Tagged spawn point

Spawn Point Vignette

Please enjoy a Spawn Point Vignette published in Tipping Points Magazine in December 2016! I have copied and pasted the content below, the format is a lot prettier from the original publication.


I walk into the Quiet Room, the home of my Spawn Point, after our clean up time. At an Agile Learning Center, a Spawn Point is a small group of students and a facilitator who start and end their day together. It’s about 3:10pm. Clean up keeps getting easier and faster, I think to myself. I look at the facilitation sign up board and see that Evan is facilitating this afternoon.

“Hey Evan, Ayan and Elisha are going to be here in a few minutes.” I see he’s moved the magnets on our GameShifting board to Connection Activity –> Game.

“Hey Nancy,” he says, “I was thinking we could play the game where someone is blindfolded and then they try to walk across the room with our directions.”

For some reason when he tells me this, a big light bulb goes off in my head. Last week I learned about a game I really wanted to play with the kids, but I drew a complete blank on the rules when I was at school. All of a sudden the directions to the game come to me and I can’t help but share.

“Oh, I do like that game, but Evan, remember last week when I forgot the rules to the new game I wanted to play? It just came to me right now. Can I explain it?”

“Sure.”

“This is a game where we get to test our mind connections, like a telepathy game. One person looks around the room and writes down 5 objects they see. These objects have to be small enough that we can pick them up and put them on the table. They don’t show anyone their list. When they say go, everyone else goes around and picks up an object and brings it to the table. We try to see how many matches we get!”

Leyla, Tessa and A.J. perk up, chiming in that they want to try this game.

“Can I pick the objects?” Leyla asks, directing the question to Evan, our facilitator.

“Okay we can try it,” he responds.

“Hey Ev, we really don’t have to play this game, I just wanted to share the rules while I remembered them. I love the blindfold game too and would be happy to play.” I really didn’t want Evan to feel like we had to switch games. I have no name for this game and cannot remember where I learned about it. I have no idea why I couldn’t remember it last week, and why it jumped into my head today.

“I want to pick objects.” Leyla says, hoping we will still play the new game.

“It’s fine, we can try this game,” Evan says.

I toss Leyla a post-it pad and a marker. Just as she uncaps the marker the write, Ayan, Elisha, and Tom come in. Tom is visiting from Australia for two weeks. He and his wife are planning to open a school in January of 2018. Tom really wanted to see an ALC in action before they opened, so here he is!

“You’re just in time for our game!” I say, and explain the rules. We sit quietly as Leyla writes. She looks around and is really deliberate and thoughtful about her choices. I look around the room and observe quietly to myself all the objects that look small enough to put on the table. I see the workbooks on the desk, the hands-on equation set, a little painted peg-person on the shelf. That peg-person should be in the basket by the blocks. I make a mental note to put it back where it belongs later. I see the singing bowl, the spirit animal cards, the dry erase markers, my shoes. Would she choose my shoes? I don’t want to put those on the table.

“What would Leyla think to choose?” I say aloud. “This game will give us the opportunity to focus on Leyla and think about what she would pick out in the room. Right now, I’m trying to see the room through her eyes.”

Leyla smiles as she continues to add to the list. She’s not quite done yet when Evan gets up and moves Penguin, our school stuffed animal/therapy toy, to the table.

“Hey Evan, she’s not even done yet,” someone tells him.

“Yeah, let’s wait for her to finish first. Are you almost done, Leyla?” I’m an adult and I’m getting a little antsy, so I completely understand Evan’s excitement to get started. Evan puts Penguin back and waits for her to finish.

Leyla nods, writes one more thing down, and then says she’s done. Before she says “Go!” everyone is up and moving, thinking about what object they want to pick.

The room is pretty quiet. I stand up and turn around to face the altar I have set up against the white bookshelf. I scan the room. I reach for the turkey feather on the altar, but hesitate. Is this what I want to choose? My hand says yes, it’s still reaching out for it as my mind hesitates. I go for it, placing it on the table. I guess I’m just going with my first gut instinct.

This time Evan places a pen on the table. Someone grabs the game of Dixit. A few other items are placed. Finally, Tom grabs the guitar and puts in on the table, the last item. We all look at Leyla, excitedly seeing if we got any of the items correct.

“Do you want me to tell you?” she says, with a smile on her face.

“Yes!!” we all cry.

“It was Penguin, the feather, Dixit, the guitar, and a magnet.” We look at the table. All of us are shocked that three out of five items are actually there.

