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Uncovering Origins to Inform Our Decisions

On Thursday, Alona came to our small group room with a book from our library called The Book of Origins. She was feeling like having a lazy start to her day since she hurt her Achilles tendon at dance practice the day before. I leaned over to check out the book, and saw that it started with the origins of wedding traditions. My interest was piqued and I decided to join her for some reading that morning (yes, skipping all language practice!).

Alona wrote a pretty detailed blog post about what we read that day, both of us learning some pretty terrible origins about how the marriage traditions we practice today got their start. You can check out Alona’s post for those details, I won’t dive into that here.

What I will dive into is the conversation Alona and I were able to have because of our reading. As I read about the origins of the veil, best man, and other traditions I see happening at EVERY wedding I go to, I went to a whole other place in my mind about humans and why we do what we do. I found that as I learned the history behind the start of these traditions, I began releasing any connection to wanting to carry them forward. I became excited thinking about other things I could do for my wedding and how I could create a new type of celebration that would launch the start of a lifetime of partnership.

Alona and I discussed how many people do what others have done before them, thinking that if others are doing it that way, it must be the right thing to do. However, if we all took the time to research the history behind the actions, traditions, or social norms of the people living before us, perhaps we could better discern which practices we want to carry forward and which we do not. Alona was able to relate this to how her family has chosen to live. I’ll leave out the personal family details, but clearly, by virtue of choosing Mosaic for their children’s school, both of her parents have made a clear decision to avoid the traditional methods of education and have committed to unschooling their children. Alona and her younger sister have been unschooled for their whole lives.

This had me thinking a lot.

First of all, I simply remain in awe and gratitude for the parents we currently have supporting Mosaic and its existence. To realize the pressure they are under from the dominant paradigm to conform, yet they choose not to, I am deeply and utterly amazed at their courage and desire to try out something different.

Secondly, I was thinking compassionately about the parents who come in contact with unschooling, free-schooling, or homeschooling, knowing that their child is unhappy in traditional school, wanting something different, but unable to make that leap. There are times I just want to scream, “WELL TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT THEN. YOU CAN DO THAT IF YOU CHOSE, IT’S ONLY HAS HARD AS YOU DECIDE IT TO BE.” But that’s not a very compassionate approach. The origins reading and conversation with Alona had me considering what all parents are up against. For many, it’s just too damn scary to do something different. If you aren’t deep in your convictions for why you are choosing a different path, you will more readily buckle under the pressure of the rest of society asking you, “What if you mess up your children?” The easier thing to do is to do what everyone else is doing. That way, if your child is “messed up” you can say that it was the system’s fault, not yours. I’d like to note that I firmly believe in and see the resilience and strength of human beings and know that if you are live an empowered life, there is nothing that can possibly mess you up. But how do I thoughtfully and kindly express this to parents under the heavy pressures of society? How do I support parents wanting to make a leap into something different for their children but feeling like they just can’t do it?


There is No Magic Answer

While there is no magic answer, there are many people that are working hard to debunk the rationale behind traditional education, including educating parents about the origins of public schooling. Perhaps, like my experience learning about wedding traditions, more people learning about why public schools exist might realize that this is one tradition not worth following.


John Taylor Gatto*

John Taylor Gatto  has spent 30 years teaching in public schools and almost as much time trying to educate students and parents about why public schooling is actually a terrible place for children to learn. I admire him deeply for staying in the public school system for so long as he tried serve children within a system he believed was harmful. Gatto also dedicates himself to writing books and public speaking so he can educate the American public about the origin of public schools, in the hopes that educators and parents will open their eyes and realize that school, as it exists today, is not healthy or beneficial to our youth.

In this five hour interview, Gatto gives what is described as “The Ultimate History Lesson,” where he goes into a lot of detail behind the origins of public school. If you ever hear @Tomis passionately state that traditional schools are not serving our children, know that he’s not just speaking from opinion. He’s done a ton of research in addition to working in alternative schools for 6 years. He’s watched this interview in full at least 4 or 5 times. He’s very aware of the origins of public schools, which helps him remain deeply committed and convicted in his work.

