Tagged Conflict

Facilitating vs. Policing

I’m an Agile Learning Facilitator (ALF), at least that’s what I’m always striving to be. What does being an ALF mean? I am working on an entirely separate post about that, but what I’d like to share here is a beautiful excerpt I found on a blog from Lisa Nalbone called, “Cultivating the Future: Inspiring Communities of Learners.

A great teacher is a loving human being whose top priority to help the students value themselves, learn how to learn, and to connect. No matter what the subject matter, a teacher has a duty to help the students see their strengths and tune into their own intrinsic motivation, so that they are ultimately choosing to learn for their own reasons and take actions to meet their goals. We want them to become self-directed learners!

 

This can’t happen unless the teacher in the room knows how to create a safe learning environment, and can lead learners in sharing both success and struggles, and collaborating to create new value for themselves and the community.

 

How? The teacher must embody and model everything they are trying to teach and to show that everyone in the community is a learner, The teacher must be willing to share the power rather than wield power. To learn from the students. To learn WITH.

Nalbone uses the word “teacher” while I prefer to use “facilitator,” but that doesn’t bother me because I see the message she is really trying to hone in on:

  • Adults in a space with children must come from a place of love
  • Adults in a space with children have the main focus of creating a safe learning environment (unlike in traditional systems where the main point of a teacher is to make children master the content in a particular curriculum)
  • Adults in a space with children work WITH children (as opposed to ON children)

Facilitating or Policing?

What I am currently thinking about are the times when I feel like I’m not facilitating, but policing. Whenever I feel like this, I know it’s really my own fault. I choose to relate to seeing kids doing things that I know their parents wouldn’t be happy about in this policing type of way. (This is why in my opening sentence I wrote that I’m always aiming to be an Agile Learning Facilitator- are you ever “arrived?” I don’t know – I’ll add that thought to the other blog post I mentioned earlier). When this happens, I am aware that I choose to feel responsible for how the kids spend their time and I choose to start policing them rather than facilitating with them.

There are circumstances I have come across during my time at ALC Mosaic where a child is not allowed to do something at home and then when they get to school, that is ALL they want to do. If the facilitators are not aware of the child’s particular restriction, and what the child is doing is not in conflict with others in the space, well, then most of the time the child will indulge in this fancy as much as they can while they have the freedom to do so. When facilitators know about a particular at home restriction, each ALF must then make a decision about how to respond. In order to cultivate a relationship with the child that is not authoritarian, it feels important to me that ALFs master the ability to work WITH a child from a place of honesty rather then telling on them to their parent. For example:

Example: The adult at school knows a particular child is not supposed to eat refined sugar, and does not have this type of food at home. At school, the child begs for candy from the lunches of other kids.

Facilitating response: Speak honestly to the child from the heart. “I feel uncomfortable watching you ask repeatedly for candy when I know that this is something your mom doesn’t add to your diet at home. I’m curious if you know why you guys don’t eat refined sugar. Has your family talked about that?” (Then the ALF accepts whatever answer is given and engages the conversation further if it seems the child wants to engage AND allows the child to make their own decision about whether or not to eat the candy).

Some possibilities from this response:

  • The child and the ALF might end up looking up resources on refined sugar together and then teach others along way about it.
  • The child might say, “no” in the moment and eat the candy anyway, but later on ask their parent this question at home (or not!).
  • The child might say, “yes I know why” and then explain it and then make an informed decision about eating the candy.
  • Food sharing is a practice that can happen at school (which is something that humans normally do in many cultures when coming together to eat)
  • The child practices making an informed decision – (possibly setting them up to continue to do this as they age when it comes to food, sex, drugs)

Policing response: Tell on the child to their parent, create a rule that there is no food sharing at school, or create firm restrictions on what foods are allowed at school.

Some possibilities from this response:

  • The child hides their actions from the ALF in the future.
  • Food sharing cannot happen at school – and there is a distinction made between “how we eat at school” and “how we eat at home or at our friend’s houses.”
  • The child views adults as in control and they look for ways to take that control back in their own life.
  • The child doesn’t eat the candy. The child knows that they cannot eat candy whenever they are in a situation where they can be caught.

What I’d love to hear from parents and other ALFs in our network is feedback on what facilitating looks like rather than policing. The question I am keeping in the forefront of my mind when I think about which role I’m choosing to step into is: “Am I trying to control the child’s behavior so I don’t hear parent complaints, or am I working to facilitate a loving and safe learning environment where I work WITH children?” For me, acting from the former elicits fear based actions coming from me to the child, while the latter encourages loved based actions coming from me to the child.