“Evan, do you realize that your first instinct was to have Penguin on the table? That would be four out of five items we got!” I say, still amazed that we actually got so many of the items correct. I thought we’d be lucky to guess one correctly.

“I’m putting it back!” he says, moving the pen out of the way to make a spot for Penguin. The rest of the kids seem to be in agreement that Evan’s initial item should count. We clean up and then sit in a circle to look at our intentions from the day.

A GameShifting Board helps facilitate group gatherings.

“Okay, let’s go turns in a circle,” Evan starts. “No, wait, we’ll go in board order.” He moves the magnet under Communication Style from turns in a circle to board order.

“Hmmm,” he ponders, taking a few moments to stare up at the board. Then Evan leads us around the board, checking in with everyone about what they intended to do that day, and if they got to do it or not. We each have our turn and share. Then, after the last person is finished, Evan walks halfway across the small room, looking up at the clock.

“Okay, it’s 3:23,” he says, smiling broadly back at us.

“Wow, Evan,” I say, actual tears brimming up behind my eyes. “Do you realize that you set the intention to learn to tell time about two weeks ago, and now you know how to do it?” His smile gets even bigger, “Yeah.” Words can’t begin to describe the feeling I have inside. Here’s a kid who knows how to learn. He learns when he’s ready, on his own time table.

A few weeks ago, Evan decided he wanted to learn how to read an analog clock so Melissa, one of my co-facilitators and his mom, found some resources online to support his interest. Evan’s motivation was clear and remained steady. He spent a couple mornings using some worksheets to identify the time, and would constantly test his knowledge on the analog clocks to check his own accuracy. Now, he’s mastered this skill.

Last month Evan decided he wanted to learn how to ride a bike, and last week he biked 6 miles from school to Uptown and back. After watching Evan learn to ride a bike at age 10, Melissa told me, “It just goes to show you that when they are ready, they will learn, and they will learn easily. I could’ve spent a lot of time worrying about how he couldn’t ride a bike, but I’m happy I just let it go so he could do it when he was ready. I think this is a great reminder about reading too. I think if more kids were able to just wait to read when they were ready, it would happen a lot easier for them.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I look at Evan’s face, and I see that he feels really good about himself. It feels great to decide you want a new skill, then to go after it and master it.

“We still have time for a game,” he tell us. Now I can see he understands how many minutes away from 3:30 we are! We dismiss at 3:30.

“Oh how about a magic trick?” Ayan asks. I hear murmurs of “Yes!” coming from the girls sitting on the couch.

“I want to play the object game again, can I be the person who writes the list?” Elisha pipes up. The kids are directing their requests to Evan, who is back by the GameShifting board, considering how he would like us to spend the last few minutes of the day. He picks up a jar filled with popsicle sticks that has been sitting on the small shelf that props up the GameShifting board. Again, here is another item I need to remember to put away, I think. Like the peg person, I have no idea how this got left here. It’s a math game that belongs in the storage closet.

“I want to play Kaboom.” Evan looks around the room, and I can see he is filled with certainty about playing this game.

“Cool,” I say with a shrug, “I’ve never played it before, but I’m happy to play whatever you want.” Here I am trying to make up for derailing his earlier game choice! I’m still feeling a little bad about that.

“Okay, I’ll tell you how to play. It’s a game my mom made.” He continues to explain how there are multiplication problems on the bottom of each stick. You pull a stick out, answer the problem, and then if you get it right you can keep the stick. If you pull out a stick that says “Kaboom!” you have to put all your sticks back in. You can make the game shorter or longer by setting the winning number of sticks higher or lower. He decides we’ll play to the amount of 6 sticks.

We begin passing around the jar, pulling out multiplication problems. They are all one digit by one digit for the most part, the only two digit problems involving tens. The game was made when Melissa was trying to support kids in finding fun ways to memorize their multiplication tables. I look around, seeing how happy and calm the kids are as they play.

The jar gets to our youngest Spawn Point member, who is 7.

“Hmmm… 3 times 1,” she ponders. I sit back and just observe what will happen. A.J. is a new student at school. I have no idea if she even knows what multiplication is. “I don’t know.”

One of the other other kids tells her it’s 3. That any number times one is just the number.

The jar continues around the circle, and then it’s back to A.J. again. “3 times 4,” she reads aloud.

“A.J. hasn’t learned multiplication yet,” her sister, Leyla, tell us.