If you don’t have five hours to spend watching this, you can also read Gatto’s speech to the Vermont Homeschooling Conference. A portion I will copy and past here:

“Let me start with the DESIGNING EDUCATION FOR THE FUTURE papers. They were the collusion with the federal education department and the presumably independent state agencies. They redefined education after the 19th century Germanic fashion as (quoting now from the document) “as a means to achieve important economic and social goals for the national character” — and I would hasten to add that none of those goals included the maximum development of your son or daughter. State agencies would henceforth “act as Federal enforcers insuring compliance of local schools with Federal directives”. The document proclaimed that (I’m quoting again), “each state education department must be an agent of change”, proclaimed further “change must be institutionalized“. I doubt if an account of this appeared in any newspaper in the state of Vermont or for that matter any newspaper in the country (U.S.). Education departments were (I am quoting a third time) “to lose their identity as well as their authority in order to form a partnership with the Federal Government“.

“The BEHAVIORAL TEACHER EDUCATIONAL PROJECT outlines specific teaching reforms to be forced on the country, unwillingly of course, after 1967. It also sets out, in clear language, the outlook and intent of its invisible creators. Nothing less than quoting again “the impersonal manipulation through schooling of a future America in which few will be able to maintain control over their own opinions“, an America in which (quoting again) “each individual receives at birth, a multipurpose identification number which enables employers and other controllers to keep track of their [underlings]“, (underlings is my interpretation, everything else came out of the document), “and to expose them to the directors subliminal influence of the state education department and the federal department acting through those whenever necessary“.

In Gatto’s acceptance speech for the New York City Teacher of the Year Award in 1990 he states:

“Schools were designed by Horace Mann and Barnard Sears and Harper of the University of Chicago and Thorndyke of Columbia Teachers College and some other men to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce through the application of formulae, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.

To a very great extent, schools succeed in doing this. But our society is disintegrating, and in such a society, the only successful people are self-reliant, confident, and individualistic – because the community life which protects the dependent and the weak is dead. The products of schooling are, as I’ve said, irrelevant. Well-schooled people are irrelevant. They can sell film and razor blades, push paper and talk on the telephones, or sit mindlessly before a flickering computer terminal but as human beings they are useless. Useless to others and useless to themselves.”

Gatto also has also written a book that I consider very easy-to-read called “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.” Through Gatto’s time in public schools and through his extensive research and study of how the traditions in schools came to be, it is clear to him why schools don’t work. While I have only taught in public school for 3 years, I have still spent 17 years myself in traditional schools and have come to the same conclusion based on my experience and research. I find that when I feel pressure to conform to social norms, diving back into the research that Gatto speaks and writes about help me to stay deeply convicted to my work.



Jeremy Stewart and Dustin Woodard: Class Dismissed

I also had the pleasure to watch the Charlotte screening of Class Dismissed, produced by Jeremy Stewart & Dustin Woodard. Both Stewart and Woodard are homeschooling dads who grew tired of answering the same questions again and again from those not understanding the paradigm they live in. “How do your kids become socialized? How do they get into college?” are two questions asked repeatedly by those who have not realized that there can be a successful life outside of traditional schools.

Tomis, Nancy, Jeremy, Charlotte, & Dustin at the Charlotte premiere of Class Dismissed

It gets tiring. As Stewart described in the Q&A after the screening, the idea to make this movie came from him just wanting to hand a film over to every person asking those questions. I cannot wait for the movie to come out on DVD so I can do the same!

This film powerfully demonstrates that classrooms and desks are not needed to learn, in fact, for many, they hinder a person’s ability to learn about who they are and what they want out of life. The film covers the origins of compulsory education and debunks the common fears about venturing into homeschooling. It depicts unschooling in a way that reminds us all that life is living, and living is learning.

I valued watching this film so much because I could identify deeply with the thoughts of the mom they followed for two years on her journey to explore homeschooling. The movie depicted her struggle as she heard the doubts of others. I have struggled in the same way.

