From Pedagogy

The Visionary and the Implementer

I’ve been having a ton of fun at school! I am really enjoying doing many types of activities with the kids each day. I love getting messy, making things, and facilitating activities for kids to try out.

 

img_20161003_131307 img_20161005_130757 img_20161006_131055 img_20161007_11062320160914_150303756_ios 20160920_150559890_ios img_20160922_145317 20160912_180358623_ios

From top, then left-right: Paint pendulum activity, baking cookies, making playdough, open art studio, Spanish restaurant, Mystery Science lessons (bridges and slides), more art studio – making magnets and painting peg people for our castle blocks. 

img_20160922_125423 img_20161004_111006

Fire station tour and bike ride to Uptown (last week and this week).

In a class with Kristen Oliver this week, we revisited concepts around divine feminine/divine masculine traits. I loved the idea of re-naming the feminine and masculine to “Visionary” and “Implementer!” We all have these traits within us, so it feels nice to have different words to explain them that are not gender-related.

I posted a bit about this in a previous blog post, and I’ll re-share the traits but this time use Visionary/Implementer rather than feminine/masculine:


Words to describe the Implementer:

positive attributes: active, intelligent, logical, rational, linear, determined, reliable, strong, stable, protective, sensible, heroic, focused, single-minded, practical, goal-oriented, consistent, predictable, capable, smart, rugged, ordered, disciplined.

negative attributes: rigid, stubborn, aggressive, tough, ruthless, violent, non-communicative, self-centered, authoritative, dominating, dogmatic, closed-minded, autocratic, rule-bound, heartless.

Words to describe the Visionary:

positive attributes: soft, warm, sweet, kind, loving, nurturing, gentle, creative, receptive, flexible, adaptable, yielding, forgiving, understanding, caring, care-giving, serving, passive, peaceful, open-minded, beautiful, mysterious, spontaneous, ever-changing, inspirational.

negative attributes: weak, dramatic*, irrational, illogical, unpredictable, bitchy, stupid, powerless, manipulative, controlling, indecisive, fickle.

* This word list is from energyenlighten.com “emotional” is the word they use. I would rather see the world “dramatic” here. Emotional implies that having emotions are negative, which I disagree. Dramatic, I think, is a better fit because it describes one being emotional for the sake of gaining attention from others, “woe is me!!” “look at me!” “feel sorry for me!” 


I think this is super important to think about as an educator. Am I creating a space that only serves to express Implementers? Or am I supporting the expression of Visionaries too? Most of the world does not support the expression of mature feminine – so you have a lot of negative words to describe the artists of the world – indecisive, fickle, unpredictable. They can’t “commit” or be depended on. Well now I don’t see it like that – I think about the environment that one is in and try to consider what can be changed to support that one in expressing their powerful Visionary traits. They can be considered as spontaneous rather than fickle, they are inspirational, ever-changing! 

I think it’s important for Agile Learning Facilitators to remember that we are creating environments that are inclusive to all ways of being, all people. Our tools and practices, like Set the Week, Kanbans, Spawn Points, Change-Up are really great ways for us to help structure the community so we can all stay connected, informed, plan group activities and make decisions about what we want to do as a community.

However, if adults in the space aren’t careful, they can easily fall into the trap of only celebrating the traits the conventional schools celebrate – typically those on the Implementer list, like: intelligent, logical, rational, determined, reliable, sensible, focused, practical, goal-oriented, predictable, disciplined.

These are great traits to have, and also, if only these traits are encouraged and celebrated, then we’ll see an imbalance. We’ll notice that we’re getting a lot of the negative Visionary traits expressed rather than the positive. It’s important that we are a space where a person can express themselves as a Visionary, because the Visionaries keep the Implementers (others and within themselves) from  being cogs in a machine. If you carefully examine those Implementer traits – they are traits of really good, complicit students and employees. The ones who can do and be depended on – great traits, but in the wrong environment, they are also the ones who are more susceptible to blindly follow (ever hear of the Migram experiment? Controversial, but interesting to learn about).

If we only produce Implementers, than we aren’t doing a service to the world. We need to create environments that allow for the expression of Implementer and Visionary to express within individuals, knowing that we all have at least some of both. Some may have balance within themselves, while others may learn how to pair themselves with those who complement their own expression. There are even times when I can see in a relationship with one person that I am more of an Implementor, but in others, I am the Visionary.

Due to this awareness, I am careful to observe the students at school and think about how I can encourage positive Visionary expression. I think this deserves a lot of attention because the world already tells us all the message that intelligent, dependable people are good. I want to, in addition to the positive Implementer traits, send the message that being spontaneous, ever-changing, flexible, and driven by inspiration are also positive traits. This means that when I see students who cannot plan or commit to activities in advance, or students who are wanting to observe before doing because they need to be inspired into action, aren’t condemned as lazy, fickle, or those other negative Visionary traits. I instead use this as an opportunity to say, “Oh! How can I enrich our environment to support these Visionary students?”

One way to do this is to be constantly engaged in the environment and to provide opportunities for spontaneous action and activities in addition to planned ones. The examples above are my attempt at doing this. The pendulum art project was simply inspired action – seeing a video and just doing it at school and those who joined, joined. Mystery science I always do in the big room and anyone inspired to join is welcomed! I don’t care if they planned to be there or not. After lunch each day, I’m setting out materials on the lunch table for kids to engage if they feel moved to. This is fun, and it creates opportunities for those kids who aren’t sure what they want to plan/commit to at the beginning of the week.

It’s a fun practice to think about different people and how they think/behave/act. It’s why I’m attracted to this profession. When I consider the quote that is most commonly attributed to Einstein, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid,” I recognize that when I am frustrated with what I see in another, it’s because I am seeing them through my perception of what I believe is genius. Then it’s up to me step back and consider another perspective and to do my work to open my mind to see other ways of genius.

