Relationships and trust take time to build, and it’s from these two foundations that you can grow a healthy culture. One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had as an educator since I’ve been working with children (over 17 years) has been here at ALC Mosaic where I’ve had the time to focus on building relationships with children and then creating the culture we want together at school. Some of the children here have been together with me for over three years now. We get to experience each other growing up, maturing, changing. Our relationships are an investment in the future, we aren’t just putting up with each other for one year before moving on. It’s worth it to actually know one another.
We have just completed our third year of Mosaic as an official school. Two and a half of those years we have been open as an ALC. Each year keeps getting easier and better. A huge part of this success is because we have a strong foundation built in trust, which has the chance to blossom because we have had more time to get to know each other. We feel like a big family at school.
I’m seeing this ease flow into our conversations at our weekly Change-Up meeting. When we first began using our Community Mastery Board during Change-Up, it was clunky and challenging to engage student participation in the creation of community agreements. However, over time, the kids see more how to use this tool as a means to creating community agreements and norms that serve the whole group and actually make a culture that is positive and fun to be in.
One specific example started with the making of “wishes.” At the beginning of the last school year, all the kids and the staff wrote down a wish that they had for the school. We put all those wishes in a bag and then over the course of the entire fall, we would pull one wish out to “grant” as a part of our Change-Up meeting. This was a really fun and engaging way for the students to participate in Change-Up, the kids would get excited to read the wish and then try to figure out a way to make it come true.
Over the course of the next two months, we found that more than one student wished for “boys and girls to play together.” The kids noticed a cultural norm of girls playing with girls mostly and boys playing with boys mostly. The process of granting this wish allowed us to talk about that openly and decide what we wanted OUR cultural norm around this to be. Through the discussion, it was decided that it would be great if we could try out playing one big group game each week to encourage everyone to play with one another in a fun way. The game could be anything – capture the flag, freeze tag, wizards and gelfings, hide and seek, etc. There were a few kids who were unsure if they wanted to play a big group game every week, but they were okay with trying it out for one week and then reporting back the following week if it was okay to do.
Playing a group game together every week did end up becoming something we continued practicing for several months. Each week at Change Up we would briefly check in, “Do we want to keep doing this?” and it kept getting a thumbs up. Then, in the spring, we did a more thorough check-in, going back to the awareness that brought this community practice into place. We reminded the kids that the idea of all school participation in community games came from wanting to encourage boys and girls to interact with one another more. We asked ourselves, is this actually happening?
The kids were emphatic that it had, citing several examples of how they have played with others of the opposite gender and they felt that this wish had come true for the school. They decided it was no longer important for us have the agreement that we all played a group each week, but acknowledged that there would probably be a large group game offered weekly because it’s something many people like to do. It’s simply become a cultural norm to do a big group activity regularly.
To me, this story is a beautiful example of how a community of mostly children can powerfully create the kind of environment they want to live in, deciding what practices they want have as a community while remaining connected to why they want it. Without the Community Mastery Board tool and Change Up meeting process, the kids wouldn’t have revisited the awareness of why they started having large group games weekly. New students who joined the school would simply think it’s something they had to do each week without connection to why. The kids were able to adjust and change their agreement about having a group game be mandatory for everyone each week because they understood that the actual point of the agreement had been served and that brought them joy to find out! So many times in this world we continue doing something because, “that’s they way we’ve always done it” without doing a meta-analysis (you can read my blog post here for a little video about how this happens). Here at ALC, the students are building those executive functioning skills to analyze their culture and practices, something I hope to see in the world more! I know that this is possible because we have had the time to build our relationships over time – years for some – which create a foundation of trust and desire to meet each other’s needs.
Yesterday, @tomis, @charlotte and I were in the school cleaning up after summer camps in preparation for this year’s ALF Summer program. All of our white boards will be repurposed for the use of the adults coming to dive into an intensive ALC experience, meaning that our Community Mastery Board (CMB) needed to go.
As I was cleaning in the Art/Food Room, Tomis calls out to me, “Well, what should I do with our CMB stickies? And the wishes the kids made from the fall? Want me to save them? Throw them away?”
With little hesitation, I responded that he could get rid of it all. There is this part of me that wants to save everything, but my gut told me this really wasn’t necessary. Last year we had the same conversation and I remember saying, “Well if it is something worth implementing next year, we’ll remember it and add it at the beginning of the school year.”
At the beginning of the year, it’s simple enough to ask the community, “Are there any community agreements you remember from last year that are worth implementing right away?” The usual, like, “no hitting,” “stop rule,” “eat only in the food room,” will come up and you’re off to a start. Then you’re again co-creating and figuring out with the community what other agreements need to be made to help the school function and flow.
While this may seem harder than just copying the rules from the year before, I believe this is a really important part of teaching children to create culture and to actually understand WHY community agreements are made rather than just blindly follow them. Knowing how to live, learn, and play in community is the most important part of what we do here at ALC.
Today, I saw a video shared online that re-affirmed to me why it’s healthy to start each year with a fresh and blank CMB. It’s a video I’ve seen before and I found it extremely interesting that I saw it shared the day after tossing the agreements from last year’s CMB.
So here’s a great answer to the question that pesky question I am always answering: “What do they learn all day?”
We learn how to co-create culture, we learn why agreements are needed between community members, we learn how to change agreements that do not serve us and make new ones. Imagine if every community acted from this place, rather than just doing what was done before because, “That’s the way it is done.” There will be agreements that do serve us time and time again year after year, and those agreements will be easily recalled and remembered as starting points.
One huge benefit of adding @jesslm to our ALF team here at Mosaic is all of her camping experience she brings from leading boyscout groups. Once she made the decision to quit her job and focus on developing a career with us, one of the things she jumped right into planning was camping trips. We did a mini-trip last spring and then decided we wanted to offer a bigger camping trip at the beginning of the school year to build connection and deeper bonds between us right away.
We took 11 of our students (about half of the school) to Morrow Mountain State Park, about an hour away, from Wednesday – Friday last week. It was a pretty amazing trip, and we can’t wait to do another!