Like this mom, sometimes doubts have affected me so much I start veering back towards traditional methods. But when I stop and look at the children in front of me, I remember the fact that all humans want to learn and all humans want to have lives that they enjoy living. I remember then that I must always strive to connect with each individual and honor them as an individual in order to serve them best. I don’t have to make them want to learn, they come to me that way. I only need to connect with them and build a meaningful relationship with them so they will see me as a person who can help them learn all the things they want to. I am so thankful for Stewart and Woodard’s work over the past four years to create this film as a service to educators like myself. They helped me connect even more deeply to the work that I do, and also have provided me with a tool I can use to serve more children in my community. I cannot wait to share this film with more parents and educators in Charlotte!

I was not the only one immersed in gratitude after watching the film – one of our 9-year-old students spent her time in Writer’s Workshop the following day writing this blog post in appreciation of our school. She attended the film with her family. It’s powerful to know that the students in the school appreciate the opportunity they have here!


Ken Danford & NorthStar for Teens

One of my early inspirations for creating ALC Mosaic came from the work of Ken Danford with North Star: Self Directed Learning for Teens. This group is also powerfully changing the lives of teens and helping them to realize that they can leave school and start living now.

I came across the following video today of a teen that I saw speak at the AERO Conference in 2013, and am so thankful for how North Star is doing all that they can to share with the world the success stories of teens leaving school and making their own lives. They have been doing this for over 17 years. The more I can support them by sharing these stories, the more I can support parents who know the public school system isn’t serving their children to make the leap into a lifestyle that does.

In this clip, Jonah sums it up well. He is thankful that he hasn’t spent the last 6 years of his life fighting with teachers in schools and with his parents. Instead, he’s had the time to explore and learn everything he’s wanted to.

Instead of only thinking about “what he wants to be when he grows up,” he is able to be something right now and consciously choose what that is.

Imagine what a world would look like where everyone was considering what they were doing in each present moment…


So…What Next?

I continue writing. I continue sharing. I enjoy following the footsteps of these great people before me who want to get the message out there that schools were not created to serve individuals. I continue sharing how we can serve our children today differently.


*John Taylor Gatto suffered from a stroke on July 29, 2011 that has left him paralyzed on his left side and bedridden ever since. There is a fund in place to provide him with support for transportation, communication, and food. Please consider any contribution you can make & share the link to support: www.thejohntaylorgattomedicalfund.com

Re-visiting My Roots

I remember thinking that there would be no book that would affect me like A.S. Neill‘s Summerhill when I read it. I read Summerhill during the AERO school starter course led by Jerry Mintz four months before I opened The Mosaic School, LLC in January of 2013. After reading Neill’s book I felt empowered and inspired to take action to create a school grounded in principles that I believed in. Neil showed me that an education centered around the needs of individuals – who they are, their passions, their interests – was possible.

democratic education     Summerhill book image2

Then I read Democratic Education by Yaacov Hecht in August of 2013, weeks before Mosaic officially launched as a full blown school. Hecht’s writing and story are incredible and I found myself blown away as I was when reading Summerhill. Even more remarkable, as I was reading his book during IDEC in Boulder, CO that August, Hecht ended up walking over and joining me and my friend @Alex for lunch. If that’s not divine universal intervention, I don’t know what is!

With Hecht (far right) after meeting him at IDEC 2013

Hecht founded the Democratic School in Hadera, Israel, the first school in the world to call itself democratic. His model was so appreciated by parents and students that when his waiting list grew to the hundreds, he ended up starting another school. He has since been called the “Father of Democratic Education” in Israel, establishing a network of schools serving over 7,000 students in his country. I highly encourage that educators and parents read his book, as he provides a very easy-to-read account of his journey, from how he grew up to starting his first school, how he expanded on his ideas, vignettes about students in a free school setting, detailed learning theories, as well as his current and future projects.