Malcom Gladwell examines creativity and genius in this easy to listen to podcast, titled “Hallelujah,” a part of his Revisionist History podcast. I won’t summarize it here, but I will post the link if you are interested in exploring his examples of how genius can be expressed differently. I enjoyed listening to this as I thought about myself and the kids I work with, and how to recognize the different ways genius can be expressed. I think about how the Implementer and Visionaries may show this to us differently, and how to recognize and celebrate the different ways it shows up in our children so they grow up appreciating their gifts. A child who is a Visionary genius may be told by the world they are fickle and irrational, and then grow up to be this, never finding their way to express beauty to the world. When I hear about teenage suicide or a parent telling their artist child that they need to get a real job, I think about this. I work with children different than me, and it’s not my job to make them like me, my role is to open my mind and my perspectives to see the beauty and genius in them.

End of Year Rituals

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

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

This year’s end of year rituals included:

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

I share more details below about each component. Enjoy!

 

School Report Card

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

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

 

Student Self-Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ALF Reflection for Students

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gratitude Circle

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

 

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

Rose, Bud, Thorn

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

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

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

My Roses:

Our Change Up meetings

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

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

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

More Parent Volunteers

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

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

IMG_7285
Making life-sized versions of ourselves.

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

Amy Steinberg Theater Classes

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

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

IMG_7403

Love for Reading Flourishing and Visible

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

Bike Love

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

Ping Pong

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

My Buds

Seeing the Creative Solutions from Change-Up Flourish

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

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

Math at School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will the kids bring in next?

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

Be The Change Initiative

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

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

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

 

My Thorns

Space

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

Time

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

What’s Behind Our Dreams & Goals?

We’ve wrapped up our second week of school! This week we had my dear friend Mariusz & and his wife Maya come visit from Poland. Mariusz started his own preschool in Poland, Zielona Wieza, currently serving between 50-60 children ages 2-6. He is now planning to open a school for the graduates of Zielona Wieza and has been doing quite a bit of research over the past few years to get ready. He’s visited many democratic schools, including one of the oldest – Summerhill. It was really great to have Mariusz attend our week one ALF summer program and then come back to see our Agile Learning Center in action. The kids loved having them visit and @libby tried to learn some Polish words and phrases from Mariusz as well. I love having the kids exposed to many different cultures and types of people!

This week we had many exciting things happen: we got our school pet, Buns the bunny; the band Fish Out of Water came to lead us in a drum circle, perform, and then try out their instruments; some went on an Uptown adventure to Romare Bearden Park to meet Roots, ping pong continued to be a huge hit; our Minecraft/Terraria gaming culture blossomed with teamwork, collaboration, and joyful play; we started our InterALC Psychology Crash Course with @cammysherbert in Wilmington; and so much more. Please visit our September album on Facebook to see pictures!

Review: Why Do We Spawn?

The focus of this blog post, like last week, is to dive into and record what we’ve been up to in our Spawn Point. Our Spawn Point at the beginning and the end of the day are our times to coach, mentor, and connect with the students. It’s also a really important time for the kids to connect with each other and hear the interests, goals, and intentions that other students have. I believe that carving out this time together is crucial to create positive culture in school. While we do our best honor the individual needs and differences of each person, the fact that remains is that if you are choosing to come to our ALC, you are choosing to “live” with a community of other people for a portion of the day. This means that time spent to know each other has to happen so we can learn how to navigate the day in harmony despite our many differences. Learning about each other will help us act more compassionately toward one another and allow us to see situations from perspectives outside of our own. So the buy-in to attend ALC Mosaic is that we take time each day to connect as a group.

Meeting whole school each morning would be counter productive, however. We have too many students to do this. Trying to hear each other with respect and honor with 25+ people in one room would lead to frustration and probably have more of a negative impact on our culture than positive. So at our ALC, we split into two Spawn Points to start and end each day. Each group was chosen by the Lead Facilitators at the school to create balance groups that have mixed gender and age groups. We spend the first 30 minutes of our day in our respective Spawn Points. At 3pm the kids clean up and then go to an end of the day Spawn Point which ends up being about 10-20 minutes depending on when we finish our clean up jobs.

One interesting observation Mariusz shared with our staff after attending our older campus for three days was that the kids here seemed really connected and able to work out their needs and problems with each other through communication. He felt that there was less conflict here than in the other democratic schools he’s attended and that perhaps that was because the kids had such a strong bond to each other. I agree with him that our students are really connected. What’s interesting is, that at times, their deep connection can actually lead to conflict at school when they act as if they were all brothers and sisters (think about how siblings bicker)! However, the kids ultimately seem to really love and support each other and we can work out most conflicts through communication. This year there has been a lot of intentionality on the part of the Lead Facilitators to cultivate peaceful and connective Spawn Points to start and end our days, which I do see reflecting in the general flow & feel of the rest of the day from 10-3.

This Week’s Spawn Point Focus: What’s Behind Our Goals & Dreams?

Last week my blog post contained a detailed breakdown of what happened in my Spawn Point each day. At the beginning of this week, I thought that we might dive deeper into our goals, perhaps even breaking those goals down into SMART goals with more specific, measurable, and time-constrained steps. However, as we got into the week, I felt that this wasn’t the place to go. I did have a breakout goal setting work session with two students, but I didn’t feel that Spawn was the place for this right now. Instead, I felt it important that we dissect what was behind our dreams.

The most important thing I believe an adult in an ALC can do is to model knowing oneself truly. This means connecting to who we truly are and using our inner guidance and intuition to guide our actions with intention. This is how we can support the kids to do the same. One of the reasons I felt guided to not dive into deeper goal setting this week is because I realized that doing so was missing the most important piece: Who are we and why do we have the the dreams we have? To just jump into goal-setting setting is just an outcome based approached, an approach that is typically found in schools to make adults feel better: Oh look at those kids doing so much! Isn’t that just wonderful! They are busy and look at the outcome of all they have produced! But the work of the kids learning to listen to their inner guidance and intuition has been overlooked and disregarded – instead, they are just busy doing things that make us feel better. We don’t do that here!