Before the Trip
We set guidelines for attending the camping trip that we made clear with the kids. In order to attend, you needed to agree to:
Play one group game each day
Participate in a team building exercise each day
Sign up for a duty on the duty roster
Participate in a community meeting about developing the tone for our school year
No electronics, except for cameras on phones (put on airplane mode – but this ended up not being an issue as we got no cell service there!)
The kids interested in attending met during the first week of school and those wanting to camp and able to agree to those terms were put on the list to go!
The Tuesday before we left, we had another meeting where the kids decided on tent assignments, picked out duties for the duty roster, and helped us plan the meals. Jess took a few kids out to shop as well that day for the food we needed to bring.
During the Trip
We were all so excited to go! We met Wednesday morning at school and piled into cars. We got to Morrow Mountain for lunch and then set up camp. After setting up camp, we had a first group activity – playing “Yes, Let’s!”
This is a game/team building exercise where someone suggests we do something (like jump on one leg) and then everyone yells “Yes! Let’s!” and does it. I was reading @drew’s blog about facilitating at the Communities Conference and how he played this game with participants, and I thought it was a great activity to do with kids too. I told the kids that as a community, sometimes we can just dive in and try out something new or different and just join in with joy! We did things like act like a bear, hop on one foot while rubbing our belly & patting our heads, pick up litter, give high fives…and then someone suggested “bite Jess” and that led to a fun game of chasing Jess around! (Don’t worry, no one actually wanted to bite her, it was just for fun).
We reminded the kids of the agreements and then we all walked down to a really neat shore area that ended up being a really special spot for the kids the entire trip. On the way there we found a hawk feather. We left it where we found it because we know it’s illegal to take and possess them. The kids built a fairy village there that first day, skipped rocks, and made mudballs. We visited the spot again every day to check on our village & add to it, and to build our skipping rocks skills and even try out fishing!
We came back for dinner, smores & a story time. It was a beautiful and fun first day!!! Then…nighttime hit…
That first night was a huge test for all of us! We had POURING rain and lightening & thunder. Kids I have taken out on trips before became so homesick – but were able to communicate that the massive thunderstorm was what was really pushing them over the edge. I could totally understand! There was a lot of compassionate listening happening – by me and from the other kids. I was amazing to see the boys crying together and talking about their families and just lovingly supporting each other through the homesickness/thunderstorm scariness.
The girls had a whole other issue. Their tent started leaking so they tried to sleep in the van. The van fogged up so bad they thought they were going to suffocate. They all wanted to go home! Finally Jess and I rigged a tarp above their tent to stop the rain from coming in and the girls found towels to dry out the inside. They were able to sleep in it and stayed dry the rest of the night.
The amazing thing for me to see was how happy and positive the kids were in the morning! When I got out of my tent, I saw the kids in a circle outside the bathroom comparing their night horror-stories, but laughing about them. It was a pretty neat bonding experience for all of us to go through. The kids who were wanting to go home the first night now just wanted to have a great day. I just thought to myself, “What incredibly supportive & resilient children!”
After breakfast that morning, the kids organized a game of Capture The Flag – using two other campsites as their field. We were the only group there so the kids had free reign. They loved it and were able to play 4 games.
That afternoon we decided to go on a hike to see the Kron House, what I considered to be our team-building activity as a group. It was hot & humid and a rigorous outing! We walked & sweated until we finally reached the house. You can read about the Kron House here. A bunch of the kids are interested in how people lived in the past, so it was neat to see the old house, doctor’s office, well, and greenhouse. There were even some edible grapes growing on a vine!
That evening, we planned on having our community meeting and doing s’mores after dinner. However our plans got interrupted by yet another thunderstorm! We were able to eat dinner and play a few games of human knot (which we successfully completed a couple times!), but then it was raining so much everyone was in their tents by 8:30 for bed-time. We decided to have s’mores for breakfast dessert since we couldn’t make a fire that night! The kids (and adults!) were pretty tired from little sleep the previous night, so bed-time was smoother. Smoother meaning, easier than last night, but still not great!
In the morning, the kids were yet again happy and wanting to have a great morning before we went home. We had breakfast together and broke down camp. Jess taught us about how to leave a fire pit safely at a campsite and a few other Leave No Trace principles. Some of those we learned while hiking – like to always travel and camp on durable surfaces. Some kids didn’t know that when you go off the trail you are actually impacting the land. You never want to crush new growth in nature, so it’s important for humans to stay on the trails so we lessen our impact on the land. We also always practiced “leaving nature a little better than we found it” by bringing trash bags with us everywhere we went and picking up litter.
Then we headed out to the top of Morrow Mountain to eat lunch and have our community meeting.
At our community meeting, each of us shared a wish we had for the school and an action step we could take to make it happen. I’ll share what I can remember:
“I wish to see many amazing fieldtrips happen this year at school. I can make that happen by helping plan them.”
“I wish to see more boys and girls playing together rather than separately. I can make that happen by inviting girls to play with me.” This was seconded by another student.
“I wish to see children feeling confident in themselves and their decisions. I can support that happening by being confident in myself and my decisions to model that for children.” (This was my wish)
“I wish to see everyone in the school being really connected to one another. I can make that happen by being connected to everyone myself.” (This was a student wish, btw!, and seconded by another student)
I can’t remember all the wishes right now, but we will check back in on our wishes with the whole school when we are back together. Our wishes can become part of our “What Kind of School Are We?” statement list that we use to support our Change Up Meetings. If we are the kind of school that has boys and girls playing together, than this is something we can check in on at our meetings to see if we are actually doing this or not. You can refer to this blog post for the inspiration behind that activity.
I am so happy that this trip happened and I can’t wait to go camping with the kids again! I loved being out in nature with them and just BEING. I felt so happy, light, and peaceful the whole time – even during the thunderstorms! The kids seemed to love it too. The kids are able to voice what they want to experience and then have support in creating that. The message they get every day is that they are empowered to create amazing lives for themselves, and that if they are having a challenging moment, there are people around to listen and support you. There are also so many other great pictures to share, and I hope you’ll check those out here!
