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End of Year Rituals

Today was the last day of our third year at Mosaic. Over the summer I’ll still almost all of the kids at some point, so it doesn’t really feel like goodbye! I love this. The students at the school are people I enjoy being with and we have authentic relationships that extend past school hours or days.

I am excited to document our Branches end of year rituals for future reflection and sharing with other facilitators at ALCs (or similar environments). In the comments below, please share links or a sentence or two about any end of year rituals you have! I really want to see what other communities do so I can get new ideas and insights.

This year’s end of year rituals included:

  • School Report Card Creation
  • Self-Assessments
  • ALF reflections to students
  • Community Gratitude Circle

I share more details below about each component. Enjoy!

 

School Report Card

For the second year in a row, we used one of our last Change Up Meetings to evaluate our school using metrics that were important to the students and facilitators here. Last year, the kids were so engaged in this process that we excitedly did it again.

Please click here to read about this year’s report card (2015-16 school year), and click here for last year’s report card (2014-15).

 

Student Self-Assessment

In December of 2014 the students completed a self-assessment in the middle of the school year. We shared these with parents at a mid-year check-in. The assessment aimed to help the students see how they engaged with the tools and practices of the community. The hope I had in making it was for the students to understand that our ALC has tools and practices to support them in doing and learning the things they want to at school, and that they can use those structures (or help us make new ones) to support them in doing so.

As we were nearing the end of this year, I brought up the self-assessment idea to Jess during one of our staff meetings. Jess was a parent of student here for the 2014-15 school year and now is a facilitator at the school for the 2015-16 school year. Jess said that she loved the assessment tool and energetically supported it coming back. I appreciated hearing the feedback from the parent perspective, so I revamped the assessment a little and added some sections in about Self-Directed Education.

Please check out the updated 2015-16 Self-Assessment here!

Our last Change Up Meeting of the year was dedicated to filling these out. Just about all of the students were excited to do so. We told them earlier in the week that these were coming back and that we’d use our time in Change Up to do it, and they were prepared and ready for this. I handed it out and the kids went off to different parts of the room to fill it out.

I was tickled at how happy and engaged the kids were in this process. I think people enjoy having metrics to gauge how they are doing. The kids liked that they were making their own report cards for themselves. It’s important to me that if they are measuring themselves, that it’s about things that really matter to them and our community.

Another new item I added to the self-assessment was a write-in section. The kids could write-in metrics they felt were important to them. Some of the write-in’s included:

  • Happiness
  • Believing in themselves
  • Making more friends
  • Excitement
  • Funniness
  • Commitment (follow-through)
  • Trying new things
  • Listening, being polite, and helping
  • Talking to people
  • Being grateful
  • Being kind
  • Taking responsibility for myself
  • Talking in front of people

I got emotional seeing what the kids came up with as values that were important to them. They didn’t just put things that they would give themselves high marks on, many thought of things they were actually working on getting better at. It does take effort to be kind to others, because sometimes you are wrapped up in your own world and mood and you just aren’t naturally going to be kind to someone else. It takes effort to notice that and still try to be kind. It takes effort to try new things, practice gratitude, listen to others, and all of the above on this list. The students at ALC are learning how to do all of these things all the time, and I believe that this is the backbone needed for them to grow up knowing how to be in community and relationship with others. They can much more easily learn facts and algorithms than how to be reflective human beings that care about themselves and other people. 

 

ALF Reflection for Students

We sent the kids home this year with a manila envelope that had their self-assessment and a note from their Spawn Point ALF (either myself or Jess). They loved taking home what felt like a “report card.” Sometimes we “play school” here and pretend we are a school and do school-y things for fun. Every child here has exposure to a friend, book, movie, etc. that exposes them to the fact that most children in United States go to a traditional school. We can’t escape the reality that there are kids here who romanticize aspects of going to school and getting grades and going to formal classes. It’s natural for them to play out what they learn about what school is like here at ALC.

I agree with the principle of Sudbury Schools that the adults at the school should not be a child’s evaluators or judges. However, I recognize the power that relationships have, and I own my responsibility of being an older human being in the lives of the kids here. Some of them I’ve known for over three years at this point. I want the kids here to find their own value from within, not from outside of themselves and I do my best to model doing that myself. However, to think that what I say (or don’t say) doesn’t matter to them is irresponsible. I understand that who we are is always being determined in part by who we are in relationship with. We are social beings and we want to feel cared about and connected to the people in our community. Every human being has people in their lives that they respect and appreciate having attention from.

All that said, I know that most of the students here would appreciate hearing feedback from us (me and Jess) because this is just one way to show them that we respect, value and appreciate them. It’s not about us judging their worth, but taking the time to acknowledge their individual awesomeness and share how we see that light in them.

I created a sheet where Jess and I could write notes directly to each child. We added these to the self-assessments and that is what made up or “End of Year Report” for each student.

I do want to say clearly here that I would NOT recommend that the student self-assessment also be completed by an ALF for comparison. I think this would lead the student to compare their answers on this to the ALF’s answers, classifying one as right and one as wrong. This is why I made our sheet just general notes and reflections.

 

Gratitude Circle

Today we invited parents to stay a little after pick up to join us in an all-school Gratitude Circle, accompanied by delicious popsicles! Over the happy sound of slurping, we shared for the last time this school year what we were grateful for. It was wonderful to have parents join us for this, and I was working hard not to cry during some of those. This was a new ritual we decided to do this year, and one I really enjoyed!

 

I’d love to hear about what your ALC/Self-Directed Learning Community does at the end of a school year too! Please share!

DC & Annapolis Trip – Year 3!

Two weeks ago, @tomis and I took 11 students on a road trip to DC & Annapolis. This is the third year this trip has been offered at Mosaic, and for some students, their third year attending. However this is the first year that none of their parents came along with them! At 8:30am on a Monday morning, we loaded up a van & SUV and off we went for the 8 hour drive to my parents house in Bowie, Maryland.

My parents very generously share their home with all the students, turning it into one big children’s hostel for three nights. My mom has dinner ready for us every night, a highlight for many of the kids. In fact, I wasn’t planning on going this year, but in the late winter the kids said they really wanted to go so they could see my mom. They didn’t care what we did in Maryland, they just wanted to see her!

An Overview of our Trip

Day One: Monday, May 23, 2016

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We left Charlotte around 8:30am Monday morning, arriving to Bowie around 4:30 that afternoon. After eating an awesome spread of Vietnamese/American food (my mother is Vietnamese), we visited the Owens Science Center Planetarium the first night for a lecture about stars. The talk ended up being more geared to adults than kids. Still, most of the kids sat through the entire hour and a half presentation – some even saying they liked it! I was blown away by their patience and respect to the presenter.

