From April 2015

The Tiny House Movement & Accountability

On the Tiny House Movement

Over the school year, I’ve become more and more fascinated by the Tiny House movement. I’ve watched the Tiny movie with the kids at school, as well as Tiny House Nation on Amazon Instant Video at home, and I follow the movement on social media (with much thanks to Zack Jones). This year, I’ve grown to see how “living tiny” is not just a fad of building a cute house with cool storage compartments.

While I don’t live in a tiny house, I do live in about 600 sq. ft (if you don’t include @Charlotte’s room), and am trying to adopt a “tiny” mindset as a practice before I ever do seriously consider living tiny. To me, a tiny mindset is about living your life intentionally, knowing that every material you own will take up space in your dwelling. You have to think very carefully about what you buy and if it’s something you really need. What you do have, you treat with a lot of honor, care, and respect. You don’t have junk, every item you have has meaning and purpose in your life. You carefully and intentionally choose each item that enters your home. The tiny mindset also includes the idea that your life’s value and success doesn’t come from acquiring items, but it comes from how you live and experience your life.

Over this spring break, I organized a community yardsale to help me clear out what I didn’t need in the house and make a little cash along the way. In my own life, I’m working on the practice of knowing everything I own and why I own it.

And since everything in my life is interconnected, it seems that this idea I am trying to embody is also something that is transferring over to how we set up our school environment as well…

On Accountability

A few weeks ago I was discussing with one of the parents who helped me create Mosaic, Vidya, if she had an insights about how we might be able to improve some things at school. Vidya used to teach at a play based preschool, one of the most popular progressive preschools in Charlotte. I wanted input in the flow of our day and also the arrangement of our space.

Vidya came to observe for a day, and then following that, invited @Charlotte to dinner so she could share some of her observations. One of the main observations she had was that she didn’t feel like the kids felt accountable to the materials in many of the rooms. Charlotte and I chewed on this for a little awhile, thinking about how to encourage the kids to feel ownership for the materials we have at school so they would feel inspired to care for them with respect intrinsically.

Fast forward to yesterday after our yard sale: Charlotte and I are in the school, clearing out and rearranging the library in a way we feel improves the flow of the room and has a better organization of materials. Charlotte is bringing up the accountability aspect again: “Nancy, all of this stuff was just given to us. We don’t know what to do with it. Because it’s not important to us, we don’t feel accountable for its care or use. How do we expect the kids to feel that way?”

Then the whole accountability aspect that Vidya brought up really hit me and how it ties to the intentional practices I am implementing in my home life. When I was starting the school, I had so many people donate items to the school, which was so kind and appreciated! I would see items and then think, “Oh, we could probably use that one day!” and then put it somewhere. But all these items begin to add up. As we collect more and more, we forget what we already have and there is nothing thoughtful or intentional about what we bring into our school space.

If we want the kids to feel ownership over and accountable for the items that are brought into the space, they need to be a part of choosing what comes in and how it is used and stored. Otherwise, the things in the school are just things. If something breaks, it breaks. There’s no real upset or meaning behind that because more stuff always comes in.

Charlotte and I thought about this and decided that a new process for items entering into school needs to be in place: 

1) Kids finance club purchases all new crafting/art materials (markers, crayons, colored pencils, construction paper, etc). They have enough now and can buy these items as they go.

2) Donations to the school must be presented to children after one of our weekly meetings (or another time that works for the person donating). Kids and staff must discuss why the donated items are a good addition to their space, and decide where to store them and how they are used BEFORE they become “owned” by the school.

Rationale:

Through this process, children and staff will feel connected to each material brought into the school. They will see WHO the item came from. They will see HOW this item has a purpose and use in the school. They will BE A PART of deciding how it is stored, used & cared for.

Charlotte and I feel passionately about embodying and teaching the message that we are all connected. We can demonstrate this to children through the simplicity of showing them that every donated item to the school comes from a person, who used it for a purpose. If we wanted it, we can connect that item to a new purpose that has meaning to us.

We have had a great spring break – including lost of spring cleaning – and we are excited to continue to put into practice an intentional mindset about what materials we have in our school!

 

Our Magic Book Movie!