Before I met @Tomis at the Agile Learning Center in NYC, I had read Hecht’s book and knew that I wanted to be a part of a network of schools united in supporting each other. I had previously taught at a small school start up in Charlotte, called The Friends School of Charlotte, where I was one of 2 teachers. I knew how isolating and challenging it felt to try to create something so different than the social norm. I didn’t want Mosaic to only be one school. I wanted to have other schools and educators that I could learn, play and grow with. Reading about what Hecht had created inspired me to keep hold of a vision where I wouldn’t feel like I was creating alone. I knew I would one day be able to connect with other educators that wanted to create schools aligned with a similar philosophy.

What I am feeling extremely grateful for right now is how the reading of both of these books directly contributed to my next steps in the creation of Mosaic. I read Summerhill (by Neill who started and ran one school for his lifetime), and shortly thereafter, I was starting a school. I read Democratic Education (by Hecht who started a network of schools), and again, within months, I was joining forces with the team at ALC NYC to create a network of schools. I do believe that we all have the power to manifest what we want to see created in our own lives. Sometimes a little inspiration from the work of those preceding us helps us remember what is possible.

Recently, I’ve felt challenged to re-visit the reasons I started this school and ALC movement. This is a good and healthy challenge, one that I enjoy diving into so I can stay connected to the heart of what I do rather than live in my head and the stories I can tell myself. From time to time, I need to create space where I can get quiet with myself and remember why I do what I do.

Over the course of our ALF Intensive last summer, we identified the roots of ALC’s, which are what grounds & unites all of our ALC’s together. Each one may look different, but we have fundamental agreements that:

  1. Learning is natural. It’s happening all the time.
  2. When people make their own decisions, they learn better. (And children are people!)
  3. People develop their strengths through cycles of intention, creation, and reflection.
  4. People learn more from the culture and environment they are immersed in than from the material they are taught.
  5. The 21st century world demands the creation of visible, shareable value as evidence of learning.

The first four are roots that I really wanted to re-visit, and to do so, I’ve taken a journey back to Hecht’s writing that inspired me so deeply to action over a year ago. I remembered how Hecht so diligently described what he calls “pluralistic learning” that is able to happen in an environment where students make their own choices about what they are doing and learning. I have been re-reading Chapter 3 of this book and as I read his words and stories, I am reminded of what I see happening at ALC Mosaic in connection to Hecht’s words and our Agile Roots. I’ll attempt to share what I mean through my synthesis of this chapter of Democratic Education below.


What is Pluralistic Learning?

Hecht chose the name “pluralistic learning,” describing it as “a learning process that recognizes the diversity among learners – learning based on the equal right of every individual to express his or her uniqueness.” He continues on in this description to explain how every individual has a “unique learning profile” and that “Human diversity means that the learning framework must acknowledge the fact that [every human is] different and unique.” (pg. 94)

Furthermore, in Hecht’s opinion (which I share), we are faced today with a new challenge for what human beings need for their education. According to Hecht, “The only man who is educated is the man who has learned how to learn; the man who has learned to adapt to change; the man who has realized that no knowledge is secure, that only the process of seeking knowledge gives a basis for security.” (pg. 98)


Areas of Strength & Growth

Our traditional education systems are set up in a way where there is a limited box of knowledge and skills of what administration & teachers want children to learn and be skilled at doing.

photo (20)
Image from page 96 of Hecht’s Democratic Education

In the image above, Hecht represents what schools decided students need to learn with the little square, and the larger shape represents the world of knowledge available. This little box is what most education systems deem time “well-spent” for children. For those people who aren’t naturally good learning or doing what is in that little box, school is quite a frustrating experience. Hecht points out that many times, when children are doing things in school or in life that are not related to learning what is in that little box, adults consider it time wasted.

