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How Apples Got Their Stars

Two weeks ago, Vidya and I went to a “More than Mindfulness” conference at Rainbow Community School in Asheville. Each morning, the kids there start their day with a centering activity, and we got to watch what those were like. The teacher leads an exploration, story, or activity to start the day.

We were really thankful that we were able to observe the teachers and kids in the classroom, and watched some neat activities we wanted to offer to our kids at Mosaic. I learned about a Waldorf-inspired story about how apples got their stars and decided to offer it to the kids learning Spanish and German at school so they could learn some new vocabulary, hear the story, and eat a snack together.

I read the story using props for the characters and silks for the background. Some words in the story were said in Spanish and German, and these words were also printed out on paper in front of the kids listening. Here is the story:

Once upon a time, there was un árbol/baum growing in a field. El árbol/baum was a happy arbol/baum most of the time. Each día/tag it enjoyed feeling the warm sun’s rays upon its branches. It loved the gentle breezes that tickled its leaves. However, as the sun set each día/tag and los estrellas/sterne came out in the sky, the arbol/baum felt a deep longing. It tried every noche/nocht to stretch taller and taller and taller. It wanted one of the beautiful twinkling estrellas/sterne for itself. After many weeks of this, one noche/nocht, as the arbol/baum was stretching itself upwards, a had/fee a flew from around the hill to ask el árbol/baum what it was doing.

“What are doing, dear árbol/baum?”

“I want una estrella/stern. I want one so badly.”

“Oh dear árbol/baum, don’t worry. I will grant you this wish. All you need to do is focus on growing delicious manzanas rojas/rote apfeln. If you do that, your wish will be granted and you will have your very own estrella/stern.”

“Gracias, hada! Mucho Gracias!”

Many días/tag passed. Then weeks. Buds grew on el árbol/baum and then flores/blume grew from the buds. Eventually, green manzanas/apfel formed on el arbol/baum. El árbol/baum grew excited waiting for them to turn roja/rot so it could receive its estrella/stern from the hada/fee.

Finally los manzanas/apfeln turned roja/rotes. El árbol/baum waited patiently día/tag after día/tag and noche/nocht after noche/nocht. The hada/fee did not return. El árbol/baum became sadder and sadder.

Then one day un madre/mutter and her hija/tochter came walking along the field.

“I’m so hungry!” The hija/tochter said to her madre/mutter.

“I’m sorry, hija/tochter. I don’t have any food.” Her madre/mutter replied.

El árbol/baum heard this and stretched one of its branches down to the hija/tochter, giving her one of its shiny manzanas rojas/rote apfeln.

“Gracias, árbol/baum!” said the hija/tochter, showing the manzana/apfel to her madre/mutter.

“Give it to me, hija/tocther, I will cut it for us to share.”

The madre/mutter cut the manzana/apfel in half and handed one to her hija/tochter.

“Madre! Madre! Mutter Mutter” her hija/tochter cried, “Look! There is un estrella/stern inside my manzana/apfel.”

El árbol/baum looked down at the manzana/apfel and realized that its wish had been granted after all! Inside each of its manzanas rojas/rote apfeln was a tiny estrella/stern.

I don’t really know German, so it was challenging to figure this part out! Thankfully I had help from another adult who helped me with this part. After the story I held up the tree, fairy, mother, daughter, the backdrop for the day, night, star, and pointed to the color red. The kids called out what the word for those items were in Spanish or German, depending on which language they have been practicing. I also told them how in Spanish they would say “manzana roja” or “apple red,” reversing the noun/verb order we use in English. German does not do this.

Finally, I asked the kids if they wanted to see if there were really stars inside the apples. We cut them open and…


Then we all enjoyed a snack of apples and roasted pumpkin seeds together!



Mosaic Magic

Sometimes when we describe ALC days to parents, we will share about our morning and afternoon meetings sandwiching the bulk of our day: 10-3pm a time that we call “THE MAGIC.”

I haven’t been blogging lately, and this has been weighing on my mind! Now that I am spending most of my time directly engaging with kids, I see so much more magic and sometimes I feel like I could blog every day about the amazing things I am witness to, or a part of, each day. I’m thankful for how the school has grown beyond me: we are now a collaboratively run school, with a board & working groups comprised of staff and parents. I feel free from so many administrative tasks and decisions, and now I’m free to play with kids all day!  I am grateful for this each moment.