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Waiting for the presentation to start in the almost empty planetarium!

Day 2: Tuesday: May 24, 2016

On Tuesday, we went to DC for the day to explore the museums at the Mall. In the morning a group went to the Holocaust Museum with me and another group to the Museum of the American Indian with Tomis. We met up for lunch at a food truck rally behind the Air and Space Museum and then everyone went to the Museum of Natural History together.

The Holocaust Museum has a permanent exhibit that you need to get tickets to see. They are free, but very limited. We arrived at 10:15 (it opens at 10am), but the tickets were already all gone. We were able to still see several other exhibits, my favorite being one told from the perspective a boy named Daniel. His diary recounted his experiences of the Holocaust as a young Jewish boy. His family was taken to concentration camps and only he and his father survived, eventually being reunited after they were freed.

This was the first year I offered this musuem to the kids. The first year of Mosaic, our oldest student was 10. Now that same 10 year old is almost 13! It is such an amazing journey to watch the kids grow and mature. The Holocaust is a sobering and very heart-breaking historical event to learn about, so it was important that the students felt ready for the content. We had two almost 11 year olds (turning 11 in Sept), an almost 12 year old, two 12 year olds, and one 13 year old attend in this group. We had preparatory conversations before going and we also did a releasing process after (for those wanting this). One student was really sad after the museum, understandably, so we discussed feeling our feelings and allowing them to move through us. I always believe in feeling our feelings rather than ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist. When we keep those feelings in they fester in our minds and bodies. I prefer allowing the feelings to come and move through!

At the Holocaust Museum
At the Holocaust Museum
A group of us walking along the Mall in DC.
A group of us walking along the Mall in DC.
At the Natural History Museum
At the Natural History Museum

Day 3: Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The next day we went to Annapolis, where I used to live. It was really fun to take the kids walking around my old stomping grounds. We walked right by the house where I used to live on 3rd street in Eastport.

We started off our day at the Hammond-Harwood House, built right after the American Revolution. I loved this tour and the activities that followed. The tour focused on architecture and furniture of the time period. We learned about John Shaw and saw many chairs he designed, some of which still exist today. His furniture was high quality and in demand in the early 1800’s. The picture captions below share more details about this tour & following activities.

We learned what an 18th Century "security system" looked like - a series of 5 locks on the front door! Some kids even got to try locking and unlocking the many locks.
We learned what an 18th Century “security system” looked like – a series of 5 locks on the front door! Some kids even got to try locking and unlocking the many locks.
Here we are in the study of the house. You can see examples of the chair back designs in this picture that we used to inspire an art project after the tour.
Here we are in the study of the house. You can see examples of the chair back designs in this picture that we used to inspire an art project after the tour.
We could tell which rooms were designed for entertaining guests by the fancy molding.
We could tell which rooms were designed for entertaining guests by the fancy molding.
In the formal dining room we learned about symmetry. The whole house was designed to be symmetrical. This room had a false door just to match the entry door on the other side. There was also a hidden door disguised as a window to keep the appearance of symmetry.
In the formal dining room we learned about symmetry. The whole house was designed to be symmetrical. This room had a false door just to match the entry door on the other side. There was also a hidden door disguised as a window to keep the appearance of symmetry.
In the ballroom we learned that candles placed in front of mirrors helped reflect more light for parties at night.
In the ballroom we learned that candles placed in front of mirrors helped reflect more light for parties at night.
In the servant's quarters we learned about some superstitions about hiding shoes in the ceiling to ward off witches - this house had an old shoe found in it from the early 1800's. We got to see it! We also saw the locked spice cabinet - spices and coffee were very expensive and kept under lock and key.
In the servant’s quarters we learned about some superstitions about hiding shoes in the ceiling to ward off witches – this house had an old shoe found in it from the early 1800’s. We got to see it! We also saw the locked spice cabinet – spices and coffee were very expensive and kept under lock and key.
After the tour, the kids designed their own chair back designs!
After the tour, the kids designed their own chair back designs!
This was really fun, and I loved seeing all the beautiful designs they created!!! The kids jumped right into the project, it was really neat to see.
This was really fun, and I loved seeing all the beautiful designs they created!!! The kids jumped right into the project, it was really neat to see.
We also made satchels of lavender. Many people used this to mask smells. Bathing was not a regular occurrence during this time period, so carrying around lavender was helpful! We had a couple kids not bathe during the trip, so we asked them to carry these too ;)
We also made satchels of lavender. Many people used this to mask smells. Bathing was not a regular occurrence during this time period, so carrying around lavender was helpful! We had a couple kids not bathe during the trip, so we asked them to carry these too 😉

After the tour, our plan was to just find lunch in the downtown area, walk around Ego Alley (a dock where many people show off their boats by the restaurants), and then go home. However, we found out that it was the Naval Graduation week and that the Blue Angels were going to do an air show that afternoon! We decided to stay for the air show.

Annapolis was PACKED with people. Parking and eating downtown were out of the question. I took us over to Eastport (a town that annexed the city in 1951), where I used to live, and found us street parking in an area I was sure tourists didn’t know about. There was a little market/breakfast & lunch spot I knew about with healthy food options, and thankfully, it was still there after 9 years! I haven’t lived there since 2007. The kids got either salads, pizza, or gluten free pizza.

We then went to a little beach I knew about to play in the sand and water. There were tons of people there because of the air show coming up. Tomis stayed with a few kids there, and I walked a large group over to the main downtown area (about a 25 minute walk in the hot sun!), and we watched the show from Ego Alley. It was pretty awesome. We were amazed at how loud the planes were and how close together they flew. One tiny mistake could be fatal!

The downside of the Blue Angel show was the volume of people in the area. It took us 2 hours to get out of Annapolis and get back to my parents house! Normally this is a 30 minute drive. Still, it was worth it in my opinion. I think the kids agreed too, because many shared that the Annapolis day was really fun.

We spent one more night at my parents house, full of fun playing at the park, walking the trails and running around my parent’s house. My parents have a really great home for housing groups of kids with lots of bedrooms and a giant park behind the house that you can see from the kitchen and back deck. The trails also start from the park and come equipped with workout equipment along the way.

Playing at the beach in Eastport.
Playing at the beach in Eastport.
Making the long, hot trek to downtown Annapolis.
Making the long, hot trek to downtown Annapolis.
The planes were so fast it was very hard to get a good picture!! They came a lot closer than this, but this pic does show you how close together they fly.
The planes were so fast it was very hard to get a good picture!! They came a lot closer than this, but this pic does show you how close together they fly.