According to Hecht, “The purpose of democratic education is to provide students with the conditions that will encourage them to step outside ‘the square,’ to begin a process of searching for areas of strength where they can enhance their belief in their own abilities.” (page 104)

Hecht speaking about pluralistic learning at IDEC 2013

It is when we venture outside of this box to find our areas of strength that we also find our area of growth, which is “the field which fascinates the learner, at the present time, more than any other area…characterized by intense emotions, such as enthusiasm, excitement, challenge and an acute desire to return to that area of interest again and again.” (page 105)

Hecht accompanies this explanation with descriptions of how children learn, first describing how when a toddler learns to walk the try so again and again even though they keep falling. They are so fascinated by how they have just figured out a new way to be mobile – of course they will want to try out and refine this skill at all costs, perhaps frustrating to parents wanting them to sit still at the dinner table! The same goes for babies when they learn to babble and then talk. Hecht also describes a child in his school who was obsessed with practicing handstands and cartwheels for a considerable amount of time. While to other educators this might be viewed as time wasted, Hecht understands that “When children (or adults, for that matter) are allowed to remain in their area of growth without being disturbed or forced to leave it, they acquire considerable emotional and cognitive skills.” (pg 107)

What does Hecht recognize from the child doing handstands over and over again? “The child who did the handstands succeeded, thanks to a belief in his own persistence; he learned about overcoming difficulties and about courage; he drew conclusions from his falls, and his learning ability grew. The next time he wishes to enter the learning process, he will be able to use the tools he gained from doing handstands. The ability to draw conclusions from failing, and understanding of the importance of persistence and patience – all these will serve him well when he tries to contend in other areas of learning.” (pg. 107)

The really important reminder that Hecht has given me as I re-read this chapter is that the content of what we are learning is never more important than how the process of learning occurs. We can have children learn content that we think is important for them to learn, but if that learning process occurs by telling them “This is important for you to learn because we deem it so. Even if this does not contextually make sense for your understanding of life and meaning, don’t think about that. Just learn it and show us you know this content by doing ‘X’ so we can prove to others you know it,” the student actually learns that learning occurs when you get information from others – and that others decide what information is important to know. They are learning a lesson that they are not to be trusted to determine what skills or knowledge is important for them to gain. To me, this increases the chance that the child will grow up to be disempowered to create change or meaning for their own life – they will think that other people who have authority are the ones smart enough to make change and decisions. They might learn that complaining about how things are is the only way to cope through life.

What Hecht describes taking place in democratic schools is the ability for pluristic learning to occur where the learning is not about “what is done, but rather how processes occur….What is important and meaningful is the growth of inner strengths that enrich and enhance the repertoire of learning tools.” (pg 107) Students who are able to spend time learning in their area of growth are spending time practicing all the skills they need in order to learn any other type of content or skill. They are developing the connections in their brain for learning how to learn, rather than how to conform. Just like working out, what muscles we work out are the ones that end up being developed. I think parents and educators need to examine closely what “muscles” we are having our children practice in school settings.


Connecting Hecht’s Pluralistic Learning & My Observations at Mosaic

When I began re-reading this chapter, the vignette about the child doing handstands immediately had me thinking about two of our students learning to skateboard this year.

These two went out almost every day this fall to skateboard. Again and again they would ride down a gently sloping hill on our campus on their bottoms. It was only a couple weeks ago that the girls excitedly called for me and @Charlotte to see them finally standing up on their skateboards! Were they wasting their time at school this fall? Certainly this is not in the little box of knowledge that many educators deem important for children to learn.

I, and I believe Hecht would agree, observe that these children learned how to persevere. They learned how to commit to learning a skill. They learned how to be brave enough finally stand up on the skateboard. They gained so many skills that will help them learn how to accomplish many more things they commit to learning in their lives.

Re-reading this chapter inspired me to take a journey through our school’s Facebook photos, with a thoughtful perspective of all the amazing things the children are able to learn and practice in this free setting.

It’s all about perception – one might choose to perceive that some children have an unhealthy obsession with Pokemon. There is also a choice to perceive this game differently. You can take a look at @Charlotte’s lessons learned from Pokemon, including the skill of organization, equitable trade, planning, creation, and even the academic discipline: math. What I value most from Pokemon is how the children create their own value systems based on what they find important. Some value the cuteness of a character, some value the HP. Each create a meaning for why they covet a particular card higher than another. What muscle are they practicing here? Perhaps when they grow up these children will have a strong ability to discern for themselves what values are important to them politically. They won’t need to just take on the beliefs of those they deem smarter than them (i.e., repeat political agendas of their parents or a teacher they come across in school). They will have had the practice of learning to discern for themselves what values are important to them.

