From Culture

Change up Change Up

The title is a sentence, not a repetitive title! The following is a story from our last Change-Up meeting, re-told a couple days later so know it’s from my perspective and memory, and there may be parts I fill in from imagination to make the story flow. An example of this is filling in specific words said when there is no recording of the exact phrasing. In these cases, I strive to portray the integrity of what was said or meant, rather than caring to know the exact phrasing of words used. There’s also the possibility that I confuse later conversation into the ones from the moment of the story due to memory mix up. Finally, for those in pictures, I will change the names of the kids for their privacy. 

Knowledge that is helpful to know before reading is that we’ve changed up Change Up a little this year. There are times where it only takes 20 minutes to go through the Community Mastery Board, so we spend the other part of the hour doing some type of Community Connection – a game, an activity, a discussion, a group challenge or a practice that helps us bind as a community. For this Change Up meeting, participating in a group challenge (within smaller groups) was the activity presented.

 


 

“I can’t hear anything, how am I supposed to do this?” Marcy cries out in frustration, after asking a group of boys nearby to be quieter.

“Hm, I see it feels really challenging for you focus on what you’re doing when the room is so loud. The noise level is challenging for me too. I see that the other kids are also trying their best to so speak and hear each other, and there are probably ways this activity could have been set up differently. I’m sorry, Marce.” I respond, genuinely appreciating the enthusiasm of the kids who are being loud while also really empathizing with how the set up is challenging for her to participate in the way she really wants to. The activity is really fun, and most of the kids are pretty excited to do it.

The room is loud and cluttered with the bodies of children, blocks, blankets and boards. I listen.

img_20161116_141428 img_20161116_141438

“Okay, so take the longest rectangle block and put it sideways on the ground, so it’s right in front of you. Like if you are sitting criss-cross applesauce, the block is sideways just like your leg is.”

“Now take the red block – you’ve got two left, right? Okay, put it so it’s make a cross with the yellow one on top of that castle piece, that one that’s like a cylinder, ok?”

“Put the block so it runs like a path from you to me, along the ground in front of the tower. Make sure it touches the bottom of the arch piece.”

I look back at Marcy, who is trying to so hard to hear Shawn’s instructions on where to place her blocks. Rena, Marcy’s partner, has moved closer to the white board that divides them from Shawn and Jennifer so she can hear better. She’s repeating the instructions given so Marcy can feel included and can participate in recreating the block tower that Shawn and Jennifer made. Their challenge is to build structures with blocks and then explain to another group how to build it verbally. The other group is behind some type of barricade so they cannot see the structure that was made. They just have to listen to the explanation given and recreate it.

img_20161116_140912 img_20161116_140919

I walk over to Melissa. “Isn’t it fascinating to observe this? I feel like I am seeing their personalities come alive, seeing their differences and how they respond, describe, and engage! Like, how when Andrew and Gabe first described their structure to Luke and Ayan, they said told them to take all of their blocks and build a wall. So the two walls were completely different. But how Caleb jumped in right away to describe every single block in detail and give very clear, step by step instructions. Both sets of kids given the same instructions, and both carried out in completely different ways!”

Melissa chuckles, “I know, it is really interesting. But have you noticed how Gabe and Andrew’s group have become more detailed in their description since?”

I look over and see that Luke and Ayan are now giving instructions and that the towers being built are similar in appearance from other side of the barricade.

“Can you guys PLEASE be quieter?” Marcy interrupts my observation, and I can see in her face she is thoroughly exhausted from the mental exertion it takes for her to hear their instructions in separation from the background noise. The other nearby group is engaged in their challenge and communicating through the noise. It doesn’t seem to bother them to be in a loud room.

“This is really hard for Marcy,” I say to Melissa.

She nods, “Yeah, and do you notice how Evan isn’t even participating? He would have probably been able to engage if it was just him on one side of the barricade and just one other person on the other. Working in a group like this, in this setting, is not easy for him.”

“Totally. I feel like we can learn a lot from this experience.” We both drift away from each other as we continue to listen and observe.

“Nancy, we’re done, can we do it again?” Caleb calls out, this activity seems to be well suited for his strength in articulation and explanation. I noticed this right away, he is really adept at voicing his thoughts and this task is right up his alley.