“Oh that’s no big deal,” I say. “Hey A.J., so multiplication is just adding a number multiple times. 3 times 4 means you add 3, 4 times. 3 plus 3, plus 3, plus 3.”

She starts counting on her fingers, then looks up and says, “12!” The jar continues around the circle.

The jar keeps moving.

Back to A.J. again. “6 x 3” she reads. Short pause, and she is counting on her fingers. “18.”

Back to School, Year 4!

We started our 4th year of Mosaic on Wednesday, and it feels SO GOOD to be back to school! Actually, it really doesn’t feel like back to school because I’ve seen so many of the kids over the summer.

We ended the school year June 17. I took a week to see my sister in Colorado, and then I facilitated two week-long summer camps with lots of ALC students after I returned. After that, ALF Summer (3 weeks) began, a week with adults, a week with the kids, and another week with adults and @libby. Directly following ALF Summer, @Jesslm and I took 7 students on a 8 night, 9 day roadtrip adventure, which I absolutely loved doing! We got back on August 9 and school started August 24, so I had about two weeks of “downtime” as I waited for the school year to start back up. I feel really great about how I spent my summer. It feels easy starting school again because I honestly didn’t take much of a break from my regular routine of waking up and being with kids. I also genuinely like being around the kids, many of whom I’ve known for years now.

There has also been a big surprise that happened about a week before we re-opened, adding to the ease of starting the year: Melissa, who has been volunteering for the past year, let us know that she wanted to ALF full-time. She acknowledged our situation of not having the finances to pay a full time staff member, especially with the exciting one campus news, by saying that she wants more responsibility at no cost to us. Her intention is to dive back into education (which was her prior career path before being disillusioned by it – something I totally get) and to work with kids again in a school that she is inspired to help make more awesome.

Jess and I were prepared to start the year with 9 or 10 kids in a spawn point, and just making that work. However, with Melissa around full time, excited to facilitate a third spawn point, we’ve been able to start with just 6 or 7 kids in a group instead. On Friday after school, I got to listen to a couple students excitedly share how they feel spawn points are so much easier and more fun to be in with fewer kids. They have time to share intentions and reflections and to play games together, or just hang out and talk. I’ve felt this way too, happy and excited to go to spawn. This is really energizing for me.

14107752_684393315047588_2433271273703464682_o
I moved my spawn point room from the Food/Art Room to the Quiet Room. I wanted a more cozy environment, like Jess’s Cloud Room Spawn. I really think the addition of wall hangings, a lamp, and twinkle lights make a big difference!
14138723_684393318380921_4852282250148550883_o
In just one day, Melissa was able to make a cozy nook that the kids love in the big room for her spawn! Added bonus: her spawn point has the weekly schedule board in the room 🙂

 

Highlights From The Week

There is also a lot of ease in starting our 4th year, and 3rd year in this particular building, with a large group of students who have been in together for at least two years. We can more quickly dive into creating what we want because we don’t need a lot of time spent on figuring out what agreements we need in the space.

In the short span of three days, the kids jumped right in to reinstate the offerings they liked from last year. They met to plan what books they wanted to read for the Book & Movie Club, met with Jess to talk about what kind of hikes they want to do this year, a student led a Writer’s Workshop meeting where she facilitated a conversation about what kind workshop they would start out with, and Tomis met twice with our oldest students as he starts piloting the “Wings” (working title) program here at Mosaic.

14066382_684393348380918_275879577340317566_o 14102486_684399838380269_1113036837766180678_n

This week, we also had a lot of conversation about the trees getting cut down at the church. In particular, a huge tree that we played around and enjoyed the shade from, led to feelings of sadness and frustration. As the kids played on the trunk, using it as their own personal jungle gym, they talked of protesting and asked a lot of questions. While I listened to some conversations, I felt really grateful that the kids could see this happening and then take the time to talk about it and to go out and interact with the tree, rather than left to watch it happening from indoors and being told to think about some other subject.

My favorite conversation from the tree went as follows:

Child 1: When I die, I want to come back and live as a tree.
Me: Can you say more about that?
Child 1: Because trees live so long and I want to know what it’s like to live as long as they do and experience what they experience.
Child 2: I would want to come back as an animal because I want to move around. Being a tree might get boring.
Child 3: But what if the tree doesn’t know that its life is boring? What if they would think walking and talking was boring? Because the tree is just seeing life through its own perspective.