However, there was one member of the trip that seemed to be pretty unhappy the entire time…Daisy. At almost 14 years old, she was not amused that I took her camping with the school and waited by the car for most of the trip. I could hear her thinking, “Hey mom, I know this car brought me here, and can take me away. I’m ready to go whenever you are. I’ll be right here…waiting to leave.”
[Please note this is a report card from the Branches campus, not Roots!]
Some of the kids asked me in the spring for a report card. When you are running a school with no grades, where you are hoping to foster an environment where people are intrinsically motivated, well, this may seem like an odd request.
However, I get it. People want to know how they are doing. We learn who we are in relation to our world and other people. Still, I wasn’t going to give out report cards that perpetuate a belief system that I choose not to buy into. Giving arbitrary grades for assignments – that mostly prove your ability to comply and follow directions – isn’t my style. I’d rather support children to create their own goals to meet and help them see whether or not they have achieved the goals they created.
I also wanted to have some type of end of year reflection with the kids to mark the end of the school year. I have been musing over the ideas of rites of passages and rituals that have existed in many cultures to mark the entry into a new phase of life. This journey the kids have taken with me, the rest of the staff, and their families has been one full of joy, challenges, fun & hard work. There have been hardships I want us to acknowledge in a healthy manner – to reflect on and then move forward with hope and new understandings (so we don’t repeat past mistakes), and things we’ve done really well that I want us to mark and celebrate. My goal is for us all to enter the next school year with our minds focused on what is possible & what we want for our community, rather than marred by what we didn’t do well or to just stay stagnant and repeat actions that don’t serve us.
I decided to get some support and thoughts from the other ALFs in our network. I asked them if they had end-of-year rituals/routines or any ideas that may be good to try out. This led to some sharing of what we did for individual students (this year at Mosaic, we made each child their own webpage chronicling their year at school) or with the community (in NYC a community potluck is always held on the last day of school). Still, I was looking for a group activity to do with the students that would help us feel connected as a group to our community goals.
Drew began talking on the call about how it might be possible to use the community mastery board as a part of this group reflection…and as he kept speaking he planted the seed in my mind for where I could go with this for this year.
I felt grateful to have a community of Agile Learning Facilitators to bounce around this idea. It’s exactly the type of support we can provide each other through having a network of schools.
The Mosaic Report Card is Born
So, to give the kids an experience of evaluating self-selected goals, I conducted an activity with them at our last Change-Up meeting where we gave our school a report card.
It went like this:
“We are at the end of YEAR 2 of Mosaic!!! As a community we’ve grown and changed, and I hope we will continue to do so each year so we can create a better and more awesome school continually! I was asked by some of you for report cards this year, which I had to think carefully about before responding. You all have a reflection year-book on your blogs that we’ve made for you, but this isn’t exactly a report card. I don’t want to just assign grades or values that don’t mean anything to you.
Instead, I thought we could create a new kind of report card together, based on goals that you helped set for our school.”
I went on to show them a list they helped to create to answer “What Kind of School is Mosaic?” I did this activity with the kids in January, after I had re-watched Bruce Feiler’s TED Talk, “Agile Programing for the Family.” You can read a prior blog post I wrote about this TED Talk here.
We posted this list above our Community Mastery Board, which we use each week at our Change Up Meetings to decide what we want to work on as a community. This list is meant to serve as a reminder of what ideals we want to grow to as a community so we can be inspired to create “change-ups” to our community practices that help us move towards our self-selected goals.
So I told the kids:
“I have written all of the items on this list on sticky notes. For this Change Up Meeting, we’ll work together to evaluate how our school is doing on these goals we’ve set for the type of school we want to be.”
I then showed them a continuum on a white board. The kids at Mosaic are familiar with continuum’s to evaluate statements, so this made sense to use here.
I then divided up the kids into 3 groups (each group having several kids who can read) and distributed 3-4 stickies with each of the statements that is on our list of “What Kind of School are We?”
What Kind of School Are We?
The kind where we have choices
The kind where we go outside
The kind that goes on fieldtrips
The kind that is awesome
The kind where we are creative
The kind where we clean up
The kind where we can lie down if we need to when we need to
The kind where we’re respectful
The kind where everyone is friendly
The kind where if someone asks, “What’s wrong?” There is time to really talk about it
“I’m going to split you into groups and hand you a couple of sticky notes. You are to read them and then place them on this continuum based on how you think we are doing as a school on the particular item.”
The groups then decided where they would place the statements they had on our continuum. Do we still need to work on this as a community? Or do we rock at doing this? After each group was finished, we went over all of the statements as a group and decided if we wanted to move any of them. From this place, the kids naturally ended up making some suggestions for next year. I didn’t want to forget these, so I made a “Goals for Next Year” section and captured those ideas on stickies so we wouldn’t forget these ideas. Our “Mosaic Report Card” board ended up looking like this (white board smudges included!):
Our Results, With More Detail:
We Rock This!
Going on field trips
Great!!! The kids feel that these are items that are important to what kind of school they want to be a part of. They feel we ROCK at being a community where we these items are apparent and a part of school culture. Through the cheers of the kids, it felt pretty apparent that everyone agreed we are a school that does three items!
We Are on the Way to Rocking at:
The kids have a lot of choices. But by coming to school, they do agree to attend community meetings and clean up. A part of being at school means they agree to our Student Agreement. However, I don’t think this is why the kids didn’t put this item on “We Rock At This!”
From conversations with the kids, it seems that they want more choices to be presented to them to choose from. Some kids struggle with generating ideas for activities they would like to do/participate in at school. They want to have some cool options presented. Not every child or person is good at just generating “Today I want to make a board game and I know all the steps and materials I’ll need to make that happen!” Some want some more scaffolding and support to come up with the ideas and a plan.