I walk over to the group to address all four of them, “So how would you like to take all your blocks into the cloud room and try again? I think Marcy might like to experience the block challenge in a different setting.”

“Yes!” she exclaims, “Thank you! That would be so helpful!” The group members gather their materials and run off.

The challenge continues as Melissa walks over to me and says, “Now wouldn’t this be really funny to do with spouses? We should invite parents to come in and try this, it would be a real test of communication!”

“Oh my goodness, that would be funny to see,” I chuckle. I look around and notice that groups are finishing up, “Oh, how about you and Tomis do the challenge together! Then the kids can see how adults fare at this.”

“What, you don’t want to do that with him?” Melissa asks.

“Ha! Let’s try just two grown ups before we jump into the spouse challenge,” I laugh as I respond.

A group of four boys have finished their challenge, and Tomis and Melissa take over their station. Tomis builds a structure and then the descriptions begin. Slowly but surely, a crowd of children form around them.

img_20161116_143150 img_20161116_143505

“Okay, so you see the small piece that has indents on one side, like a castle?” Tomis asks.

“The castle turret?” Melissa responds.

“Well not the cylinder, but the really small piece that has the indents on one side.”

“Oh I think I have it. I think you mean the piece that looks like a Pacman ghost.” She does have the correct piece in her hand, the rest of us could see this from our view point of both sides.

“Okay, so put it on top of the cube piece with the windows, but put it so the ridges are facing you, you see how one side has ridges? Put it so the ridges are facing you.” Tomis explains.

Melissa looks confused. From where I stand, it seems so clear the confusion, and hilarious! His vocabulary changed, and she’s examining the side for ridges, and the indents are facing down, so the piece literally looks like a Pacman ghost. He wants her to lie the piece so the Pacman ghost is laying on its side, feet facing sideways.

“Do you understand?” Tomis takes Melissa’s silence for confusion, which is totally correct.

“No.”

He continues with another explanation that is not understood, and finally Melissa just says, “Okay, I think I have it, what’s next.”

I look at the faces of the kids, they are whispering to each other and trying not to laugh. I turn around so they don’t see me trying to hold back laughter as well, I don’t want to give Tomis a clue that Melissa needs more explanation.


We gather in a circle after everyone wraps up to discuss the activity.


I look around at the kids and ask, “So I’d love to hear from you, what did you think of doing this activity? Was it fun? Was it challenging? What was easy? What was hard? For the sake of being able to hear all voices, let’s practice hand-raising for this sharing.”

I sit comfortably in the silence, giving anyone who wants to share time to do so.

A couple hands then go up and I call on them to share.

“It was really fun.”

“It was hard to hear.”

“Can we do it again?”

“I thought it was interesting to see what people would make from our description. I also didn’t realize how hard it would be to follow the instructions given.”

“I am glad I was allowed to ask questions. If I couldn’t ask questions, I don’t think I would be able to do it.”

I call on myself to share my own observation, “I found it interesting that some people describe using more imagery and others are more about describing the shape, like Melissa’s Pacman ghost. If Tomis described the shape as a ghost, she would’ve understood how to place it.” I pause, and then pose another question, “Why do you think Melissa and I proposed this activity for today’s Community Connection time during Change Up?”

“To help us with communication skills.”

“So we can practice working together.”

“To have fun.”

Rena’s hand goes up and I call on her. “I think it’s an empathy practice. It was really fascinating to me to describe something, to say all the words that I know mean putting the block the way I have it, but then seeing that someone else interpreted those words differently. I can see how someone else understands those words, and how it’s completely different than what I meant.”

I am floored at her insight. “Rena, I didn’t even think about this being an empathy practice, wow. I’m so grateful for you sharing this perspective! Your description of this reminds me of many times in my life when I have said something to another and then later realize how it was received was completely different than what I intended.”

I see some nods around the room. Marcy raises her hand and adds, “It’s really interesting to see how you can describe how to put a block, and your description is right, but that when someone puts it down, how they put it is right too based on the description. But it’s different than how you put it!”