To this community, I want you to know that it’s because of each and every one of you together that has allowed me to release myself from prior burdens that used to weigh me down. Now I’m less anxious and more able to happily and serenely connect with myself and others, thus, I get to live and experience more of the *MAGIC* everyday. I’ll try to blog more about what we are up to at school and share the magic with all of you regularly. I’ll start right now!

The Magic Moments I’ve experienced the past week:


Oh boy! I’ve been seeing a lot of math lately, everywhere I go! I’ve been noticing the math in the most natural ways as well. Those who know me, know that I am against formal math instruction for children under the age of about 10 (if you want to know why, you may request that I write a separate blog post on that!). However, I’ve been seeing math a lot – it’s always been there, but I’m noticing it more (again, I have more time now to notice!). Where do I see it?

  • Geometry Dash. Wow, all the kids who play this game have a firm grasp of the fact that 100% means they are done the WHOLE game. First of all, this game is incredibly hard and takes many attempts to pass each level. Each session of attempts that you make and fail, you see that you have only completed “35%” of the course, or however much you have completed. I was playing with a student this week and she looked at the level I was playing and said, “Oh, I’ve only completed about half of that level, I’ve made it to 58%.” This is a child that struggled with math in school, and one that, since she’s left school, has been gaining more and more of a solid sense of numeracy through natural interactions with her environment. If she had been given a percentage question on a test, there is a big possibility that she would have frozen up and not been able to remember that percentages just tell you a part of a whole. But she knows this now, and through an experience that made complete sense to her. After that moment, I began listening to all the kids as they play and realized that they were all receiving the basic foundation of percentage that will help them learn more about percentage, fractions, and decimals at a faster rate if they want to dive into that when they are older. My hope here? That they won’t have the “freeze up” effect or the “I’m just not a math person” attitude.
  • Finance Club: Giving the kids a budget of money to spend has been incredible, and I’m sorry I didn’t think to do this sooner! Budgeting money is a very practical and important skill that I don’t see taught in a real and relevant way to students in school. Giving fake budgets about “John mowed lawns for 5 weeks and made $10/week. He has to buy…blah, blah blah” on a worksheet does not motivate kids to actually figure out how to spend, save, and account for money. The kids are excited to have real money to spend on items that they can then use at school, and they are doing so very responsibly. Check out our finance meeting club minutes here!
  • Shopping! The boys have been into playing “store” with me, and I love it! We dish out coins and their favorite thing to “shop” for is wands. Ayan has been really into Harry Potter, so he loves to browse the wands and ask me for their powers. Their favorite was when I sold one wand to James that could turn adults into children, and another to Ayan that turned children into adults. They enjoyed “turning” me into a baby and then back up into being old! They get their coins to shop with by doing “jobs” in the store. I might have them wash imaginary windows, pick up and put away real items in the room, or restock the store shelves in order to earn shopping money. It’s really fun how we mix in the imaginative play with a practical buying/selling and monetary activity.
  • Career Planning: I’ve been working on this project with Alona, and it’s quite interesting. We’ve picked careers, looked up their average salaries in NC, used online tax calculators to see our Gross vs. Net pay, and then budgeted out where we will live, the cars we will drive, and all our monthly living expenses. We’ve made Google Spreadsheets and have shared them with each other. Each week we get to make a change to the other person’s sheet to mimic the unexpectedness of life so we can see how this changes our finances monthly in this role play (RP) activity. Each real life week simulates a month in the RP. So, last week, I made Alona’s dog get diarrhea on her carpets in her house and she had to spend $250 on hiring a professional carpet cleaner – blowing her typical $40 budget a week to buy pet food & supplies. I am having so much fun doing this! Perhaps if I had practiced this type of planning as a kid, I would’ve been able to do much better with the school finances last year…

Saying goodbye to Daniela:

Last Thursday was Daniela’s last day with us, and it was a tear filled afternoon as we gave her a parting gift and said goodbye. Daniela came to visit us from Bogata, Columbia to experience our school and practice her English. We did a whole group spawn point in the afternoon and shared about our experiences with her. We all felt her calming and loving energy here and know that this is the beginning of a long friendship, not a forever goodbye. Isabella and I will definitely be in touch with Daniela through Skype and one day I hope to go visit her and her family one day.