Inspiration from Marie Kondo

978-1-60774-730-7

I am reading a book this week that has become pretty popular lately: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. This book was a part of my inspiration to try to support the kids in Spawn Point this week to focus on who they are rather than what they want to produce. Kondo’s approach is different than any other tidying method I’ve come across: rather than focus on rules, like “If you haven’t worn it in a year, donate it,” Kondo focuses on first examining why you want to tidy up your home and asks you dig into that question. She suggests asking yourself “Why?” at least three times so you can get a specific answer to how you want to feel in and experience your home. Her process is mostly focused on teaching you to know yourself and listen to your intuition of whether or not an item sparks joy in your heart. All things that don’t, you get rid of.

According to Kondo, “Follow your intuition and all will be well.” Her point is that if you follow someone else’s guidance for how to tidy up your home, you’ll rebound because the criteria set most likely will not match what you need to have in your life to experience joy. She writes, “only you can know what kind of environment makes you feel happy…To avoid rebound, you need to create your own tidying method with your own standards” (page 126).

Reading her book, I felt alive with joy at how she applied something I believe to be the most important skill a human can learn to tidying up: How to listen to our intuition (or inner guidance as I sometimes refer to it). To Kondo, when you hone this skill you can create magic in your home. I believe honing this skill will lead to joy and magic to your life as a whole. Teaching kids to create their own standards for what they need in their life is the starting point for them to create and build their own lives. Telling them our standards to live by is not the same as supporting them to discover their own.

Practical Application of This Concept to Our Spawn Point This Week

At the end of the day, I asked the kids to partner up with a buddy with the Goals & Dreams folders they made last week (see last week’s blog post about that). I showed them the book I was reading and told them a little bit about Kondo’s “Why?” questioning she does with clients before they even begin the tidying process. I asked the kids to do the same with their buddies: they were asked to switch folders and then interview the other person, picking a goal or a dream listed in the folder and then asking them “Why?” they have that dream at least three times. I reviewed my example of the goal, “I want to practice Spanish.” When I asked myself “Why?” the first time, I answered, “So I can speak fluently.” Asking “Why?” again, I answered, “Well, I think it would be really neat to live in a Spanish speaking country for a year at some point.” But why do I want to do this? “Oh…learning about different cultures and how other people in the world live is absolutely fascinating to me!”

I told the kids that if we examine the “Why?” behind our goals and dreams, than it can help us stick with challenges or obstacles that come up if following their dream or completing their goal gets tough. If you aren’t connected to your personal motivation for completing a goal, it’s easy to just stop and not complete it. This is why it is so important to not just give kids busy work and then chastise them when they are “lazy” or don’t complete it. The lesson for the child in that situation is that they are lazy. But if person hasn’t had the opportunity or coaching to understand who they are and what inspires them, then they might not have the opportunity to learn that they are actually a motivated and driven person.

The kids seemed to have fun with this buddy activity and I hope to repeat it for the next couple Mondays. I also think it helps build connection and support – with the buddy learning more about the other person as you learn about yourself.

A New Experiment

I built on this concept by then asking the kids to do a little experiment with me for a week. I was reading some goal setting literature I was given over our ALF Summer Program by @drew’s mom, Lorna. Part of the process was to identify your core values in order to get to a place where you’re ready to set goals. This felt really aligned with the “Why” activity – know yourself before jumping into setting goals.

As I looked over the list on the adult handout, I had an idea. I would write some values down on slips of paper and ask the kids to identify their top 5 core values. As I looked at the values on the sheet, I realized that not all of those listed would make sense to younger children (the ages in my Spawn range from 7-12), so I added some simpler categories that might just cover types of activities kids enjoy, like math and science. I also left slips blank so kids could write in their own values or categories for how to spend their time.

The slips had words like Peace, Making Things, Service to Others, Understanding People, Community Building, Science, Math, Physical Activity, Solving Problems and a few more.

I told the kids: “Now I’m going to ask you to do something really, really tough. If you’re up for it, I want you to look through the stack of words I handed you and ONLY choose 5 words that feel really, really important to you. These 5 words should represent who you think you are and ways you feel are really important for you to spend your time at school. If you don’t see any that move you, please use the blank slips to write in something of your own choice. But remember, no more than 5 can be chosen!”

Some of the kids seemed to like the challenge of only picking 5 – saying “this is hard!” aloud but with smiles on their faces as they sorted through the words. Each student had their own stack to sort through. Below I have pictures of the pages they made, which we hung up in our Spawn Point room:

IMG_6228 IMG_6229 IMG_6230 IMG_6231 IMG_6232 IMG_6233 IMG_6234 IMG_6236 IMG_6237

 

Note: Again, as I wrote last week, I don’t force the kids to do this. A couple didn’t want to do it, and that’s totally okay. Some people really want to see how something goes before they try it themselves. Some simply learn by watching and absorbing. Some kids really, really like activities such as these and find it exciting and fun, while others go along with it just because. The most interesting cases are those that always refuse in the beginning and then ask to do the activity a different day. This happened with one of the students who said no the first day, but then asked me if they could chose their words the next. 

The next day, I prepared envelopes for each of the kids with the values/ways to spend their time they selected with boxes. They color coded the boxes and the experiment we are currently embarking on is one where they color code the ways they actually spend their time to see how it aligns with the selections they said are important to them. At the end of the day, they take their intention sticky notes from the morning and color on them to match the category it fits in, if it fits in one at all.

IMG_6238

I asked the kids to do this for a week and then we’ll check-in and see if this type of reflection gives them information that is useful for how they make decisions and if it helps them better articulate how they spend their time:

1) Making decisions: Are you making decisions that are aligned with values or interests that are important to you?

2) Articulation: I find that kids in our schools are told by kids in traditional schools that they aren’t learning anything. I think it is important for a school setting such as ours (with pedagogical ties to free schools/unschooling) to help kids build their vocabulary for how they describe what they learn at school. Can we support them to say to the neighborhood kids, “Oh, at my school I learn how to make decisions that reflect my values, passions, and interests. I value peace so I help others solve conflicts or problems. I also really think physical activity is important to me so I organize an active game with my friends every day.” My heart hurts some when I hear stories of neighborhood kids telling kids at our school that they just play all day and don’t learn anything (which is impossible – we are always learning!). Play is how we learn, and through play we can explore our values. The trick is to support our kids to articulate that so they can feel confident and great about what they experience and create for themselves each day at an Agile Learning Center.