Imaginon, one of our most frequented places to visit for its Children Theater Productions, also has a special place in their Teen Loft called Studio i. Apparently this is very underutilized which is a shame! I think more people just need to know that this place exists – and is free to use for teens 12 & up (or for families of all ages on Saturdays). In Studio i you have a stop motion film area, a blue screen (like the green screen for the weathermen), and a music recording studio.

@Alonalearning and I wanted to go in and use the blue screen equipment to make a mini movie that maximized the use of different backgrounds. I came up with the premise of the plot: Kids find a magic book in the woods that transports them to different places in the world. When they figure out where they are, the book reveals a page of information about that place (kinda Jack and Annie style). @Alonalearning and I had a lot of fun looking up places to go!

We only had 3 days to prepare this project (script writing, auditions, rehearsals), so I wrote most of the script to get the ball rolling. Then we held auditions. This was a really fun process to watch the kids work in groups to deliver their audition scenes. I wish I could’ve taken them all, but with Studio i being for teens only (but they’d let me slide in with a younger child who was very mature), I had to consider that this was our first time going and maturity was a big factor. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I needed to bring kids that could wait around bored for periods of time during movie editing. This turned out to be huge – the editing took forever!

Once we finalized the cast, the kids made changes to the script – even adding the trademark “comic relief” character. I was impressed how they used their own personalities to help them create the different characters. The kids practiced all day Wednesday in preparation for our visit.

At Studio i, we filmed and then @Alonalearning sat with the Imaginon staff to learn how to edit the movie. Unfortunately, the staff wasn’t super skilled in using imovie since they only recently started using this software. After @Alonalearning spent an hour and a half editing the movie, the computer crashed and we lost everything! We had an hour left before the end of the school day. What were we going to do? We couldn’t come back another day because one of the kids in the movie was leaving for Canada (he was just visiting that week). We decided to quickly re-film and have @Alonalearning come back and edit the movie herself, without staff help, the next day.

We were able to do it!! The movie turned out pretty great – especially for our first go at it. We learned that you have to find images that have at least the bottom third looking like ground (sometimes they are floating!). We also learned that mid-scene you can’t talk to your friend -the microphone picks up everything!

Also, just to note, somehow one of our picture scenes was missing from the computer when @Alonalearning came back the next day to edit. When the kids travel to Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park in China, @Alonalearning had to put in a swirly colorful background instead of the actual picture which I’ll put here, so please imagine this picture in the video when you watch it:

And now….DRUM ROLL, PLEASE….here is the movie!!!!

 

We hope to make more in the future 🙂

 

 

What Do You See Happening in Education in the next 10-15 Years?

It is the last day to apply for our ALF Summer Program. In the last 24 hours we’ve had a lot of applications come in! It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating. Reading each application brings so much energy to me. Our second summer program has attracted some incredible people who are all working to create they change they want to see in the world. And this summer we all get to play, learn, and grow together!

As I’m reading the applications, I’m drawn to the responses to one of the questions we ask, “What do you see happening in education in the next 10-15 years?” Without any paid marketing, we’ve had so many people find us because they too want to be a part of a big change in education. Below, I’m sharing what the parents & educators applying to our program have to say in response to this question. It’s really, really, really cool to read. I highly suggest reading each one!

What do you see possible in the next 10-15 years? Respond in the comments! Want to work on creating that with us? You’ve got a couple hours left to apply! Or get to know some of our current ALFs through our blogs and join our conversations!


“We are moving in the direction of having an interconnected web of physical and non-physical places for people of all ages to work and learn in a way that supports and honors each person’s unique path, process, learning style, etc., and that helps each person access their own inner wisdom.”


“I see education bleeding outside of the classroom and becoming more open source, intergenerational, multimedia, as well as applied.”


“My hope is that education will become much more collaborative and interdisciplinary. Life in not linear and education requires a more wholistic approach.”


“I see it shifting to a more universally personal focus on individuals and the things that make them human and not the things they need to do to fuel the machine of Molloch industrialization anymore.”


“I think more parents would want to find alternative ways to provide education to their children. People are realizing the traditional school system is failing, and as the world becomes smaller through technology, education boundaries would be minimized. The way education has been will not be able to translate into the real world. Guided self-initiated learning would be something more parents and youths will consider to learn in the new age.”


“Because of the impact of efforts like ours, the factory model has not been completely eliminated, but it is seen as outdated and is on its way out, with a much wider acknowledgement that learning is a dynamic, relational process that cannot occur outside of intrinsic interest and a supportive community. Places like Agile Learning Centers are widely seen as the leading edge in educational progress.”