Personal Highlights/Reflections

  • Family: I was so happy that the kids felt comfortable enough to come on an 8 hour road trip away from their homes. The general culture and feel of our school is more family-like than school-like. I love this!
  • Gratitude: The kids expressed gratitude to my parents over and over again. They thanked my mom repeatedly for the meals, which were so yummy. They also thanked my parents for hosting them. I loved that they genuinely felt grateful and were willing to share that. This expression of gratitude really meant a lot to my parents.
  • Holding Space/Giving Compassion: Practicing how to hold space and give compassion for children was my favorite part of this trip. I obviously get to practice this during the day at school, however, it is a completely different experience doing this while on a trip far, far away from home. I think it is healthy and wonderful for kids (when they are ready) to experience life with different caregivers. Being away from mom and dad, they have to figure out how to find comfort in their friends and within themselves in new ways. There were times of “I miss my mommy, I wish she was here,” accompanied by tears and big feelings. I practiced empathizing and loving, as opposed to fixing and “making” them feel better. I remember one of the older students asking me if I was annoyed when someone got upset, and I could honestly share with her that I wasn’t. For many people (myself included), we are taught that problems and big feelings always need fixing. This is not the case in many circumstances. When feelings of sadness or frustration come up, many people simply want to feel heard and loved. Not all problems can be fixed. Sometimes it just takes being heard and validated for a feeling to move through a person. I cherish opportunities to practice in this area, and a trip that is this far away from home is a wonderful opportunity to do it! I found myself connecting with the kids in deeper and more meaningful ways. I am SO GRATEFUL that the parents trusted me to travel with their children.
  • Car Rides with Kids = FUN: The 8 hour car rides to and from Charlotte, and the two hours of traffic in Annapolis were actually really fun! Children talk and talk and talk, and they love to play games. They make the time go by so fast, and I find that I love the road trips with them. On the way home, the kids in my car were hoping we would get stuck in traffic so they could be in the car longer!
  • More Responsibility: This year we had more kids with their own cell phones. It was fun when were in the Natural History Museum to let a group go off on their own to explore so they could take the time they wanted in the exhibits they wanted to see. We set a time and meeting place, and we also stayed in touch via text message. Also, the kids were in charge of their own money, with a $20 daily budget for food. They chose and bought their own food and decided how to spend their leftover money for souvenirs. I think this is a wonderful learning experience for them!
  • Bonding: There are ways the kids bond with each other on multi-day trips that melt my heart. The kids found deeper connections to each other. This strengthens our community because of their increased care for one another. This has carried over to our time back at school. On my first day back to school after the trip from the long Memorial Day weekend, I came in late because I was traveling back from PA. I walked into the Food Room at school to find most of the kids in school sitting around the big table just hanging out and talking to each other, like they just couldn’t get enough of spending time with one another. It felt like walking into a family reunion. I am so incredibly thankful for this feeling!

Off-site Opportunities!

One of my favorite things to do is go on trips with kids. When I taught in public schools, I would relish the days we could go on a field trip. My first year teaching, I organized an overnight trip via bus to Williamsburg, VA with 40 kids! I love the feeling of going out and learning through cool experiences.

At Mosaic, trips seem to be a regular weekly occurrence. Students, facilitators & parent volunteers are always out and about in the city. One trip the kids have loved recently is going to Amelie’s French Bakery to write during Writer’s Workshop. There, they get to do what many self-employed adults do – work from a coffee shop. Groups of us also regularly go to the library, Children’s Theater, weekly hikes, bike rides, volunteer at the Recyclerly, work in the community garden, deliver meals for friendship trays, visit farms, and so much more.

For this post, I want to focus on the most unique trip I’ve gone on yet – to see horses get their teeth cleaned & checked by a horse dentist. One of our students, @alonalearning made a post in our private school Facebook group letting everyone know that she was interested in learning about animals. She asked to tag along for any vet visits they might schedule. One of our parents who owns horses let her know that she had a unique animal care opportunity coming up and we made a plan to visit.

The family lives almost 2 hours away from school (yes they commute this far regularly!). I decided that it made the most sense for us to spend the night there since the farrier was coming at 8am. I did not want to get up at 5 am to get down there on time. I told the girls who went that the only request I had for this trip was that they blogged about it afterwards. I’m sitting at home typing this post across from @libby who is blogging with me right now!

We had so much fun! @libby and I spent the night in my tent under the stars. The weather was perfect for this.

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When we woke up, I made everyone breakfast burritos while we waited for the farrier to come. None of us knew what a farrier was, but we learned that this is a person who trims and shoes horses’ hooves. I did not understand the anatomy of a horse’s foot, but I got a lesson in that while asking him questions. I watched him pry off the metal horseshoes and then nail them back on after he trimmed the nail. I originally thought that the whole bottom of the foot was its hoof that you can trim off (like our nails). It’s really just the outer layer. When he nails the horseshoe on, the metal nails have to go right on the outside, and are just milometers away from the base where it could hurt the horse.

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The farrier grunted a lot, and later we learned that this was his way of being even-keel and communicating in a non-reactive manner when the horse was resisting his efforts. We got to watch him take off each horseshoe, clip the hooves, file them down, and then nail the horse shoe back on.

After the farrier visit, @libby, @alonalearning and I went for a fun nature hike. We didn’t really know where we were going, and it felt like an amazing morning adventure. We found a creek and walked along board bridges that went over it.

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(Side note: we later found out that we wandered off the property we were visiting…fortunately the neighbors didn’t come after us.)

Around 11am the horse dentist arrived. The girls went to get the horses from the paddock. I loved how they were taught how to do this and responsible for helping in this way.

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The horse dentist was amazing!! He was incredibly friendly, and it was quite evident that he loved his career and enjoyed sharing it with young people. He has two daughters himself and has hosted groups of homeschoolers before. I really appreciated how he took the time to explain everything he was doing and also answered any questions we had.

Here is an explanation of his process, one that we observed four times on the different horses:

First he sedates the horse. It doesn’t knock them out, but gets them sleepy. Their heads droop down a bit and it only takes about 2 minutes to kick in.

Sedating the horse.
Sedating the horse.

He feels around the horses mouth to check for which teeth need filing and feel for any loose teeth. He files some of the teeth in the front.

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He puts a metal bit on the horses that keeps their mouth open. He files down more teeth in the back and pulls any that need pulled (we only saw this once on this visit). Then he rinses their mouth with water and takes the bit off. That’s it!

