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ALC Mosaic 2014-15 Report Card

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

Report Card….Whaaaa????

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

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

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

 

Cross-Network Support

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

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

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

 

The Mosaic Report Card is Born

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

It went like this:

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

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

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

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

So I told the kids:

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

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

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

What Kind of School Are We?

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

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

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

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

IMG_5525

Our Results, With More Detail:

We Rock This!

  • Going outside
  • Being creative
  • Going on field trips

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

We Are on the Way to Rocking at:

  • Having choices.

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

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

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

  • Cleaning Up

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

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

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

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

  • Being Awesome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their ideas for goals for next year?

IMG_5523

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

 

Our Magic Book Movie!

Imaginon, one of our most frequented places to visit for its Children Theater Productions, also has a special place in their Teen Loft called Studio i. Apparently this is very underutilized which is a shame! I think more people just need to know that this place exists – and is free to use for teens 12 & up (or for families of all ages on Saturdays). In Studio i you have a stop motion film area, a blue screen (like the green screen for the weathermen), and a music recording studio.

@Alonalearning and I wanted to go in and use the blue screen equipment to make a mini movie that maximized the use of different backgrounds. I came up with the premise of the plot: Kids find a magic book in the woods that transports them to different places in the world. When they figure out where they are, the book reveals a page of information about that place (kinda Jack and Annie style). @Alonalearning and I had a lot of fun looking up places to go!

We only had 3 days to prepare this project (script writing, auditions, rehearsals), so I wrote most of the script to get the ball rolling. Then we held auditions. This was a really fun process to watch the kids work in groups to deliver their audition scenes. I wish I could’ve taken them all, but with Studio i being for teens only (but they’d let me slide in with a younger child who was very mature), I had to consider that this was our first time going and maturity was a big factor. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I needed to bring kids that could wait around bored for periods of time during movie editing. This turned out to be huge – the editing took forever!

Once we finalized the cast, the kids made changes to the script – even adding the trademark “comic relief” character. I was impressed how they used their own personalities to help them create the different characters. The kids practiced all day Wednesday in preparation for our visit.

At Studio i, we filmed and then @Alonalearning sat with the Imaginon staff to learn how to edit the movie. Unfortunately, the staff wasn’t super skilled in using imovie since they only recently started using this software. After @Alonalearning spent an hour and a half editing the movie, the computer crashed and we lost everything! We had an hour left before the end of the school day. What were we going to do? We couldn’t come back another day because one of the kids in the movie was leaving for Canada (he was just visiting that week). We decided to quickly re-film and have @Alonalearning come back and edit the movie herself, without staff help, the next day.

We were able to do it!! The movie turned out pretty great – especially for our first go at it. We learned that you have to find images that have at least the bottom third looking like ground (sometimes they are floating!). We also learned that mid-scene you can’t talk to your friend -the microphone picks up everything!

Also, just to note, somehow one of our picture scenes was missing from the computer when @Alonalearning came back the next day to edit. When the kids travel to Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park in China, @Alonalearning had to put in a swirly colorful background instead of the actual picture which I’ll put here, so please imagine this picture in the video when you watch it:

And now….DRUM ROLL, PLEASE….here is the movie!!!!

 

We hope to make more in the future 🙂

 

 

Facilitating vs. Policing

I’m an Agile Learning Facilitator (ALF), at least that’s what I’m always striving to be. What does being an ALF mean? I am working on an entirely separate post about that, but what I’d like to share here is a beautiful excerpt I found on a blog from Lisa Nalbone called, “Cultivating the Future: Inspiring Communities of Learners.

A great teacher is a loving human being whose top priority to help the students value themselves, learn how to learn, and to connect. No matter what the subject matter, a teacher has a duty to help the students see their strengths and tune into their own intrinsic motivation, so that they are ultimately choosing to learn for their own reasons and take actions to meet their goals. We want them to become self-directed learners!

 

This can’t happen unless the teacher in the room knows how to create a safe learning environment, and can lead learners in sharing both success and struggles, and collaborating to create new value for themselves and the community.

 

How? The teacher must embody and model everything they are trying to teach and to show that everyone in the community is a learner, The teacher must be willing to share the power rather than wield power. To learn from the students. To learn WITH.

Nalbone uses the word “teacher” while I prefer to use “facilitator,” but that doesn’t bother me because I see the message she is really trying to hone in on:

  • Adults in a space with children must come from a place of love
  • Adults in a space with children have the main focus of creating a safe learning environment (unlike in traditional systems where the main point of a teacher is to make children master the content in a particular curriculum)
  • Adults in a space with children work WITH children (as opposed to ON children)

Facilitating or Policing?

