From Network

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!

 

ALC Mosaic 2014-15 Report Card

[Please note this is a report card from the Branches campus, not Roots!]

Report Card….Whaaaa????

Some of the kids asked me in the spring for a report card. When you are running a school with no grades, where you are hoping to foster an environment where people are intrinsically motivated, well, this may seem like an odd request.

However, I get it. People want to know how they are doing. We learn who we are in relation to our world and other people. Still, I wasn’t going to give out report cards that perpetuate a belief system that I choose not to buy into. Giving arbitrary grades for assignments – that mostly prove your ability to comply and follow directions – isn’t my style. I’d rather support children to create their own goals to meet and help them see whether or not they have achieved the goals they created.

I also wanted to have some type of end of year reflection with the kids to mark the end of the school year. I have been musing over the ideas of rites of passages and rituals that have existed in many cultures to mark the entry into a new phase of life. This journey the kids have taken with me, the rest of the staff, and their families has been one full of joy, challenges, fun & hard work. There have been hardships I want us to acknowledge in a healthy manner – to reflect on and then move forward with hope and new understandings (so we don’t repeat past mistakes), and things we’ve done really well that I want us to mark and celebrate. My goal is for us all to enter the next school year with our minds focused on what is possible & what we want for our community, rather than marred by what we didn’t do well or to just stay stagnant and repeat actions that don’t serve us.

 

Cross-Network Support

I decided to get some support and thoughts from the other ALFs in our network. I asked them if they had end-of-year rituals/routines or any ideas that may be good to try out. This led to some sharing of what we did for individual students (this year at Mosaic, we made each child their own webpage chronicling their year at school) or with the community (in NYC a community potluck is always held on the last day of school). Still, I was looking for a group activity to do with the students that would help us feel connected as a group to our community goals.

Drew began talking on the call about how it might be possible to use the community mastery board as a part of this group reflection…and as he kept speaking he planted the seed in my mind for where I could go with this for this year.

I felt grateful to have a community of Agile Learning Facilitators to bounce around this idea. It’s exactly the type of support we can provide each other through having a network of schools.

 

The Mosaic Report Card is Born

So, to give the kids an experience of evaluating self-selected goals, I conducted an activity with them at our last Change-Up meeting where we gave our school a report card.

It went like this:

“We are at the end of YEAR 2 of Mosaic!!! As a community we’ve grown and changed, and I hope we will continue to do so each year so we can create a better and more awesome school continually! I was asked by some of you for report cards this year, which I had to think carefully about before responding. You all have a reflection year-book on your blogs that we’ve made for you, but this isn’t exactly a report card. I don’t want to just assign grades or values that don’t mean anything to you.

Instead, I thought we could create a new kind of report card together, based on goals that you helped set for our school.”

I went on to show them a list they helped to create to answer “What Kind of School is Mosaic?” I did this activity with the kids in January, after I had re-watched Bruce Feiler’s TED Talk, “Agile Programing for the Family.” You can read a prior blog post I wrote about this TED Talk here.

We posted this list above our Community Mastery Board, which we use each week at our Change Up Meetings to decide what we want to work on as a community. This list is meant to serve as a reminder of what ideals we want to grow to as a community so we can be inspired to create “change-ups” to our community practices that help us move towards our self-selected goals.

So I told the kids:

“I have written all of the items on this list on sticky notes. For this Change Up Meeting, we’ll work together to evaluate how our school is doing on these goals we’ve set for the type of school we want to be.”

I then showed them a continuum on a white board. The kids at Mosaic are familiar with continuum’s to evaluate statements, so this made sense to use here.

I then divided up the kids into 3 groups (each group having several kids who can read) and distributed 3-4 stickies with each of the statements that is on our list of “What Kind of School are We?”

What Kind of School Are We?

  • The kind where we have choices
  • The kind where we go outside
  • The kind that goes on fieldtrips
  • The kind that is awesome
  • The kind where we are creative
  • The kind where we clean up
  • The kind where we can lie down if we need to when we need to
  • The kind where we’re respectful
  • The kind where everyone is friendly
  • The kind where if someone asks, “What’s wrong?” There is time to really talk about it

“I’m going to split you into groups and hand you a couple of sticky notes. You are to read them and then place them on this continuum based on how you think we are doing as a school on the particular item.”

Reading through their stickies in the small group.
Reading through their stickies in the small group.
Adding stickies to our continuum - does it "Still Need Work?" or do we "Rock This!!!?"
Adding stickies to our continuum – does it “Still Need Work?” or do we “Rock This!!!?”

