Tagged community

Change up Change Up

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The castle turret?” Melissa responds.

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

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

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


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


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

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

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

“It was really fun.”

“It was hard to hear.”

“Can we do it again?”

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

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

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

“To help us with communication skills.”

“So we can practice working together.”

“To have fun.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Making Wishes to Create Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adult Day Of Play

Background

During a staff day we held in January, Branches staff & parent volunteers gathered for a facilitated workshop on Creative Problem Solving (CPS) led by Sara Smith, a former ALF Summer participant and aunt of two of our students. Sara is currently getting her Masters in Creativity and we enjoy getting to be her guinea pigs through her project work. Through the CPS process, we developed our vision and creatively worked to think of solutions/opportunities for challenges that we experience. I won’t dive into details about what the CPS process includes, but you can read an older write-up I made from ALF Summer 2015 if you want to learn more.

One challenge statement we worked on was “What might be all the ways to assist people coming from a variety of educational situations best assimilate into the unfamiliar structure of ALC.” We had a lot of juicy things come from this, but the one idea that we turned into an action plan was to host an Adult Day of Play.

Some intentions that are connected to the Adult Day of Play are:

– Connection for community members
– Opportunity for adults to experience an ALC for themselves to gain better understanding
– Opportunity for kids to lead adults through “how to create your experience & make choices.”
– To have fun and not take life so seriously 🙂

Parents (and any other special invited guests, friends, other family, etc) were invited to come and experience an ALC school day where they were able to attend offerings by others, make their own offerings, and practice being present in the moment & making their own decisions about how to spend their time 🙂

Some details/ideas for the Day of Play include:

– Hold it on a Saturday
– Get kids and adult involved in making offerings
– Start with a “Set the Day” meeting, facilitated by students
– Let students hold smaller spawn points where people state their intentions for the day
– Have fun
– End with gratitude circle or reflection of some sort in spawn points

Execution!

On Saturday, June 11, we had over 30 community members gather for our first ever Adult Day of Play!

We started our day 10am with a “Set the Day” Meeting, facilitated by two student volunteers. They were clear & efficient, and general announcements about the day and scheduling happened in less than 10 minutes!

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Set the Day meeting, facilitated by students for parents!

Next, we had excited student volunteers who wanted to lead the parents in Spawn Points! The Spawn Point I attended included a connection activity where we picked questions cards to answer about ourselves too. Connection activities help break the ice so we all feel more comfortable with one another.

 

One of our three Spawn Point groups.
One of our three Spawn Point groups.

We spent 10:30-2pm to participate in offerings made by community members! Offerings included: Hands-on Equations, Yoga, Basketball, Apples to Apples, Poker, Digital Writers Workshop, Pandemic, Stencil Bag Art, Corn-Hole, Drum/Percussion Circle, Next Generation Education Conference Videos, Native American Raven Trickster Tale

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Our schedule board for the day.

I didn’t get to participate in every offering, but tried to capture as many pictures as I could:

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I really enjoyed sharing Hands-On Equations! Several students at school have moved through the curriculum to practice foundational algebra skills.
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Kristine shared a really beautiful art project making decorative bags using paint and stencils.
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Making bags and vases using the stencils.
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Corn Hole
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Dean had lots of instruments and objects for an organic percussion jam to occur. People could stop in and jam for however long they wished!
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Percussion jam
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Apples to Apples
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Poker! A very fun way to practice counting by 5, focusing, and making decisions. We never play for real money, just for fun.

At 2pm we stopped for all school clean up, which was fast and efficient! Following clean up, we held our afternoon reflective Spawn Point. We kept it short and simple and shared what we did that day.

We ended the day with Gratitude Circle, a regular practice in our school where we share what we are grateful for, acknowledge others in the community, and share any personal achievements we have made.

Dean also had a unique extra offering after the Adult Day of Play: a piano recital! He has been teaching private piano lessons to a child outside of school for a year now, and wanted to create a space to showcase his work. Dean, his student, myself, and our visiting week student all played pieces for a small group. This was really fun!

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Reflection

I left this day walking on a cloud. The work I put into planning the event was to market it to the community and do some cleaning and organizing the day to before to get the space ready for more adults. Other than that, I just showed up because the kids facilitated and the event pretty much ran itself. I loved playing, joining in on offerings, sharing math, and just getting time to connect and have conversations with parents. At the end of the day, I had several kids and families reflect to me that we should do this event regularly. I plan to schedule a fall Day of Play and another spring one next year!

I personally think it’s highly valuable for our community to have regular events so we can feel connected to one another. This school is a constant creation and evolution in partnership with every community member. Knowing each other and spending time in a shared space helps us to see each other truly so we can continue embarking on sustaining and evolving our school of our dreams!

We also had two families new to ALC attend. One family is a friend of one of our students, and the other was a visiting week student and her mom. Experiencing the culture ALC for a day was a beautiful way to help them understand who we are and what we do. I feel like this experience is another beautiful way to share what we do in addition to the content we have available online and what we present in parent interest nights.

As I introduced in the beginning of this post, the “challenge” we were trying to problem solve was, “What might be all the ways to assist people coming from a variety of educational situations best assimilate into the unfamiliar structure of ALC.” I am so thankful that we dived in as a staff/parent team to think of creative ways to implement an action that met the need this challenge statement addressed. I feel that we have now incorporated a new regular practice to our school community that will meet this need!