Inspiring Videos That Were Shared With Me This Week:

I shared this one on Facebook with the following message: “I can understand this feeling. While I am so proud of my work and love what has been created, there are many days where I am overwhelmed by what I can be doing better.

And yes, there were times – especially in year one of opening the school – that I thought maybe I just wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or capable enough to do it. Those thoughts happen. But then, like this video says, I just worked more. I worked more because the reason I wanted to create the school was so valid, so awesome, so “killer.” I know I’m in the beginning years of making something incredible.

Just like the space I’ve worked on creating room for children, I need space to fail. There’s no better way to develop a healthy relationship with failure than to go out and try to something you’ve never done before. Even if it scares you.”

After posting, I had some really encouraging messages posted to me, which went straight to my heart! Most were from parents, but then one was from my old co-worker from the Friends School of Charlotte. It’s amazing how Facebook can re-connect you with others based on a certain message. I was so touched and felt all warm and fuzzy from this sharing and the feedback!

One day last week I had three different people share this video with me on Facebook! I really appreciate the lyrics. It’s a message that I hope many hear – and I’m grateful that the kids leaving our school will not leave with this same problem of not having time and space to learn practice skills they need in their life.

Our students also practice how to listen to each other, how to create their own schedules, how to take an idea and turn it into a reality. They learn how to solve their own problems and how to make requests of others when needed.

After spending several years teaching in public schools, I watched how much the kids forgot from what was “taught” to them year after year. It’s wasted time in my opinion. They could be living their life and having a childhood instead – filled with learning practical skills relevant to leading a happy and successful life.

I shared this video and the Hackschooling Makes Me Happy video in my presentation for the Camp Luck Conference!

Camp Luck’s 5th Annual Conference:

Melissa Mulligan, Evan’s mom, is the coordinator for the annual Camp Luck Conference for parents of children with Congenital Heart Defects. She asked me to present at the conference because she strongly felt that parents of children with CHD needed to have their minds opened to how their child could live life outside of school. Melissa and I discussed how we especially felt that kids who spend lots of time in hospitals should then spend their time living their life and savoring each day rather than doing homework or studying for tests that clearly neither of us feel is a good use of time for humans.

Melissa helped me prepare the description of my talk, “A Childhood They Deserve: Parents want their children to live happy lives filled with purpose and independence, but aren’t most schools preparing children to be compliant and obedient, always being told to chase the next carrot? What type of schools do children really need to lead fulfilling and empowered lives in the 21st century world? In this presentation, you will learn about self-directed learning communities that work together and share best practices, and strive to give children a childhood they deserve.

In preparation for speaking at this conference, I spent a lot of time re-visiting the first time I met Rachel and her story for how she came to enter into the “unschool” paradigm of education. I spoke to her on the phone, and then I went and re-read every single blog post she wrote on the Keep Nate Great blog she made during his cancer treatments. During this reflective period of conference prep, I learned more about Rachel’s story:

  1. After reading all the blogs, I chose an excerpt from her last blog post to share during my presentation about her wanting Nate to live a life where he could just be and enjoy each present moment (as opposed to worrying about what was ahead in the future). This blog post written in January of 2013, the same month I opened The Mosaic School, LLC. Several months later, I met Rachel and she joined our community with Nate and Gabe. Last week, Evan, Melissa’s son told me, “I believed everything is connected.” Yeah. I believe that too.
  2. Rachel not only wanted this community because she wants him to love life and every moment in it, she also noticed that as a child who needed heart surgeries and needed cancer treatment, Nate was being treated by others as “that poor kid.” People would dote on him and give him gifts, trying to be nice, but Rachel wanted Nate to know that he is a person outside of heart surgery and cancer. She wanted to see people connected with him by asking him, “Hey, what do you like to do? What interests you?” rather than just being sorry for him all the time. She wanted him to just be a kid, and she feels so grateful that at Mosaic, Nate can be Nate, not the poor kid who needs sympathy.

I shared Rachel’s story as the opener for my presentation, and shared that our school has primarily grown through word of mouth – with each family coming to the realization that they wanted a community like this for their children in their own way. This was Rachel’s path, which was a very emotional one. I see Nate and Gabe here at school every day, and through this re-connection with her story, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that they are here. I see Gabe write in his trello almost every day “had an AWESOME DAY :D” and I smile and love that they have a happy and loving childhood experience.