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Some things I learned:

  • Horses have 6 sets of 6 teeth (36 teeth). There are 6 on the top front, 6 on the top bottom, 6 on the right side bottom, 6 on the left side bottom, 6 on the right top, and 6 on the left top. Geldings (males) have 4 extra canine teeth that they use for defense if they need to. So mares have 36 teeth and geldings have 40.
  • Their mouths are huge. It goes all the way back to their eyes. Their tongues are super long. It curves like a corkscrew in the back to shovel the food down. We got to put our hands in the horses mouth to feel their teeth and tongue!

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  • Their teeth keep growing like a rabbit. So they need to be filed down. In the wild, horses spend most of their day with their heads down, grazing. The gravity of having their heads down and their chewing all day actually helps them take care of their teeth naturally. The dentist said that the horses with the worst teeth are the ones kept in stalls all day because they are looking up and out all day and only have their heads down eating when hay is thrown in. These tend to be the very expensive show horses. I was saddened to hear that horses have to live this way.
  • Horse teeth are very big! We saw one get pulled. In the picture below, the root of the tooth should be another inch longer. It was very loose and needed to come out. It was tooth 109 on the top. If it didn’t get pulled it would get infected and could spread to the nasal cavity.

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  • To become a horse dentist, he went to a special trade school for 3 months. Before this he had his 4 year degree in equine science. The special school he went to was a 7 day a week, 12 hour a day intense program with 8 students. He has been practicing now for 13 years and is the only horse dentist in Camden. So he puts his hands inside the mouths of a horse about $1,400 times a year. The horse visit today cost $75 a horse. That’s $105,000 a year!

I am so grateful that @alonalearning let parents know she was interested in vet trips! Otherwise I would never have thought to have this experience. I am so grateful that these two men were willing to share their work with us. And I’m grateful that I can take kids out on trips often so we can experience unique offerings like this.

Inward Dive

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

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

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

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

What I’ve Been Reading:

What I’ve Been Practicing:

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

Magic School Moments

Co-working, for kids.

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

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

Learning through imitation

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

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

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Light-Hearted Offerings

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

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

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

After School Offerings

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

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

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

Spawn Shift: Time to Reset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On Relationships

I’m finding this school year to be so much easier than the first and second years. This can be attributed to many things. I think the biggest factor involved here are relationships based in trust and love.

I made a little chart to examine the shift in dynamics between people when you have an established relationship rooted in trust & love. In my time teaching in public schools, I felt that one year was never enough for me to get to this place with my students. When I began teaching at the Friends School of Charlotte, one thing that excited me to work there was the 3 year cycle with the same teacher. At Mosaic, I can enjoy relationships even beyond that 3 years, which I love.

 

Relationship with Trust & Love Relationship with Fear & Distrust
  • New experiences are embarked on together with excitement – you are willing to embark on something you’ve never tried before with a person you trust.
  • When a person doesn’t agree with you, you are open to see their perspective. Ultimately, you believe that this person is doing the best they can in this world.
  • When you spend time with this person, you are focused on loving them & yourself. Your time is joyful and playful.
  • Coercion, shame or guilt are used to make the person do something you believe is the right thing to do. An adult who fears a child might never learn to “X” believes that without coercion or shame, the child will not do it.
  • You are skeptical and distrusting of the other person’s intentions. You are concerned that without some type of punishment or negative consequence, the person might never learn to act or think in a way you feel is acceptable.
  • When you spend time with this person, you are trying to control them or focus your conversation on little lessons that you hope will make them act/think in a way you like.

 

In traditional schools, sometimes teachers get a challenging student in the classroom, and you can hear in the teacher’s lounge, “well it’s only one year, they’ll be gone next year.” This is a mindset too, that if there is a challenging student, you just need to “put up with” them for one year. So the year is spent managing behavior because that’s really all you need to do to survive the year. To me, this is not humane treatment of children.

It takes time to build relationships. A person in a trusting relationship with another will joyfully and happily engage in something new, challenging or difficult. This is a common concern that I hear from parents, “If they aren’t forced to take classes, won’t they just do the same thing every day? What if they never try anything new or challenging?” This question exists in a different paradigm than the one I choose to live in. One doesn’t worry about something like this if you are focused on loving and trusting other people. I am personally willing and excited to do new things with people who I know love me and believe the best in me. I believe this applies to most people.

Having existed in another paradigm, I know the mindset of the other side. I have coerced, punished and manipulated children. I have been on the receiving end of this as well, having lived in a world where the common mindset is that this is the only way children can learn to be “good” adults. I’ve woken up to see that this isn’t true. A simple look at all the disheartened adults hurting themselves and each other in the world is an easy wake-up call. As I learned more, I decided to act differently. I love applying Maya Angelou’s quote to my own life: “When you know better, do better.”

I am thankful for the opportunity I have to grow deep relationships with children (and their parents) over years of time. I have the time and space to see them, know them, and love them. I am in no rush to make them do anything, ever. I can wait for moments of inspiration to leap us into new discoveries. I can listen to their perspectives on life and, with joy, smile and appreciate where they are now in their journey (as opposed to feeling anxious for where I want them to be).

I’ll end this post with some quotes on this topic from some people whom have inspired my awakening into a new paradigm of thought:

37546ca5e86d05105217522113d10cba alan-watts-quotes-3-e1441164372612 quote_Holt_trust  quote-Priesnitz-trusting-kids trustSusanMayGraphic

For further reading, you can read this article, one of the best ones I’ve read that describes the leap into this paradigm in terms of “deschooling” and “unschooling,” but in the end, is really all about trust.

Be The Change Check In #2

Last week, I shared about the Be The Change check-in’s that @charlotte holds coherence for and how I never get to attend any meetings! This initiative at school has motivated me to make lifestyle changing goals that I hope will make my carbon footprint in this world a little smaller. I have brought into my awareness this month that I want to also create shareable value from my goals. I have created a “Weekly Sprint” board in our Spawn Point room to make my goals visible to accomplish by the end of the week. (I’d like to state that I’m doing this because I’m motivated to, I have not pushed this on the kids. They can see what I’m up to and engage if they want, but this is not one of those coercive, “do what the adult is doing” kind of things).

Last week, my goal was to make a flier of all the farms that I try to buy meat from. It lists products that one could easily shop for in Charlotte, NC. I handed out the fliers at school for the kids who wanted them. This week my weekly sprint goal was to create a wiki page so others could add information about farms they know to my list. This way we can all be more aware of what labels to look for. It’s easy for me to go to Whole Foods or Healthy Home Market and see “Hickory Nut Gap” and know that this meat comes from a cow that has been pastured throughout its life.

If you live in Charlotte and have a farm you would like to add to this Wiki, please edit the page! I would like to know more about other farms in the area so I can continue educating myself as well.

