Relationships and trust take time to build, and it’s from these two foundations that you can grow a healthy culture. One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had as an educator since I’ve been working with children (over 17 years) has been here at ALC Mosaic where I’ve had the time to focus on building relationships with children and then creating the culture we want together at school. Some of the children here have been together with me for over three years now. We get to experience each other growing up, maturing, changing. Our relationships are an investment in the future, we aren’t just putting up with each other for one year before moving on. It’s worth it to actually know one another.
We have just completed our third year of Mosaic as an official school. Two and a half of those years we have been open as an ALC. Each year keeps getting easier and better. A huge part of this success is because we have a strong foundation built in trust, which has the chance to blossom because we have had more time to get to know each other. We feel like a big family at school.
I’m seeing this ease flow into our conversations at our weekly Change-Up meeting. When we first began using our Community Mastery Board during Change-Up, it was clunky and challenging to engage student participation in the creation of community agreements. However, over time, the kids see more how to use this tool as a means to creating community agreements and norms that serve the whole group and actually make a culture that is positive and fun to be in.
One specific example started with the making of “wishes.” At the beginning of the last school year, all the kids and the staff wrote down a wish that they had for the school. We put all those wishes in a bag and then over the course of the entire fall, we would pull one wish out to “grant” as a part of our Change-Up meeting. This was a really fun and engaging way for the students to participate in Change-Up, the kids would get excited to read the wish and then try to figure out a way to make it come true.
Over the course of the next two months, we found that more than one student wished for “boys and girls to play together.” The kids noticed a cultural norm of girls playing with girls mostly and boys playing with boys mostly. The process of granting this wish allowed us to talk about that openly and decide what we wanted OUR cultural norm around this to be. Through the discussion, it was decided that it would be great if we could try out playing one big group game each week to encourage everyone to play with one another in a fun way. The game could be anything – capture the flag, freeze tag, wizards and gelfings, hide and seek, etc. There were a few kids who were unsure if they wanted to play a big group game every week, but they were okay with trying it out for one week and then reporting back the following week if it was okay to do.
Playing a group game together every week did end up becoming something we continued practicing for several months. Each week at Change Up we would briefly check in, “Do we want to keep doing this?” and it kept getting a thumbs up. Then, in the spring, we did a more thorough check-in, going back to the awareness that brought this community practice into place. We reminded the kids that the idea of all school participation in community games came from wanting to encourage boys and girls to interact with one another more. We asked ourselves, is this actually happening?
The kids were emphatic that it had, citing several examples of how they have played with others of the opposite gender and they felt that this wish had come true for the school. They decided it was no longer important for us have the agreement that we all played a group each week, but acknowledged that there would probably be a large group game offered weekly because it’s something many people like to do. It’s simply become a cultural norm to do a big group activity regularly.
To me, this story is a beautiful example of how a community of mostly children can powerfully create the kind of environment they want to live in, deciding what practices they want have as a community while remaining connected to why they want it. Without the Community Mastery Board tool and Change Up meeting process, the kids wouldn’t have revisited the awareness of why they started having large group games weekly. New students who joined the school would simply think it’s something they had to do each week without connection to why. The kids were able to adjust and change their agreement about having a group game be mandatory for everyone each week because they understood that the actual point of the agreement had been served and that brought them joy to find out! So many times in this world we continue doing something because, “that’s they way we’ve always done it” without doing a meta-analysis (you can read my blog post here for a little video about how this happens). Here at ALC, the students are building those executive functioning skills to analyze their culture and practices, something I hope to see in the world more! I know that this is possible because we have had the time to build our relationships over time – years for some – which create a foundation of trust and desire to meet each other’s needs.