I then shared some of the outcomes of the research I have done on the history of public schools and why they started, and then moved on to sharing from the work of Peter Gray, Alfie Kohn, John Gatto, Daniel Pink, & Carol Dweck. Finally I shared how we as a community have take our ideas and use Agile tools & practices to turn them into a reality, describing each of our T&Ps with pictures and anecdotes from school. I really like the slides I put together to share this and hope to write another blog soon that shares about this more in detail!




So, last week was FILLED with MAGIC and I can’t wait to start another week at school tomorrow!


In-ergize Charlotte

Today I had the opportunity to attend a local event, In-ergize Charlotte, with Kristen and Gaby (two parents of children at ALC Mosaic). The theme of this event was to “Be Awake, Be Authentic, Be Audacious.”

As we were driving to the event, we were of course talking about school! Gaby mentioned how @Sassygirl26 has recently gotten into a practice of blogging about her school day when she gets home so the events are fresh in her mind. Following that example, I am sitting down an hour after returning from the event so I can record the lessons I took away from each presenter.

The Structure

The structure of this event (conference? workshop? experience? I’m not sure how to classify this one!) was creative and engaging. There were 9 total presenters who spoke in segments of 3, allowing for two 20 minute breaks throughout the afternoon. Each group had a teacher who delivered a lesson of sorts, a story-teller who told a story about their life related to the theme, and then an experiential leader that had the audience engage in an experience. The first 3 presenters were delivering content on the theme “Be Awake,” the second group of 3 on “Be Authentic,” and the third on “Be Audacious.”

I found this structure to be quite engaging. Each presentation was 20 minutes long and distinctly different. Having the nature of the presentations switch from teaching/story telling/interacting was a very clever way to keep an audience’s attention!

The presenters at In-Ergize Charlote

My Take-Aways from “Be Awake”

The Teacher: Richard Vreeland

Vreeland opened with a vivid memory from childhood to explain the concept of being fully awake in life. He described the feeling of hiding during the game of hide-and-seek, where you would stay still listening for every sound. He reminded all of us that as adults we need to remind ourselves to remember to STOP and PAUSE, so we can actually be a part of the experience around us, rather than always listening to the narrative in our head of what our experience is. So many of us live in a state where “the experience of life is what we tell ourselves about life instead of having the actual experience.” Vreeland also reminded us that we are human BEINGS not human DOINGS. My take-away: to remember to BE.

The Storyteller: Mike Watson

Watson gave a powerful reminder, one that I strive to practice but still need to work on. He reminded us to make decisions from a place of possibility rather than self-doubt. I have a similar mantra I tell myself: To come from love and abundance rather than fear and lack. This is a practice that takes a lot of mindfulness to master.

Watson also gave a visual that sticks with me – to live vertically rather than horizontally. Living horizontally is where you are just mindlessly moving along a path and going through each day. One after another. They keep coming. You are not fully awake, you are existing.

Living vertically, from what I perceived him to be saying, is where you are growing and rising into possibilities with each day. I imagined this to mean a life where each experience in life is reflected upon to inform decision making for a new day. This means you are awakened to how you can continually rise above old patterns and stories you tell yourself.

The Experience: Laura Neff

Neff told us, “when we are more awake, we can choose from our center” and that “every moment is a choice.” She also stressed the importance of consistent reflection in order to be able to create.

Her comments completely resonated with me and what I believe 21st Century Education must provide to children. It reminded me of what we do for the students at ALC Mosaic. There is so much information available to us now – we can know what’s going on all over the world just by looking at our phones. It seems like the opportunities for what we can become are endless.

Therefore, rather than learning facts, the most important skill children need to practice is to remember and know who they are so they can make choices about how they want to engage with this world of possibility from their center. In order to learn to make choices, they must have practice making choices. Then they must practice reflecting on their choices – did that serve me or not? After Neff’s presentation, I felt overwhelmingly excited to see that our students get this practice every day at school.


My Take-Aways from “Be Authentic”

The Teacher: Matt Olin

Olin reminded us that “authenticity is a muscle,” and gave us a list of actions that we could practice daily to strengthen that muscle. One of my favorite action steps was where he told us to spend more time with children – they are masters at authenticity! They also can model for us how to fully feel a feeling and then let it go. Children can be in tears one moment and then happily playing the next. This had me thinking: What if adults allowed themselves to fully feel without judgement so that they can then move forward without baggage?