“You all have added so greatly to the value of doing an activity like this! I was thinking it was a neat brain activity, one that challenges you to use your articulation skills and your listening skills and you all have shown me it helps us practice even more than that. I like that it’s also hands-on so you get to feel kinetically, and of course you are using your eyes as well. You’re coordinating so many different skills that your brain has to really work. Our brains contain so many different neural pathways, and it’s a healthy practice to challenge it to do fire neurons in many different ways. That’s how we work out our brain. It needs work outs just like our muscles do. That’s why I think it’s healthy to try new things when I can, so my brain can work out.” I get up and do some brain gym movements that we’ve done at school before and continue, “And these movements also help our brains work out differently because you need coordination skills to do them.”

Then Liberty raises her hand to speak, and I call on her. “How come we aren’t doing regular change up?”

I look at the clock. It’s five minutes to three, whoops. I intended to only do this activity for the first 20 to 30 minutes as our Community Connection, but then to have Change Up meeting as normal afterwards. We never went through any of the items on the Change Up board.

“I lost track of time, Lib, I’m sorry. I did mean to go through the board but I was having too much fun with the activity and the discussion. I guess I didn’t want to stop it and it seemed like most of the group was happy to keep doing the activity too.” I pause and hear some “yeah’s” and nods, especially from the kids that I know do not like Change Up meeting. I make gesture toward the Change Up board and say, “This board is really useful for some things. It is helpful to make community agreements and see how we are doing. But I think it’s important to do more than talk about the culture we are doing, but to actually come together and create the culture we want by doing something together. It challenges us to interact as a community, to see each other, to learn how to communicate with one another, and so I think that spending this hour with a mixture of a game, activity, challenge and then sometimes reviewing the board is a healthy compromise.”

Tomis raises his hand, and he adds, “I agree, and also, the culture here has grown to a point that we probably don’t need to have regular change up meeting every week. Perhaps we do something like this every other week for the whole hour and only go over the board every other week, we can talk about that at the next Change Up meeting.” The kids really perk up at this. This statement is a huge compliment and accomplishment. We’ve worked hard as a group to grow to a point where conflicts don’t take up most of our time, but the pursuit of our interests, passions, hobbies, and play do.

 

Tone Setting Camping Trip Vignettes

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

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

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

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

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

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

On our second night, a child lost their toothbrush.

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh! Okay. What’s a broker?”

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds good to me,” he responds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you know this?”

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

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

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

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

Now we are all laugh-crying.

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

Making Wishes to Create Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Culture, Year After Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Happy Summer Everyone!

 

End of Year Rituals

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

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

This year’s end of year rituals included:

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

I share more details below about each component. Enjoy!

 

School Report Card

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

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

 

Student Self-Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ALF Reflection for Students

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gratitude Circle

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

 

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

DC & Annapolis Trip – Year 3!

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

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

An Overview of our Trip

Day One: Monday, May 23, 2016

IMG_9193

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

IMG_9201
Waiting for the presentation to start in the almost empty planetarium!

Day 2: Tuesday: May 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

Day 3: Wednesday, May 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Highlights/Reflections

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

Inward Dive

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

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

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

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

What I’ve Been Reading:

What I’ve Been Practicing:

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

Magic School Moments

Co-working, for kids.

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

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

Learning through imitation

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

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

IMG_8711 IMG_8719

Light-Hearted Offerings

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

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

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

After School Offerings

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

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

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

Spawn Shift: Time to Reset

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8860

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

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

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

 

Visioning the Future

1433059071.What-you-FEEL-NOW-IS-what-youre-going-to-ATTACT

The Law Of Attraction is based on the idea that “like attracts like.” What we put out to the world is what we will receive. When we accept responsibility for what we draw into our own lives, we can feel empowered to create the life we want to live!

Last week, while cleaning my house, I found myself in my closet staring at an old vision board I made before ALC Mosaic existed, before I even met the parents who are a part of the school today. I was brought to my knees by what I saw. Three years ago, I immersed myself in imagining what it would look like and feel like to be in a school of my dreams. Today I am living this out.

