experience as a follow up to In-Ergize Charlotte!

The Opportunity in Conflict

When I taught conflict resolution to kids in the past, I always started with the question, “What is Conflict?” to create a dynamic list of all the ways conflict shows up in our lives.

Conflict happens. The point that I always stress to students is that how we respond to conflict is always our choice. We can take every conflict and turn it into an opportunity for growth or view it as a disaster.

One practice we have at school that I see becoming more and more powerfully used to turn conflict into opportunity is our Community Mastery Board (CMB). The CMB allows us to make explicit community agreements and norms we want to have in our school. We notice that we want something to change, we bring it to the awareness of the community, and then check in weekly to see how we are doing on that agreement.

Here are a couple short examples of our use of the CMB at Mosaic:

  • At the beginning of the year, slamming doors was a big problem. Our doors are big and heavy and the hinges slam them shut. Without intending to, it is really easy to create a very loud slam with very little force. This is not pleasant to hear all day! We added this to our awareness column “Slamming Doors.” Then each week, we check in, “Have you guys been hearing the doors slam a lot or is this getting better?” The act of just asking and then celebrating with the students each week on this has made this occurrence happen less and less. What I am celebrating currently is that every time the door does get accidentally slammed now, the person who did it almost ALWAYS pops their head back in the room with a meek, “I’m sorry.” That means a lot as a community – we will all slip-up, but acknowledging that our intent was not to disrupt others and apologizing goes a long way.
  • We also have made explicit the practice of “Ask before taking something that is not yours.” It’s important to not assume that everyone would automatically do this. If we work off that assumption, we open the door to a lot of negative feelings towards others – “What is wrong with them? How can they not know this?” Thoughts like this do not help to add to a culture of compassion and care. We make this explicit and then when it happens, we remind each other (which is also a sticky we have!) that this is something we are working on as a community – rather than telling the other person that they are a bad person for doing something we assume they know not to do. This is how I feel a community like ours can support kids with all types of needs and social differences – we never assume what another knows, we just actively looks for ways to support and create cultural practices we want to see happen.

 

This week, we used our CMB to help establish some more boundaries and practices at our school that I’m really excited about! These two topics are ways I saw us creating opportunity out of conflict.

Our Community Mastery Board at ALC Mosaic
Our Community Mastery Board at ALC Mosaic

Loud Hour: We have some boys at school that are high energy! They feel that their loud play in our big room is important to them, and they want to be able to wrestle on the carpet and hit each other with pillows. A few weeks ago, we established a community agreement with them that they schedule a loud hour at our morning meeting if they want to engage in this play. This allows us to pick a time where quiet activities aren’t going on and lets everyone in the school know when to expect loud play to happen in the big room.

This has been going really well. The boys are remembering more and more to schedule these times proactively. I also appreciate that when they start the loud wrestling play outside of loud hour, I can remind them of our agreement and ask them to go outside if they want to be that loud. In the beginning of the year I would be met with lots of resistance and complaining, but now they just go outside. They know that our community needs space for quiet and focused work and they were a part of the process of making this agreement.

This week we had a conflict occur during loud hour with two boys. One could have seen this conflict through the lens of disaster, but with the CMB in place and the amount of work we have done as a community to create a positive environment, I felt confident that this could easily be turned into an opportunity for clear expectations of what loud hour was and what it wasn’t.

Here are opportunities I observed happen through this conflict:

  • Several of our older boys obtained practice in speaking calmly about a tense situation and practiced taking turns to hear others speak.
  • One child just naturally stepped into a role of mediator – he started re-stating the words of a younger child to help make clearer his meaning for others, a practice I’ve seen used in non-violent communication practices. I had the opportunity to say, “I see you are really hearing what ________ has to say and you are wanting all of us to hear clearly what they are trying to say.”
  • Two of our oldest boys made it clear what they felt was acceptable to do during loud hour and what was not for the younger boys to understand. Certain practices were abolished that felt unsafe, for example, certain pillows used in the room were banished. These boys were able to step powerfully into their role as leaders in the school and take ownership of what that means.
  • A clear request was made by the students: A facilitator should remind the boys of agreements made at the beginning of every loud hour.

