Home » Culture » Page 2

Category: Culture

Tone-Setting Camping Trip

One huge benefit of adding @jesslm to our ALF team here at Mosaic is all of her camping experience she brings from leading boyscout groups. Once she made the decision to quit her job and focus on developing a career with us, one of the things she jumped right into planning was camping trips. We did a mini-trip last spring and then decided we wanted to offer a bigger camping trip at the beginning of the school year to build connection and deeper bonds between us right away.

We took 11 of our students (about half of the school) to Morrow Mountain State Park, about an hour away, from Wednesday – Friday last week. It was a pretty amazing trip, and we can’t wait to do another!

Before the Trip

We set guidelines for attending the camping trip that we made clear with the kids. In order to attend, you needed to agree to:

  • Play one group game each day
  • Participate in a team building exercise each day
  • Sign up for a duty on the duty roster
  • Participate in a community meeting about developing the tone for our school year
  • No electronics, except for cameras on phones (put on airplane mode – but this ended up not being an issue as we got no cell service there!)

The kids interested in attending met during the first week of school and those wanting to camp and able to agree to those terms were put on the list to go!

The Tuesday before we left, we had another meeting where the kids decided on tent assignments, picked out duties for the duty roster, and helped us plan the meals. Jess took a few kids out to shop as well that day for the food we needed to bring.

 

During the Trip

We were all so excited to go! We met Wednesday morning at school and piled into cars. We got to Morrow Mountain for lunch and then set up camp. After setting up camp, we had a first group activity – playing “Yes, Let’s!”

12015217_541649169322004_1930477367944313139_o
Explaining the game “Yes, Let’s!”

This is a game/team building exercise where someone suggests we do something (like jump on one leg) and then everyone yells “Yes! Let’s!” and does it. I was reading @drew’s blog about facilitating at the Communities Conference and how he played this game with participants, and I thought it was a great activity to do with kids too. I told the kids that as a community, sometimes we can just dive in and try out something new or different and just join in with joy! We did things like act like a bear, hop on one foot while rubbing our belly & patting our heads, pick up litter, give high fives…and then someone suggested “bite Jess” and that led to a fun game of chasing Jess around! (Don’t worry, no one actually wanted to bite her, it was just for fun).

We reminded the kids of the agreements and then we all walked down to a really neat shore area that ended up being a really special spot for the kids the entire trip. On the way there we found a hawk feather. We left it where we found it because we know it’s illegal to take and possess them. The kids built a fairy village there that first day, skipped rocks, and made mudballs. We visited the spot again every day to check on our village & add to it, and to build our skipping rocks skills and even try out fishing!

IMG_6284  IMG_6289 IMG_6290  IMG_6294 IMG_6295 IMG_6296 IMG_6300 IMG_6301 IMG_6309  IMG_6291

We came back for dinner, smores & a story time. It was a beautiful and fun first day!!! Then…nighttime hit…

IMG_6315

That first night was a huge test for all of us! We had POURING rain and lightening & thunder. Kids I have taken out on trips before became so homesick – but were able to communicate that the massive thunderstorm was what was really pushing them over the edge. I could totally understand! There was a lot of compassionate listening happening – by me and from the other kids. I was amazing to see the boys crying together and talking about their families and just lovingly supporting each other through the homesickness/thunderstorm scariness.

The girls had a whole other issue. Their tent started leaking so they tried to sleep in the van. The van fogged up so bad they thought they were going to suffocate. They all wanted to go home! Finally Jess and I rigged a tarp above their tent to stop the rain from coming in and the girls found towels to dry out the inside. They were able to sleep in it and stayed dry the rest of the night.

The amazing thing for me to see was how happy and positive the kids were in the morning! When I got out of my tent, I saw the kids in a circle outside the bathroom comparing their night horror-stories, but laughing about them. It was a pretty neat bonding experience for all of us to go through. The kids who were wanting to go home the first night now just wanted to have a great day. I just thought to myself, “What incredibly supportive & resilient children!”

After breakfast that morning, the kids organized a game of Capture The Flag – using two other campsites as their field. We were the only group there so the kids had free reign. They loved it and were able to play 4 games.