14054525_684218008398452_9114315272296632272_o

The time and space the kids have to discuss how a tree may perceive the world is something really valuable to me. I want to see more gentle discussions in the world where we are wondering how an experience might be for someone else. From personal experience, I know that rushing through life and trying to “prove” my worth (mostly by being a good girl who got good grades) led me to grow into a more self-centered person than I’d like to admit. Most of my 20’s involved understanding how I became what I became, learning to not beat myself up for how I became that way and then rebuilding. I can see that we are building a group of kids who have the time to think about more than just themselves, and this feels really good.

One Campus Fundraising

During the first ALF Summer, Sara S. (an aunt of two of our students who is getting a master’s degree in creativity), came and presented a workshop on The Creative Problem Solving (CPS) Process. It was really fun and since then, she’s come in a couple times to facilitate this process.

Coming back to school, the kids were all really excited about our new home and want to feel like they can help in some way. I also had several parents reaching out to me with ideas for ways the kids could get involved. Whatever happened, I really wanted the kids to be involved because they were inspired to action rather than adults suggesting they do something we thought was a good idea. So I thought it was a good time to get the kids and staff who were interested in more discussion to experience Sara’s CPS process and see what happened from there.

I took key elements of what I learned from Sara and tried to deliver a simplified version of what I felt capable of doing:

First I told the kids we would warm-up our brains to think big and think creatively, just like our bodies need a warm-up before a work out, our brains need work outs too. I led them through a silly exercise (copied from Sara) where everyone had to help me think of solutions to a made up problem: a hippo was stuck in my bathroom, what should I do? 

As the participants came up with potential solutions, I asked them to practice 4 key elements to help encourage people to think as creatively as possible:

  • build on ideas: write down any solution we think of, even if someone else put down something similar beforehand
  • seek wild ideas: try to think outside the box and write anything that comes to mind down!
  • defer judgement: make no good/bad judgments of any idea – your own or another persons.
  • come up with lots of ideas: push ourselves to write and write and write ideas!

We had fun doing that awhile – with sweet solutions like “make friends with the hippo,” dark solutions like “eat the hippo,” and practical solutions like “move” presented to the group.

Next, we practiced those same principles to come up with as many ideas as possible to try to help the school raise 45K in 45 days, our current fundraiser to help us renovate our building while still keeping tuition affordable.

The ideas were hilarious. When I reminded them to seek wild ideas, we got things like “pick pocket” and “have all the parents take all their money to Vegas and bet on red.” It was hard not to laugh at those! I appreciated how much fun we got to have while problem solving 🙂

I explained that we were going through a divergent process – where we are just generating tons of ideas, but that we would have to go through a convergent process of narrowing focus if we were actually going to be able to take action forward.

So after we had maybe 75 options down, I gave the participants stickers – telling them to only use 3-5 stickers to place on the ideas that they would like to have more discussion about. We then removed the ideas (which were on post-its) without stickers, posting them on a different board. I stated that they weren’t bad or good ideas, just ideas that we weren’t going to focus on now.

With the ideas left, we clustered them into groups if we saw similar themes. We labeled four groups: Community Events / Music Events / Social Media & Personal Appeal / Selling Things

Then, I drew a line under each grouping to make two columns where we could identify the pluses (+) and opportunities (o) for each grouping of ideas. Rather than saying that something is a bad idea, we can frame that wording in a “How Might” statement that allows for more a more positive conversation. Rather than “well that idea is too hard because…” or “that idea isn’t good because…” we can say “How might we pull this off in time and find it energizing, rather than exhausting.” It’s just a little word-smithing that leads to more open conversation rather than a culture around shutting down an idea that someone thinks isn’t “good.” You can see our pluses and opportunities in this doc.

At the end of our time together, we decided we had a great start to show the rest of the community. Not all the kids in the school were a part of this brainstorming, so we decided to read over our thoughts to all the kids in the three separate spawn points the next morning, and then have part of our change up meeting dedicated to next steps.

After being read the ideas in spawn point, one student built on what they heard and was excited to propose at change up The Spicy Pepper Challenge! This student and their friends have been bringing spicy foods to school for a year now, and they really enjoy seeing how spicy of food they can handle. One of these students has a goal this year of seeing if meditation will help them handle spicier food! After discussion at Change Up, the kids felt like launching the social media challenge was something they could do without adults helping, while arranging a community event is something that is more adult involved. So they set a time the next day to figure out what they wanted to say and how to move forward. A couple kids went with me to the community garden to pick jalapenos too 🙂

14066396_684218131731773_3417016104319652055_o
Filming their video!