Videogame hour/Technology agreements: Oh boy, this can be a hot topic with parents and educators, and it doesn’t surprise me that this then leaks down to the kids. Our prior agreement to this week was that videogames/video watching could happen from 2-3pm (an agreement made with the kids at a Culture Club meeting, the kids felt time at school provided opportunities to do more than play videogames/watch videos all day, but they had a hard time taking those opportunities if they got started playing a videogame/watching a video early in the day). However, our internet bandwidth cannot support the streaming of videos while kids are also playing on the same Minecraft server. Students were getting angry at other students choosing to watch videos at this time because they would continually get kicked off the server.

What I was also observing was an unhealthy obsession and relationship to technology that did not resonate with me. The culture was becoming one where other kids would tell on me that another child was using technology outside of this hour and want me to make them stop. A culture that supports seeking out how others are doing something wrong rather than focusing on supporting everyone on their own learning journey is NOT what I am signed up for! I also felt like the focus was on “How technology is bad” instead of “How can I make choices mindfully?”

The bandwidth problem led to some small conversations happening with the kids during the videogame hour. Then on Thursday, we had a beautiful conversation that got the input of all the kids about what videogame hour was and how they felt about technology agreements.

Opportunities we had out of this conflict:

  • We had the opportunity to re-establish the fact that the kids do play videogames collaboratively with one another, and this is a practice they still want to have space for at school. They play together at school and work together on the same server for Mindcraft. This is something they couldn’t do at home by themselves (well technically they could, but they couldn’t hear and talk to each other while doing so). We banned the practice of streaming any video during this time to allow for the bandwidth to support multiple players on one server.
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Collaborative gaming at school
  • We had the opportunity to re-visit how technology can be used outside of this hour in a mindful way. Rather than telling on someone when they see them on a device, they can talk to the person using the device and the expectation is for each individual to be able to explain the purpose of what they are doing. If there is still question, than 4 students volunteered to check-in on the device use. Those 4 students identified themselves to the community as people capable of making mindful choices using technology. If 2 of those students support the use, it’s okay. This stops the practice of “telling on” a child to an adult and instead shifts the focus to, “Do you support how I’m using this device to _____________.”

 

Rather than assume that all use of technology will take over our brains and turn us into zombies, we can encourage everyone in our space to think about how we are using it and what our purpose is. Rather than having students believe that every time they see another child on a computer or device they are doing something mindless, they can ask, “What are you using this for and how is it supporting you?” If someone can’t answer that question, it is brought to their own awareness that they are not making a mindful choice. It’s also okay to just zone out sometimes! We all do it. I simply believe that we can make that intentional as well. I had a student tell me once this year, “I’ve done so much today (and listed activities), I just need 15 minutes to do nothing.” That demonstrates to me a powerful sense of self-awareness.

Our new agreements also support the kids in our space being held accountable to what they chose to do on devices, with the realization that others in the school will probably ask them what they’re up to online. Sugata Mitra‘s research has shown that children who have unlimited access to technology in a way that allows all others in the space to see what they are searching and doing online almost always eliminates all use of technology in a way that would be considered “inappropriate” to adults (i.e., looking up adult content, like porn, purposely). This is a question I asked Sugata Mitra about directly when I met him and participated in a small group discussion around technology and self-directed education at last year’s International Democratic Education Conference. You can read more about that experience here.

 

I am now taking the opportunity for myself to reflect and celebrate that we have been able to create opportunities for growth towards a healthy culture at school at every turn. Part of that celebration is taking the time for myself to write this post!

With adults in our space modeling this mindset, our children in the space can learn how the practice of creating opportunity out of conflict not only makes ourselves happier, but can powerfully lead to a community around us that supports positive thinking, reflection, and trying again when we fail.

I’ve been a part of the opposite in other school environments and watched many kids and adults beat themselves up so badly after a conflict that they cannot see how to turn it around into positive change and growth. I sadly find this the norm in many schools. It takes self-confidence and love for ourselves to spread a positive growth mindset to others. This is the learning I want to see happen in schools.

I am feeling grateful for every experience I’ve had with this community, the joyful ones, the sad ones, the exciting ones, the uncomfortable ones. I can feel grateful because I know I have the power to turn every one of these experiences into an opportunity to examine, what do I want more of in my life? Less of? What decisions serve me? What does not? I have the power to create how I experience this world, and that feels AWESOME!