Humane Meat Buying Guide for Charlotte, NC

If you feel connected to know where your meat comes from, please peruse the page and consider buying from one of these farms.

Be the Change Check-ins

This blog post will cover content about menstruation. If that’s uncomfortable for you to read about, click away.

Good with this? Awesome! Because I have some cool stuff to share in this post!

What is Be The Change Check-in?

This is a weekly small group offering with @charlotte where members think of ways they can make an impact on the world. They will come up with an idea for something that they can do in their own lives and talk about it at their check-ins, reflecting on if they were able to do it or not, or adding a new change of action. One student is trying to use less toilet paper. My first action was to only use my own mug or glass whenever I’m getting coffee at a store (so if I don’t have my own mug, I’m not getting coffee!). These are little doable actions that we can all make, and if we all do something, we may have an impact!

We recently hosted a really cool talk at school from a guest speaker, Linda Goodwin, about how to live a lower impact lifestyle by changing household habits. While Linda and her husband have modified their lifestyle to a point of only making 3 trash bags full of garbage a year, she encouraged us not to feel overwhelmed by that. She started slow by just thinking about little things she could do, and encouraged us to feel good about about the little things we can shift in our own lives. She left us with this quote from Maya Angelou:

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The focus of the Be the Change Check-in isn’t about feeling bad about what we aren’t doing, it’s  about thinking of what little things we want to try out doing. There are many small shifts we can make, and with a little intention and practice, these shifts become easy and simply a new normal for our lives.

I’ve actually never been able to go to a single Be the Change meeting at school. However, in a small school like this, it’s easy to know what’s going on around you through relationships. Even if you aren’t participating in a particular offering, it doesn’t mean that it’s not impacting your life. I know this is going on, it’s set at each Set-the-Week. I’m interested in going, but I have been scheduled to do something else at each check-in so I don’t get to go. However, I’m still making little shifts in my own life to live more harmoniously with the environment and checking in with some of the participants outside of the scheduled meeting times. I include this piece to help us all remember that it’s okay to not join some of the offerings. It’s impossible to be a part of every offering I want to be a part of at school. I’m still exposed to so many enriching activities by just being in the same space as them with others.

Now, Back to Menstruation

So, despite my lack of ability to attend a meeting, I did check in and reflect about my new change of action for this week: replacing my use of tampons with the Diva Cup.

Disposable tampons and pads add up to more items in landfills. According to this article, “the U.S. alone dumps 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons every year; because tampons are often flushed applicators frequently wash up on beaches (yuck).” Let’s also keep in mind that there are companies and equipment behind the making of more and more tampons and pads to keep us supplied endlessly. You can read this article for more information on that – the point is that the major environmental impact is more than just the tampons in landfills, it’s the fossil fuel use of making the plastic applicators.

After trying out the Diva cup myself, I was able to report back to a couple members of the group about how much liked using it. The benefits I’ve experienced are:

  • It’s comfortable
  • It holds more liquid so it only needs a change every 12 hours
  • It doesn’t leak AT ALL once you learn how to use it properly
  • No strings, so I feel cleaner, and this will be great for summer time in a bathing suit
  • I feel really amazing about the fact that I didn’t have to fill up my trash can with applicators
  • It’s cheaper – a one time $30 expense will last me a decade if I take proper care of my cup

You may think it’s strange for me to blog about this, and admittedly, I pondered in my head if I should do it or not. I have opted to share about it because I think talking about our bodies openly and without shame is a beautiful thing. I’m really grateful that the girls in our school can talk to older females about menstruation and our choices if they want to. The female adults in our school don’t make a big deal of it or act like it’s taboo or weird.

In addition, I was never exposed to the fact that Diva Cups or any non-disposable option for menstruation even existed until Charlotte told me about it when I was 30. It seems like it’s common knowledge for certain circles, but it’s really not talked about in the mainstream world. I’m not trying to push an agenda that everyone should switch to a Diva Cup. I think each woman should evaluate and think about their own needs. However, I would like to see environmentally friendly options like the Diva Cup become a more mainstream option that is normalized. I’m really grateful that the girls in our school have exposure to adult females who they know choose this option. These girls have the exposure to different options available so they can evaluate what’s best for them when it’s time to do so. That is something I think is awesome!

If you are interested in getting a Diva Cup, you can buy them at Amazon for under $30. Wholefoods sells them for $40.

 

Rose, Bud, Thorn

Every month, the facilitators at both our older and younger campuses gather for an informal meeting where we check-in with each other. The goal is help us feel connected as one campus even though we are apart and to share facilitation stories so we can support one another.

Yesterday we loosely followed a “Rose, Bud, Thorn” format that some of our branches kids enjoy doing. The rose is something wonderful we are celebrating or happy about, the bud is something we are excited about happening in the future, and the thorn is a challenge we are experiencing.

I didn’t get a chance to share then due to lack of time, so I thought I’d simply share my current Rose, Bud, and Thorn here in this blog post!

My Roses:

Our Change Up meetings

We’ve changed how we do change up, and it’s increased the ability of students to participate. We go through the items on our Community Mastery Board as efficiently as we can. If there is a topic or awareness that feels like it needs some creative problem solving, we pull it aside as a “focus topic.” We try to limit this to 4 focus topics, and one of those topics is usually a wish a kid or adult has made for the school. The kids work in small groups to discuss a hot topic for 10 minutes and then present a solution for the school to try out for the next week. One example of this is when small group worked on granting a wish about building connection among students. The kids in this group decided that scheduling two group games a week with everyone participating is a fun way to do this! We’ve been practicing this for two weeks now and I’m excited to continue this practice as long as the kids are too.

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At a Change-Up meeting focus group, the kids came up with a new way to choose weekly clean up jobs. After they took charge of the change, it became easy to gather the kids and select jobs – and they seem more engaged with the clean up job too 🙂

There are kids who are contributing to the culture creation at our school through these small groups that were not speaking up before when we did our Change-Up meetings as a whole group. Even though each kid isn’t a part of creating each solution, the buy-in to adhere to proposed solutions feels much higher because the kids understand how much thought it takes to come up with a potential solution. I am loving that this feels like true co-creation of the culture with kids. @tomis blogged much more deeply about this Change Up “change-up” here.

More Parent Volunteers

Two of our parents, Kristine & Melissa, have become more involved at school this year and it has been really fun to have them at school! They have been making meaningful relationships with the kids and sharing neat and unique offerings.

Melissa likes to do various crafts with the kids and take them to the library. I really enjoyed making life-sized paper versions of ourselves with her and the kids. She also brought singing songs together to our space this week, which I loved joining!

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Making life-sized versions of ourselves.

