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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 🙂




  1. Abby says:

    Really helpful post to share with new ALFs and parents! Facilitating kids’ choices back to them and sharing our feelings honestly with them certainly takes more thoughtfulness and trust than limiting their chances to make choices their parents won’t like…but the effort is so worth it.

    Some themes that come up around “facilitating agreements with parents vs policing for parents” at ALC-NYC include:

    1. COMMUNICATION! If I don’t know about it, I can’t help you with it. I mean…maybe I can, if you’re a person I know really well and spend a lot of time with so I probably notice when something is going on [like if you’re a student struggling to figure out a relationship dynamic with another student]. But sometimes parents expect support holding their children to agreements yet forget in the midst of their busy lives to let Ryan and I know the agreements exist.


    2. HONESTY! Something @ryanshollenberger and I have both said in afternoon meeting multiple times sounds like this: “No, I’m not going to call your parents and tell them you were playing GTA all day. I’m also not going to hide it from them…Yes, it’s going on your Trello board. Yes, I will be honest if they ask. Because I value my relationship with them and their trust. If the choices you’re making are ones you feel a need to hide, think about why. What do you need to feel good about your relationships with yourself, me, and your parents? Do you want to make some different choices tomorrow?” And sometimes they do the same thing the next day, and the next, until the parents find out and set a boundary (“These are the things I worry about with that video game…To feel comfortable continuing to send you to ALC I need to be able to trust you to…”). Other times, the kid squirms a bit and then does something different the next day. Either way, the facilitators’ job is to keep reflecting their decisions back to them honestly, challenging them to be intentional in their rule-keeping or breaking, and insisting that they own the consequences of their actions…be that feeling uncomfortable or hyper or relieved. We make sure they have the information they need to make an informed decision, and then we hold space for them to decide.

    3. CLEAR EXPECTATIONS! Ryan is really good at this…at clearly and consistently letting parents and kids know that he will not police kids’ choices. Our community is founded on trust, and having adults going around acting like police dogs communicates lack-of-trust. We–since I listened to Ryan explain it a few times and was grateful he articulated what I was feeling–also will not create consequences related to agreements between other people. We can be counted on to remind young people of agreements they have made and support them in either keeping the agreements or starting an honest discussion about why the agreement doesn’t work for them and whether it’s flexible. We can be counted on to model staying honest with ourselves and others. We can be counted on to support parents and kids in dialoguing and problem solving together (in fact, we’re usually quite happy to, when asked).

    And now I can point to your nifty table when asked why we do things this way 🙂 Thanks!

  2. NancyT says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Abby! I would love all new parents/ALFs to read your words too! I wrote this post because it’s honestly something I’ve struggled with. From my experience in traditional schools, much of a teacher’s time was supposed to be spent policing. I wrote this post with myself in mind – what would I want to know is different from teaching in a traditional school and ALFing. This is what I wish I was told 3 years ago, and why I’m so grateful we do ALF summer so we can all grow together and upgrade how we show up with children and the community continually.

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