In addition, some have interests and desires to experience and learn many types of things, but they need more support in the steps of how to get there. For example, if a child is interested in architecture, they need support in identifying what options are available for learning and experiencing more about architecture. I see this as an opportunity for the ALFs at Mosaic to learn how to help children set and reach goals they have.
We’ve gotten SO MUCH better at this. Personally, in January, I began setting the intention in the morning, (in front of the kids), to be happier at clean up. I decided to stop just being frustrated or angry about how clean up was going and to just clean up happily, and from that place, generate ideas with the kids about what would make clean up easier.
What we have grown to, and has worked really well, is this structure:
On Mondays, we meet at 3pm and review clean up jobs. Each room has 3-4 clean up jobs associated with it. Children choose clean up jobs. On Mondays, they can ask to switch jobs with another kid if they are tired of their job. We swap and then review who is doing what and allow for clarification questions or conversations to happen with specific kids, i.e. “Hey, _________, I have been cleaning the room all on my own. Can you make sure to start your clean up job on time and _____ (wipe tables, sweep, etc) this week?”
The jobs have been a huge help. The whole community was excited to reflect on our growth on this particular item.
At first, this item was placed on the continuum all the way on “We Rock This!!” One of our students, Isabella, very astutely pointed out to all of us that some items that we placed more toward the “Still Needs Work” side of the board. She thoughtfully stated that it’s kinda strange to put that we are”Rocking” at being awesome when we still need work on “being friendly” and “being respectful” to one another. I personally noticed this but didn’t bring it up, wanting the reflection to be heavily weighed on by the input from students. I was pretty impressed that she saw this and felt comfortable to bring this up. We decided to move this back to in between “Doing OK” and “We Rock This!!”
We can lie down if we need to, when we need to
This led to a discussion of how, through using our CMB at Change Up Meetings, we have implemented practices as a community to allow for quiet space at school. The kids agreed that at the beginning of the year, it was loud in the building, making it hard to find a quiet space to read, rest, or just get away from noise. We have gotten so much better at this by speaking to each other about the need for quiet space at school and reminding each other to keep some type of play outside or to communicate via Set-The-Week or Daily Spawn Point when a need for reserving the big room for loud play is desired.
We are Doing Ok/On the Way to Doing Ok at:
Where if somone asks, “What’s Wrong?” there is time to really talk about it.
Before jumping into the conversation with kids about how they felt our community needed to work on improving these three items, I reminded them that positive culture creation is the biggest learning we have the opportunity to learn how to do at an ALC.
Most schools where I have worked simply told kids how to act and treat each other, and used behaviorism techniques to make kids “appear” respectful to one another. For example, using tickets to “pay” kids when you catch them being “good” as a way to increase the “good” behaviors you wanted to see. Or, you just keep kids so busy with worksheets that there is no time actually practice being social with one another.
In absence of a curriculum, who we are and who we show up as becomes the curriculum. We’ve learned a lot about each other as individuals, and many students have shared powerful reflections on themselves throughout the year that help us understand one another. From here, we can develop an inclusive culture that supports each other’s differences while still being a community.This is what we have the opportunity to learn how to do since we aren’t so bogged down with busy work and worksheets. We are not just individuals coming to school to have our own needs met by everyone else. We must learn to hear each other and gain a broader sense of community needs so we know how to be at school in a way that honors our individual needs, while also respecting the needs of others. Sometimes this means doing something differently than the way you imagined or having self-restraint (i.e., “Wait, I should take this soccer ball outside to play. I know that as a community we are working on having quiet space inside, and by playing soccer in the hallway, this isn’t helping our community goal).
A few students mentioned our culture committees being a support to helping kids talk though issues that feel recurring at school. Sometimes it’s just listening and then generating ideas to help empower an individual to navigate a particular social dynamic. Sometimes, we need to work with a couple of kiddos who need support to remember community agreements.
Something that has come up a bunch at the end of the year is kids excluding others from games. We’ve spent time practicing how to ask for space from others in a respectful way. “Right now, I would like to work on/play with _________. But would you like to play/do ___ at 1pm?” We are still working on how to create space for kids to play/do an activity with a small group without it feeling exclusive to others.
As a group, the kids felt that we have improved on these items and would like to continue improving on them throughout next year.
Their ideas for goals for next year?
These statements either came during conversation of our report card or after when kids wanted to add items. This will be a great starting point for our first Change-Up Meeting next year when we can generate a new list of “What Kind of School Are We?” We can see the kids are really valuing feeling respected by others and feeling like everyone is friendly. Coming up with items we can practice as a community to get us to move these items from “Doing Ok” to “Rocking This” will be a high priority for us next year! How to turn these items into actionable community practices will be something I’ll be mulling over during the summer as well. I’ll also spend time brainstorming about how well this year-end reflection went with the kids and whether or not we should do something different next year. Fortunately I’ll be spending 4 weeks with a bunch of really amazing and radical educators that I get to learn and play with 🙂
I remember my time teaching in a small private school before opening Mosaic. I was one of two full-time teachers and it got lonely. We had our ideas and would collaborate together, but I always wanted more people to bounce ideas off of and learn from. I wanted to visit other schools and form communities of schools where we’d fuel each other and spark new ideas to make awesome schools.
What I found through that time was that people are busy, and if what you are doing isn’t closely related to what they are doing, it’s hard to make time to connect. I would visit other schools with hopes of deep connection and a future relationship of collaboration, but then after the visits we’d return to our day-to-day life – and the next thing you know, a year had passed and the connection simply feels too distance to re-spark.
This has all changed since I’ve networked Mosaic with Agile Learning Centers in NYC. Mosaic opened to serve one community in Charlotte, and while I had close relationships with parents, I still wanted more educators to play with. Opening a school and being the primary person responsible for its operation and existence is pretty stressful, (especially when you’ve never done anything like it before and the model you are creating isn’t one where you can just ask others how to do it). I couldn’t go observe at my neighborhood public school and learn much that would be applicable to what we were creating.