I enjoy hearing at the end of the day how the kids sort their activities. One child said when they play ping-pong it brings a feeling of peace to them as they hear the “ping-pong” of the ball back and forth. Another child said when they play ping-pong it helps them understand people because she has to think about what the other person is going to do when she plays opposite them. I am seeing that this just adds a deeper layer to the end of the day reflection and I’m getting to know the kids more. I am also doing this with the kids each day too and am personally enjoying that experience as well!

 

Back to School, Year Three!

It’s amazing to me that this is our third year of Mosaic. I’m in awe of all that has developed and unfolded. I take a lot of pride in everything I do, and embarking on this journey to create a school was a huge step for me. I am shy to show anyone work of mine that isn’t fully “finished,” for example, my writing, art, or even a complete thought! But doing something on this level means that all along the way, people are exposed to what is developing – because it’s impossible to start a school and have it be “perfect.” In the beginning, you don’t even know who your kids are. How can you develop a system that serves people you don’t know? You can lay down the foundation, philosophy, and broad framework (our Agile Roots), but the details of how it will play out are always in development based on who you are working with. And that changes. You find that you can’t serve some, but start to understand who you really can serve well. It’s been such a learning process over the years.

This week, all that hard work felt so good. I feel myself on the top of the mountain, able to look back behind me and see how every moment led up to all the understandings I have now. I can see ahead of me and the direction we are going, and it looks glorious. We had three days of school this week and they were amazing. We got into a groove right away, and @jesslm & I feel clear about acting from a place of trust for children, completely, while also understanding that our roles as facilitators at school mean that we will influence and affect the environment at school. At other free schools you may have adults pretending that’s not the case, but it’s impossible for this not to be true if you are developing meaningful and loving relationships with those around you.

Below, I’ll share some specifics about some changes we’ve made at school, my Spawn Point experience, and give a general first week reflection.

The Space

This summer we worked HARD on removing a lot of items from the school. At the end of the year, a small group of facilitators and parents met to support me and @charlotte to get a vision for what we could do with the space. Last year, it just seemed untidy a lot. I kept thinking we needed better organization, but what we really needed was simply fewer things at school. At our meeting some words came up like “simplicity” and “beauty” and those really spoke to me. I believe the space also acts a facilitator. If it’s filled with a bunch of things that we aren’t connected to, we don’t feel accountable to treat it with respect. So we cleaned house:

  • Books: we decided to opt to visit the library more with kids rather than store lots of books at school. It was hard to keep them organized, so kids really didn’t go through them very much. I think it’ll be better to go to the library intentionally to select books, and then along the way, use the library’s organization and nice displays to guide us to select a book that we didn’t intend on getting. Or ask librarians for help and suggestions! We have a library in walking distance, so this is easy to do.
  • Baskets: I tried to replace as much plastic as I could with baskets. Micheals had a 50% off sale on baskets the weekend before school started! For $40 I got a bunch of nice baskets and I feel so happy when I look at them in the room!
  • Plants: I got one little plant donation. I hope to get a few more, but will wait to see if I keep this one thriving. Jess got a bunch for her room, including a fern I can take a clipping from to grow in our spawn room eventually. Our little plant is tiny, but it also brings me joy to look at.
  • Removing cubbies from hallway and adding hooks: This has been huge! The hallway presents so much nicer now, and things are off of the floor. @dthomasson then re-used the old cubbies to make awesome shelves in the Quiet Room & Cloud Room!
  • Personal cubbies: We added these for work-in-progress, books, etc for kids in their Spawn Points.

So, our Spawn Point room just feels better when we walk into it:

IMG_6125

The Spawn Point This Week: Dreams & Goals

Our Spawn Points are the place that, to me, feel like a fun ALF laboratory. Here, we set the tone for the day with a couple goals in mind:

  • Reminding kids about what’s happening today (that was set at Set The Week meeting)
  • Deepening bonds – getting to know each other in a smaller group setting
  • Hearing interests from each other – allowing us to 1) learn that someone shares a similar interest to you or 2) get an idea that sparks from someone else’s interest or 3) be a cheerleader for a friend, simply encouraging them to keep pursuing their passion, even if it gets tough
  • Supporting kids to try out different ways to see what they are doing each day so they can reflect upon their decisions in a healthy way

The last bullet is the really the fun part for me. I have known most of these kids now for at least a year, and some almost three years. There is a lot of trust and respect already established between us, so the past three days we’ve been able to do some really neat and fun things together to start and end our day. I do feel comfortable asking them to try out some new things, but always from a place of working with them (I actually ask them for consent to try out new ideas). So I’ve been having fun asking them to try out some different ways to reflect on their day visually and set goals for themselves. They know I’m just showing them different tools – later they can decide if any of these tools work for them or not. They can ditch ones they don’t like, build on or evolve ones they do, or invent new ones as they go! All the tools serve the purpose to support them learning how to understand themselves better so they can better manage their own time and learn how to make decisions for themselves that feel good.

Gathering Activity

Each morning, I laid out mandala coloring pages as a gathering activity for kids coming into school before our official 9:30 start. @tomis shared a neat article with me about how coloring is the best alternative to meditation after he saw us coloring each morning. I shared that with the kids and they really liked hearing that what they were enjoying was good for them too! This helped the kids settle-in and the atmosphere feel calm. I also used our mandala colorings to decorate our space. I’ve got enough finished mandala colorings to make a second banner too!

IMG_6124

 

Below I break down each Spawn Point by time so I can keep a record of how long Spawn is taking and reflect and learn from the experience:

Wednesday Morning (35ish min): We focused on just getting acquainted. @jesslm made a game for the adults to play at our community meeting. Everyone loved the game, and we decided to do it with the kids in our Spawn Points. The game simply use a board, die, pieces, and question card to move a group along in asking each other questions. The only point is to get to know each other! The kids loved the game and a group asked to play again later that day – spending over an hour to play later than afternoon.

Wednesday Afternoon (20ish min): We reflected on our day and moved stickies or wrote stickies to add to our Done! column on our Spawn-ban (what we call our Spawn-only kanban). Then I asked the kids to share any dreams for their lives that they had. They added those to stickies on the board above our Spawn-ban.