Here is their video, and we’ve already been received some donations from it!! Please share and add the link if you feel inspired. You can do the challenge yourself and challenge others to participate! The basic rule is to do the challenge and donate $10 or skip the challenge and donate $100.

 

Inward Dive

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

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

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

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

What I’ve Been Reading:

What I’ve Been Practicing:

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

Magic School Moments

Co-working, for kids.

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

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

Learning through imitation

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

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

IMG_8711 IMG_8719

Light-Hearted Offerings

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

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

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

After School Offerings

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

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

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

Spawn Shift: Time to Reset

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8860

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

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

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

 

What’s Behind Our Dreams & Goals?

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

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

Review: Why Do We Spawn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiration from Marie Kondo

978-1-60774-730-7

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

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

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

Practical Application of This Concept to Our Spawn Point This Week

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

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

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

A New Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_6228 IMG_6229 IMG_6230 IMG_6231 IMG_6232 IMG_6233 IMG_6234 IMG_6236 IMG_6237

 

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

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

IMG_6238

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

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

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

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

 

Back to School, Year Three!

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

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

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

The Space

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

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

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

IMG_6125

The Spawn Point This Week: Dreams & Goals

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

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

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

Gathering Activity

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

IMG_6124

 

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_6093

 

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

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

IMG_6120

 

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

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

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

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

IMG_6111

 

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

 

End of Year Student Reflections

Our second year of school as ended, and our practices are getting more defined. At the end of last school year, I didn’t provide much by way of documentation for each student. I hadn’t yet had time and space to really think about what I’ve decided to call “responsible documentation.”

I believe that by simply being an observer, one can change what they see in front of them. We look for things to make our brains “right.” I want to document what the kids do, but I don’t want to change what I see because I’m “looking” for something. I feel that responsibly documenting includes sharing observations of the kids, but without value judgments placed on what is seen. I feel it also includes sharing goals, interests, ideas they have and any accomplishments they make related to those. As each year goes by, I hope to better my practice here and provide each child with documentation to mark and celebrate who they were in the past year. As they get older, I believe that responsible documentation happens with each student so we can match it to their future goals – especially in high school if they have clear plans to either find a job, go to college, or a vocational training program. I want them to leave prepared with enough documentation to pursue their next path with ease.

This blog post serves to mark the end of year documentation Charlotte and I chose to create for this year. During our ALF Summer program, I’ll plan on sharing this with other adults who have experience working with children in the Alternative Ed scene or in ALCs and parents of kids in our ALC so I can reflect and build on this practice for next year. I already see some things I’d like to change up for next year in this regard, which I’ll describe further down.

End Of Year Documentation Process for 2014-15 @ Mosaic (older campus, called Branches)

Charlotte and I decided to build out a webpage on each child’s blog to document their school year. We split up the kids in the school, each of us taking responsibility to do this for about half of the full time students.

In each of my student webpages, I included the following sections:

  • Observations from me. I tried to simply make observations and connections that I felt meaningful. Some examples include:
    • “You’ve loved to sell things to others. You like to count money and do it a lot. You figure out how many items you need to sell in order to make a certain amount of money. You are calculating and exploring math in this way. For example, one time you came to school with the goal of selling $5 worth of onions. You decided to sell 5 onions for a dollar, and figured out that you needed 25 onions to do this. You’ve also done this with fans and other crafts.”
    • “Without being able to tell time or read fluently, you’ve mastered the ability to figure out how to get to offerings that you know you want to do. You ask those involved in an offering to find you before it starts, and sometimes ask for an early reminder.”
    • “You love to play board/card games with your friends, like Life, Apples to Apples, Monopoly, etc. These games help you practice all kinds of skills, from math with money, cooperating & taking turns with friends, expanding your vocabulary, and more.”
  • Notes from both Dan and Charlotte. These include a short reflection for the other daily facilitators in the school.
  • Notes from their parents. I asked parents to include a reflection too.
  • Personal Reflection from the kids. Since most of our kids are elementary age, I wasn’t asking for an in-depth essay…If I did I’d get a lot of “I don’t know’s.” Instead I engaged the kids in a fun end of year reflective activity that I will describe very fully in the next section.
  • Pictures from the school year. I do my best to document via pictures activities of the kids every week. On Fridays I upload all the pictures to our monthly Facebook Albums. I went through each monthly album and looked for photos of the kids for a picture reflection of the year.