Kristine is an avid member of the girl scout troop with her daughter and is bringing neat activities to share from her experiences there. She introduced Biztown to the kids (a program run through Junior Achievement) and the kids are learning about financial literacy and how adults make, spend, and manage their money. This includes “playing” adult as they set up mock-checking accounts and apply for jobs that they will play out in the Biztown city in Uptown, Charlotte. You can watch more about Biztown below.

Amy Steinberg Theater Classes

The kids used all their left over money from last year and the money they made in the summer to hire Amy Steinberg to lead theater classes with them. The dedication they have to this 2 hour weekly class is really cool to see, as well as Amy’s direct and clear leadership of the class. While yes, we are unschoolers at heart and the kids lead their own paths, they have chosen to hire this person to instruct them. Amy has boundaries she sets around how to participate and makes those known and has expectations for the kids to meet. And they love it! They have learned some really cool games that help improve their focus, concentration and work on spacial awareness as they learn about stage directions.

What I’ve learned from seeing this is that I’d like to see the kids have more of the supply/facilitation budget to choose the classes and teachers they have at school so they 1) take complete ownership over what they get out of the experience and 2) are invested and committed to what they bring in.

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Love for Reading Flourishing and Visible

I mentioned the library trips becoming a regular thing, but we also have fun book/movie club that @Jesslm started up and the kids are really into it. What’s interesting is that I see other books brought in the space in addition to the group reading. The kids are sitting and reading other books too at school, and they also know that each week they have the opportunity to get more books at the library. What’s been fun is that I think the shared reading experience through the book/movie club has normalized the hearing of stories regularly in the space and the kids are just enjoying that and creating more experiences to engage with stories on their own outside of this as well.

Bike Love

While it is sometimes hard to simply enter the school due to tripping over bikes, I ultimately love that the kids love biking here. They learn how to bike safely and share the road with cars. They also get to go to the Recyclery weekly if they want with @Charlotte to learn about bike care and maintenance.

Ping Pong

The kids who practice are pretty damn good. They love it. I’ve been impressed with their eye-hand coordination! We have @dthomasson to thank for sharing his love for table tennis with the kids! They model how it takes practice, and a lot of practice, to get good at a skill.

My Buds

Seeing the Creative Solutions from Change-Up Flourish

Some ideas from our last couple change-up meetings that are in development:

  • Having a rotating interest station at school: We set up a display with rocks in the hallway as a test to see if kids would notice or engage with a random interest station if they were bored. It was put up and we didn’t actually notice much engagement with it. At Change Up we thanked the kids for not losing any of the rocks and respecting the station, followed with the announcement that we’d take it down. After hearing this, one of the kids raised their hands and said, “I really liked having all the stuff about rocks out there because sometimes if I was bored I’d just go over there and look at them and read about the different kinds of rocks.” This led to the kids wanting to have a focus group talk about having an interest station stay at school. The outcome was that the kids wanted to have input on different topics this station could have information about, and that they wanted it to change regularly. Some of the interests they proposed were to have the table set up with math activities, nature activities, stuff about bugs and snakes, or stuff about clay and pottery. They group took a vote from the whole school and it was decided we’d start with bugs and snakes and then work through the other interests.
  • A small group worked this week on a wish to help everyone feel welcomed at school. A student felt really passionate about having a visual board in place where people could move their names to visually show how they are feeling to others. He explained that if someone was feeling lonely, they could move their name to show this and then others could know to check-in with that person. I loved this idea, especially coming from a student who is in touch with his feelings and feels it important for others to respect each other and their feelings. This student also advocated for feelings check-ins at Spawn Points because they felt it would help people open up and share with each other more. The kids now all are in the daily practice of doing this, and at our last Change-up meeting, excitedly supported continuing this practice daily.
  • The kids have come up with a new way to track where kids are, and since they came up with this, it’s more likely they will honor it. We had a velcro system we used last year, but it’s not reliable. We need a better way to see who went out biking with Charlotte or to the library with Melissa, etc. Sometimes you are looking for someone at school but they are actually doing something off-site and we want to easily be able to see this. So we are going to hang white boards by the exit door and the request from kids was that adults taking kids off-site need to put who is off-site, and where, on the board.

Math at School

Some kids have been asking to do math at school. Kristine brought in a bunch of Math-U-See stuff she used while homeschooling and met with me and Melissa to talk about offering math to the kids at school. I LOVE math because I love problem solving using logic and creativity. So it was exciting to meet with them – and the kids knew we were meeting and were curious and asking when math would start.

We decided to offer three different types of math classes – one with games geared towards younger kids, one with the goal of becoming more fluent with multiplication tables (because it really does help you calculate faster – this IS a useful math skill to gain), and one for Algebra because the older kids have specifically asked for that. We’d offer these all at the same time so that there was a larger critical mass of kids engaged and the school would be quieter.

The kids were then presented the choices and signed up. Again, this is just for the kids who have been asking for it and wanting it! I do not believe that math class is a “should” thing. It’s just one type of offering that can be fun, and the kids not wanting to do it are not (at least from me) given the message that they are missing out on anything, because I don’t believe that they are missing out (this article shares some great benefits of NOT receiving direct math instruction).

We said we’d host these two times a week through December, asking the kids to stick with it until then. After winter break, we’d re-evaluate and decide what to do next. I wrote Kristine & Melissa an email earlier today as I was getting pumped up to engage with math, here is a part of that:

For me, [math instruction] is not about teaching anything! I’ve taught math to very young children all the way through teaching math to prepare highschool students for college entrance exams (Alg 2, Trig, a little pre-cal).

I actually don’t remember anything from those upper level classes. I always loved math, and I retain very little memory for formulas. What I retain is a love for solving problems, so every time I teach upper level math, I relearn EVERYTHING with the students. So in essence, I’m rarely teaching anything, but learning with.

I take that with me when I work with younger kids, seeing everything as fun problems to solve. It’s fun to solve problems and to think logically and creatively!!

Basically, the point of learning math in school to me isn’t about learning math, it’s about learning how to think both logically & creatively. When kids view the math education and getting the right answer over the process of learning how to think creatively and logically, that’s when kids start to compete and think of others in terms of “smarter” or “better” than other people.

Kids CAN be successful in the world without knowing algebra. But what is a trait that is important for success, I believe, is to be able to solve problems and to do so creatively: innovative thinking and new ideas require creativity and out of the box thinking. Some the kids are doing this when they are playing minecraft, dramatic play, etc. And some of the kids will be doing this as they learn math with us!!

What will the kids bring in next?