The Storyteller: Tamara Wallace Norman

Avid roller-skater and breast cancer survivor, Norman’s story was one of passion. She described how rollerskating is all she wants to do – she was even rollerskating as she presented! Norman reminded us to “love what you do and do what you love.” She’s opening a rollerskating rink here in Charlotte, and we are all invited!

Norman also shared a moving story about how authenticity supported her relationship with her son and husband during her breast cancer journey. Most moving was how she communicated with her young son about losing her hair, that she would be changing her appearance, but she is still herself.

The Experience: Jonathan Winn

Winn used breathing as an analogy to what it means to be authentic. When we are not paying attention, we are always breathing. We can also control our breathing and do different things with it – breathe rapidly, take short breathes, breathe deeply, etc. Authenticity is the same way. We are always ourselves, but many times we are presenting something different.

Winn led us through some breathing activities to remind us all that we can use our breathing as a tool to feel better. He actually owns a practice in Charlotte where he teaches this tool to others!


My Take-Aways from “Be Audacious”

The Teacher: LaPronda I. Spann

I loved the Disney quote Spann said during her presentation:

Spann told us about her experience quitting her corporate job to pursue entreprenuership, that it was like jumping off of a cliff. She told us that when we want something to change in our lives, we must ask ourselves, “Are you ready? Are you willing? Are you able?” She added a caveat to the last question, stating that she believes everyone is capable of pursuing their dreams.

I was reminded of my own cliff jumping experience in December of 2012. I put in my notice at my full time job to pursue my dream of opening an alternative school in Charlotte. The cliff analogy is one I often use myself to describe what this felt like. I felt like I was either crazy or finally free of all restraints I formally put on myself for what is possible. I now know that it’s definitely both!

The Storyteller: Robbie Warren

Warren told a story of herself growing up with an open heart and willingness to listen to her inner voice that would tell her, “Go!” She was the kid adventuring off into the woods alone on her horse, the 18 year old taking off to Italy, and an adult determined to only work for herself.  She recalls so many people telling her, “How are you not afraid of anything?” She related to us that she was afraid of typical concerns, like how she could have enough money, but that just didn’t stop her.

Warren reminds me of me! I tend to also dive in fully to life and experiences, and maybe it looks like it’s without fear. But for me, I am more afraid of living a life that isn’t rich with chance, excitement, and possibility than to not. Therefore, I have no other choice but to fully pursue my passions, and I’m guessing that Warren doesn’t either.

Warren also described a moment she had while hiking in Africa with two woman healers. She was behind them, and one was standing on a rock where she was heading, calling her forward with a stick that had an ox tail attached to it. At that moment, Warren said it hit her that, “This is my life,” in the most profound and beautiful way. She savored that moment and realized that she had created a life where this moment was possible.

Again, I found a similarity to my character and Warren’s. I had that moment very recently in October. I was in Chatham, NY walking in the woods with @Tomis and I realized where I was. I was at an Agile Learning Facilitator retreat that I was a part in making possible. I was with a group of adults that all cared to change the way education is delivered to children, and dedicating their lives to making this possible. When I opened this school, I remember thinking, “One day I will have a group of people with me all passionate about creating alternative schools.” That was two years ago, and already I am achieving my dreams. I can remember the smell fall air in that moment and the colors of the beautiful fall leaves. I remember thinking the exact same phrase Warren spoke, “This is my life,” and thinking that with joy.

The Experience: Jan Luther

Luther ended our afternoon at In-Ergize by leading us through an EFT experience. I had never used this tapping method before and found it quite energizing. It definitely seemed to increase my blood flow and wake me up. She demonstrated how the EFT tapping can be used to help us release mental baggage we carry with us through voicing what we are feeling and what we want to feel while we tap various points of our hands, head, face, and body.

This was new to me, and something I will have to look into more!

To Summarize

I’m very grateful for Kristen Oliver telling us about this event and bringing us. As a business owner of a pretty alternative practice here in Charlotte, I want to know about others here that are open to exploring new ways of thinking about health and education.

Now I know about many things I didn’t before, like Your Community Connector and SHIFT Charlotte where Kristen will be speaking in March of 2015. I am looking forward to that experience as a follow up to In-Ergize Charlotte!

What if…? Vegas, Baby!

I just signed up to attend The What if…? Conference again – this time in Vegas, baby!