That afternoon we decided to go on a hike to see the Kron House, what I considered to be our team-building activity as a group. It was hot & humid and a rigorous outing! We walked & sweated until we finally reached the house. You can read about the Kron House here. A bunch of the kids are interested in how people lived in the past, so it was neat to see the old house, doctor’s office, well, and greenhouse. There were even some edible grapes growing on a vine!

IMG_6332  IMG_6334

IMG_6333  IMG_6325

That evening, we planned on having our community meeting and doing s’mores after dinner. However our plans got interrupted by yet another thunderstorm! We were able to eat dinner and play a few games of human knot (which we successfully completed a couple times!), but then it was raining so much everyone was in their tents by 8:30 for bed-time. We decided to have s’mores for breakfast dessert since we couldn’t make a fire that night! The kids (and adults!) were pretty tired from little sleep the previous night, so bed-time was smoother. Smoother meaning, easier than last night, but still not great!

In the morning, the kids were yet again happy and wanting to have a great morning before we went home. We had breakfast together and broke down camp. Jess taught us about how to leave a fire pit safely at a campsite and a few other Leave No Trace principles. Some of those we learned while hiking – like to always travel and camp on durable surfaces. Some kids didn’t know that when you go off the trail you are actually impacting the land. You never want to crush new growth in nature, so it’s important for humans to stay on the trails so we lessen our impact on the land. We also always practiced “leaving nature a little better than we found it” by bringing trash bags with us everywhere we went and picking up litter.

IMG_6354

Then we headed out to the top of Morrow Mountain to eat lunch and have our community meeting.

IMG_6356 IMG_6357

At our community meeting, each of us shared a wish we had for the school and an action step we could take to make it happen. I’ll share what I can remember:

  • “I wish to see many amazing fieldtrips happen this year at school. I can make that happen by helping plan them.”
  • “I wish to see more boys and girls playing together rather than separately. I can make that happen by inviting girls to play with me.” This was seconded by another student.
  • “I wish to see children feeling confident in themselves and their decisions. I can support that happening by being confident in myself and my decisions to model that for children.” (This was my wish)
  • “I wish to see everyone in the school being really connected to one another. I can make that happen by being connected to everyone myself.” (This was a student wish, btw!, and seconded by another student)

IMG_6403[1]

I can’t remember all the wishes right now, but we will check back in on our wishes with the whole school when we are back together. Our wishes can become part of our “What Kind of School Are We?” statement list that we use to support our Change Up Meetings. If we are the kind of school that has boys and girls playing together, than this is something we can check in on at our meetings to see if we are actually doing this or not. You can refer to this blog post for the inspiration behind that activity.

 

Final Notes

I am so happy that this trip happened and I can’t wait to go camping with the kids again! I loved being out in nature with them and just BEING. I felt so happy, light, and peaceful the whole time – even during the thunderstorms! The kids seemed to love it too. The kids are able to voice what they want to experience and then have support in creating that. The message they get every day is that they are empowered to create amazing lives for themselves, and that if they are having a challenging moment, there are people around to listen and support you. There are also so many other great pictures to share, and I hope you’ll check those out here!

However, there was one member of the trip that seemed to be pretty unhappy the entire time…Daisy. At almost 14 years old, she was not amused that I took her camping with the school and waited by the car for most of the trip. I could hear her thinking, “Hey mom, I know this car brought me here, and can take me away. I’m ready to go whenever you are. I’ll be right here…waiting to leave.”

IMG_6318[1]

 

 

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!

ALC Mosaic 2014-15 Report Card

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

Report Card….Whaaaa????

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

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

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

 

Cross-Network Support

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

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

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

 

The Mosaic Report Card is Born

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

It went like this:

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

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

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

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

So I told the kids:

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

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

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

What Kind of School Are We?

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

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

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

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

IMG_5525

Our Results, With More Detail:

We Rock This!

  • Going outside
  • Being creative
  • Going on field trips

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

We Are on the Way to Rocking at:

  • Having choices.