What I am currently thinking about are the times when I feel like I’m not facilitating, but policing. Whenever I feel like this, I know it’s really my own fault. I choose to relate to seeing kids doing things that I know their parents wouldn’t be happy about in this policing type of way. (This is why in my opening sentence I wrote that I’m always aiming to be an Agile Learning Facilitator- are you ever “arrived?” I don’t know – I’ll add that thought to the other blog post I mentioned earlier). When this happens, I am aware that I choose to feel responsible for how the kids spend their time and I choose to start policing them rather than facilitating with them.

There are circumstances I have come across during my time at ALC Mosaic where a child is not allowed to do something at home and then when they get to school, that is ALL they want to do. If the facilitators are not aware of the child’s particular restriction, and what the child is doing is not in conflict with others in the space, well, then most of the time the child will indulge in this fancy as much as they can while they have the freedom to do so. When facilitators know about a particular at home restriction, each ALF must then make a decision about how to respond. In order to cultivate a relationship with the child that is not authoritarian, it feels important to me that ALFs master the ability to work WITH a child from a place of honesty rather then telling on them to their parent. For example:

Example: The adult at school knows a particular child is not supposed to eat refined sugar, and does not have this type of food at home. At school, the child begs for candy from the lunches of other kids.

Facilitating response: Speak honestly to the child from the heart. “I feel uncomfortable watching you ask repeatedly for candy when I know that this is something your mom doesn’t add to your diet at home. I’m curious if you know why you guys don’t eat refined sugar. Has your family talked about that?” (Then the ALF accepts whatever answer is given and engages the conversation further if it seems the child wants to engage AND allows the child to make their own decision about whether or not to eat the candy).

Some possibilities from this response:

  • The child and the ALF might end up looking up resources on refined sugar together and then teach others along way about it.
  • The child might say, “no” in the moment and eat the candy anyway, but later on ask their parent this question at home (or not!).
  • The child might say, “yes I know why” and then explain it and then make an informed decision about eating the candy.
  • Food sharing is a practice that can happen at school (which is something that humans normally do in many cultures when coming together to eat)
  • The child practices making an informed decision – (possibly setting them up to continue to do this as they age when it comes to food, sex, drugs)

Policing response: Tell on the child to their parent, create a rule that there is no food sharing at school, or create firm restrictions on what foods are allowed at school.

Some possibilities from this response:

  • The child hides their actions from the ALF in the future.
  • Food sharing cannot happen at school – and there is a distinction made between “how we eat at school” and “how we eat at home or at our friend’s houses.”
  • The child views adults as in control and they look for ways to take that control back in their own life.
  • The child doesn’t eat the candy. The child knows that they cannot eat candy whenever they are in a situation where they can be caught.

What I’d love to hear from parents and other ALFs in our network is feedback on what facilitating looks like rather than policing. The question I am keeping in the forefront of my mind when I think about which role I’m choosing to step into is: “Am I trying to control the child’s behavior so I don’t hear parent complaints, or am I working to facilitate a loving and safe learning environment where I work WITH children?” For me, acting from the former elicits fear based actions coming from me to the child, while the latter encourages loved based actions coming from me to the child.

 

 When you are facilitating, you would:  When you are policing, you would:
  • View conflict as an opportunity and ask:
    • What can we learn from this?
    • How can the resolution to this conflict help us create an even more awesome community?
  • Work with children and other adults to get to roots of conflicts. Is willing to invest time to do this, and genuinely interested in hearing the perspectives of those involved.
  • Talk through conflict with the children/adults involved
  • Accept that you, yourself, are the only person you can control the thoughts/actions of and use that gift powerfully.
  • Views conflict as problems that mess up the day/waste our time.
  • Tries to create rules that make it so this conflict will no longer take place in the space. These rules tend to be band-aids to the problem and never get to the root issue though.
  • Desires rules to point to rather than have a conversation: “Well the rule is that we can’t bring candy to school. That’s just the way it is.”
  • Strives to control the environment and the actions of the people in the environment.

 

If you want to add to this table, please email me or comment with additions and I’ll add them in and tag each author!  I could also see this being a conversation to expand on during our ALF Summer Program this year too 🙂

 

 

FAQ Question 1: How Will My Child Learn To Read?