Last March I attended The What if…? Conference in Columbia, MO as a presenter on the topic, “What if More People Were Happy?(As a side note, I wasn’t crazy about this title, feeling that it was too light and fluffy for the content I was actually attempting to deliver. My talk describes how, after experiencing depression and hardships teaching, I actively made changes to how I lived my own life, empowering me to not only create a happier life for myself, but also for others through starting a school.) I left the conference dizzy with excitement over a successful public speaking experience. I also made lasting connections with new people, including having an attendee move to Charlotte from Columbia to come and volunteer at my school.


What I didn’t realize then, that I do now, is the specific vision and purpose behind What if…? and how much value conferences like this could have for a lot of people. I’ve heard Matt and Andrew (the co-founders) explain this to me several times, but it only clicked after I recently attended a big ticket conference. There is a need and a market that is unique to the What if…? Conference. I’m not advocating for it to replace other types of conferences, but I see how it provides an experience that actually fills a gap between very well-known, expensive conferences and the loosely guided “unconferences” I’ve attended. ALL have their own ways of providing positive social change.

I’ll attempt to clarify what I mean:

The Big Conferences (think BIF, TED): 

These conferences display forward thinking, innovative, and dynamic speakers who have done incredible things in their lives. When I was starting my business, I watched these talks in conjunction with reading books as part of my learning and research.  These videos reach people on a large scale and serve to inspire many. They also serve as great tools to promote thoughts and ideas. It’s almost replaced the, “Oh, you should read this book about ____,” instead, we can now share 15-20 minute videos about topics we believe in promoting.

These conferences are structured in a way that has an audience seated, receiving the content. You have opportunities to mingle with and connect with others during breaks or scheduled outings. You may connect with others if you manage to bump into them and authentically start a conversation, are introduced by a mutual friend, or if you are forward enough to walk up and talk to the person you want to connect with.

The “Create Your Own Experience” Conference (think Unconference or similiar):

This is the ultimate empowering experience, the “medium is the message” experience. I firmly believe that we are always creating our own realities that we live in and that we are empowered to make real amazing experiences for ourselves. Grabbing a bunch of people who have this mentality and putting them together to collaborate with a very slim framework can be powerful. There are some that can leave a conference like this feeling like they didn’t get a lot out of it, while others leave on a high having sought out the people they needed to learn from and collaborate with. I personally can attest to having incredibly connective experiences at past AERO Conferences, IDEC, and ReInventED, but I had to proactively create this for myself. The responsibility isn’t on the conference to do this for you.

The Gap Filled: 

What The What if…? Conference provides is something uniquely placed between the these two conference types. 3 short talks, with a 45 minute break that is facilitated, 3 short talks, more facilitated conversation, lunch, and then repeat.

What’s key to me (and probably sticks out in my mind because of my experience as a teacher and starting a school), is the facilitated conversation between the talks. Rather than just taking a break where we all mingle around trying to connect or hand out business cards, we are instructed to sit at a table covered in butcher paper, armed with post-its and markers. Then we are led through a process of questioning that guides us as a group to decorate this paper in unique and collaborative ways.

It wasn’t following directions of a facilitated process that was the key, it was simply the act of telling us to sit down at table and ask each other to answer a question that then made it easier for us to get to know one another and connect on a deeper level. Think about the root of the word “facilitate,” it’s “facilis” in Latin, which literally means “the act of making something easier.”

What the What if…? Conference does is actually makes it easier to connect presenters and the audience. Presenters go on stage, and then go into the audience and participate in a lightly guided process. We are encouraged to change tables at each break to collaborate with different people. Where at The Big Conferences, one might be too intimidated or humbled to approach a presenter, What if…? makes it easy to sit at table and engage authentically with someone who just spoke ideas you want to talk more about. There’s more structure than at the “Create Your Own” Conference though, and you do sit down and listen to and learn from presenters because that is a part of of the experience too.

At one of the breaks with paper, post-its, and markers!
At one of the breaks with paper, post-its, and markers!

The Education Parallel 

There’s a parallel I see here with these conferences and my experience as an educator as well. I’ve worked in traditional schools, I’ve worked in a private school, I’ve started my own school. I’ve learned about so many different types of education models – from being super hands-off to the traditional, completely adult-led schools. After opening my school as a democratic free school (think: hands off!), I realized that I could make it easier for kids to become self-directed learners if the environment provided a little more support. I’ve since switched to the Agile Learning model, and that’s been a huge help. And I keep learning that I need to continually see each child and discern where each child is in their journey so I can help provide the facilitation needed to support them.