“I see more schools following the lead of Finland with fewer school hours, less homework, and the integration of subjects around a real topic. I see education focusing on real problems facing the world and kids doing real work. I think the evidence will grow that self-directed learning models are more successful at helping kids know themselves and live the life they want to live, whether it be college or entrepreneur or artist or whatever, and that more support systems will pop up for self-directed learners.”


“Sadly I see very little change in the vast majority of education. Beauracracies like the public school system move at a snails pace and an overwhelming majority of the constituency don’t care or believe there is nothing they can do to impact change.

For people who share my worldview and believe that school is broken, I see a rapidly changing landscape with lots of opportunities and alternatives. I do not have a clear vision or imagination of how that will look, but I definitely believe that there is a bit of a tide change in the opinions of education and learning for young children.

I think Sal Khan, Khan Academy, and things like Khan Academy are rapidly making people understand you can learn anything, anywhere, at any time. That’s a major blow to “establishment” education. But again, how that shift plays out, I just can not wrap my head around. The beautiful thing is that in today’s culture innovation, risk, radical updates are welcomed and accepted. The parents of children who will be school age 10 years from now will have grown up with kickstarter and indiegogo. Adopting significantly different options will be comfortable and normal to them. So education will look different in 10 years. Very different and that is exciting.”


“More homeschool.”


“Classrooms, basic subjects, teacher-directed learning are eliminated. Schools become obsolete under the increasing emergence of makerspaces and learnerspaces. The local community becomes the scenario and playground for our children’s education and all community members become involved and deeply invested in any child’s learning experience. Immersion, direct experience, creative collaboration and self-direction become the norm in education.”


“I see public schools reaching toward individualized tech driven content delivery and privatization and a backlash from families and communities. Simultaneously, I (wishfully) see alternative education demonstrating how to balance individualized tech driven content exploration with old fashioned relationship building to address all of a student with content delivery as one piece rather than the center.”


“Hopefully reforms.

Ideally, new possibilities for child directed learning, in and out of a traditional/formal school infrastructure. Merging camp like interactions to incorporate socialization and learning.

Smaller class sizes and no testing, grading.”


“In the next ten to fifteen years, I see education becoming even more standardized, as states will flounder to get control of a failing system

By the same token, alternative education will be the dark horse of the education revolution in the next ten to fifteen years! And while we cannot predict the outcome of human development and learning, instead, groups like yours will continue to focus on creating the conditions under which learners have the opportunity to flourish, where education is personalized to whomever the learner is, instead of expecting diverse persons to mold themselves to fit our system. An educational model based more on personal development and autonomy, creativity, and the expression and exploration of feelings will have grown and might even replace our current model!”


“I think education will change to be more individualized and student centered. More and more I notice that the academics are becoming less the focus, and finding a student’s best abilities, ideas and creativity are becoming more prominent. I think there will be more project based learning centers so that students will be able to have more real-world, life skills and experiences. Entrepreneurialism will become the focus as students generate ideas about what they’re passionate about and what they find to be beneficial to the global population.”


“It is my hope that more parents will come to understand that their children’s education doesn’t need to be boxed in. I hope that more schools can operate on a model that is child led and doesn’t involve grades or tests. I think the momentum is building for alternatives to the traditional school model. I would love to see the public school system do away with grade levels.”


“Within the next 10 to 15 years I see education changing to involve more technology. I think it will move towards more information and knowledge being available online. I think people will realize that the way we teach now will not be capable of teaching students what they actually need to know. Society will be calling for a reimagined form of education and I think that there is a great deal of people working now to create this new form. I hope and believe that there will be a greater emphasis on life-long learning. We will understand that life is about learning and then relearning.”


“Education will become self learning whereby people will be able to get all the information they need by themselves since it will be on their finger tips, for example all the information anyone would need to know will be on the internet.”


“I don’t know what CAN happen, but what MUST happen is a revolution in the way we teach people to adapt to and learn from their environment and each other. Teaching must be about teaching people how to learn and to think because society demands that they be constantly learning if they are to be both happy and productive members of society. I see only frustration and failure in the system that has existed for decades. I studied alternative education back in the 70’s and very little has moved formal education in the direction that will create self-empowered, creative and motivated individuals. Without a change in the philosophy of what students need to be part of the next century I am afraid that our society will fail.”