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be posting on this blog answers to frequently asked questions I receive from parents interested in having their child attend ALC Mosaic. I’m inviting feedback to help make the responses to these questions clear & concise, yet also thorough enough to feel adequately answered. If you have additional links or information that you think would be valuable to include in the response, I welcome your replies so I can make this FAQ page awesome!

The intent of the FAQ page is to send to parents before they attend a Parent Interest Night at our school so we spend less time discussing these answers in person and more time answering questions about Agile Learning Centers and ALC Mosaic specifically.

So here goes the first question I tackled:

How Will My Child Learn to Read?

For most children, they will learn to read just as they learned to walk and talk – through living around people who walk and talk. Most normally developing children are extremely motivated to walk because they see adults getting places faster than they are. They are also very motivated to learn language skills because it helps them get what they want and need more effectively.

In our school, a child who reads is much more independent than a child who does not read. The same goes for the world, and our school likes to model what is currently important in today’s world – literacy being one of those things.

What we observe with the children at Mosaic is that they all want to read because it increases their ability to do things on their own. If they can read the schedule board on their own, they are able to figure out what’s going on, and when and where the activity is taking place, without getting someone to help them. They will able to play many more complex games because they are able to read.

We have not encountered one child yet that simply does not want to read here. We do encounter children who simply teach themselves to read in a way that works for them. This can look like a child suddenly showing up and just reading one day all at once, or like a child really interested in reading and sounding out words for months, dropping it for few months, and then coming back to intensely until they are fluent. You can think back to how your child learned to speak – first sounds, playing with sounds, repeating sounds, saying the few words they know over and over again. It looks like that, but with the words they can read and write. They write the words they know repeatedly and acquire more and more.

If they want extra support to speed up the reading process, we provide it. Otherwise, we see them teach themselves. Humans are incredibly intelligent – especially when they are motivated they pay very close attention to what it is that they want to learn. A child learning to read will be carefully studying letters as someone read to them aloud.

Through his research, Peter Gray, Ph.D., Professor of Research Science at Boston College created these principles of how children learn to read without schooling:

Seven Principles of Learning to Read Without Schooling

1) For non-schooled children there is no critical period or best age for learning to read.
2) Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly.
3) Attempts to push reading can backfire.
4) Children learn to read when reading becomes, to them, a means to some valued end or ends.
5) Reading, like many other skills, is learned socially through shared participation.
6) Some children become interested in writing before reading, and they learn to read as they learn to write.
7) There is no predictable “course” through which children learn to read.

In this article, Gray expands on these principles in much detail and also describes how they came from a study of Sudbury students – students who were never told to learn to read or forced to go to any class or course. From this study he also writes, “What they found defied every attempt at generalization. Students began their first real reading at a remarkably wide range of ages–from as young as age 4 to as old as age 14. Some students learned very quickly, going from apparently complete non-reading to fluent reading in a matter of weeks; others learned much more slowly. A few learned in a conscious manner, systematically working on phonics and asking for help along the way. Others just “picked it up.” They realized, one day, that they could read, but they had no idea how they had learned to do so. There was no systematic relationship between the age at which students had first learned to read and their involvement with reading at the time of the interview. Some of the most voracious readers had learned early and others had learned late.”

 

Extra Reading on Reading

 

Rudolf Steiner, who created the Waldorf educational model, felt it was an injustice to a child’s imagination to teach them to read before the age of 7.  Schools in Finland (these schools have gotten US press for their excellent school systems, read about that here and here) do not have children start school until 7. In addition, one can really begin to learn to read at any age. There is also a need for ones eye muscles to build during normal play as a child before they are ready to read, and this development can widely vary.

The point is that a child’s time to be ready to read will occur at many different ages, and it’s ridiculous to try to make all children be on a particular level at one age. Still, all traditional schools are expecting every child to begin some type of literacy instruction by Kindergarten or 1st grade. Many children are not ready at this time and then develop anxieties over why they are not good enough, smart enough, etc. This becomes a labored pattern that, for many, keeps them in the low reading group or self-identifying as a non-reader. We don’t believe in doing that to children here.

John Taylor Gatto has done extensive research on the effectiveness of public schools throughout his 30 year career as a teacher. He is also a public speaker and author on the topic. In this interview (as well as in many of his other essays and books) he debunks the myth that children need school to learn to read:

“By 1940, literacy as a national number stood at 96 percent for whites and 80 percent for blacks. Four of five blacks were literate in spite of all disadvantages. Yet, six decades later, the Adult Literacy Survey and National Assessment of Educational Progress reported a 40 percent illiteracy rate for blacks – doubling the earlier deficiency – and a 17 percent rate for whites, more than quadrupling it. Yet, the money spent on schooling in real terms had grown 350 percent.”