The kids have already started talking about hiring Amy back in the spring because they like theater so much. I’m also excited to see who/what they decide to bring in next with their finance kids budget. They enjoyed having Mary B here last year for yoga, and some kids would like to see her come back. A bud for me here is to see what they decide to do next, and then next after that!

Be The Change Initiative

@Charlotte has had some really inspiring environmental talks with kids that are spreading in the space. She and a small group of kids have decided to try to make some small changes in their lives that they hope will make an environmental impact.

Charlotte also met a family who only takes out 3 bags of trash a year because they have limited how much waste they make as a family so efficiently. When she told the kids this at set-the-week meeting, and then told them that this family would love to share with us how they live this way. The kids were so excited! She asked for a show of hands of who would be interested in meeting the family and almost every hand shot up.

Sometimes, parents ask me questions about how the kids will learn and be exposed to new things if they aren’t forced to take classes. This above example is just one of many anecdotes of what opportunities the kids get to learn about when they are free from a pre-planned curriculum. What I want to ask parents back when I hear this question is, “Have you considered what your child is not able to learn because it’s already been determined what they should learn at the beginning of the year?”

 

My Thorns

Space

I want to have one campus. I also want the parents to have ease coming to school. I want to have more animals at school and outdoor play structures. It’s hard for me to justify putting money into developing our current outdoor area since I know ultimately that many parents would like to see the school move to a different location. I also love the space we are in and want to see a school stay there, and have considered the possibility of always having an ALC run there even if we find another location. I support the idea of many small schools happening – small schools that have relationships with other small schools so the kids can visit and mix with each other, while still have the deep relationships that come with smaller communities.

Time

Well, I just think the school days are too short. I kind of wish we were a boarding school where we didn’t have to stop at the end of the school day. I can see how this is different from at home “unschooling” where if you get into something at home, you can just stay with it until 8pm if you want. We stop at 3 for clean up and an end of day ritual, and sometimes that means we just have to stop the cool thing we are doing and then have to get re-engaged the next day or after we are at home. This part is tricky because there are times you just really want to stay doing the thing you were doing!

Regular Offerings at Mosaic – Aug/Sept 2015

It’s been exciting to see the offerings that have developed in the first five weeks of school! For this blog post, I wanted to write about some the offerings I’ve been a part of at Mosaic so far. I hope to give parents or other facilitators in ALCs a taste of what it’s like inside the Branches campus of Mosaic, as well as providing my own personal documentation for the school. Read on to see summaries of some of the regularly scheduled offerings I’ve seen develop over the first few weeks of school.

Snack Team

Q: How will they learn math skills?

A: They go into the real world and think about numbers in a way that involves problem solving that is relevant to them. Younger children need to be taught that math is logical and makes sense. Memorization or solving a problem “the way the teacher tells you to” does not do this. 

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One of the parents at our school wanted to know if there was a possibility for having snack served at school, similar to what happens at our Roots campus. We decided to try out turning this over to the kids at our first Change Up Meeting of the year. The kids were split between asking everyone to pack their own extra snack and going out and shopping for snacks themselves. We decided to try out having a team of kids plan and shop for snacks for two weeks to see how it went. The first week the kids paid for the snack out of their kids finance budget, but then found that too expensive. They tried to spend only $20 to feed about 12 kids a day for 5 days and quickly realized that was impossible. They spent about $38 that first week. Parents then stepped in to donate cash each week to keep snack team going. Parents seemed to support the idea of having the snack, and also seemed excited about some of the real-world learning opportunities for the group of kids in the snack team. The snack team found that they loved to shop and plan for snacks, and many other students at school like having a snack provided, so we have kept this going!

How Snack Team works: On Mondays at Set-the-Week Meeting, kids volunteer to be on the snack team. Some kids want to do it every week, some like to do it occasionally. We also ask who wants snack that week so we know how many people to shop for. Then we schedule when we will shop that day.

We go to Healthy Home Market at our set time. I have been taking 6 kids each time. We meet outside the store and review our shopping boundaries:

  • How much money was donated this week? (It varies!)
  • How many kids signed up for snack? (So we know how many to shop for!)
  • How many days of school are there this week? (So we know how many different snacks to get.)
  • What items are off-limits? (Junk food, gluten, dyes, dairy, almonds, peanuts, meat, gelatin – these are taken given food sensitives and family preferences from the students)
  • What is on our “Do Not Like” list? (There are some foods kids just don’t want snack team to get anymore, so at one Change Up meeting a person regularly at snack team said they would start a list of foods that kids don’t like so snack team doesn’t buy those anymore.)

The kids break up into groups of three. I stay up front and let the groups go around and scope out what is available and the prices. After about 10-15 minutes, they meet me back up front. Each team shares ideas for what to buy. Conversation over prices happen (ex. “We can’t buy 15 cups of dairy-free yogurt at $1.49 a piece because that’s over half our budget!). It’s magical to see so many math concepts covered – lessons the kids will remember without drilling and worksheets!

After the kids narrow down what they want to buy, we choose a person to handle the money and the kids go and shop and buy the food on their own. I just remain at the front, letting them do this without me!

At 2:40pm each day, snack team members help distribute the snack. I also let them figure out on their own how to distribute or portion the snack fairly to the kids.

 

Spanish Skits

Q: How can you improve a skill without a teacher who is highly knowledgeable in that area?

A: Instead of waiting for someone to teach them, students can practice resourcefulness and use the tools they have to gain new skills and knowledge when they need/want it. This lesson allows them to be self-reliant. In the 21st Century, obtaining knowledge is not hard – you have all facts at your fingertips. Learning how to find what you want to know and then learning what to do with all the information that’s out there is a skill that will really help a person navigate powerfully in this world. Learning how to find people or develop experiences to support an interest is also a lesson in resourcefulness.

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A script that is read by a beginning reader – her older friend has broken down the words phonetically so she can read the script. Notice the “bow” for bonita. The 3 circles is a symbol they developed on their own to represent the sound “ah.” So bow-neat-ah makes up the world “bonita” for pretty.
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We do a brief review of words and phrases, and when ready, introduce a new concept before breaking out into pairs for scripts. This review was about greetings and colors.

Some of the kids love to do a weekly “Spanish Skits” practice where I have seen some really magical experiences develop – all without having an actual Spanish teacher!

Spanish Skits has been going like this:

We meet as a whole group and review some phrases. We have three intermediate Spanish speakers in the group who support beginners. We’ve started with greetings, colors, and a the difference between Soy and Estoy. The kids then break into pairs or a group of three and work together to develop a script. What’s been fascinating for me to see is the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the kids through writing their own scripts. Each script is so unique, some covering words I thought they forgot from last year, but clearly hadn’t (last year a group did a lot of pretend shopping in Spanish, so I’ll see shopping scenes pop back in the scripts). I’ve seen our youngest students ask clearly for the support she needs in order to be able to remember her parts since she’s a beginning reader. You’ll see the picture above of one part of her script that is phonetically broken down.