 

 When you are facilitating, you would:  When you are policing, you would:
  • View conflict as an opportunity and ask:
    • What can we learn from this?
    • How can the resolution to this conflict help us create an even more awesome community?
  • Work with children and other adults to get to roots of conflicts. Is willing to invest time to do this, and genuinely interested in hearing the perspectives of those involved.
  • Talk through conflict with the children/adults involved
  • Accept that you, yourself, are the only person you can control the thoughts/actions of and use that gift powerfully.
  • Views conflict as problems that mess up the day/waste our time.
  • Tries to create rules that make it so this conflict will no longer take place in the space. These rules tend to be band-aids to the problem and never get to the root issue though.
  • Desires rules to point to rather than have a conversation: “Well the rule is that we can’t bring candy to school. That’s just the way it is.”
  • Strives to control the environment and the actions of the people in the environment.

 

If you want to add to this table, please email me or comment with additions and I’ll add them in and tag each author!  I could also see this being a conversation to expand on during our ALF Summer Program this year too 🙂

 

 

The Opportunity in Conflict

When I taught conflict resolution to kids in the past, I always started with the question, “What is Conflict?” to create a dynamic list of all the ways conflict shows up in our lives.

Conflict happens. The point that I always stress to students is that how we respond to conflict is always our choice. We can take every conflict and turn it into an opportunity for growth or view it as a disaster.

One practice we have at school that I see becoming more and more powerfully used to turn conflict into opportunity is our Community Mastery Board (CMB). The CMB allows us to make explicit community agreements and norms we want to have in our school. We notice that we want something to change, we bring it to the awareness of the community, and then check in weekly to see how we are doing on that agreement.

Here are a couple short examples of our use of the CMB at Mosaic:

  • At the beginning of the year, slamming doors was a big problem. Our doors are big and heavy and the hinges slam them shut. Without intending to, it is really easy to create a very loud slam with very little force. This is not pleasant to hear all day! We added this to our awareness column “Slamming Doors.” Then each week, we check in, “Have you guys been hearing the doors slam a lot or is this getting better?” The act of just asking and then celebrating with the students each week on this has made this occurrence happen less and less. What I am celebrating currently is that every time the door does get accidentally slammed now, the person who did it almost ALWAYS pops their head back in the room with a meek, “I’m sorry.” That means a lot as a community – we will all slip-up, but acknowledging that our intent was not to disrupt others and apologizing goes a long way.
  • We also have made explicit the practice of “Ask before taking something that is not yours.” It’s important to not assume that everyone would automatically do this. If we work off that assumption, we open the door to a lot of negative feelings towards others – “What is wrong with them? How can they not know this?” Thoughts like this do not help to add to a culture of compassion and care. We make this explicit and then when it happens, we remind each other (which is also a sticky we have!) that this is something we are working on as a community – rather than telling the other person that they are a bad person for doing something we assume they know not to do. This is how I feel a community like ours can support kids with all types of needs and social differences – we never assume what another knows, we just actively looks for ways to support and create cultural practices we want to see happen.

 

This week, we used our CMB to help establish some more boundaries and practices at our school that I’m really excited about! These two topics are ways I saw us creating opportunity out of conflict.

Our Community Mastery Board at ALC Mosaic
Our Community Mastery Board at ALC Mosaic

Loud Hour: We have some boys at school that are high energy! They feel that their loud play in our big room is important to them, and they want to be able to wrestle on the carpet and hit each other with pillows. A few weeks ago, we established a community agreement with them that they schedule a loud hour at our morning meeting if they want to engage in this play. This allows us to pick a time where quiet activities aren’t going on and lets everyone in the school know when to expect loud play to happen in the big room.

This has been going really well. The boys are remembering more and more to schedule these times proactively. I also appreciate that when they start the loud wrestling play outside of loud hour, I can remind them of our agreement and ask them to go outside if they want to be that loud. In the beginning of the year I would be met with lots of resistance and complaining, but now they just go outside. They know that our community needs space for quiet and focused work and they were a part of the process of making this agreement.

This week we had a conflict occur during loud hour with two boys. One could have seen this conflict through the lens of disaster, but with the CMB in place and the amount of work we have done as a community to create a positive environment, I felt confident that this could easily be turned into an opportunity for clear expectations of what loud hour was and what it wasn’t.

Here are opportunities I observed happen through this conflict:

  • Several of our older boys obtained practice in speaking calmly about a tense situation and practiced taking turns to hear others speak.
  • One child just naturally stepped into a role of mediator – he started re-stating the words of a younger child to help make clearer his meaning for others, a practice I’ve seen used in non-violent communication practices. I had the opportunity to say, “I see you are really hearing what ________ has to say and you are wanting all of us to hear clearly what they are trying to say.”
  • Two of our oldest boys made it clear what they felt was acceptable to do during loud hour and what was not for the younger boys to understand. Certain practices were abolished that felt unsafe, for example, certain pillows used in the room were banished. These boys were able to step powerfully into their role as leaders in the school and take ownership of what that means.
  • A clear request was made by the students: A facilitator should remind the boys of agreements made at the beginning of every loud hour.