Thursday Morning (30ish min): We added intentions to our Spawn ban as the kids are used to, and then I initiated a conversation about what makes a goal different from a dream. I used the example of going to the moon – was that a goal or dream? This was a dream that involved many different goals to be completed along the way to be reached. One of the students chimed in that his dad has a dream to open his own gym, but there are lots of things that he has to do in order to get there. I gave the kids the concrete example that this child’s dad might have a goal of “saving $15,000 by the end of the year” so that he could put a down payment in on a space. I wanted to help the kids think about what made a goal different from a dream, and lay the foundation for later setting some really specific SMART Goals for themselves.

After we discussed this, as a group, we read over everyone’s dreams that were written up the previous day and sorted them as either a dream or a goal. I kept this simple and did not go in-depth about SMART Goals. I just added that a dream is probably something that will take longer than this year to do. The stickies that could happen this year might be goals that one could set for themselves.

IMG_6093

 

Thursday Afternoon (15ish min): I decided to experiment a little on this day. Over the summer @leigh did this using a plate to help kids reflect on how they spent their time. The plates were divided into the categories “movement,” “understanding people,” “making things,” “expressing yourself,” and “how things work.” At the end of camp, the kids thought about everything they did that day and added a sticker to which category they felt their activity fell into. Many could fall into more than one category, the point isn’t to place it into the “right” category – there is no right or wrong in this activity, the point was to just do a deeper reflection on your choices for the day. By simply thinking about whether you were “understanding people” or “moving” during your dance class involves you to engage with your reflection for the day at a deeper level.

The kids who did the plate activity in a Spawn have already asked if we could do it again. I could tell they liked having a very visual and concrete reflection, and asking them to do a different type of visual concrete activity was easy. I asked them to fill out a worksheet that was color coded. I wanted them to think about the hours of the day and color code how they spent each chunk of time.

IMG_6120

 

I opened by asking the kids, “Do you know that all of you did the first item on this list today?” They looked confused and were quiet for a moment. Then one of them said, “Oh! Change Up meeting!” I told them that what students do at ALCs is something so important: kids here actually work together with the community to create it. We come together EVERY week and try out new things to make our school better and better – with input from everyone in it. This is not something that every child gets to do. Kids here get to learn how to create the culture they exist in, rather than how to deal with a culture they don’t want to exist in. To me, that’s way more important than sitting through history class.

The kids did not have to use my categories, those were just examples. They could write their own. One student put color coded smiley faces in each section because she felt her items that day covered more than one category. One student felt stressed out about the whole activity and asked not to do it – to which I said, “Of course! Please don’t stress over this. I’m just trying to introduce a tool that might help some people. Some of us might never do this again. Some may like it. Are you willing do something quietly though so other could try it out? Or just listen and watch?” This felt perfectly fine to the student, who seemed quite happy to continue coloring his mandala anyway. I loved that this came up as an example for any of the kids to jump in and express their opinions or thoughts about trying this out. It builds trust to see how I react – will I get upset of someone doesn’t like my idea? Or will it not bother me? Always, I want kids to feel safe to respectfully decline an idea I think is cool!

Again, when you have a relationship with the children you are working with, you can just ask them if they are willing to try something out that may help them. They know I’ll never make them do something continually that they hate – they know I’m trying to support them in having an awesome school day and an awesome life. They respect me and seem think I have good ideas for the most part. They also know that they can just talk to me if something I ask them to try feels uncomfortable to them and I’ll respect that.

Friday Morning (30ish min): I introduced new folders to organize each individual student’s goals and dreams. The kids were asked to take down their stickies from our group board and put them in a file folder that was divided into sections.

IMG_6111

 

I introduced simple system for each child to indicate how far along they felt they were in their goals with a little bar system. They could draw a rectangle and then divide it into sections and fill it up as they go. I love this because it’s really foundational math – look at a whole, are you half way there? A quarter of the way? Can you split up a whole into equal parts? What does that mean? The time activity from the day before also hits up fractional concepts too. This is how math is concretely developed in a way that makes sense to humans. Math is everywhere. We’re always learning it. In school, many times, kids learn that math is this strange thing that simply doesn’t make sense. They learn that math isn’t all around us and can’t be related to our lives in a way that makes sense.

Not every kid used the bar system, and that’s okay. This was just a first step to breaking a dream down into a goal. In the coming weeks, I hope to really help them take each of their goals and dive into it further to make more specific and attainable steps within the goal (SMART Goals). I also hope to help them dive further into their dreams – the How and the Why? Asking “How?” helps to develop goals, but it’s important to ask “Why?” This can help a person become more connected to their dream when it gets tough following through on a goal. Or it can help them realize that this dream was just a dream but not one that’s actually a priority, and that’s cool too!

I gave the kids this example when doing my board: I had in my dreams section, “Learn Spanish fluently.” But when I asked myself, “Why?” I realized that my dream was to actually live in a foreign country for a year in the future and be able to speak to the people in it. Then I asked myself “Why?” again and realized that I want to do this because learning about how other people live in different cultures or time-periods fascinate me.

Friday Afternoon (35ish min): The kids blog on Friday afternoons. I asked kids who were willing to put a picture of their goals and dreams in their blog. Some did this so they could mark this on their first week and see how their goals and dreams change over the year. Some didn’t and just wanted to keep that private. Either is fine. The point isn’t to make all the kids do the same thing. Some of the kids really dig the extra tools and seem excited to keep trying new ones out. Developmentally, some of the kids are really doing what they need to each day through free play and spontaneity and don’t need the tools. However, they can still be supportive of the kids who do want to use those tools.

Final Thoughts

Each day, I felt energized and happy at the end of the day. That’s how I am going to continue to imagine feeling after every school day this year! It was a really fantastic week. I felt there was also a healthy and normal level of conflict that occurred as well. When you gather 25 people into one building for 6 hours this happens! Through our challenges and joys we learn to live and learn as a community together. What’s different from unschooling in an ALC and unschooling at home is that you must buy-in to being around other people and problem solving with the group to be here. This is why I so strongly support both homeschooling along side schools like our ALCs. It’s important to evaluate each child’s needs and desires to do what’s best for them.