Individual Student Reflections

During the last three weeks of school, I led an activity during several of our Spawn Points that helped the kids support each other in thinking about what each student has engaged in this year.

One day, when they came into morning Spawn Point, there were three giant Kanbans laying out on the tables. They each had a child’s face pictured at the top and 3 sections below: “What I’ve Explored A LOT / What I’ve Explored SOME / What I STILL Want to Explore.”

I started by explaining to the kids that “exploring,” in the context I was using it, included skills and topics. For example, they may have explored the skill of cutting a lot. This is a fine motor skill many young children explore. Or they gained the skill of learning how to kayak, swim, dance, play baseball, write, read, etc. For topics, this means that they learned about some area of interest they had: space, dogs, starting a business, the underground railroad, etc.

Sometimes it’s hard to get started on a personal reflection. I was sensitive to this. That’s why I had the kids help each other. I also started off by timing the activity to give it a “fun” factor.

Excitedly, I told the kids:

“Okay guys, for the next 5 minutes, all of you will help your three friends remember the skills or topics you’ve seen them explore at school. There are sticky notes and brand new markers out on the tables. Are you ready? On your mark, get set, go!”

IMG_5465   IMG_5468 IMG_5469 IMG_5466IMG_5467

The kids were really helpful to one another. They would point out things they saw their friends doing and each person was so excited to add to their own Kanban. It appeared to really be helpful having them help each other. Once a person heard several examples of things they explored at school, then you could see the wheels grease in their minds as they remembered more and more on their own.

We did this activity over two weeks, each day featuring different students to help. Many times, at the end of the timer, the kids would shout, “No!!” or “Can I keep working on this?” They loved seeing and thinking about the things they explored. I was kicking myself for not thinking to do this more regularly throughout the school year!

One day, as one of the students was working on her Kanban, she said, “Nancy, this is such a great idea! Now I’m remembering things that I wanted to do but didn’t get to! Like making a Warrior Cats board game.” She and her friend then spent the next few hours working on a board game for their favorite book series.

The kids were reminded and encouraged to, on their own, add to the last section of the Kanban, “What do you STILL want to explore?” I framed this for them by asking them, “Is there anything you aren’t learning how to do/exploring at school that you hoped to do this year? Have you found something over this year that you maybe learned about a little but really want to learn more about?”

I sent these Kanbans home with them so they could also think over the summer about any interests they have to add onto this.

What did I learn from doing this?

  • With a powerful morning reflective process, kids can get sparked to “get in the flow” embarking on a personal interest or inquiry. I saw this happen with the girls and their board game. Once they got into this in the morning Spawn Point, nothing could stop them from continuing to work on it throughout the day – it didn’t matter if the school was loud or if a marching band went through the hallway. They were in the zone.
  • I want to incorporate more game or activity-like reflections like this in my Spawn Points periodically throughout the year. I want us to all check in as a group on where we are as individuals – and see if we need any support from the group. Are we exploring all the things we want to be exploring? Are we in a rut and not sure how to spend our time each day? Do we want to see what other people are up to? Are there new things we want to be exploring at school?
  • Kids enjoy check-ins and want to know how they are doing. I liked that this activity wasn’t about if what they were up to was good or bad, but more about “What have they been up to?” The kids were excited remembering the things they have explored and liked seeing it displayed visually. I think everyone likes some kind of feedback and I think this was a fun way to do it. I want to give the kids more feedback regularly throughout next school year.

What are practices I hope to implement next year based on this experience?