 

If you would like to read more on this topic, Lisa Nielson compiles a very comprehensive list of links here to help you learn more about how children learn to read without teachers.

What do Students Want From Educators?

Lisa Nielson, the blogger behind The Innovative Educator,  recently published her blog’s top posts of all time (well since Google Analytics, came around in 2010). I had to check the list out, and found this gem from 2011.

The post covers a student panel hosted by Ann Curry and Education Nation where students were asked to share what they felt was important for everyone to receive a world-class education. You can see that full list here.

Several of the statements made by the students made my heart ache:

3. I can’t learn from you if you are not willing to connect with me.

12. Tell me something good that I’m doing so that I can keep growing in that.

15. Our teachers have too many students to enable them to connect with us in they way we need them to.

19. You need to love a student before you can teach a student.

I wish that, since then, policy makers listened to what students had to say. What has happened since 2011? Common Core, big time. It was under development since 2009, and by 2014, 45 states had adopted Common Core standards. Unfortunately for these students, in the three years since they shared their thoughts on education they have been subjected to more testing and achievement goals rather than nuture, love, and connection with the adults around them.

Our young people need to feel loved, heard, and cared about. This will help them more developmentally than testing them, punishing them, and constantly evaluating them for what we wish they were doing. You can’t teach anyone something if they don’t feel respected by you.

Our schools aren’t set up to allow teachers the ability to meaningfully connect with students, this I know from trying to do so when I was a public school teacher. So how do we expect meaningful learning to take place there?

ALF Weekend #1 @ Cloudhouse in Chatham, NY

Well, ALF summer has come and gone and we’ve all gotten started with our various schools/homeschool groups. We’ve spent a few weeks open and operational, and converged the past weekend at our ALC Cloudhouse location in Chatham, NY for our first ALF Weekend!

We gathered for the following purposes: 

  1. Facilitators to share experiences and ideas in order to evolve our Agile Culture model and strengthen our communities
  2. Specialized teams of ALFers to work on network-­wide projects such as: web tools,marketing material, documentation, story­telling, etc.
  3. Relationship building with a focus on healthy communication among the ALF team
  4. Creative problem solving around ways to increase resource sharing within the ALC network ­­- exchange students, facilitator sharing, and alternative currency structures.

My experience at ALF Weekend #1:

The Roadtrip: Driving with Dean and Charlotte — A++++++++ experience. This provided crucial time for purpose #3 in the specific Mosaic Community. We spent 28 hours total in the car together, there and back, and being able to talk about our experiences so far in the school year at Mosaic, what we think could be better, and to simply connect was very beneficial. We all arrived back in Charlotte today feeling energized and clear about our work as ALFs with the students.

 

Group time: We started and ended our days with whole group time. We opened on day one with a discussion about what it means to “ALF from the Source” and answered the questions:

  • What do we see possible? (Our Vision)
  • What’s the difference we can make? (Our Mission)
  • Why do we play/do this work? (Our Purpose)
  • What can the world count on us for? (Accountability)

@artbrock, co-founder of the ALC Network, stated that this activity and the responses we gave would help us converge on what we want the mission, vision, and purpose of our network to be. We have notes on this and will be incorporating our collaborative efforts into the summer documents we started with the help of @Leigh and @Sarasmith (two ALFs that couldn’t be here this weekend, unfortunately).

Day 1 at ALF Weekend - setting up our priorities for our time together.
Day 1 at ALF Weekend – setting up our priorities for our time together.

During our closing group time session, it was clear that communication around roles of various ALFers was needed so that Purpose #3 could happen across the network. We are still in the beginning states of our collaboration between schools and evolving what it means to be a part of a network of schools as we go! Mosaic was the first big school to transition to an ALC and we now have our Everett, Seattle location started up. As we grow, new ALFs desire clarity as to who is responsible for what. We need to balance assigning roles with the need for everyone to constantly change and evolve their role as they gain new experiences and find different sweet spots for themselves in the ALC Network. We believe in constant upgrades to our experience and want to allow our roles to be agile!