“I don’t see that… I don’t see anything “happening” in education as it exists now.

If I HAD to put something out there, I would say that colleges and universities
go extinct, that the prison schools we have today shut down and are replaced by
small grass roots start ups in communities all over the planet.

My vision only includes transformation –
that is why I want to do this facilitator training!!
I am ready to be a part of the new paradigm of intuitive learning.”


“I see education becoming more and more decentralized. And I see the federal government fighting that decentralization.

I also see a lot more students opting for apprentice programs and alternative schooling. Some students will always need to have a lot of options in front of them before they choose a calling. Other students who have traditionally been stifled by the compulsory schooling system and want to pursue their passions more in-depth will be able to do that.”


“I would love to see a shift toward trade/vocation oriented education especially starting at a younger age than high school. Unfortunately I imagine that the current system of conventional education will still largely be in place in the next 10-15 years with a growing percentage shifting toward alternative education of various types as my generation move into becoming the parenting generation.”


“Increased dependence on technology and metrics to measure learning. Continued overuse of the word “entrepreneur.” Honestly, nothing pretty from the traditional education system.

As a potential repercussion — people getting frustrated and looking for alternatives. I think having a strong network of alternative schools / groups for people to find is invaluable in this context — a healthy ecosystem of alternatives, and easy ways for people to understand what’s going on and get engaged.”


“Lots of small groups “reinventing” education on their own, with a focus on SDL [self-directed learning]. Which is honestly one of the biggest things that draws me to the ALCN, the network is hugely important. And also part of what my vision was as teenager. These small groups being very *grouping in the dark* if you catch my meaning. I think societal-level change has got to come from something bigger.

I personally don’t have high hopes for public education reform. Though I highly value what public education sets out to do and the fact that it’s free childcare for so many.
I think an affordable (. . . probably state sponsored) alternative has to emerge and slowly grow alongside public education before devouring it and CREATING A BETTER WORLD. And that might just get done with AGILity. Eh?”


“I envision the world of education becoming more focused on supporting self-directed learning. I see more and more technological integration–using technology as a powerful tool in learning experiences. I see more and more alternatives becoming widely available and successful.”


“This is a really tough question because I’m not really a part of mainstream education. Where do I see the future of mainstream education? Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of hope for change within that short time period. We are on the verge of change, I believe that. But it will take decades for it to reach policy-level.

But that is not my world. In my world of education, possibility surrounds me. I am filled with hope and witness potential and progress at every turn. I see change when I become aware of organizations like ALF; when I attend a co-op based on outdoor play; when I see the number of homeschooling families increase; when I hear of Montessori public schools.”


“I’d love to see more schools with the ALC or similar model spring up all over the country. I’d love to see more self-direction implemented in the more traditional models. I’d love us to shift our cultural mindset toward lifelong learning. I think that all this is going to happen in the next 10-15; the only question is, to what extent? A big part of that depends on us!”


 

 

Facilitating vs. Policing

I’m an Agile Learning Facilitator (ALF), at least that’s what I’m always striving to be. What does being an ALF mean? I am working on an entirely separate post about that, but what I’d like to share here is a beautiful excerpt I found on a blog from Lisa Nalbone called, “Cultivating the Future: Inspiring Communities of Learners.

A great teacher is a loving human being whose top priority to help the students value themselves, learn how to learn, and to connect. No matter what the subject matter, a teacher has a duty to help the students see their strengths and tune into their own intrinsic motivation, so that they are ultimately choosing to learn for their own reasons and take actions to meet their goals. We want them to become self-directed learners!

 

This can’t happen unless the teacher in the room knows how to create a safe learning environment, and can lead learners in sharing both success and struggles, and collaborating to create new value for themselves and the community.

 

How? The teacher must embody and model everything they are trying to teach and to show that everyone in the community is a learner, The teacher must be willing to share the power rather than wield power. To learn from the students. To learn WITH.

Nalbone uses the word “teacher” while I prefer to use “facilitator,” but that doesn’t bother me because I see the message she is really trying to hone in on:

  • Adults in a space with children must come from a place of love
  • Adults in a space with children have the main focus of creating a safe learning environment (unlike in traditional systems where the main point of a teacher is to make children master the content in a particular curriculum)
  • Adults in a space with children work WITH children (as opposed to ON children)

Facilitating or Policing?