Here is a snapshot of the vision board as a whole:

IMG_8126

At first glance, you’ll see kids playing outside, in a tee pee, reading a book, etc. These things of course would happen in a school of my dreams. But a closer look reveals some very interesting things that have been eerily called into my life since making this years ago:

IMG_8127 11147847_535738413246413_7989115126398835676_o (1)

At the time I made this board, I owned a bike that I never rode. Its tires sat flat in my shed. I would not be considered an avid bike enthusiast. Today, our school lobby is filled with bikes. @Charlotte, one of our loved ALFs, has incorporated a love of bikes and the environment into the heart of what this school is.

Next I saw a picture that may seem trivial, but it warmed my heart to see it anyway. For those who were a part of the school in the spring of 2014, you may remember a couple of teen aged girls who were with us for a few months – who loved to draw all over their shoes and jeans. Some kids brought in jeans for them them draw and decorate on with sharpies.

IMG_8128

Then I saw a picture that caused me to gasp out loud and yell for Charlotte to come and take a look:

IMG_8130

Anyone at school this year is familiar with my box animals. This fall, a parent, Melissa, left a Minecraft Crafting magazine at school. I saw a minecraft pig plush made from felt and helped the kids make these pigs. This has turned into a hobby of mine making all sorts of box plush animals! I have no idea why I would have been drawn to glue down a box picture of a pig all those years ago for a vision of my dream school. This seemingly random detail is quite spectacular in my opinion!

IMG_6501 IMG_7799

The next picture I saw reminds me of this year and the dedicated group of kids in both ALC Mosaic and ALC NYC who love psychology crash course. We’ve been consistently watching and discussing the videos since September each week. There was an episode on the Rorschach test in it, and we even tried some of these tests online.

IMG_8131

Another little strange coincidence:

IMG_8132

You may not think this is a picture to note as important, but there was a young girl, @libby who enjoyed wearing a beard at school for period of time. I showed this to her last week and she thought this was pretty funny!

There are pictures of kids gardening, playing in sprinklers, reading, writing, maps – all things that I see or have seen be important parts of our school experience. However, these pictures I highlighted sparked me as being slightly unusual things to include in this vision board for a school that hadn’t yet been created.

Re-visiting this board gave me much joy. In the simplest way, it made me smile to think about where I was three years ago, and where I am now. In a deeper way, this helped me to further understand the importance of focusing on what I want to see in the world TODAY so I can attract those experiences to me. 

What’s next? #OneCampus Vision Board. We are looking for our next home, and I am imagining that it will be spectacular!

On Relationships

I’m finding this school year to be so much easier than the first and second years. This can be attributed to many things. I think the biggest factor involved here are relationships based in trust and love.

I made a little chart to examine the shift in dynamics between people when you have an established relationship rooted in trust & love. In my time teaching in public schools, I felt that one year was never enough for me to get to this place with my students. When I began teaching at the Friends School of Charlotte, one thing that excited me to work there was the 3 year cycle with the same teacher. At Mosaic, I can enjoy relationships even beyond that 3 years, which I love.

 

Relationship with Trust & Love Relationship with Fear & Distrust
  • New experiences are embarked on together with excitement – you are willing to embark on something you’ve never tried before with a person you trust.
  • When a person doesn’t agree with you, you are open to see their perspective. Ultimately, you believe that this person is doing the best they can in this world.
  • When you spend time with this person, you are focused on loving them & yourself. Your time is joyful and playful.
  • Coercion, shame or guilt are used to make the person do something you believe is the right thing to do. An adult who fears a child might never learn to “X” believes that without coercion or shame, the child will not do it.
  • You are skeptical and distrusting of the other person’s intentions. You are concerned that without some type of punishment or negative consequence, the person might never learn to act or think in a way you feel is acceptable.
  • When you spend time with this person, you are trying to control them or focus your conversation on little lessons that you hope will make them act/think in a way you like.

 

In traditional schools, sometimes teachers get a challenging student in the classroom, and you can hear in the teacher’s lounge, “well it’s only one year, they’ll be gone next year.” This is a mindset too, that if there is a challenging student, you just need to “put up with” them for one year. So the year is spent managing behavior because that’s really all you need to do to survive the year. To me, this is not humane treatment of children.