There have been times I’ve left an unstructured conference thinking, “I didn’t get what I wanted out of that conference.” There are times I just want to sit and hear a presentation to learn from. At the last big conference I attended, I felt too small and unknown to initiate conversations with the speakers. Right now I feel like Goldilocks, finding my “just right” conference!

I think about how, as an adult, it can take me lots of time to figure out what experiences are “just right” for me. This makes me think about the kids at school and how it might be harder for them to figure this out on their own. One of the reasons parents are sending their kids to this school because they believe in self-directed education, where their kids can pursue their passions and interests. But not all of the kids actually know how to do this, (and many adults do not know how to do this as well!). My role is to ask myself, what can I do to make this easier for them to figure out? Just telling a kid, “Hey You! Be Self-Directed!” is a tall order. There are some that come to us ready, but others that could use our support to get there.

So…I’m Going Back!

It’s this supportive aspect of The What…? Conference that I really appreciate, and I think many others could as well. I write this post because I gained so much value out of my last What if..? experience and made lasting connections with the people I collaborated with. I am really excited to attend again and make even more lasting connections!

What’s even cooler about this upcoming conference (besides going to Vegas) is that What if…? is also creating a fundraising option for this school as well. For every person that buys a ticket (which is only $350 for a room, a ticket, and a food voucher), our school gets $100.

So, you can join me and @Tomis at the next What if…? Conference on December 19th in Las Vegas. By signing up through this link, you will also be directly donating to our school as well!

BIF10 Highlights and A Random Act of Collision

I heard about the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) last year while attending the International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) in Boulder, Colorado. A friend I met there, Matt Murrie, had attended BIF for a couple years and raved about this event where “innovation junkies” come together to share ideas and create space for random collisions to occur among attendees.

I have only attended education-specific conferences before and I looked forward to the potential to collaborate with other innovators across different fields. To me, what I created with ALC Mosaic isn’t just reinventing a school – it’s a shift in thinking about how to address life in general. A redefinition of what it means to be “successful” in this world. From the description I was given about BIF, I felt that I could have a real opportunity to learn from others redefining how to start and run businesses, as well as share about how I am doing that with this school.

Entering BIF on Tuesday, I was immediately humbled. I was younger than most of the attendees and, while I have done a lot in my 31 years, I felt much less experienced than those around me. I decided to sit back and just listen and learn, hoping that along the way I’d experience the random act of collision that BIF prides itself on. (I did, read on!)

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A few speaker highlights 

Christopher Gergen, founder of Queen City Forward, told his perspective about the distinction between “Leading Others” and “Leading WITH Others.” Gergen also shared how the world tends to promote “learned helplessness” rather than “learned hopefulness.” One question he seeks to find the answer to is “How can we unleash the potential of next generation problem solvers?”  I was excited to hear from someone who’s line of work seems so fundamentally aligned with mine. It was interesting to go all the way to Rhode Island to learn about someone doing powerful work in the state where I live. Click here to see Gergen’s full talk.

Vala Ashafar described his incredible story leaving Iran in August of 1981 during a period of civil unrest to find refuge in the states. He left Iran as captain of the soccer team with many friends, to arrive in the United States having to readjust to being unpopular and last picked for sports games. However, through his moving story, he describes how there are times where it’s important to learn how to earn your right to be picked. Ashfar also said something that reminded me of a recent article with advice from the president of Harvard telling parents to “Make your children interesting!” if they want to get into Harvard (rather than putting focus on being valedictorian). Ashfar says in his talk, “If you’re interesting enough, people may find you interesting.” How I interpret this: if your focus is on getting good grades or meeting another person’s definition of success, you lose who you are along the process and are thus less in tune to who you are – making you less interesting to others.  Ashfar also talks about finding purpose through connectivity, saying “If you’re not helpful, you’re not influential,” and “The most fulfilling work may be the ability to help people discover their awesomeness.” I couldn’t agree with him more on that!  Click here to see Ashafar’s full talk.