What I am currently thinking about are the times when I feel like I’m not facilitating, but policing. Whenever I feel like this, I know it’s really my own fault. I choose to relate to seeing kids doing things that I know their parents wouldn’t be happy about in this policing type of way. (This is why in my opening sentence I wrote that I’m always aiming to be an Agile Learning Facilitator- are you ever “arrived?” I don’t know – I’ll add that thought to the other blog post I mentioned earlier). When this happens, I am aware that I choose to feel responsible for how the kids spend their time and I choose to start policing them rather than facilitating with them.

There are circumstances I have come across during my time at ALC Mosaic where a child is not allowed to do something at home and then when they get to school, that is ALL they want to do. If the facilitators are not aware of the child’s particular restriction, and what the child is doing is not in conflict with others in the space, well, then most of the time the child will indulge in this fancy as much as they can while they have the freedom to do so. When facilitators know about a particular at home restriction, each ALF must then make a decision about how to respond. In order to cultivate a relationship with the child that is not authoritarian, it feels important to me that ALFs master the ability to work WITH a child from a place of honesty rather then telling on them to their parent. For example:

Example: The adult at school knows a particular child is not supposed to eat refined sugar, and does not have this type of food at home. At school, the child begs for candy from the lunches of other kids.

Facilitating response: Speak honestly to the child from the heart. “I feel uncomfortable watching you ask repeatedly for candy when I know that this is something your mom doesn’t add to your diet at home. I’m curious if you know why you guys don’t eat refined sugar. Has your family talked about that?” (Then the ALF accepts whatever answer is given and engages the conversation further if it seems the child wants to engage AND allows the child to make their own decision about whether or not to eat the candy).

Some possibilities from this response:

  • The child and the ALF might end up looking up resources on refined sugar together and then teach others along way about it.
  • The child might say, “no” in the moment and eat the candy anyway, but later on ask their parent this question at home (or not!).
  • The child might say, “yes I know why” and then explain it and then make an informed decision about eating the candy.
  • Food sharing is a practice that can happen at school (which is something that humans normally do in many cultures when coming together to eat)
  • The child practices making an informed decision – (possibly setting them up to continue to do this as they age when it comes to food, sex, drugs)

Policing response: Tell on the child to their parent, create a rule that there is no food sharing at school, or create firm restrictions on what foods are allowed at school.

Some possibilities from this response:

  • The child hides their actions from the ALF in the future.
  • Food sharing cannot happen at school – and there is a distinction made between “how we eat at school” and “how we eat at home or at our friend’s houses.”
  • The child views adults as in control and they look for ways to take that control back in their own life.
  • The child doesn’t eat the candy. The child knows that they cannot eat candy whenever they are in a situation where they can be caught.

What I’d love to hear from parents and other ALFs in our network is feedback on what facilitating looks like rather than policing. The question I am keeping in the forefront of my mind when I think about which role I’m choosing to step into is: “Am I trying to control the child’s behavior so I don’t hear parent complaints, or am I working to facilitate a loving and safe learning environment where I work WITH children?” For me, acting from the former elicits fear based actions coming from me to the child, while the latter encourages loved based actions coming from me to the child.

 

 When you are facilitating, you would:  When you are policing, you would:
  • View conflict as an opportunity and ask:
    • What can we learn from this?
    • How can the resolution to this conflict help us create an even more awesome community?
  • Work with children and other adults to get to roots of conflicts. Is willing to invest time to do this, and genuinely interested in hearing the perspectives of those involved.
  • Talk through conflict with the children/adults involved
  • Accept that you, yourself, are the only person you can control the thoughts/actions of and use that gift powerfully.
  • Views conflict as problems that mess up the day/waste our time.
  • Tries to create rules that make it so this conflict will no longer take place in the space. These rules tend to be band-aids to the problem and never get to the root issue though.
  • Desires rules to point to rather than have a conversation: “Well the rule is that we can’t bring candy to school. That’s just the way it is.”
  • Strives to control the environment and the actions of the people in the environment.

 

If you want to add to this table, please email me or comment with additions and I’ll add them in and tag each author!  I could also see this being a conversation to expand on during our ALF Summer Program this year too 🙂