  • Longer morning Spawn Points, with artful facilitation. This means engaging the kids in some fun manner to think about their goals and interests and to start embarking on an interest early in the day, while still having lots of room for spontaneity, games, or cultural check-ins – is there something happening between kids that needs to be addressed? If we are upset, hurt, or angry, it’s hard to really pursue our passions and interest. Artful facilitation also means being super responsive to the needs of the kids in front of you. This means you must know them, you must have a relationship with them. You know when to push, when to back off. You listen to your intuition and do the dance as best you can.
  • Regular individual check-ins with kids – a one on one either weekly or bi-weekly to see if they have new interests or goals, or if they need support to figure out what they really want to explore.
  • Regular group reflective activities (like the one described above). Maybe 4 times a year.
  • Starting the build out the student webpages earlier in the year. I’d like to add notes and pictures quarterly. This way my reflections will be in checkpoints throughout the year, rather than me in June trying to remember everything I saw the child doing.
  • Upgrading the use of Trello and blogging practice– this is each child’s primary way to document what they are up to from their perspective. I think we can better store this information by teaching the children to use the trello tools to write comments on something they want to document, and to be choosier about what items they want to store for their portfolio. Items from Trello that are really exciting to an individual can be marked as “blog post worthy.” At the end of the week, many kids aren’t sure what to blog about. If they are tagging items throughout the week, they will have some choices to write about something that was really meaningful to them, with reminders of what they wanted to say about it.
  • Upgrading my level of support to give visible feedback to kids in an engaging way. In the NYC school, the kids are consistently using physical Kanbans. Ours don’t, and perhaps they really need this consistent push to do so. Or if it’s not a Kanban, I need to develop another visual way for kids to see what they’ve been up to at school. They seemed to really like seeing this.

Over ALF Summer, I hope to develop a clear starting plan with other ALFs and parents that can grow from the reflections I share here!

Inter-ALC Mixing & Why I Love It!

We Are Not Alone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do We Spawn?

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

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

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

Upgrading Our Entry Space & Morning Routine

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

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

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

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

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

 

Change-Up Meeting Easy Upgrade

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

Take a look at the picture below:

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

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

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

 

And Back to Inter-ALC Mixing

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

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

Here we are at the Natural History Museum:

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

What are you most excited to do today?

We start our days at ALC Mosaic with what’s called a “Stand Up Meeting.” It’s one of our borrowed Agile Practices (you can read about more other tools & practices here):

The daily stand-up meetings happen in the morning and are conducted, not surprisingly, while participants stand. Standing keeps the energy up at the beginning of the day and gets everyone in the mode to do. In this meeting, each group member states their intentions for the day and makes any requests for support they may need.  This simple process takes only about ten minutes, but serves an important purpose of starting each day with intention and accountability.  By continually engaging in this practice, students are cultivating highly useful skills in time-management, teamwork, self-awareness and self-assessment.

 

We do these stand up meetings in what we call “Spawn Points” with small groups of children and one facilitator. Since I have most of the younger children in my Spawn Point, I try to help them balance their natural and spontaneous play with the intentions they have. In a playful manner in the beginning of the year, I asked them, “What will you be bummed about forgetting to do if you don’t get to it today?” The intention behind this question was to help the younger kids remember what they want to do independent of all the things that could distract them from that intention during the day. So in my Spawn Point, the kids have gotten into the practice of saying, “Today I won’t forget to…”

However, I’m thinking I need to upgrade this practice. I’ve been inspired by a video I saw shared on Facebook today and it has me thinking about this practice we have going on every morning.

The video is of a ballet dancer dancing to the song “Take Me to Church” by Hozier. The video has been circulating a lot on social media, I just didn’t watch it until today when I saw it shared by one of the moms at our school.

The movements of the dancer, Sergei Polunin, are hauntingly beautiful and I was mesmerized watching it. It took me back to my years attending a performing arts school as child.

While I am not a skilled dancer, I understand how much practice it takes to dance like this because of my experience being around dancers & very skilled artists at the school I attended. I also am aware that most artists don’t have time for things like school or formal education – they need to dance, make music, create art all the time.

So I want to upgrade my mornings with the kids. I bet Polunin doesn’t say daily, “Today I won’t forget to dance.” He probably sees every other thing he has to do as something that takes away from the art he is dying to create each day. I want to ask them what they can’t stop thinking about doing that day. I want to know about what came into their head that morning that got them excited to get out of bed. I’d like to hear about what is the thing they are focused on doing, that makes all the other stuff just in the way to them. And if they don’t know what that is, what new skill/adventure/experience are they willing to try out so they can find what that is?

In some way, we are all artists. While I may not have this guy’s dance moves, or @Charlotte’s singing voice, or @Dean’s musical brilliance on the piano, I do have something that I’m so strongly passionate about doing each day, and something I don’t have to say, “I won’t forget to…” To me, the school and creating a educational movement is an art.

And I love that the kids are around artists every day at school. I hear Charlotte singing in the stairwell (we’ve got amazing acoustics) and then I listen to her last blog post where I’m blown away by a child’s voice joining her. I doubt she forgets to sing every day…

I’m curious if re-shaping how I start off our Spawn Point will create any shifts for the kids at school. Here’s to tomorrow!