The groups then decided where they would place the statements they had on our continuum. Do we still need to work on this as a community? Or do we rock at doing this? After each group was finished, we went over all of the statements as a group and decided if we wanted to move any of them. From this place, the kids naturally ended up making some suggestions for next year. I didn’t want to forget these, so I made a “Goals for Next Year” section and captured those ideas on stickies so we wouldn’t forget these ideas. Our “Mosaic Report Card” board ended up looking like this (white board smudges included!):

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Our Results, With More Detail:

We Rock This!

  • Going outside
  • Being creative
  • Going on field trips

Great!!! The kids feel that these are items that are important to what kind of school they want to be a part of. They feel we ROCK at being a community where we these items are apparent and a part of school culture. Through the cheers of the kids, it felt pretty apparent that everyone agreed we are a school that does three items!

We Are on the Way to Rocking at:

  • Having choices.

The kids have a lot of choices. But by coming to school, they do agree to attend community meetings and clean up. A part of being at school means they agree to our Student Agreement. However, I don’t think this is why the kids didn’t put this item on “We Rock At This!”

From conversations with the kids, it seems that they want more choices to be presented to them to choose from. Some kids struggle with generating ideas for activities they would like to do/participate in at school. They want to have some cool options presented. Not every child or person is good at just generating “Today I want to make a board game and I know all the steps and materials I’ll need to make that happen!” Some want some more scaffolding and support to come up with the ideas and a plan.

In addition, some have interests and desires to experience and learn many types of things, but they need more support in the steps of how to get there. For example, if a child is interested in architecture, they need support in identifying what options are available for learning and experiencing more about architecture. I see this as an opportunity for the ALFs at Mosaic to learn how to help children set and reach goals they have.

  • Cleaning Up

We’ve gotten SO MUCH better at this. Personally, in January, I began setting the intention in the morning, (in front of the kids), to be happier at clean up. I decided to stop just being frustrated or angry about how clean up was going and to just clean up happily, and from that place, generate ideas with the kids about what would make clean up easier.

What we have grown to, and has worked really well, is this structure:

On Mondays, we meet at 3pm and review clean up jobs. Each room has 3-4 clean up jobs associated with it. Children choose clean up jobs. On Mondays, they can ask to switch jobs with another kid if they are tired of their job. We swap and then review who is doing what and allow for clarification questions or conversations to happen with specific kids, i.e. “Hey, _________, I have been cleaning the room all on my own. Can you make sure to start your clean up job on time and _____ (wipe tables, sweep, etc) this week?”

The jobs have been a huge help. The whole community was excited to reflect on our growth on this particular item.

  • Being Awesome

At first, this item was placed on the continuum all the way on “We Rock This!!” One of our students, Isabella, very astutely pointed out to all of us that some items that we placed more toward the “Still Needs Work” side of the board. She thoughtfully stated that it’s kinda strange to put that we are”Rocking” at being awesome when we still need work on “being friendly” and “being respectful” to one another.  I personally noticed this but didn’t bring it up, wanting the reflection to be heavily weighed on by the input from students. I was pretty impressed that she saw this and felt comfortable to bring this up. We decided to move this back to in between “Doing OK” and “We Rock This!!”

  • We can lie down if we need to, when we need to

This led to a discussion of how, through using our CMB at Change Up Meetings, we have implemented practices as a community to allow for quiet space at school. The kids agreed that at the beginning of the year, it was loud in the building, making it hard to find a quiet space to read, rest, or just get away from noise. We have gotten so much better at this by speaking to each other about the need for quiet space at school and reminding each other to keep some type of play outside or to communicate via Set-The-Week or Daily Spawn Point when a need for reserving the big room for loud play is desired.

We are Doing Ok/On the Way to Doing Ok at:

  • Where if somone asks, “What’s Wrong?” there is time to really talk about it.
  • Being respectful
  • Being friendly

Before jumping into the conversation with kids about how they felt our community needed to work on improving these three items, I reminded them that positive culture creation is the biggest learning we have the opportunity to learn how to do at an ALC.

Most schools where I have worked simply told kids how to act and treat each other, and used behaviorism techniques to make kids “appear” respectful to one another. For example, using tickets to “pay” kids when you catch them being “good” as a way to increase the “good” behaviors you wanted to see. Or, you just keep kids so busy with worksheets that there is no time actually practice being social with one another.