I made one friend who owned another small private school in Charlotte who helped me learn some legal and administrative skills. Still, her school was very traditional and when I observed there it was clear we were operating in different paradigms when it comes to educating children. It was when I became stressed to the point of “How will I continue doing this any longer?” that I made a trip up north and found Agile Learning Centers. From there, our relationship became the kind I was dreaming of. One where we:
are constantly connecting and sharing what’s going on at our schools through the activity feed in our internal network site, emails & social media.
meet weekly to check in with facilitators in New York, Washington, North Carolina and Puerto Rico and talk about ideas and action plans.
arrange visits for kids and adults to go to the different schools.
This is inter-alc mixing, and what I’ve been up to this week. I’ve been at the ALC in Manhattan for a week now with @Charlotte. For the first two days, two of our students were here too! I feel like Charlotte and I have been inspired and full of inspiration and ideas to take down to Charlotte with us to help Mosaic continue on its upward path of awesomeness. This blog post is about sharing what we’ve discussed upgrading in our school upon our return.
Why Do We Spawn?
On Monday, @Abbyo held a meeting with kids to discuss Spawn Point upgrades. A Spawn Point is where the kids start their day in a small group with a facilitator to state their intentions in the morning and then reflect on those intentions in the afternoon.
At this meeting, she opened with the question: “Why do we Spawn?” The kids made some really thoughtful contributions from this. Abby took notes and then made these two signs for the school:
I thought that we should make these signs for our school too; but with input from our students. I want to hear from them why they think we have Spawn Points at Mosaic – and if they aren’t clear on why we do it, then we need to collaborate with them to create meaning and purpose around this community structure in our day. Then we can make signs and posters for our school and place them in our Spawn Points to serve as a reminder that meeting in the morning isn’t something that is a chore to get through – it is an opportunity to connect with others in the space, get inspired, and get support!
Upgrading Our Entry Space & Morning Routine
When you walk into the school in NYC (see the door below with the EXIT sign), you see immediately to the right their wall of important information for the kids. It includes the daily schedule, a scrum box (see our tools & practices page for what scrum is) and kanban boards for group projects.
Charlotte and I would like to move our daily schedule right to the front of the school when you walk in as well. Here is a closer look at the scrum box and schedule for you to see:
What has currently been happening at Mosaic is that we have a whole group meeting every day to plan our day. We do this to remind the kids of what’s going on that day and to give them time to make new offerings if they are so inspired. While we want to make space to do that, it’s really not necessary to go through this long process every day. There are kids who pick out what they want to do from the Set-the-Week meeting or are working on individual projects/goals, and they are sitting through this meeting each day unnecessarily. In addition, sometimes kids make new offerings just because there is the meeting without a lot of intentionality behind it – they are just making offerings because they can. These new offerings can then conflict with prior commitments kids make from the Set-the-Week meeting.
In NYC, the kids only do one longer Set-the-Week meeting on Monday and then in the mornings on Tuesday-Friday, they come in and walk by this schedule board and plan other activities on their own as needed. If they want to plan something involving other people, they write in the “scrum box” what they want to plan. In the picture above, you see that Abby is requesting time with Charlotte this day in the scrum box. This shifts the responsibility to those needing plan their day in addition to Set-the-Week to themselves, rather than forcing everyone to meet as a group for the few who need to plan something. Having the schedule board and the scrum box in the entry area put it right in the faces of the kids and adults as they walk in the door as a HUGE reminder. If there is really a new offering that anyone wants to see happen, they could do this with the scrum box and take their own initiative to find the people they need to schedule the activity with.
In Abby’s Spawn Point, I watched how quickly a morning check-in can go – she would remind the kids what was going on that day, they would update their kanbans and then share verbally what their intentions were. It felt like a connective and gentle start to the day which I really appreciated and want to emulate in my Spawn Point in Charlotte.
Change-Up Meeting Easy Upgrade
Charlotte and I participated in ALC NYC’s Change-Up Meeting (read more on Change Up here) at the end of our week-long visit and had this huge “Ah-ha!” moment for a simple way to make our Change-Up Meeting more efficient.
Take a look at the picture below:
Just like Mosaic, they have a Community Mastery Board (CMB) that serves as a visual aid for what the community is working on as a group. Just like Mosaic, they visit the board each Friday during the Change Up Meeting.
However, the facilitators have a kanban board above the CMB that serves as a way to focus the meeting on the most important CMB items on the board that week. Each week, we try to go over everything on the board, and many items aren’t ones that are necessary to go into at length. There are typically only a a few items that we really need to discuss as high priority. We can pull those items up to the kanban and focus our Change Up Meetings to create solutions/action steps as a community for those items and then our meetings will be shorter and more focused on what is needed most.
It’s one of those quick fix things that just hit you in the face when you see it. I’m so glad we were able to see their meeting and how they focus the topics!
And Back to Inter-ALC Mixing
We had a few of our students and parents come visit the NYC school this week and that experience was simply magical. I fell in love with this school when I visited in November of 2013, and from that initial visit have since been come partners with the facilitators and with them, created a network of learning communities. This is the place where it all started, and this school continues to strongly demonstrate the kind of positive culture you can co-create with children. I love being here and loved seeing the faces of our community loving it here too!
I think having students see other ALCs is really important. Our students had the same general routines, they knew how to engage in Set-the-Week and were comfortable going to Spawn Points. They could navigate the structures of the school because it’s similar to their experience in Charlotte. It felt familiar to them to just hear offerings at Set-the-Week and join in on those that they wanted to. They can add to the culture constructively and bring new offerings to the space if they are so inspired. In addition, they can contribute to future culture creation at their home school based on what they see here. We can all learn from one another so powerfully in this way!
Here we are at the Natural History Museum:
I am excited to continue learning & playing with NYC and all the other ALCs that are in bloom currently!!
Bruce Feiler’s TED Talk “Agile Programming – For Your Family” gives suggestions, practical tips, and real life examples of how Agile tools and practices can help create a happy home life. Many of our ALFs are aware of this TED talk, and we use it to inspire how we can use Agile Programming to create a happy and healthy school culture.