All week I observed kids engaged in activities like capture the flag, board games, ping-pong, biking, dramatic imaginary play, research & planning, playing Minecraft & Terraria, playing Werewolves, reading books, coloring, drawing, and more (please visit this album for pictures of our week!). I saw kids getting along beautifully, I saw kids having struggles getting along, I saw kids talking to each other, I saw kids asking for help to talk to each other. We had enough adults and kids at school so there was space to talk out problems as needed. There are still more community wide awarenesses we need to discuss as group too.

Sometimes people ask me, “What are they learning at your school? Do they actually LEARN anything?” I know that a parent asking me this is probably not ready to join us at Mosaic. Still, I do my best to write out my thoughts in blog posts like this so I can start to increase awareness of all the amazing things that kids do learn here – things I value highly, for example:

  • How to stay connected to who you are as a person
  • How to hear others and support them
  • How to constructively create solutions to problems in your own life and as a community
  • How to create culture with a group – a culture that supports values you have
  • How to reflect on your choices to inform new choices you make
  • How to manage your time
  • How to speak about what is important to you
  • How to know what you need to feel supported and ask for it
  • How to view challenges as opportunities in your life

If you can do these things, you can learn anything you want in the world. AND everything you learn will be connected to what is relevant and necessary for you to lead a happy and fulfilled life.

 

Schooling the World

This film is incredible. I hope that there are parents and ALFs in our ALC Mosaic, Agile Learning Center, and Agile Learning Facilitators network that are willing to watch this film and share it if they so feel moved.

Please click here to watch Schooling The World.

Many people feel good when they “support education.” But do you know what you are supporting? Take a look at what our education system is doing world wide, and also consider…what is it exactly that we are teaching our youth?

“A lot of [people supporting the spread of western education] are very well intentioned, good people who are actually thinking they are doing something good for their communities, but a lot of them don’t understand the much larger game in which they are pawns” (quote from the movie) We are actually taught to believe that what we learn in school is good for us, and the western way of thinking is superior to other ways. But how is teaching superiority helping us to have compassion and to love and respect one another?

I believe that my great-grandchildren will view western education as we now view slavery: How could we possibly do this to human beings?

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!”


 

 

Mosaic Magic

Sometimes when we describe ALC days to parents, we will share about our morning and afternoon meetings sandwiching the bulk of our day: 10-3pm a time that we call “THE MAGIC.”

I haven’t been blogging lately, and this has been weighing on my mind! Now that I am spending most of my time directly engaging with kids, I see so much more magic and sometimes I feel like I could blog every day about the amazing things I am witness to, or a part of, each day. I’m thankful for how the school has grown beyond me: we are now a collaboratively run school, with a board & working groups comprised of staff and parents. I feel free from so many administrative tasks and decisions, and now I’m free to play with kids all day!  I am grateful for this each moment.

To this community, I want you to know that it’s because of each and every one of you together that has allowed me to release myself from prior burdens that used to weigh me down. Now I’m less anxious and more able to happily and serenely connect with myself and others, thus, I get to live and experience more of the *MAGIC* everyday. I’ll try to blog more about what we are up to at school and share the magic with all of you regularly. I’ll start right now!

The Magic Moments I’ve experienced the past week:

Math:

Oh boy! I’ve been seeing a lot of math lately, everywhere I go! I’ve been noticing the math in the most natural ways as well. Those who know me, know that I am against formal math instruction for children under the age of about 10 (if you want to know why, you may request that I write a separate blog post on that!). However, I’ve been seeing math a lot – it’s always been there, but I’m noticing it more (again, I have more time now to notice!). Where do I see it?

  • Geometry Dash. Wow, all the kids who play this game have a firm grasp of the fact that 100% means they are done the WHOLE game. First of all, this game is incredibly hard and takes many attempts to pass each level. Each session of attempts that you make and fail, you see that you have only completed “35%” of the course, or however much you have completed. I was playing with a student this week and she looked at the level I was playing and said, “Oh, I’ve only completed about half of that level, I’ve made it to 58%.” This is a child that struggled with math in school, and one that, since she’s left school, has been gaining more and more of a solid sense of numeracy through natural interactions with her environment. If she had been given a percentage question on a test, there is a big possibility that she would have frozen up and not been able to remember that percentages just tell you a part of a whole. But she knows this now, and through an experience that made complete sense to her. After that moment, I began listening to all the kids as they play and realized that they were all receiving the basic foundation of percentage that will help them learn more about percentage, fractions, and decimals at a faster rate if they want to dive into that when they are older. My hope here? That they won’t have the “freeze up” effect or the “I’m just not a math person” attitude.
  • Finance Club: Giving the kids a budget of money to spend has been incredible, and I’m sorry I didn’t think to do this sooner! Budgeting money is a very practical and important skill that I don’t see taught in a real and relevant way to students in school. Giving fake budgets about “John mowed lawns for 5 weeks and made $10/week. He has to buy…blah, blah blah” on a worksheet does not motivate kids to actually figure out how to spend, save, and account for money. The kids are excited to have real money to spend on items that they can then use at school, and they are doing so very responsibly. Check out our finance meeting club minutes here!
  • Shopping! The boys have been into playing “store” with me, and I love it! We dish out coins and their favorite thing to “shop” for is wands. Ayan has been really into Harry Potter, so he loves to browse the wands and ask me for their powers. Their favorite was when I sold one wand to James that could turn adults into children, and another to Ayan that turned children into adults. They enjoyed “turning” me into a baby and then back up into being old! They get their coins to shop with by doing “jobs” in the store. I might have them wash imaginary windows, pick up and put away real items in the room, or restock the store shelves in order to earn shopping money. It’s really fun how we mix in the imaginative play with a practical buying/selling and monetary activity.
  • Career Planning: I’ve been working on this project with Alona, and it’s quite interesting. We’ve picked careers, looked up their average salaries in NC, used online tax calculators to see our Gross vs. Net pay, and then budgeted out where we will live, the cars we will drive, and all our monthly living expenses. We’ve made Google Spreadsheets and have shared them with each other. Each week we get to make a change to the other person’s sheet to mimic the unexpectedness of life so we can see how this changes our finances monthly in this role play (RP) activity. Each real life week simulates a month in the RP. So, last week, I made Alona’s dog get diarrhea on her carpets in her house and she had to spend $250 on hiring a professional carpet cleaner – blowing her typical $40 budget a week to buy pet food & supplies. I am having so much fun doing this! Perhaps if I had practiced this type of planning as a kid, I would’ve been able to do much better with the school finances last year…