In absence of a curriculum, who we are and who we show up as becomes the curriculum. We’ve learned a lot about each other as individuals, and many students have shared powerful reflections on themselves throughout the year that help us understand one another. From here, we can develop an inclusive culture that supports each other’s differences while still being a community. This is what we have the opportunity to learn how to do since we aren’t so bogged down with busy work and worksheets. We are not just individuals coming to school to have our own needs met by everyone else. We must learn to hear each other and gain a broader sense of community needs so we know how to be at school in a way that honors our individual needs, while also respecting the needs of others. Sometimes this means doing something differently than the way you imagined or having self-restraint (i.e., “Wait, I should take this soccer ball outside to play. I know that as a community we are working on having quiet space inside, and by playing soccer in the hallway, this isn’t helping our community goal).

A few students mentioned our culture committees being a support to helping kids talk though issues that feel recurring at school. Sometimes it’s just listening and then generating ideas to help empower an individual to navigate a particular social dynamic. Sometimes, we need to work with a couple of kiddos who need support to remember community agreements.

Something that has come up a bunch at the end of the year is kids excluding others from games. We’ve spent time practicing how to ask for space from others in a respectful way. “Right now, I would like to work on/play with _________. But would you like to play/do ___ at 1pm?” We are still working on how to create space for kids to play/do an activity with a small group without it feeling exclusive to others.

As a group, the kids felt that we have improved on these items and would like to continue improving on them throughout next year.

Their ideas for goals for next year?

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These statements either came during conversation of our report card or after when kids wanted to add items. This will be a great starting point for our first Change-Up Meeting next year when we can generate a new list of “What Kind of School Are We?” We can see the kids are really valuing feeling respected by others and feeling like everyone is friendly. Coming up with items we can practice as a community to get us to move these items from “Doing Ok” to “Rocking This” will be a high priority for us next year! How to turn these items into actionable community practices will be something I’ll be mulling over during the summer as well. I’ll also spend time brainstorming about how well this year-end reflection went with the kids and whether or not we should do something different next year. Fortunately I’ll be spending 4 weeks with a bunch of really amazing and radical educators that I get to learn and play with 🙂

 

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!”


 

 

Inter-ALC Mixing & Why I Love It!

We Are Not Alone!

Inter-ALC mixing, it’s what keeps us a community.

I remember my time teaching in a small private school before opening Mosaic. I was one of two full-time teachers and it got lonely. We had our ideas and would collaborate together, but I always wanted more people to bounce ideas off of and learn from. I wanted to visit other schools and form communities of schools where we’d fuel each other and spark new ideas to make awesome schools.

What I found through that time was that people are busy, and if what you are doing isn’t closely related to what they are doing, it’s hard to make time to connect. I would visit other schools with hopes of deep connection and a future relationship of collaboration, but then after the visits we’d return to our day-to-day life – and the next thing you know, a year had passed and the connection simply feels too distance to re-spark.

This has all changed since I’ve networked Mosaic with Agile Learning Centers in NYC. Mosaic opened to serve one community in Charlotte, and while I had close relationships with parents, I still wanted more educators to play with. Opening a school and being the primary person responsible for its operation and existence is pretty stressful, (especially when you’ve never done anything like it before and the model you are creating isn’t one where you can just ask others how to do it). I couldn’t go observe at my neighborhood public school and learn much that would be applicable to what we were creating.

I made one friend who owned another small private school in Charlotte who helped me learn some legal and administrative skills. Still, her school was very traditional and when I observed there it was clear we were operating in different paradigms when it comes to educating children. It was when I became stressed to the point of “How will I continue doing this any longer?” that I made a trip up north and found Agile Learning Centers. From there, our relationship became the kind I was dreaming of. One where we:

  • are constantly connecting and sharing what’s going on at our schools through the activity feed in our internal network site, emails & social media.
  • meet weekly to check in with facilitators in New York, Washington, North Carolina and Puerto Rico and talk about ideas and action plans.
  • arrange visits for kids and adults to go to the different schools.

This is inter-alc mixing, and what I’ve been up to this week.  I’ve been at the ALC in Manhattan for a week now with @Charlotte. For the first two days, two of our students were here too! I feel like Charlotte and I have been inspired and full of inspiration and ideas to take down to Charlotte with us to help Mosaic continue on its upward path of awesomeness. This blog post is about sharing what we’ve discussed upgrading in our school upon our return.

Why Do We Spawn?

On Monday, @Abbyo held a meeting with kids to discuss Spawn Point upgrades. A Spawn Point is where the kids start their day in a small group with a facilitator to state their intentions in the morning and then reflect on those intentions in the afternoon.