I watched Feiler’s TED Talk with the Mosaic staff and one of our students before school opened this year, and was recently reminded of his talk when someone shared an article on Facebook that expanded on Feiler’s TED talk, “6 Things the Happiest Families Have in Common.”
I couldn’t have been reminded of this article at any better time! I read it right before our holiday break, and was able to have his ideas and suggestions fresh in my mind upon returning to school in January. This week, I asked the kids to help me with Feiler’s first suggestion to families: “Create a family mission statement.” Below is an excerpt from the article mentioned above where the author asks Feiler to expand on how to do this:
1) Create a family mission statement
I asked Bruce what he would recommend if he could only give one piece of advice.
He said: “Set aside time to talk about what it means to be a part of your family.”
Ask: “What are your family values?” In business-speak: Develop a mission statement for your family.
Initiate a conversation about what it means to be a part of your family. Sit down with them and say “Okay, these are our ten central values.”
“This is the family we want to be. We want to be a family that doesn’t fight all the time.” or “We want to be a family that goes camping or sailing” or whatever it might be.
When my family did it, it was literally a transforming experience. We ended up printing it and it hangs now in our dining room.
Does “defining values” seem too big and intimidating? It’s really nothing more than setting goals.
Did we do every one of those things every day, every week, every month? No, that’s not that point. But the point is, when it goes wrong, you have that goal out there. “We want to be a family that has fun together. Have we made time to play recently? No, we don’t. So let’s make time to play. Let’s go bowling or hiking or roller skating.”
You have goals at work. You have personal goals. Why wouldn’t you have goals as a family?
(For more on the science of happy families, click here.)
This week at school, I asked the kids to help me come up with some declarations about what kind of school we want to be. Below you’ll see our list – the only statement I added to the list as an example I gave to the students was, “We are the kind of school that goes on fieldtrips.” The rest are all from the kids!
Each week, during our Change Up meetings – I’ll ask someone to read over our declarations and then we can do a quick check-in on how we are doing on as a community to be the kind of school we say we want to be.
If we feel like we are not reaching these goals, we can create a plan for the next week to do so. We can also add new statements to the list as well.
The beautiful part is that the kids are involved in the creation of what it is they want to be as a community. We support each other and remind each other of what we want to be like together.
When I taught conflict resolution to kids in the past, I always started with the question, “What is Conflict?” to create a dynamic list of all the ways conflict shows up in our lives.
Conflict happens. The point that I always stress to students is that how we respond to conflict is always our choice. We can take every conflict and turn it into an opportunity for growth or view it as a disaster.
One practice we have at school that I see becoming more and more powerfully used to turn conflict into opportunity is our Community Mastery Board (CMB). The CMB allows us to make explicit community agreements and norms we want to have in our school. We notice that we want something to change, we bring it to the awareness of the community, and then check in weekly to see how we are doing on that agreement.
Here are a couple short examples of our use of the CMB at Mosaic:
At the beginning of the year, slamming doors was a big problem. Our doors are big and heavy and the hinges slam them shut. Without intending to, it is really easy to create a very loud slam with very little force. This is not pleasant to hear all day! We added this to our awareness column “Slamming Doors.” Then each week, we check in, “Have you guys been hearing the doors slam a lot or is this getting better?” The act of just asking and then celebrating with the students each week on this has made this occurrence happen less and less. What I am celebrating currently is that every time the door does get accidentally slammed now, the person who did it almost ALWAYS pops their head back in the room with a meek, “I’m sorry.” That means a lot as a community – we will all slip-up, but acknowledging that our intent was not to disrupt others and apologizing goes a long way.
We also have made explicit the practice of “Ask before taking something that is not yours.” It’s important to not assume that everyone would automatically do this. If we work off that assumption, we open the door to a lot of negative feelings towards others – “What is wrong with them? How can they not know this?” Thoughts like this do not help to add to a culture of compassion and care. We make this explicit and then when it happens, we remind each other (which is also a sticky we have!) that this is something we are working on as a community – rather than telling the other person that they are a bad person for doing something we assume they know not to do. This is how I feel a community like ours can support kids with all types of needs and social differences – we never assume what another knows, we just actively looks for ways to support and create cultural practices we want to see happen.
This week, we used our CMB to help establish some more boundaries and practices at our school that I’m really excited about! These two topics are ways I saw us creating opportunity out of conflict.
Loud Hour:We have some boys at school that are high energy! They feel that their loud play in our big room is important to them, and they want to be able to wrestle on the carpet and hit each other with pillows. A few weeks ago, we established a community agreement with them that they schedule a loud hour at our morning meeting if they want to engage in this play. This allows us to pick a time where quiet activities aren’t going on and lets everyone in the school know when to expect loud play to happen in the big room.
This has been going really well. The boys are remembering more and more to schedule these times proactively. I also appreciate that when they start the loud wrestling play outside of loud hour, I can remind them of our agreement and ask them to go outside if they want to be that loud. In the beginning of the year I would be met with lots of resistance and complaining, but now they just go outside. They know that our community needs space for quiet and focused work and they were a part of the process of making this agreement.
This week we had a conflict occur during loud hour with two boys. One could have seen this conflict through the lens of disaster, but with the CMB in place and the amount of work we have done as a community to create a positive environment, I felt confident that this could easily be turned into an opportunity for clear expectations of what loud hour was and what it wasn’t.
Here are opportunities I observed happen through this conflict:
Several of our older boys obtained practice in speaking calmly about a tense situation and practiced taking turns to hear others speak.
One child just naturally stepped into a role of mediator – he started re-stating the words of a younger child to help make clearer his meaning for others, a practice I’ve seen used in non-violent communication practices. I had the opportunity to say, “I see you are really hearing what ________ has to say and you are wanting all of us to hear clearly what they are trying to say.”
Two of our oldest boys made it clear what they felt was acceptable to do during loud hour and what was not for the younger boys to understand. Certain practices were abolished that felt unsafe, for example, certain pillows used in the room were banished. These boys were able to step powerfully into their role as leaders in the school and take ownership of what that means.