Saying goodbye to Daniela:

Last Thursday was Daniela’s last day with us, and it was a tear filled afternoon as we gave her a parting gift and said goodbye. Daniela came to visit us from Bogata, Columbia to experience our school and practice her English. We did a whole group spawn point in the afternoon and shared about our experiences with her. We all felt her calming and loving energy here and know that this is the beginning of a long friendship, not a forever goodbye. Isabella and I will definitely be in touch with Daniela through Skype and one day I hope to go visit her and her family one day.

 

Inspiring Videos That Were Shared With Me This Week:

I shared this one on Facebook with the following message: “I can understand this feeling. While I am so proud of my work and love what has been created, there are many days where I am overwhelmed by what I can be doing better.

And yes, there were times – especially in year one of opening the school – that I thought maybe I just wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or capable enough to do it. Those thoughts happen. But then, like this video says, I just worked more. I worked more because the reason I wanted to create the school was so valid, so awesome, so “killer.” I know I’m in the beginning years of making something incredible.

Just like the space I’ve worked on creating room for children, I need space to fail. There’s no better way to develop a healthy relationship with failure than to go out and try to something you’ve never done before. Even if it scares you.”

After posting, I had some really encouraging messages posted to me, which went straight to my heart! Most were from parents, but then one was from my old co-worker from the Friends School of Charlotte. It’s amazing how Facebook can re-connect you with others based on a certain message. I was so touched and felt all warm and fuzzy from this sharing and the feedback!

One day last week I had three different people share this video with me on Facebook! I really appreciate the lyrics. It’s a message that I hope many hear – and I’m grateful that the kids leaving our school will not leave with this same problem of not having time and space to learn practice skills they need in their life.

Our students also practice how to listen to each other, how to create their own schedules, how to take an idea and turn it into a reality. They learn how to solve their own problems and how to make requests of others when needed.

After spending several years teaching in public schools, I watched how much the kids forgot from what was “taught” to them year after year. It’s wasted time in my opinion. They could be living their life and having a childhood instead – filled with learning practical skills relevant to leading a happy and successful life.

I shared this video and the Hackschooling Makes Me Happy video in my presentation for the Camp Luck Conference!

Camp Luck’s 5th Annual Conference:

Melissa Mulligan, Evan’s mom, is the coordinator for the annual Camp Luck Conference for parents of children with Congenital Heart Defects. She asked me to present at the conference because she strongly felt that parents of children with CHD needed to have their minds opened to how their child could live life outside of school. Melissa and I discussed how we especially felt that kids who spend lots of time in hospitals should then spend their time living their life and savoring each day rather than doing homework or studying for tests that clearly neither of us feel is a good use of time for humans.

Melissa helped me prepare the description of my talk, “A Childhood They Deserve: Parents want their children to live happy lives filled with purpose and independence, but aren’t most schools preparing children to be compliant and obedient, always being told to chase the next carrot? What type of schools do children really need to lead fulfilling and empowered lives in the 21st century world? In this presentation, you will learn about self-directed learning communities that work together and share best practices, and strive to give children a childhood they deserve.

In preparation for speaking at this conference, I spent a lot of time re-visiting the first time I met Rachel and her story for how she came to enter into the “unschool” paradigm of education. I spoke to her on the phone, and then I went and re-read every single blog post she wrote on the Keep Nate Great blog she made during his cancer treatments. During this reflective period of conference prep, I learned more about Rachel’s story:

  1. After reading all the blogs, I chose an excerpt from her last blog post to share during my presentation about her wanting Nate to live a life where he could just be and enjoy each present moment (as opposed to worrying about what was ahead in the future). This blog post written in January of 2013, the same month I opened The Mosaic School, LLC. Several months later, I met Rachel and she joined our community with Nate and Gabe. Last week, Evan, Melissa’s son told me, “I believed everything is connected.” Yeah. I believe that too.
  2. Rachel not only wanted this community because she wants him to love life and every moment in it, she also noticed that as a child who needed heart surgeries and needed cancer treatment, Nate was being treated by others as “that poor kid.” People would dote on him and give him gifts, trying to be nice, but Rachel wanted Nate to know that he is a person outside of heart surgery and cancer. She wanted to see people connected with him by asking him, “Hey, what do you like to do? What interests you?” rather than just being sorry for him all the time. She wanted him to just be a kid, and she feels so grateful that at Mosaic, Nate can be Nate, not the poor kid who needs sympathy.

I shared Rachel’s story as the opener for my presentation, and shared that our school has primarily grown through word of mouth – with each family coming to the realization that they wanted a community like this for their children in their own way. This was Rachel’s path, which was a very emotional one. I see Nate and Gabe here at school every day, and through this re-connection with her story, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that they are here. I see Gabe write in his trello almost every day “had an AWESOME DAY :D” and I smile and love that they have a happy and loving childhood experience.

I then shared some of the outcomes of the research I have done on the history of public schools and why they started, and then moved on to sharing from the work of Peter Gray, Alfie Kohn, John Gatto, Daniel Pink, & Carol Dweck. Finally I shared how we as a community have take our ideas and use Agile tools & practices to turn them into a reality, describing each of our T&Ps with pictures and anecdotes from school. I really like the slides I put together to share this and hope to write another blog soon that shares about this more in detail!

 


 

 

So, last week was FILLED with MAGIC and I can’t wait to start another week at school tomorrow!

 

FAQ Question 1: How Will My Child Learn To Read?