At this meeting, she opened with the question: “Why do we Spawn?” The kids made some really thoughtful contributions from this. Abby took notes and then made these two signs for the school:

I thought that we should make these signs for our school too; but with input from our students. I want to hear from them why they think we have Spawn Points at Mosaic – and if they aren’t clear on why we do it, then we need to collaborate with them to create meaning and purpose around this community structure in our day. Then we can make signs and posters for our school and place them in our Spawn Points to serve as a reminder that meeting in the morning isn’t something that is a chore to get through – it is an opportunity to connect with others in the space, get inspired, and get support!

Upgrading Our Entry Space & Morning Routine

When you walk into the school in NYC (see the door below with the EXIT sign), you see immediately to the right their wall of important information for the kids. It includes the daily schedule, a scrum box (see our tools & practices page for what scrum is) and kanban boards for group projects.

Charlotte and I would like to move our daily schedule right to the front of the school when you walk in as well. Here is a closer look at the scrum box and schedule for you to see:

What has currently been happening at Mosaic is that we have a whole group meeting every day to plan our day. We do this to remind the kids of what’s going on that day and to give them time to make new offerings if they are so inspired. While we want to make space to do that, it’s really not necessary to go through this long process every day. There are kids who pick out what they want to do from the Set-the-Week meeting or are working on individual projects/goals, and they are sitting through this meeting each day unnecessarily. In addition, sometimes kids make new offerings just because there is the meeting without a lot of intentionality behind it – they are just making offerings because they can. These new offerings can then conflict with prior commitments kids make from the Set-the-Week meeting.

In NYC, the kids only do one longer Set-the-Week meeting on Monday and then in the mornings on Tuesday-Friday, they come in and walk by this schedule board and plan other activities on their own as needed. If they want to plan something involving other people, they write in the “scrum box” what they want to plan. In the picture above, you see that Abby is requesting time with Charlotte this day in the scrum box. This shifts the responsibility to those needing plan their day in addition to Set-the-Week to themselves, rather than forcing everyone to meet as a group for the few who need to plan something. Having the schedule board and the scrum box in the entry area put it right in the faces of the kids and adults as they walk in the door as a HUGE reminder. If there is really a new offering that anyone wants to see happen, they could do this with the scrum box and take their own initiative to find the people they need to schedule the activity with.

In Abby’s Spawn Point, I watched how quickly a morning check-in can go – she would remind the kids what was going on that day, they would update their kanbans and then share verbally what their intentions were. It felt like a connective and gentle start to the day which I really appreciated and want to emulate in my Spawn Point in Charlotte.

 

Change-Up Meeting Easy Upgrade

Charlotte and I participated in ALC NYC’s Change-Up Meeting (read more on Change Up here) at the end of our week-long visit and had this huge “Ah-ha!” moment for a simple way to make our Change-Up Meeting more efficient.

Take a look at the picture below:

Just like Mosaic, they have a Community Mastery Board (CMB) that serves as a visual aid for what the community is working on as a group. Just like Mosaic, they visit the board each Friday during the Change Up Meeting.

However, the facilitators have a kanban board above the CMB that serves as a way to focus the meeting on the most important CMB items on the board that week. Each week, we try to go over everything on the board, and many items aren’t ones that are necessary to go into at length. There are typically only a a few items that we really need to discuss as high priority. We can pull those items up to the kanban and focus our Change Up Meetings to create solutions/action steps as a community for those items and then our meetings will be shorter and more focused on what is needed most.

It’s one of those quick fix things that just hit you in the face when you see it. I’m so glad we were able to see their meeting and how they focus the topics!

 

And Back to Inter-ALC Mixing

We had a few of our students and parents come visit the NYC school this week and that experience was simply magical. I fell in love with this school when I visited in November of 2013, and from that initial visit have since been come partners with the facilitators and with them, created a network of learning communities. This is the place where it all started, and this school continues to strongly demonstrate the kind of positive culture you can co-create with children. I love being here and loved seeing the faces of our community loving it here too!

I think having students see other ALCs is really important. Our students had the same general routines, they knew how to engage in Set-the-Week and were comfortable going to Spawn Points. They could navigate the structures of the school because it’s similar to their experience in Charlotte. It felt familiar to them to just hear offerings at Set-the-Week and join in on those that they wanted to. They can add to the culture constructively and bring new offerings to the space if they are so inspired. In addition, they can contribute to future culture creation at their home school based on what they see here. We can all learn from one another so powerfully in this way!