The next morning, Arthur led us through an eye-opening session about membranes and boundaries that communities of purpose, like ours, need. Identifying levels and paths of engagement to people joining our community is helpful for maintaining its health. There are those that will join us for our summer programs that are new to many of our foundational roots and they will need a map to see how they can navigate towards a role in the community that they desire. This is helpful so we can maintain the integrity for what it means to ALF. We also want to be able to identify experienced ALFs that can support newer ALFs along their journey.

We created a diagram of membranes that newcomers pass through as they come in contact with our network – mapping a path for those who have never heard of us –> to newcomers –> to participants –> supporters (including volunteers) –> stakeholders (including parents, interns, staff).  We have started documentation on this, but need to fine-tune and add more to the diagram as a part of our growing compilation of ALF Network Resources.

What grew from this conversation was an idea I proposed to @tomis and @bear for an activity for our current ALFs as a way for us to self-identify roles and share those with the other current ALFers. My intentions for the activity were to:

  • Have ALFs self-describe what they do in the network currently and allow space for others to provide input if there is something missing from a self-description of a role.
  • Have each individual to reflect on their list of what they currently do and identify what parts of what they do “juices,” or excites, them. This reflection is important to me – if someone writes a list of what they do and cannot identify something they like in that list, that’s a problem! What can also be an important practice is to see that if what you are doing is actually what you like and enjoy as a way to identify if you are in your “sweet spot” within the community.
  • To have ALFs share with one another if there is something they wish to be doing within the network.
  • To have individuals brainstorm action steps that could help them do what it is they wish to be doing. This is a “do-ocracy,” where we can create our own realities. I have little patience for complaining – I believe we are all empowered to create a life for ourselves that we want – but sometimes it’s hard to think of a doable action step to get us started on that path.

We asked all the ALFs to answer four questions as the first part of this activity: What do you do in the ALC Network? What juices you (from what you do)? What do you want (if anything) to be doing? What action steps can you identify that will get you there?

We all did this and shared – which was a much longer process than I anticipated! We had just come from a session about Metamaps and decided to document what everyone shared using this tool. @drew, @abbyo, and @artbrock diligently documented our process so we could create a map of our current roles and wishes within the ALC Network. This turned out to provide an incredible map of where we are now. Many ALFs felt juiced to use this tool to document and share what is currently happening in our network and relate those to contact ALFs. For example, as our network grows, a new ALF could look at this map and quickly identify which ALFs share common interests, like math, outdoor education, science, etc and then get in touch with those ALFs. Current ALFs can also see who else is interested in collaborating on projects in the future. From this activity, we’ve already assembled a team that has begun plans for our next summer ALF program!

Overall, I found the activity really beneficial and useful. It became kind of a lovefest by the end with lots of time spent with ALFs sharing appreciation for other ALFs. The productive side of me was not excited by the amount of time this took and felt that it led away from the purpose of what we were trying to accomplish, however, as I reflected further on the way home, I realized that we are still in the “getting to know” each other stage of our ALC Network. Art, Tomis, Bear, and Ryan launched this project over a year ago, several of us joined over the last school year, and another group joined as recently as this July. The most important thing we need to do now is build healthy, trusting relationships with each other rooted in gratitude & love. Just like building relationships with students is my number one priority at the beginning of a school year or getting to know a new student, it’s important for me to do this with adults too 😉

 

Small group time: In-between starting and ending each day with group time, the middle of the day was divided in times for self-space, breakout sessions, community projects, and food prep & meals together. Here are some of what I observed/participated in:

  • “Book Club” breakout session: Nancy, @abram, @drew, @dinospumoni are starting an ALF book club. We picked our first book, “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn and are going to set times to meet virtually to discuss the book section by section. Our goal is to have a synthesis of the book created so we can link a shortened doc, or “cliffs notes” to each book link on our resources page. If you want to join, please do so here!
  • “How to motivate kids without manipulation” breakout session: This was an incredible breakout session where ALFs shared strategies with one another that have served to help kids that have appeared to need more support to become self-directed learners. I’ll be adding a recap of that session in our Tools & Practices page soon. This breakout session marked a dream come true for me. I’ve been wishing for a group of alternative educators to share best practices with, and now I have one!
  • “Metamaps” breakout session: We were given a presentation from one of the creators of Metamaps and brainstormed how we could use this tool to serve our community, then moving on to use it in our next group session! Learn more about Metamaps here.
  • Web tools development session: This involved @Drew, @Tomis, and @Artbrock sitting around a table with laptops. Sorry, no summary from me since I didn’t join this one!
  • Ultimate Frisbee: I learned how to play. I kinda liked it. I moreso just loved the support I had from my peers to learn a new game and try something out that I wouldn’t normally do.
  • Community Project Time: We wanted to show appreciate for the Quaker Intentional Village Community hosting our retreat, so we chopped & stacked wood and painted the side of the farm house for them! I really enjoyed getting outside and doing some manual labor.
Charlotte, Tomis, & Dean chopping wood for QIVC
Charlotte, Tomis, & Dean chopping wood for QIVC

Then, there was the Werewolves game, played on our last night after group time. This was led by 15 year old Milo, ALC Cloudhouse student, until 2am on Saturday night! This role playing game was probably the most fun I’ve had all year. All of us couldn’t stop laughing and playing round after round.