 

 

 

DC & Annapolis Trip – Year 3!

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

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

An Overview of our Trip

Day One: Monday, May 23, 2016

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

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

Day 2: Tuesday: May 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

Day 3: Wednesday, May 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Highlights/Reflections

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

Inward Dive

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

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

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

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

What I’ve Been Reading:

What I’ve Been Practicing:

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

Magic School Moments

Co-working, for kids.

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

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

Learning through imitation

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

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

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Light-Hearted Offerings

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

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

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

After School Offerings

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

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

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

Spawn Shift: Time to Reset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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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:

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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.

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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!

 

ALC Mosaic 2014-15 Report Card

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

Report Card….Whaaaa????

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

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

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

 

Cross-Network Support

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

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

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

 

The Mosaic Report Card is Born

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

It went like this:

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

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

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

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

So I told the kids:

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

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

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

What Kind of School Are We?

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

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

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

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

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Our Results, With More Detail:

We Rock This!

  • Going outside
  • Being creative
  • Going on field trips

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

We Are on the Way to Rocking at:

  • Having choices.

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

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

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

  • Cleaning Up

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

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

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

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

  • Being Awesome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their ideas for goals for next year?

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

 

The Tiny House Movement & Accountability

On the Tiny House Movement

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

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

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

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

On Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rationale:

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

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

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

 

Agile Programming for the School

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.

 

Here’s Bruce:

 

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.

 

Here’s Bruce:

 

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!

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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.

What I’ve Discovered This Week

Well, I’ve been really enjoying school lately. With the working groups and @Tomis keeping their eyes on admin tasks, I’ve been purely focusing on connection with the kids. It’s been amazing.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about our community this week: 

 

1) Kids take charge!

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Our school is becoming less run by adults and more run by the kids. They are ready for, and excited to, lead our meetings. We have had a volunteer lead meetings almost every day. I can feel the shift from our “getting settled” phase from early fall to getting in our groove now. The adults can back off and let the kids lead, and as they lead, they will more powerfully co-create a space with us that works for our community.

 

2) Small schools can still have big school events.

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You don’t need a big school to have an amazing SCHOOL DANCE! The kids took this dance very seriously and we had an amazing time. Three of the girls made all the decorations and asked for the support they needed from different facilitators to make the dance happen. First they asked 3 different adults from the church to use the big cafeteria space. They needed Dan to bring his equipment and help set up, they secured a DJ, and and even got snacks. I wasn’t thrilled about the way snacks were obtained (way to expensive and with a facilitator footing the bill at the promise of the children to pay it back), but even that is a learning experience for everyone involved. There are kids in our space who love to plan events, and we have kids in our space who really enjoy being a part of the events they plan. That’s community!

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Kids asked each other to dance, and many had their first slow dance ever with their friends, as you can see above. We also had karaoke! I danced until I was dripping with sweat. It was awesome.

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The boys are incredible DJ’s! Liberty asked the boys to DJ the school dance, I think they felt honored to be asked, and took the responsibility seriously, including a sign up sheet for song requests.

 

3) The kids value the people in our community over the material resources we have. 

photo 1 (1) photo 4 (1)

 

Here are pictures of a hydroponics garden and worm casting set ups at the Davidson Green School, which we visited this week.

The school is beautiful – a picturesque house purchased by the founder and her partner, then remodeled to fit the school’s needs. They have woods, an incredible playground – with a zipline, and the house is just really outfitted well. Walking in, I thought, “Oh man, the kids will never want to leave!”

We were so welcomed and felt at ease with the flow – starting with a circle and check-in, and then free to do whatever we wanted to do in the house.

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The school was mostly for younger elementary students, but we still had fun. We chose from Montessori styled options like metal insets and playing in the practical life room. We played with the marble run, on the slack line, and one the zip-line after lunch during the recess time. We helped wrap trees to make sure they were protected from cankerworms. We also got to see a school play!

I really appreciate how welcoming DGS was to us, and I felt very at home and comfortable there. Once we got in the car, though, the girls kept expressing how much they loved Mosaic. In the car they played a game about “what is the one thing they would keep if they had to get rid of everything” and our community was always picked. It’s clear that the kids feel like we are a family and that’s what matters.

Despite the additional resources DGS has, the kids were so thankful and grateful to come back to our school, and I’m thrilled to help them brainstorm ways to continue to make our space better and better for all of us. I am thankful that DGS gave us an opportunity to see what is possible for us to create in a space we hopefully own one day!

 

4) Stick/Weapon Play is everywhere. 

Yeah, they had that there too! I am perplexed how every single stick-like object in our school becomes a sword.

 

5) I need to do more art projects in the school!

I draw, they draw. I paint, they paint. Sometimes just offering something isn’t enough at set the week. The kids don’t always know if they want to sign up. If I want to draw or paint one day a week, I can just do it. They watch, and most of the time, they want to do it too. They just need a little inspiration, or to simply see a person passionate about what they are doing to model after 🙂

 

Well, that’s pretty much this week in review through my discoveries! I’m excited to start next week – our last week of school before the holiday break!