Here we are at the Natural History Museum:

I am excited to continue learning & playing with NYC and all the other ALCs that are in bloom currently!!

In-ergize Charlotte

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

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

The Structure

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

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

The presenters at In-Ergize Charlote

My Take-Aways from “Be Awake”

The Teacher: Richard Vreeland

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

The Storyteller: Mike Watson

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

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

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

The Experience: Laura Neff

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

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

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

 

My Take-Aways from “Be Authentic”

The Teacher: Matt Olin

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

The Storyteller: Tamara Wallace Norman

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

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

The Experience: Jonathan Winn

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

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

 

My Take-Aways from “Be Audacious”

The Teacher: LaPronda I. Spann

I loved the Disney quote Spann said during her presentation:

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

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

The Storyteller: Robbie Warren

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

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

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

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

The Experience: Jan Luther

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

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

To Summarize

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUR DAY AT ENDOR

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

Morning circle at Endor
Morning circle at Endor

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

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

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

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

Stickies of possibilities!
Stickies of possibilities!

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Liam’s new schedule board @ Endor Initiative

10am: Language Club

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

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

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

11am: Group discussion about self-directed learning

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

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

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

12pm: Ethics Discussion at Dobra Tea Room

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

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

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

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

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

1pm Clay!

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

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Working with the clay artist @ Endor

2pm: Wrap up and Reflection

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

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

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

 

 

ALF Weekend #1 @ Cloudhouse in Chatham, NY

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

We gathered for the following purposes: 

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

My experience at ALF Weekend #1:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Where to go from here? 

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

I’m personally excited to work on the following:

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

 

What if…? Vegas, Baby!

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

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

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

I’ll attempt to clarify what I mean:

The Big Conferences (think BIF, TED): 

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

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

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

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

The Gap Filled: 

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

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

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

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

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

The Education Parallel 

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

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

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

So…I’m Going Back!

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

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

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

BIF10 Highlights and A Random Act of Collision

I heard about the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) last year while attending the International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) in Boulder, Colorado. A friend I met there, Matt Murrie, had attended BIF for a couple years and raved about this event where “innovation junkies” come together to share ideas and create space for random collisions to occur among attendees.

I have only attended education-specific conferences before and I looked forward to the potential to collaborate with other innovators across different fields. To me, what I created with ALC Mosaic isn’t just reinventing a school – it’s a shift in thinking about how to address life in general. A redefinition of what it means to be “successful” in this world. From the description I was given about BIF, I felt that I could have a real opportunity to learn from others redefining how to start and run businesses, as well as share about how I am doing that with this school.

Entering BIF on Tuesday, I was immediately humbled. I was younger than most of the attendees and, while I have done a lot in my 31 years, I felt much less experienced than those around me. I decided to sit back and just listen and learn, hoping that along the way I’d experience the random act of collision that BIF prides itself on. (I did, read on!)

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A few speaker highlights 

Christopher Gergen, founder of Queen City Forward, told his perspective about the distinction between “Leading Others” and “Leading WITH Others.” Gergen also shared how the world tends to promote “learned helplessness” rather than “learned hopefulness.” One question he seeks to find the answer to is “How can we unleash the potential of next generation problem solvers?”  I was excited to hear from someone who’s line of work seems so fundamentally aligned with mine. It was interesting to go all the way to Rhode Island to learn about someone doing powerful work in the state where I live. Click here to see Gergen’s full talk.

Vala Ashafar described his incredible story leaving Iran in August of 1981 during a period of civil unrest to find refuge in the states. He left Iran as captain of the soccer team with many friends, to arrive in the United States having to readjust to being unpopular and last picked for sports games. However, through his moving story, he describes how there are times where it’s important to learn how to earn your right to be picked. Ashfar also said something that reminded me of a recent article with advice from the president of Harvard telling parents to “Make your children interesting!” if they want to get into Harvard (rather than putting focus on being valedictorian). Ashfar says in his talk, “If you’re interesting enough, people may find you interesting.” How I interpret this: if your focus is on getting good grades or meeting another person’s definition of success, you lose who you are along the process and are thus less in tune to who you are – making you less interesting to others.  Ashfar also talks about finding purpose through connectivity, saying “If you’re not helpful, you’re not influential,” and “The most fulfilling work may be the ability to help people discover their awesomeness.” I couldn’t agree with him more on that!  Click here to see Ashafar’s full talk.