Where to go from here? 

Well we’ve got some loose ends to continue to work on – like the Metamap of roles, and continued collaborative effort to define our purpose, mission, and vision. We’ve also got ALFer’s already starting on projects that they have identified interest in working on.

I’m personally excited to work on the following:

  • The book club
  • Planning for next ALF Summer
  • Continuing my focus on the kids at Mosaic. During our group activity, it is clear that working with kids and then sharing my personal ALF practices that work or don’t work well with other ALFs is a sweet spot for me. This is why I am excited to plan ALF summer too – I believe that it’s the ALFs that spend most of their time with kids are the ones that need to be sharing their insights with new ALFs planning to spend time with kids 🙂

 

Musings From Week 4 of School

I can’t believe we just finished our 4th full week of school! It’s incredible how much things have shifted for us in just a month. We had a just a short summer break – 2 weeks long, with 2 weeks of summer camp for most of our kids thrown in there. I thought that the transition back to the school year would be smoother, but it’s taken some time for us to find our flow!

The biggest shift we have seen in our school is the general school culture. I’ve been writing about our Change Up Meetings and our Culture Committee in a forum in our ALC Website called Culture @ ALC Mosaic.

The other thing I’m slowly noticing is how there are kids that are now creating their own routines in the day. We do our scrum every morning where kids and staff can plan our days, but patterns are emerging. The kids who want some consistency in their day are creating that for themselves.

Some consistent activities I’m seeing:

  • Language practice for the first hour of every day
  • Science with Dan in the morning
  • Choreography practice from 11-12 most days

After a pretty rocky first week and a half of school, the dust has settled and we have ourselves a school where self-directed learners can come to pursue their passions and interests – while in a community of other individuals.  I thought with such a short summer break and 2 weeks of summer camp that the transition would be smoother, but we definitely needed time to get used to the space and how to be together in it. I’m happy to now see the kids self-organizing around things they are excited about and the ALFs around to support them as well as create opportunities for new offerings.

Some celebrations from the week I’d love to share: 

  • Gabe passionately pursuing his blog – the kid picked up wordpress so fast and helped Charlotte with hers too. We hope he can help us get the other kids create shareable value on their blogs.
  • New entrepreneurial ventures, Charlotte is supporting kids who want to start a dog-walking business. They’ve made business cards and a website.
  • A fundraising jar! Many of our kids here are natural entrepreneurs. They love to sell things – and have now started a fundraising jar where they can collect money they make for school field trips.
  • Caleb leading our end of day group sharing, with more buy-in and participation from the group than when it was led by adults!
  • The beginning of movie script writing for a “In the Wild” Warrior Cat movie. I showed kids my video editing software on my old computer and now we have producers in the midst.
  • The girls supporting our youngest student in learning how to participate productively with a group! It’s hard being the only 5 year old at the school, and it’s heart warming to see the girls include him in their movie cast 🙂
  • Ayan calling forth a Solar Pyrographist. Who knew this existed? The ALFs are convinced Ayan called his passion into being.
  • We actually did build on the measuring the hallway activity with our feet, leaps, jumps, etc. It was pretty fun (read previous math blog for more there).

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Oh…and there’s so much more. My hope is for Charlotte, Luc, Dan, Felicia and Dean to create their own blogs so they can share what they see happening in their experiences. I stay inside a lot, sticking to art/language/writing/reading/computer activities, and I miss what’s going with the outside adventures!

This week I’m only here Monday and Tuesday before I take off to the Business Innovation Factory’s 10th Annual Conference in Providence, RI. I’ll be there Wed & Thurs, and then I’ll head to NYC to see the ALC NYC on Friday. I’ll get to see how they implement their Friday group reflection time (You can see our weekly sprint schedule and compare it to the weekly sprint schedule in NYC), I’ll be blogging from NYC with them and will share about what I learn on my travels!