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

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

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

  • Cleaning Up

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

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

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

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

  • Being Awesome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their ideas for goals for next year?

IMG_5523

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

 

Schooling the World

This film is incredible. I hope that there are parents and ALFs in our ALC Mosaic, Agile Learning Center, and Agile Learning Facilitators network that are willing to watch this film and share it if they so feel moved.

Please click here to watch Schooling The World.

Many people feel good when they “support education.” But do you know what you are supporting? Take a look at what our education system is doing world wide, and also consider…what is it exactly that we are teaching our youth?

“A lot of [people supporting the spread of western education] are very well intentioned, good people who are actually thinking they are doing something good for their communities, but a lot of them don’t understand the much larger game in which they are pawns” (quote from the movie) We are actually taught to believe that what we learn in school is good for us, and the western way of thinking is superior to other ways. But how is teaching superiority helping us to have compassion and to love and respect one another?

I believe that my great-grandchildren will view western education as we now view slavery: How could we possibly do this to human beings?

The Tiny House Movement & Accountability

On the Tiny House Movement

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

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

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

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

On Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rationale:

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

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

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

 

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!!

Agile Programming for the School

Bruce Feiler’s TED Talk “Agile Programming – For Your Family” gives suggestions, practical tips, and real life examples of how Agile tools and practices can help create a happy home life. Many of our ALFs are aware of this TED talk, and we use it to inspire how we can use Agile Programming to create a happy and healthy school culture.

I watched Feiler’s TED Talk with the Mosaic staff and one of our students before school opened this year, and was recently reminded of his talk when someone shared an article on Facebook that expanded on Feiler’s TED talk, “6 Things the Happiest Families Have in Common.

I couldn’t have been reminded of this article at any better time! I read it right before our holiday break, and was able to have his ideas and suggestions fresh in my mind upon returning to school in January. This week, I asked the kids to help me with Feiler’s first suggestion to families: “Create a family mission statement.” Below is an excerpt from the article mentioned above where the author asks Feiler to expand on how to do this:

1) Create a family mission statement

 

I asked Bruce what he would recommend if he could only give one piece of advice.

 

He said: “Set aside time to talk about what it means to be a part of your family.”

 

Ask: “What are your family values?” In business-speak: Develop a mission statement for your family.

 

Here’s Bruce:

 

Initiate a conversation about what it means to be a part of your family. Sit down with them and say “Okay, these are our ten central values.”

“This is the family we want to be. We want to be a family that doesn’t fight all the time.” or “We want to be a family that goes camping or sailing” or whatever it might be.

When my family did it, it was literally a transforming experience. We ended up printing it and it hangs now in our dining room.

 

Does “defining values” seem too big and intimidating? It’s really nothing more than setting goals.

 

Here’s Bruce:

 

Did we do every one of those things every day, every week, every month? No, that’s not that point. But the point is, when it goes wrong, you have that goal out there. “We want to be a family that has fun together. Have we made time to play recently? No, we don’t. So let’s make time to play. Let’s go bowling or hiking or roller skating.”

 

You have goals at work. You have personal goals. Why wouldn’t you have goals as a family?

(For more on the science of happy families, click here.)

 

This week at school, I asked the kids to help me come up with some declarations about what kind of school we want to be. Below you’ll see our list – the only statement I added to the list as an example I gave to the students was, “We are the kind of school that goes on fieldtrips.” The rest are all from the kids!

10915229_432785516875037_8317295272469461752_n

Each week, during our Change Up meetings – I’ll ask someone to read over our declarations and then we can do a quick check-in on how we are doing on as a community to be the kind of school we say we want to be.

If we feel like we are not reaching these goals, we can create a plan for the next week to do so. We can also add new statements to the list as well.

The beautiful part is that the kids are involved in the creation of what it is they want to be as a community. We support each other and remind each other of what we want to be like together.

Gratitude in Drawings

Something I have shifted to realizing now in my 30’s is that expressing gratitude regularly can have a profound effect on your life. What I am finding is that when I take the time to be grateful for all that I have in life, I stop playing the “I’ll be happy when” game. I realize that I have everything already – I just need to take the time to remember and pay attention to what I have.