A clear request was made by the students: A facilitator should remind the boys of agreements made at the beginning of every loud hour.
Videogame hour/Technology agreements: Oh boy, this can be a hot topic with parents and educators, and it doesn’t surprise me that this then leaks down to the kids. Our prior agreement to this week was that videogames/video watching could happen from 2-3pm (an agreement made with the kids at a Culture Club meeting, the kids felt time at school provided opportunities to do more than play videogames/watch videos all day, but they had a hard time taking those opportunities if they got started playing a videogame/watching a video early in the day). However, our internet bandwidth cannot support the streaming of videos while kids are also playing on the same Minecraft server. Students were getting angry at other students choosing to watch videos at this time because they would continually get kicked off the server.
What I was also observing was an unhealthy obsession and relationship to technology that did not resonate with me. The culture was becoming one where other kids would tell on me that another child was using technology outside of this hour and want me to make them stop. A culture that supports seeking out how others are doing something wrong rather than focusing on supporting everyone on their own learning journey is NOT what I am signed up for! I also felt like the focus was on “How technology is bad” instead of “How can I make choices mindfully?”
The bandwidth problem led to some small conversations happening with the kids during the videogame hour. Then on Thursday, we had a beautiful conversation that got the input of all the kids about what videogame hour was and how they felt about technology agreements.
Opportunities we had out of this conflict:
We had the opportunity to re-establish the fact that the kids do play videogames collaboratively with one another, and this is a practice they still want to have space for at school. They play together at school and work together on the same server for Mindcraft. This is something they couldn’t do at home by themselves (well technically they could, but they couldn’t hear and talk to each other while doing so). We banned the practice of streaming any video during this time to allow for the bandwidth to support multiple players on one server.
We had the opportunity to re-visit how technology can be used outside of this hour in a mindful way. Rather than telling on someone when they see them on a device, they can talk to the person using the device and the expectation is for each individual to be able to explain the purpose of what they are doing. If there is still question, than 4 students volunteered to check-in on the device use. Those 4 students identified themselves to the community as people capable of making mindful choices using technology. If 2 of those students support the use, it’s okay. This stops the practice of “telling on” a child to an adult and instead shifts the focus to, “Do you support how I’m using this device to _____________.”
Rather than assume that all use of technology will take over our brains and turn us into zombies, we can encourage everyone in our space to think about how we are using it and what our purpose is. Rather than having students believe that every time they see another child on a computer or device they are doing something mindless, they can ask, “What are you using this for and how is it supporting you?” If someone can’t answer that question, it is brought to their own awareness that they are not making a mindful choice. It’s also okay to just zone out sometimes! We all do it. I simply believe that we can make that intentional as well. I had a student tell me once this year, “I’ve done so much today (and listed activities), I just need 15 minutes to do nothing.” That demonstrates to me a powerful sense of self-awareness.
Our new agreements also support the kids in our space being held accountable to what they chose to do on devices, with the realization that others in the school will probably ask them what they’re up to online. Sugata Mitra‘s research has shown that children who have unlimited access to technology in a way that allows all others in the space to see what they are searching and doing online almost always eliminates all use of technology in a way that would be considered “inappropriate” to adults (i.e., looking up adult content, like porn, purposely). This is a question I asked Sugata Mitra about directly when I met him and participated in a small group discussion around technology and self-directed education at last year’s International Democratic Education Conference. You can read more about that experience here.
I am now taking the opportunity for myself to reflect and celebrate that we have been able to create opportunities for growth towards a healthy culture at school at every turn. Part of that celebration is taking the time for myself to write this post!
With adults in our space modeling this mindset, our children in the space can learn how the practice of creating opportunity out of conflict not only makes ourselves happier, but can powerfully lead to a community around us that supports positive thinking, reflection, and trying again when we fail.
I’ve been a part of the opposite in other school environments and watched many kids and adults beat themselves up so badly after a conflict that they cannot see how to turn it around into positive change and growth. I sadly find this the norm in many schools. It takes self-confidence and love for ourselves to spread a positive growth mindset to others. This is the learning I want to see happen in schools.
I am feeling grateful for every experience I’ve had with this community, the joyful ones, the sad ones, the exciting ones, the uncomfortable ones. I can feel grateful because I know I have the power to turn every one of these experiences into an opportunity to examine, what do I want more of in my life? Less of? What decisions serve me? What does not? I have the power to create how I experience this world, and that feels AWESOME!
After a whirlwind weekend making it to two weddings in Virginia and Maryland, I arrived back to my home in Charlotte 9pm Sunday night to meet @Alonalearning. She was spending the night because we were waking up at 6:45am to head to Endor Initiative with @Gabe.
Liam Nilson is running this self-directed learning initiative for young people ages 14-22 out of a dance studio in Asheville, NC. Last year they met in various places around the city, but this year they have a set place to be together for 3 days a week. Liam came to visit Mosaic a few weeks ago and has begun using some Agile tools and practices at Endor. I’m so excited for this new collaboration with educators in North Carolina!
Our plan was to see what a self-directed learning program for teens looked like so we could brainstorm ideas for what a teen program could be here at ALC Mosaic. Alona and Gabe are our two oldest students, both 11, and our only middle schoolers. I left Monday morning with Alona and Gabe feeling immensely grateful for the opportunity to see Liam’s program.
OUR DAY AT ENDOR
We arrived just a few minutes late, but made it to the morning intention setting. This was a big group, and we had new faces to also get to know! With so many other versions of “school” out there, it felt so safe and comfortable to go to Endor and to easily understand and know how to start the day. Alona, Gabe and I are used to the practice of setting intentions for the day, even if our intentions are to just watch and observe – or to have no intentions.
Next up was their Monday morning Change Up meeting, something else our Mosaic group knows about and is comfortable with. I had the pleasure of being asked to lead the Change Up meeting, which I did happily!