Camille Beatty, a 14 year old Robotocist in Asheville, reconfirmed my belief that school is no longer needed. Beatty, her dad, and her sister learned how to build robots through watching Youtube videos. They do their hands-on building in their garage and make their robot parts from scratch. Their families operates on the belief that “if you can imagine it, then you can do it.” Last year they built two Mars Rover replicas for the New York Hall of Science, and then learned more about entrepreneurship as they built robots for other museum displays. With Beatty living so close to Charlotte, I hope one day some of our students could meet her and see the family garage!


Alexander Osterwalder’s talk started with a question that immediately grasped my attention: “Why I Want My Kids to Fail.” This is a topic near and dear to my heart since a huge part of Agile Learning Centers (ALC) is creating a space for children to develop a healthy relationship to failure. Osterwalder states, “The more you fail, the less you fear failure,” and tells a joke to reinforce how failure actually drives more learning, “Do you know what we call a failed entrepreneur in Silicon Valley? Experienced.” One reason I cannot teach in traditional schools is because of the unhealthy relationship children develop with failure since so much of what is important in school is to get an A, and if you aren’t getting the grades, something is wrong with you. I agree with Osterwalder when he states, “Fear of failure is holding us back from experimenting.” Sir Ken Robinson has a TED talk called “How Schools Kill Creativity” that drives this point home. If children are not taught how to use failure to stimulate and drive growth in a playful and exciting way, experimentation of ideas and creative thinking will be replaced with just trying to do things the way the teacher tells you to so you can get the grade. Click here to see Osterwalder’s full talk.


A not so random collision

After every break, I made a point to change my seat in hopes of meeting someone new and making a meaningful connection. As I said earlier, I felt like a young novice in this crowd – someone who had not yet “arrived” like so many of the other speakers, and I was slightly intimidated about how I could connect with others who might be interested in hear about the work I’m doing ALCs.

After the last break, I decided to sit closer to the front to get a different view of the stage. The man I sat next to started a conversation with me, first with small talk, then with growing interest as he discovered I started a school in Charlotte. Lo and behold, this random seat choice ended up being the spark to a very incredible collision for me. I was sitting next to Dennis Littky, the co-founder of Big Picture Schools and The Met School in Providence, RI.

Dennis and I grabbed what conversation we could during and in-between each speaker. We ended the day exchanging cell phone numbers on our business cards with a date to have him pick me and my ALC partner, Tomis Parker, up in the morning so we could tour The Met School before catching the rest of the afternoon speakers at BIF10.

The next morning Tomis and I had a thorough tour of the Met campus and got to spend a good bit of time asking Littky questions. I am still blown away at Littky’s generosity of time – picking us up and taking ample time to answer our questions and tell us his story. I enjoyed Littky’s spunk, he seemed like a cut-to-the-chase, down-to-earth, passionate individual determined to create an educational alternative that works – and he doesn’t let anything get in his way! Littky shared his failures and lessons along the way, including how he’s been fired a lot before and how, at one point, he stopped what he was doing to move to the mountains for 3 years.

One could easily say that Littky has “arrived” or has “made it,” after all, he was given 25 million dollars by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. You would think that at this time in his life, he would have hired others to run his school and projects. Yet, talking to Littky, it is clear that his work is not done and he is still in the trenches, working with students daily to show them that school can be about following your passions and interests. He knew the high school students and spoke to them as equals as we toured the campus, and then at night, he works with adults with a his new initiative, College Unbound.

I am so grateful for the time Littky gave to me and for the important reminder he gave me: None of us have “arrived” when it comes to the work of changing the education paradigm, and I am no lesser of a contributor in this work than he is. I’ve lived less years on this earth, and certainly have many more lessons to learn as I experience my own successes and failures through my journey, but I am creating valid and needed change with the individual students, educators, and parents I come in contact with. I’m always going to be journeying and working with children, while challenging parents and educators to look outside the box of traditional education. I hope that when I’m Littky’s age, I will still be interacting with the people I serve daily as he is. I hope that the educational paradigm will have shifted and changed quite a bit by that time, but I never hope to be down working with children!

Final thoughts

BIF prides itself on delivering an experience involving inspiring stories and random acts of collisions that bring innovative people together. I found both, and the latter without even expecting it. I guess that’s truly random, but I don’t believe that. I have to say it was a divine universal intervention that led me to meet the one person at this conference that has dedicated their life to a cause so similar to mine! BIF was the catalyst of that experience, and so generously gave me a scholarship to attend. I’m greatly appreciative of their inclusiveness to support early entrepreneurs like myself to bump shoulders and learn from those who have being in the game longer.