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be posting on this blog answers to frequently asked questions I receive from parents interested in having their child attend ALC Mosaic. I’m inviting feedback to help make the responses to these questions clear & concise, yet also thorough enough to feel adequately answered. If you have additional links or information that you think would be valuable to include in the response, I welcome your replies so I can make this FAQ page awesome!

The intent of the FAQ page is to send to parents before they attend a Parent Interest Night at our school so we spend less time discussing these answers in person and more time answering questions about Agile Learning Centers and ALC Mosaic specifically.

So here goes the first question I tackled:

How Will My Child Learn to Read?

For most children, they will learn to read just as they learned to walk and talk – through living around people who walk and talk. Most normally developing children are extremely motivated to walk because they see adults getting places faster than they are. They are also very motivated to learn language skills because it helps them get what they want and need more effectively.

In our school, a child who reads is much more independent than a child who does not read. The same goes for the world, and our school likes to model what is currently important in today’s world – literacy being one of those things.

What we observe with the children at Mosaic is that they all want to read because it increases their ability to do things on their own. If they can read the schedule board on their own, they are able to figure out what’s going on, and when and where the activity is taking place, without getting someone to help them. They will able to play many more complex games because they are able to read.

We have not encountered one child yet that simply does not want to read here. We do encounter children who simply teach themselves to read in a way that works for them. This can look like a child suddenly showing up and just reading one day all at once, or like a child really interested in reading and sounding out words for months, dropping it for few months, and then coming back to intensely until they are fluent. You can think back to how your child learned to speak – first sounds, playing with sounds, repeating sounds, saying the few words they know over and over again. It looks like that, but with the words they can read and write. They write the words they know repeatedly and acquire more and more.

If they want extra support to speed up the reading process, we provide it. Otherwise, we see them teach themselves. Humans are incredibly intelligent – especially when they are motivated they pay very close attention to what it is that they want to learn. A child learning to read will be carefully studying letters as someone read to them aloud.

Through his research, Peter Gray, Ph.D., Professor of Research Science at Boston College created these principles of how children learn to read without schooling:

Seven Principles of Learning to Read Without Schooling

1) For non-schooled children there is no critical period or best age for learning to read.
2) Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly.
3) Attempts to push reading can backfire.
4) Children learn to read when reading becomes, to them, a means to some valued end or ends.
5) Reading, like many other skills, is learned socially through shared participation.
6) Some children become interested in writing before reading, and they learn to read as they learn to write.
7) There is no predictable “course” through which children learn to read.

In this article, Gray expands on these principles in much detail and also describes how they came from a study of Sudbury students – students who were never told to learn to read or forced to go to any class or course. From this study he also writes, “What they found defied every attempt at generalization. Students began their first real reading at a remarkably wide range of ages–from as young as age 4 to as old as age 14. Some students learned very quickly, going from apparently complete non-reading to fluent reading in a matter of weeks; others learned much more slowly. A few learned in a conscious manner, systematically working on phonics and asking for help along the way. Others just “picked it up.” They realized, one day, that they could read, but they had no idea how they had learned to do so. There was no systematic relationship between the age at which students had first learned to read and their involvement with reading at the time of the interview. Some of the most voracious readers had learned early and others had learned late.”

 

Extra Reading on Reading

 

Rudolf Steiner, who created the Waldorf educational model, felt it was an injustice to a child’s imagination to teach them to read before the age of 7.  Schools in Finland (these schools have gotten US press for their excellent school systems, read about that here and here) do not have children start school until 7. In addition, one can really begin to learn to read at any age. There is also a need for ones eye muscles to build during normal play as a child before they are ready to read, and this development can widely vary.

The point is that a child’s time to be ready to read will occur at many different ages, and it’s ridiculous to try to make all children be on a particular level at one age. Still, all traditional schools are expecting every child to begin some type of literacy instruction by Kindergarten or 1st grade. Many children are not ready at this time and then develop anxieties over why they are not good enough, smart enough, etc. This becomes a labored pattern that, for many, keeps them in the low reading group or self-identifying as a non-reader. We don’t believe in doing that to children here.

John Taylor Gatto has done extensive research on the effectiveness of public schools throughout his 30 year career as a teacher. He is also a public speaker and author on the topic. In this interview (as well as in many of his other essays and books) he debunks the myth that children need school to learn to read:

“By 1940, literacy as a national number stood at 96 percent for whites and 80 percent for blacks. Four of five blacks were literate in spite of all disadvantages. Yet, six decades later, the Adult Literacy Survey and National Assessment of Educational Progress reported a 40 percent illiteracy rate for blacks – doubling the earlier deficiency – and a 17 percent rate for whites, more than quadrupling it. Yet, the money spent on schooling in real terms had grown 350 percent.”

 

If you would like to read more on this topic, Lisa Nielson compiles a very comprehensive list of links here to help you learn more about how children learn to read without teachers.

What do Students Want From Educators?

Lisa Nielson, the blogger behind The Innovative Educator,  recently published her blog’s top posts of all time (well since Google Analytics, came around in 2010). I had to check the list out, and found this gem from 2011.

The post covers a student panel hosted by Ann Curry and Education Nation where students were asked to share what they felt was important for everyone to receive a world-class education. You can see that full list here.

Several of the statements made by the students made my heart ache:

3. I can’t learn from you if you are not willing to connect with me.

12. Tell me something good that I’m doing so that I can keep growing in that.

15. Our teachers have too many students to enable them to connect with us in they way we need them to.

19. You need to love a student before you can teach a student.

I wish that, since then, policy makers listened to what students had to say. What has happened since 2011? Common Core, big time. It was under development since 2009, and by 2014, 45 states had adopted Common Core standards. Unfortunately for these students, in the three years since they shared their thoughts on education they have been subjected to more testing and achievement goals rather than nuture, love, and connection with the adults around them.

Our young people need to feel loved, heard, and cared about. This will help them more developmentally than testing them, punishing them, and constantly evaluating them for what we wish they were doing. You can’t teach anyone something if they don’t feel respected by you.

Our schools aren’t set up to allow teachers the ability to meaningfully connect with students, this I know from trying to do so when I was a public school teacher. So how do we expect meaningful learning to take place there?