I wish I was writing this blog post the day of my visit instead of two days later – I can’t remember every detail, but I remember Alona chiming in at one point and that’s when I realized what a benefit it is to have similar tools and practices present in our network of schools. Every ALC is different, but we can move easily to and from each ALC with students and know that some fundamentals are the same. It’s not that every ALC needs a Change Up meeting, but knowing that each community makes agreements together and works on evolving those together helps newcomers understand where the community is and how they can engage in it to be supportive rather than disruptive.
We also saw all the different activities that have happened or could happen at Endor – this board looks similar to the walls of stickies we have up in Mosaic’s big room!
When I spied @Charlotte’s “Seeds to Bloom” board at Endor, my heart skipped a beat! Here is a concrete example of how educators united across a network can support each other – we can visit a different ALC and try out different tools that are used to support the community and try them out at our own ALC.
Charlotte noticed the kids at Mosaic constantly coming up with ideas for trips, projects, or activities they wanted at school, but then not knowing how to move those ideas to fruition. She created our Seeds to Bloom board to support them. When they come up with an idea, they plant it as a seed by placing the sticky in the Seed section. They plant the seed by setting up a meeting time with other people that want to make the idea happen. The seed is growing after this first meeting if steps and an action plan has been created. Then when the idea comes to fruition, the whole school celebrates that the seed is finally in bloom!
We love empowering self-directed learners to take their ideas and make them into reality.
One of Liam’s intentions for the day was to make the schedule board clearer, something that came out of the Change-up meeting. The Mosaic kids opted to keep up Language Club as we normally do from 10-11am each morning, and then to have some open time after, then go to the tea house for Ethics, followed by the clay workshop at 1pm. It was a full day!
10am: Language Club
Alona and Gabe practiced on Duolingo and I finished translating a chapter of my Spanish reader for @Sassygirl26 to check.
Rochelle, who is working with Liam at Endor (and will hopefully be more present at Mosaic this year!), also speaks German and she and Alona compared silly Duolingo phrases that they’ve encountered. Rochelle had never seen Duolingo on a computer (she always uses the phone app), so Alona showed her how the computer offers more options – like timed practice.
Gabe also shared some silly Spanish phrases taught through Duolingo and worked from his phone app since he didn’t have his computer with him.
11am: Group discussion about self-directed learning
This was a discussion that organically happened and ended up including almost all of Endor along with the visitors – Mosaic & fellow Agile SOLE board member Steve Cooperman along with Robyn who is planning to open a center for young children in Asheville.
Steve, Rochelle & Robyn had questions about how Mosaic started, including financial and structural questions. This flowed into an engaging discussion of how to support all types of kids in a space – those who are self starters along with those who sometimes need a nudge to try things out. Around this time, the Endor kids popped their heads into the room and asked to join us. Hearing from them about what works well for them and what they want for their own education was exciting to me. I listened to a teen girl talk about the struggle of balance. She recognized that sometimes she wants to be pushed to try something new out, but that if she’s pushed too much she will resist. However, that line is not always clear about when the push is needed or when there is too much push. This was a teen who also spoke up in the Change Up Meeting about how she wanted 5 minute check-in’s each week with a facilitator. Her point was that even if things are going well, knowing that there will always be a check in would bring her comfort in case a time came up where things weren’t going well.
For me, this reaffirmed that it’s the relationship between a facilitator and a student in a self-directed learning environment that is the most important thing to establish. A conversation I feel like I am constantly having with other educators and parents are about boundaries and structure and how much to have when large groups of students are together. This is ever changing because the needs of the kids are constantly changing! Facilitators need to first know each child and recognize when a child needs a loving push, a little more structure, or when to back off.
12pm: Ethics Discussion at Dobra Tea Room
What a treat! Literally! @Alonalearning and I were so excited to see that EVERY baked good was gluten free! We split a hummus plate with gluten free pita bread & veggies and then each picked a cookie to have.
Dobra has a quiet and intimate setting, perfect to grab a snack, cup of tea, and to then debate ethical dilemmas. We took off our shoes and then sat with small tables, cozied up in a circle. One of the teens seemed to flow into a natural role as facilitator and we all went around the circle – we could either present an ethical dilemma to discuss or pass. The topics discussed were:
One teen read an article recently about an artist who copied famous works and gave them to museums for free. Is this ethical since they are not selling copied works?
One teen had a grammatical dilemma with a friend that they wanted to talk about with the group. This turned into an interesting topic of whether or not a person who hasn’t learned grammar rules should reproduce.
The last topic was about whether or not a doctor should conduct CPR on a person who has the Ebola virus. Should the doctor put their life in danger? If they contract the virus and spread it, is that causing more harm?
What I most admired was the level of respect the teens gave each other. They listened to each other, were able to jump into the conversation without the need for a strong facilitator and were engaged in each topic of discussion. Being a part of this group made me feel a lot of excitement for what is possible with a teen program.
Alona and Gabe partcipated in the clay workshop with a local artist. During this time I got to dive in more deeply with conversations with Steve, Rochelle & Liam about how we can collaborate more in the future.
2pm: Wrap up and Reflection
Here is another practice our kids are used to – sharing a reflection at the end of the day. We shared a “delta and a plus,” something good and something that could have been better.
Gabe, Alona and I had to share quickly and then jump in the car to head home! On our way home, we talked even more about our day and what we wanted to see for a teen program at Mosaic. Both Alona and Gabe shared that they liked how it seemed like focused conversations could happen with older students. They felt like teens listened more than younger students and they liked that. We discussed the possibility of renting a room on the 3rd floor at our current location if we enrolled more middle schoolers and could afford to do so. Then there could be space for older kids to go if they felt like they needed to be separate from younger kids.
I had an incredible time visiting Endor. I was so appreciative of how easy-going Alona and Gabe were, they never complained about the long car ride and they simply joined into what the older teens were doing at Endor with ease. I loved collaborating with other educators that support self-directed learning, and I loved seeing Agile tools supporting the community to create a space where teens can self-organize and self-direct their learning. I hope to continue nurturing a collaborative relationship with our Asheville friends!