It takes time to build relationships. A person in a trusting relationship with another will joyfully and happily engage in something new, challenging or difficult. This is a common concern that I hear from parents, “If they aren’t forced to take classes, won’t they just do the same thing every day? What if they never try anything new or challenging?” This question exists in a different paradigm than the one I choose to live in. One doesn’t worry about something like this if you are focused on loving and trusting other people. I am personally willing and excited to do new things with people who I know love me and believe the best in me. I believe this applies to most people.

Having existed in another paradigm, I know the mindset of the other side. I have coerced, punished and manipulated children. I have been on the receiving end of this as well, having lived in a world where the common mindset is that this is the only way children can learn to be “good” adults. I’ve woken up to see that this isn’t true. A simple look at all the disheartened adults hurting themselves and each other in the world is an easy wake-up call. As I learned more, I decided to act differently. I love applying Maya Angelou’s quote to my own life: “When you know better, do better.”

I am thankful for the opportunity I have to grow deep relationships with children (and their parents) over years of time. I have the time and space to see them, know them, and love them. I am in no rush to make them do anything, ever. I can wait for moments of inspiration to leap us into new discoveries. I can listen to their perspectives on life and, with joy, smile and appreciate where they are now in their journey (as opposed to feeling anxious for where I want them to be).

I’ll end this post with some quotes on this topic from some people whom have inspired my awakening into a new paradigm of thought:

37546ca5e86d05105217522113d10cba alan-watts-quotes-3-e1441164372612 quote_Holt_trust  quote-Priesnitz-trusting-kids trustSusanMayGraphic

For further reading, you can read this article, one of the best ones I’ve read that describes the leap into this paradigm in terms of “deschooling” and “unschooling,” but in the end, is really all about trust.

Rose, Bud, Thorn

Every month, the facilitators at both our older and younger campuses gather for an informal meeting where we check-in with each other. The goal is help us feel connected as one campus even though we are apart and to share facilitation stories so we can support one another.

Yesterday we loosely followed a “Rose, Bud, Thorn” format that some of our branches kids enjoy doing. The rose is something wonderful we are celebrating or happy about, the bud is something we are excited about happening in the future, and the thorn is a challenge we are experiencing.

I didn’t get a chance to share then due to lack of time, so I thought I’d simply share my current Rose, Bud, and Thorn here in this blog post!

My Roses:

Our Change Up meetings

We’ve changed how we do change up, and it’s increased the ability of students to participate. We go through the items on our Community Mastery Board as efficiently as we can. If there is a topic or awareness that feels like it needs some creative problem solving, we pull it aside as a “focus topic.” We try to limit this to 4 focus topics, and one of those topics is usually a wish a kid or adult has made for the school. The kids work in small groups to discuss a hot topic for 10 minutes and then present a solution for the school to try out for the next week. One example of this is when small group worked on granting a wish about building connection among students. The kids in this group decided that scheduling two group games a week with everyone participating is a fun way to do this! We’ve been practicing this for two weeks now and I’m excited to continue this practice as long as the kids are too.

IMG_7403
At a Change-Up meeting focus group, the kids came up with a new way to choose weekly clean up jobs. After they took charge of the change, it became easy to gather the kids and select jobs – and they seem more engaged with the clean up job too 🙂

There are kids who are contributing to the culture creation at our school through these small groups that were not speaking up before when we did our Change-Up meetings as a whole group. Even though each kid isn’t a part of creating each solution, the buy-in to adhere to proposed solutions feels much higher because the kids understand how much thought it takes to come up with a potential solution. I am loving that this feels like true co-creation of the culture with kids. @tomis blogged much more deeply about this Change Up “change-up” here.

More Parent Volunteers

Two of our parents, Kristine & Melissa, have become more involved at school this year and it has been really fun to have them at school! They have been making meaningful relationships with the kids and sharing neat and unique offerings.

Melissa likes to do various crafts with the kids and take them to the library. I really enjoyed making life-sized paper versions of ourselves with her and the kids. She also brought singing songs together to our space this week, which I loved joining!

IMG_7285
Making life-sized versions of ourselves.

Kristine is an avid member of the girl scout troop with her daughter and is bringing neat activities to share from her experiences there. She introduced Biztown to the kids (a program run through Junior Achievement) and the kids are learning about financial literacy and how adults make, spend, and manage their money. This includes “playing” adult as they set up mock-checking accounts and apply for jobs that they will play out in the Biztown city in Uptown, Charlotte. You can watch more about Biztown below.