Videogame hour/Technology agreements: Oh boy, this can be a hot topic with parents and educators, and it doesn’t surprise me that this then leaks down to the kids. Our prior agreement to this week was that videogames/video watching could happen from 2-3pm (an agreement made with the kids at a Culture Club meeting, the kids felt time at school provided opportunities to do more than play videogames/watch videos all day, but they had a hard time taking those opportunities if they got started playing a videogame/watching a video early in the day). However, our internet bandwidth cannot support the streaming of videos while kids are also playing on the same Minecraft server. Students were getting angry at other students choosing to watch videos at this time because they would continually get kicked off the server.

What I was also observing was an unhealthy obsession and relationship to technology that did not resonate with me. The culture was becoming one where other kids would tell on me that another child was using technology outside of this hour and want me to make them stop. A culture that supports seeking out how others are doing something wrong rather than focusing on supporting everyone on their own learning journey is NOT what I am signed up for! I also felt like the focus was on “How technology is bad” instead of “How can I make choices mindfully?”

The bandwidth problem led to some small conversations happening with the kids during the videogame hour. Then on Thursday, we had a beautiful conversation that got the input of all the kids about what videogame hour was and how they felt about technology agreements.

Opportunities we had out of this conflict:

  • We had the opportunity to re-establish the fact that the kids do play videogames collaboratively with one another, and this is a practice they still want to have space for at school. They play together at school and work together on the same server for Mindcraft. This is something they couldn’t do at home by themselves (well technically they could, but they couldn’t hear and talk to each other while doing so). We banned the practice of streaming any video during this time to allow for the bandwidth to support multiple players on one server.
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Collaborative gaming at school
  • We had the opportunity to re-visit how technology can be used outside of this hour in a mindful way. Rather than telling on someone when they see them on a device, they can talk to the person using the device and the expectation is for each individual to be able to explain the purpose of what they are doing. If there is still question, than 4 students volunteered to check-in on the device use. Those 4 students identified themselves to the community as people capable of making mindful choices using technology. If 2 of those students support the use, it’s okay. This stops the practice of “telling on” a child to an adult and instead shifts the focus to, “Do you support how I’m using this device to _____________.”

 

Rather than assume that all use of technology will take over our brains and turn us into zombies, we can encourage everyone in our space to think about how we are using it and what our purpose is. Rather than having students believe that every time they see another child on a computer or device they are doing something mindless, they can ask, “What are you using this for and how is it supporting you?” If someone can’t answer that question, it is brought to their own awareness that they are not making a mindful choice. It’s also okay to just zone out sometimes! We all do it. I simply believe that we can make that intentional as well. I had a student tell me once this year, “I’ve done so much today (and listed activities), I just need 15 minutes to do nothing.” That demonstrates to me a powerful sense of self-awareness.

Our new agreements also support the kids in our space being held accountable to what they chose to do on devices, with the realization that others in the school will probably ask them what they’re up to online. Sugata Mitra‘s research has shown that children who have unlimited access to technology in a way that allows all others in the space to see what they are searching and doing online almost always eliminates all use of technology in a way that would be considered “inappropriate” to adults (i.e., looking up adult content, like porn, purposely). This is a question I asked Sugata Mitra about directly when I met him and participated in a small group discussion around technology and self-directed education at last year’s International Democratic Education Conference. You can read more about that experience here.

 

I am now taking the opportunity for myself to reflect and celebrate that we have been able to create opportunities for growth towards a healthy culture at school at every turn. Part of that celebration is taking the time for myself to write this post!

With adults in our space modeling this mindset, our children in the space can learn how the practice of creating opportunity out of conflict not only makes ourselves happier, but can powerfully lead to a community around us that supports positive thinking, reflection, and trying again when we fail.

I’ve been a part of the opposite in other school environments and watched many kids and adults beat themselves up so badly after a conflict that they cannot see how to turn it around into positive change and growth. I sadly find this the norm in many schools. It takes self-confidence and love for ourselves to spread a positive growth mindset to others. This is the learning I want to see happen in schools.

I am feeling grateful for every experience I’ve had with this community, the joyful ones, the sad ones, the exciting ones, the uncomfortable ones. I can feel grateful because I know I have the power to turn every one of these experiences into an opportunity to examine, what do I want more of in my life? Less of? What decisions serve me? What does not? I have the power to create how I experience this world, and that feels AWESOME!