The past two weeks I’ve spent a great amount of time thinking about gratitude as I drew pictures for the parents of the children at ALC Mosaic. When I think about the parents here that are choosing to take such a courageous leap into pioneering a new model of education, I simply lack the words to tell them how much they mean to me. Being slightly socially awkward myself in person, I wanted to think of a way I could express my gratitude for them joining this ALC journey.

I decided to stretch my artistic skills to draw each one a picture of their favorite animal and write the animal’s Native American totem meaning on each. I was challenged to draw animals I never had attempted before and it was fun and hard! I did most of them at school and explained to the kids what I was doing and why. They were asked to tell me what animals to draw for their parents. Some they knew, some guessed, some went home and asked.

As I drew each animal I simply thought about the parent and sent love and gratitude through my heart and hands. My goal was to have energetic frequencies of love flow through the drawings. I’m really proud of how they turned out and for how I felt when complete with my project! This overdose of gratitude for others made my life increasingly happier each day. As I gave, I received. It’s beautiful.

 

The Most Challenging

To me, horses are the second most difficult animal to draw after humans. Their snouts and faces and body proportions have always been challenging for me. I decided to opt out of drawing their bodies so I could focus my practice on getting the eyes & nose placed well.

250552_10103243619936498_6435387166622943753_n 10392498_10103243618768838_1800603864330002202_n 10384357_10103243619851668_459663696177067890_n

This one blew me away…Elisha was browsing animal drawings with me to copy for the lion. She chose this one for me to copy (I am not at the point in my artistic career to draw without an image to copy from). I told her I thought it was too hard, but then ended up really loving how it turned out! The kids seemed pretty amazed by this one.

10675587_10103243619352668_7357496040344079895_n

The cheetah was another animal I was worried about getting right. My attempts look very different from one another, the first being a little more cartoon-like and the second more realistic.

 10449499_10103243619497378_8595847403225715974_n 1798680_10103243620260848_8198581101505133270_n

The Surprising

I had never drawn realistic sheep or many realistic dogs before (but plenty of cartoon versions) and it surprised me how much I loved them!

 10857795_10103243620021328_2353127505668776483_n 10847931_10103243618040298_7569930360599130211_n 10850103_10103243618649078_4598043370060942956_n 

The Power of Lines

I am amazed at how just many little lines together can show changes in fur texture, feathers, and create the shape of an animal. These animals show off this power really well:

15921_10103243620131108_8613515033281853109_n 10389561_10103243618988398_436116318289970216_n 1920193_10103243618204968_6018233167913401714_n 10371965_10103243618359658_2175054739863030862_n 10269461_10103243619597178_8435466561461040704_n 16818_10103243619657058_2962448827653496391_n

As I drew each hawk I was thinking about the specific person I was drawing them for, as I did with each animal. Interestingly, before I labeled them, the children of these parents came up and saw them and identified the hawks correctly as being for their parent, saying that that the first one looked more like Kristen and the second like Jim.

 

The Sea

 

When I got the sea animal request in, I wasn’t sure how to make them look smooth. I was feeling pretty good about the fur and feathers, and had to use the power of the line differently for these creatures.

10858062_10103243619098178_7740899114041245480_n 10847907_10103243619207958_5367439541514701467_n 10384466_10103243619766838_7005033671800546108_n

 

 

 *There are a couple of animals I didn’t get pictures of before sealing them up in their cards, and two more I need to draw for a family that is out of town! I just want to note this for parents noticing a few missing 🙂 

Love is Something If You Give It Away

There is song I sang a lot with kids at the Friends School where I previously taught that continuously ran through my head during week two of my gratitude drawings:

Love is something if you give it away, 

     give it away, give it away

Love is something if you give it away,

You end up having more. 

I ended this project with having even more gratitude for the families choosing Mosaic than I did in the beginning. Thinking about each individual parent through the drawings led me to hold sacred and honor each of them uniquely for the commitment they have made for their child(ren). Without them, I wouldn’t be blessed with this school and the life I am currently living.