Amy Steinberg Theater Classes

The kids used all their left over money from last year and the money they made in the summer to hire Amy Steinberg to lead theater classes with them. The dedication they have to this 2 hour weekly class is really cool to see, as well as Amy’s direct and clear leadership of the class. While yes, we are unschoolers at heart and the kids lead their own paths, they have chosen to hire this person to instruct them. Amy has boundaries she sets around how to participate and makes those known and has expectations for the kids to meet. And they love it! They have learned some really cool games that help improve their focus, concentration and work on spacial awareness as they learn about stage directions.

What I’ve learned from seeing this is that I’d like to see the kids have more of the supply/facilitation budget to choose the classes and teachers they have at school so they 1) take complete ownership over what they get out of the experience and 2) are invested and committed to what they bring in.

IMG_7403

Love for Reading Flourishing and Visible

I mentioned the library trips becoming a regular thing, but we also have fun book/movie club that @Jesslm started up and the kids are really into it. What’s interesting is that I see other books brought in the space in addition to the group reading. The kids are sitting and reading other books too at school, and they also know that each week they have the opportunity to get more books at the library. What’s been fun is that I think the shared reading experience through the book/movie club has normalized the hearing of stories regularly in the space and the kids are just enjoying that and creating more experiences to engage with stories on their own outside of this as well.

Bike Love

While it is sometimes hard to simply enter the school due to tripping over bikes, I ultimately love that the kids love biking here. They learn how to bike safely and share the road with cars. They also get to go to the Recyclery weekly if they want with @Charlotte to learn about bike care and maintenance.

Ping Pong

The kids who practice are pretty damn good. They love it. I’ve been impressed with their eye-hand coordination! We have @dthomasson to thank for sharing his love for table tennis with the kids! They model how it takes practice, and a lot of practice, to get good at a skill.

My Buds

Seeing the Creative Solutions from Change-Up Flourish

Some ideas from our last couple change-up meetings that are in development:

  • Having a rotating interest station at school: We set up a display with rocks in the hallway as a test to see if kids would notice or engage with a random interest station if they were bored. It was put up and we didn’t actually notice much engagement with it. At Change Up we thanked the kids for not losing any of the rocks and respecting the station, followed with the announcement that we’d take it down. After hearing this, one of the kids raised their hands and said, “I really liked having all the stuff about rocks out there because sometimes if I was bored I’d just go over there and look at them and read about the different kinds of rocks.” This led to the kids wanting to have a focus group talk about having an interest station stay at school. The outcome was that the kids wanted to have input on different topics this station could have information about, and that they wanted it to change regularly. Some of the interests they proposed were to have the table set up with math activities, nature activities, stuff about bugs and snakes, or stuff about clay and pottery. They group took a vote from the whole school and it was decided we’d start with bugs and snakes and then work through the other interests.
  • A small group worked this week on a wish to help everyone feel welcomed at school. A student felt really passionate about having a visual board in place where people could move their names to visually show how they are feeling to others. He explained that if someone was feeling lonely, they could move their name to show this and then others could know to check-in with that person. I loved this idea, especially coming from a student who is in touch with his feelings and feels it important for others to respect each other and their feelings. This student also advocated for feelings check-ins at Spawn Points because they felt it would help people open up and share with each other more. The kids now all are in the daily practice of doing this, and at our last Change-up meeting, excitedly supported continuing this practice daily.
  • The kids have come up with a new way to track where kids are, and since they came up with this, it’s more likely they will honor it. We had a velcro system we used last year, but it’s not reliable. We need a better way to see who went out biking with Charlotte or to the library with Melissa, etc. Sometimes you are looking for someone at school but they are actually doing something off-site and we want to easily be able to see this. So we are going to hang white boards by the exit door and the request from kids was that adults taking kids off-site need to put who is off-site, and where, on the board.

Math at School

Some kids have been asking to do math at school. Kristine brought in a bunch of Math-U-See stuff she used while homeschooling and met with me and Melissa to talk about offering math to the kids at school. I LOVE math because I love problem solving using logic and creativity. So it was exciting to meet with them – and the kids knew we were meeting and were curious and asking when math would start.