Camille Beatty, a 14 year old Robotocist in Asheville, reconfirmed my belief that school is no longer needed. Beatty, her dad, and her sister learned how to build robots through watching Youtube videos. They do their hands-on building in their garage and make their robot parts from scratch. Their families operates on the belief that “if you can imagine it, then you can do it.” Last year they built two Mars Rover replicas for the New York Hall of Science, and then learned more about entrepreneurship as they built robots for other museum displays. With Beatty living so close to Charlotte, I hope one day some of our students could meet her and see the family garage!

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Alexander Osterwalder’s talk started with a question that immediately grasped my attention: “Why I Want My Kids to Fail.” This is a topic near and dear to my heart since a huge part of Agile Learning Centers (ALC) is creating a space for children to develop a healthy relationship to failure. Osterwalder states, “The more you fail, the less you fear failure,” and tells a joke to reinforce how failure actually drives more learning, “Do you know what we call a failed entrepreneur in Silicon Valley? Experienced.” One reason I cannot teach in traditional schools is because of the unhealthy relationship children develop with failure since so much of what is important in school is to get an A, and if you aren’t getting the grades, something is wrong with you. I agree with Osterwalder when he states, “Fear of failure is holding us back from experimenting.” Sir Ken Robinson has a TED talk called “How Schools Kill Creativity” that drives this point home. If children are not taught how to use failure to stimulate and drive growth in a playful and exciting way, experimentation of ideas and creative thinking will be replaced with just trying to do things the way the teacher tells you to so you can get the grade. Click here to see Osterwalder’s full talk.

 

A not so random collision

After every break, I made a point to change my seat in hopes of meeting someone new and making a meaningful connection. As I said earlier, I felt like a young novice in this crowd – someone who had not yet “arrived” like so many of the other speakers, and I was slightly intimidated about how I could connect with others who might be interested in hear about the work I’m doing ALCs.

After the last break, I decided to sit closer to the front to get a different view of the stage. The man I sat next to started a conversation with me, first with small talk, then with growing interest as he discovered I started a school in Charlotte. Lo and behold, this random seat choice ended up being the spark to a very incredible collision for me. I was sitting next to Dennis Littky, the co-founder of Big Picture Schools and The Met School in Providence, RI.

Dennis and I grabbed what conversation we could during and in-between each speaker. We ended the day exchanging cell phone numbers on our business cards with a date to have him pick me and my ALC partner, Tomis Parker, up in the morning so we could tour The Met School before catching the rest of the afternoon speakers at BIF10.

The next morning Tomis and I had a thorough tour of the Met campus and got to spend a good bit of time asking Littky questions. I am still blown away at Littky’s generosity of time – picking us up and taking ample time to answer our questions and tell us his story. I enjoyed Littky’s spunk, he seemed like a cut-to-the-chase, down-to-earth, passionate individual determined to create an educational alternative that works – and he doesn’t let anything get in his way! Littky shared his failures and lessons along the way, including how he’s been fired a lot before and how, at one point, he stopped what he was doing to move to the mountains for 3 years.

One could easily say that Littky has “arrived” or has “made it,” after all, he was given 25 million dollars by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. You would think that at this time in his life, he would have hired others to run his school and projects. Yet, talking to Littky, it is clear that his work is not done and he is still in the trenches, working with students daily to show them that school can be about following your passions and interests. He knew the high school students and spoke to them as equals as we toured the campus, and then at night, he works with adults with a his new initiative, College Unbound.

I am so grateful for the time Littky gave to me and for the important reminder he gave me: None of us have “arrived” when it comes to the work of changing the education paradigm, and I am no lesser of a contributor in this work than he is. I’ve lived less years on this earth, and certainly have many more lessons to learn as I experience my own successes and failures through my journey, but I am creating valid and needed change with the individual students, educators, and parents I come in contact with. I’m always going to be journeying and working with children, while challenging parents and educators to look outside the box of traditional education. I hope that when I’m Littky’s age, I will still be interacting with the people I serve daily as he is. I hope that the educational paradigm will have shifted and changed quite a bit by that time, but I never hope to be down working with children!

Final thoughts

BIF prides itself on delivering an experience involving inspiring stories and random acts of collisions that bring innovative people together. I found both, and the latter without even expecting it. I guess that’s truly random, but I don’t believe that. I have to say it was a divine universal intervention that led me to meet the one person at this conference that has dedicated their life to a cause so similar to mine! BIF was the catalyst of that experience, and so generously gave me a scholarship to attend. I’m greatly appreciative of their inclusiveness to support early entrepreneurs like myself to bump shoulders and learn from those who have being in the game longer.