I also watch one beginning Spanish student use her phone app and google translator to independently write scripts. This to me represents what is possible for 21st Century education. Students can look up almost anything to learn and when they are excited and motivated, they will figure out what they need to figure out. Students can learn that there is nothing stopping them from learning new skills or content. They just need to have the desire and motivation to do so.

 

Classes At Parks & Rec

Q: How can they learn science? What if they want to learn something that no adult at the school can possibly teach in a hands-on way? The internet can’t teach them everything!

A: Use the city as your classroom. Our city has amazing resources, one being the classes offered through Parks & Recreation. 

Last year, I found some really neat classes for kids through Parks & Rec. The teachers our outdoor enthusiasts and share what they love with the kids without giving them grades. Most classes are outside. Some kids are taking Biology, Cycles of Nature, and Kayak Fishing this fall. Each term I send out a new list to parents to look through for their kids.

For the most part, the kids love the classes. If I have a small group taking a class, I invite other students to still come to the park so we can go hiking around outside while others are taking a class. It’s pretty fun!

 

Gardening for Community Service

Q: How will they learn the basics? 

A: Let’s expand our definition of what the basics are. Put in a society that requires reading and basic math to function, kids will learn to read and write and do math that is relevant to their needs in life (if they learn how to learn, they can learn advanced math they need for college, or perhaps they don’t need to go to college and learn the math that is relevant to whatever career they choose). What if the basics also included knowledge of plants and growing your own food? What if the basics included knowledge of food deserts and how that impacts the lives of people who live in them? What if the basics included serving your community? Honoring yourself? Identifying your needs and learning to ask for support or help? What if we really included our socio-emotional health as part of our basics?

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This summer, I had an intention to look for ways for our students to get out in the city to do a service project that felt like we were giving back to our community. I wasn’t sure where to look for this opportunity, so I decided to release the idea of me searching or forcing a connection to happen to just opening my mind to see how the school year started. I wanted to just be present and open to seeing an opportunity when it came up.

That happened much faster than I thought! I took a yoga class over Labor Day weekend and ended up being the only student who showed up. The instructor was the manager of the Little Sugar Creek Community Garden, and she loves children and needs help maintaining the garden. We are now making weekly trips to help maintain and beautify the garden. Watch the video to meet Nadine, the manager of the garden, and to learn more about her mission:

The kids love the garden and have so much fun there! It’s wonderful to have the land only a mile away, which gives us the opportunity to have more outdoor space for our kids regularly. We are also planning to build a Pop-Up Adventure Playground there for children in the community. Not only do we feel good helping take care of this garden, but we reap the benefits of learning about gardening and having another outdoor area for our kids to experience and feel connected to.

 

Psychology Crash Course

Q: How can they pursue their interests on their own?

A: For a student that wants to explore a topic like Psychology, Astronomy, Algebra, History, there are online classes, videos, articles, books, and so much more available. They can explore any area and ask for adults or peers in the space or at any ALC to join them in their learning. Blake Boles has written a great book called The Art of Self-Directed Learning that describes to teens how they can take charge of their learning in fun & creative ways. That’s a great one to read if you’re feeling stuck. 

There is a teen in a homeschool ALC four hours away from here that really wanted to explore Psychology this year. She planned to watch all the Psychology Crash Course videos, but wanted to have others to talk about the content with. Her desire sparked the creation of our InterALC Offerings where students from different ALCs can meet via Google Hangout and explore topics together. We have a couple students from Mosaic meet with her and one student from NYC each week to watch and talk about the videos assigned (two a week).

The videos are super fast as they cover A LOT of content. At first I thought I would be overwhelmed, but by video 8 I’m seeing how some content is carried over and really enjoying them.  One of the early video sparked an interest in our group to conduct an experiment on people. It was really fun to talk about different things we thought we could do in school – and some that we knew we couldn’t. In one of the videos we saw how caffeine affected lab rodents in mazes and one of the kids wanted to caffeinate students at school to see if it helps them improve on doing mazes. We thought that might not go well with parents, so then one student thought about giving them Melatonin each afternoon to see if it helped kids be calmer for afternoon Spawn Point. That felt less harmful then caffeine, but I ultimately pushed us to think of something we could do that didn’t involve having anyone ingest a substance at school to alter their behavior.

We decided to take a short-term memory test from Harvard and exercise for 30 minutes a day for a week to see if it improved our memories. We read an article from Harvard that said exercise would improve memory so we decided to see if it helped us. We did this for a week and didn’t really get conclusive results – but we learned about how different variables really affect an experiment, and learned that our experiment would need to be conducted with more rigidity or for a longer period of time to really demonstrate if it had an affect on our memories. We did learn that we liked jogging at school and getting outside together!

One thing I let go of when we first set up the experiment was using my “adult” mind to dominate how the experiment would go. I could see how certain aspects weren’t perfect in our approach or documentation, but I released all that and just went with it. After we finished our week of work outs, it was easier to use the experience we had to discuss what could be better. For example, we learned more about what a variable was. The participants could see how taking the memory test in the beginning in a quiet space and then taking the after test in a loud space made it hard to see if our experiment told us anything. So we had fun and we learned through doing!

 

Other Regular Offerings

The above offerings are ones that I have been a part of, but there are other offerings happening weekly that I am not a part of! One thing that both facilitators and students need to learn here is how to prioritize their time and decide how many offerings feels good for them to be a part of. The adults also need to have an awareness of spreading out and not having all the adults together in an offering. There are many offerings I have wished to be a part of, but I must release because I have too much going already! Two offerings I wish I could do, but have not been able to join are:

Weekly Hikes

@jesslm has been offering hikes every Thursday, and rotating between “everyone can come” hikes and “strenuous & challenging hikes.” It was pretty neat to hear kids coming back from last Thursday’s hike feeling really proud of themselves for going almost 6 miles!

Bike Repair & Maintenance

@charlotte takes a student every Friday to the Re-Cyclery to learn about bike repair and maintenance. Charlotte volunteers there every week and this is a way for kids to get a unique inside look at bicycles and how to care for them.

We’ve also started Children’s Theater with Amy Steinberg, continued a love for Ping Pong, Minecraft, sewing, soccer, and more.

Again, this post is mostly about what I’ve been a part of with kids and loving, so that’s what I can speak to! I hope you have enjoyed getting a sample of some of the offerings happening at Mosaic and invite you to comment below.

 

 

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

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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:

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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.

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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!