We decided to offer three different types of math classes – one with games geared towards younger kids, one with the goal of becoming more fluent with multiplication tables (because it really does help you calculate faster – this IS a useful math skill to gain), and one for Algebra because the older kids have specifically asked for that. We’d offer these all at the same time so that there was a larger critical mass of kids engaged and the school would be quieter.

The kids were then presented the choices and signed up. Again, this is just for the kids who have been asking for it and wanting it! I do not believe that math class is a “should” thing. It’s just one type of offering that can be fun, and the kids not wanting to do it are not (at least from me) given the message that they are missing out on anything, because I don’t believe that they are missing out (this article shares some great benefits of NOT receiving direct math instruction).

We said we’d host these two times a week through December, asking the kids to stick with it until then. After winter break, we’d re-evaluate and decide what to do next. I wrote Kristine & Melissa an email earlier today as I was getting pumped up to engage with math, here is a part of that:

For me, [math instruction] is not about teaching anything! I’ve taught math to very young children all the way through teaching math to prepare highschool students for college entrance exams (Alg 2, Trig, a little pre-cal).

I actually don’t remember anything from those upper level classes. I always loved math, and I retain very little memory for formulas. What I retain is a love for solving problems, so every time I teach upper level math, I relearn EVERYTHING with the students. So in essence, I’m rarely teaching anything, but learning with.

I take that with me when I work with younger kids, seeing everything as fun problems to solve. It’s fun to solve problems and to think logically and creatively!!

Basically, the point of learning math in school to me isn’t about learning math, it’s about learning how to think both logically & creatively. When kids view the math education and getting the right answer over the process of learning how to think creatively and logically, that’s when kids start to compete and think of others in terms of “smarter” or “better” than other people.

Kids CAN be successful in the world without knowing algebra. But what is a trait that is important for success, I believe, is to be able to solve problems and to do so creatively: innovative thinking and new ideas require creativity and out of the box thinking. Some the kids are doing this when they are playing minecraft, dramatic play, etc. And some of the kids will be doing this as they learn math with us!!

What will the kids bring in next?

The kids have already started talking about hiring Amy back in the spring because they like theater so much. I’m also excited to see who/what they decide to bring in next with their finance kids budget. They enjoyed having Mary B here last year for yoga, and some kids would like to see her come back. A bud for me here is to see what they decide to do next, and then next after that!

Be The Change Initiative

@Charlotte has had some really inspiring environmental talks with kids that are spreading in the space. She and a small group of kids have decided to try to make some small changes in their lives that they hope will make an environmental impact.

Charlotte also met a family who only takes out 3 bags of trash a year because they have limited how much waste they make as a family so efficiently. When she told the kids this at set-the-week meeting, and then told them that this family would love to share with us how they live this way. The kids were so excited! She asked for a show of hands of who would be interested in meeting the family and almost every hand shot up.

Sometimes, parents ask me questions about how the kids will learn and be exposed to new things if they aren’t forced to take classes. This above example is just one of many anecdotes of what opportunities the kids get to learn about when they are free from a pre-planned curriculum. What I want to ask parents back when I hear this question is, “Have you considered what your child is not able to learn because it’s already been determined what they should learn at the beginning of the year?”

 

My Thorns

Space

I want to have one campus. I also want the parents to have ease coming to school. I want to have more animals at school and outdoor play structures. It’s hard for me to justify putting money into developing our current outdoor area since I know ultimately that many parents would like to see the school move to a different location. I also love the space we are in and want to see a school stay there, and have considered the possibility of always having an ALC run there even if we find another location. I support the idea of many small schools happening – small schools that have relationships with other small schools so the kids can visit and mix with each other, while still have the deep relationships that come with smaller communities.

Time

Well, I just think the school days are too short. I kind of wish we were a boarding school where we didn’t have to stop at the end of the school day. I can see how this is different from at home “unschooling” where if you get into something at home, you can just stay with it until 8pm if you want. We stop at 3 for clean up and an end of day ritual, and sometimes that means we just have to stop the cool thing we are doing and then have to get re-engaged the next day or after we are at home. This part is tricky because there are times you just really want to stay doing the thing you were doing!