My last blog post was about the game Werewolves and observations I made about the perseverance and determination I saw demonstrated as the kids tried again and again to play this complex game. The kids gained experience in how to organize themselves, children of all ages, to listen to each other. I don’t think I need to explain how valuable this skill might prove to be for humans to gain…learning how to support different individuals to listen and respect one another. This is the “muscle” we practice the most at our school, one that I wish more human beings (including myself) had practice in growing up in schools. Perhaps if the privileged children in the United States learned how to support and listen to individuals coming from different perspectives than their own, global change might happen in how humans perceive and treat one another.

Why do I share this? Why blog these details? 

I want more parents and educators to rally to support educational reformation. The stories of children learning how to learn need to explained in detail, and I am committed to sharing these stories over and over again. I am committed to helping others draw the connection to the importance of play and autonomy in the lives of children to how those can create a future generation that is capable of creating positive social impact for all human beings.

This is the a part of the reason why I stated in the beginning of this post that re-visiting my roots is a good and healthy challenge for me. When I speak to people unfamiliar with alternative education, the questions I constantly face are, “Well how will they learn math? Don’t you think learning (insert academic subject here) is important?”

Sure, but learning how to learn is even more important. Learning how to commit, persevere, be courageous, make decisions, collaborate, share, create meaning and purpose, create your own life…all those things I find more important. Re-reading Hecht’s journey alongside my walk down Facebook photo lane has me feeling energized and excited about the adventure I have embarked on.

Werewolves & How We Learn

Werewolves. It’s totally trending in ALC’s. When the students came to visit from ALC Cloudhouse, they taught our kids this fantasy role-playing game that has recently made a huge surge in play.

Playing Werewolves

What is Werewolves? Do you remember the game Mafia? It’s pretty much like that except we aren’t pretending to be gangsters (I like this change). It’s more fantasy based, with werewolves, a fortune teller, Cupido, the witch, the elder, defender, and more.

Every person plays in a circle and a DM moderates the game. This is a very important role. The DM is the person who tells the whole story and navigates all players through the game. It’s pretty fun for adults to play…the ALFs played for 4 hours one night during our ALF weekend. It was led by a student from ALC Cloudhouse who also taught the kids down here at ALC Mosaic.

What I’ve found fascinating is the determination the kids have to play. To play this game you have to be able to sit very quietly and still while the village is asleep (you must have your eyes closed and you don’t want to give away your role when it’s your turn to wake up in the night). You have to be able to take turns and hear each other.

I have sat in on many of the attempts to play this game with the kids and always leave wondering why the kids think this is fun. I love the game, but it appears to me that most of the time the kids are trying to quiet each other so play can happen, getting upset about others not following the rules, then clarifying the rules, then trying again…and again…and again.

Each time I leave thinking, “Man, they will never want to play again,” which I get sad about because the game is really so much fun to play. But to my continual surprise, a child the next day will offer Werewolves and EVERYBODY wants to play again.

This confused me because I couldn’t understand why the kids would willingly go through this tumultuous experience another time of trying to play a game that requires everyone to be still and listen. Why would they want to sit through the challenging process of getting kids of all ages to be quiet for this game? After all, it seems like a game that’s really better suited for older people, like teens or adults, to play.

However then I’m reminded of a truth that I know from all of my experience living and learning myself and watching children live and learn. We all learn and acquire new skills when we are motivated intrinsically to meet a need or achieve a goal. The kids are willing to go through an experience that is challenging because they are all choosing to be there and are intrinsically motivated to experience the joy of this game. Along the way, they have to learn how to be still and how to listen to one another.

Adults telling kids, “It’s important to listen to one another!” without them experiencing any context as to why this might be important proves to be a futile request in my experience. They will learn to listen to others through meaningful experiences in their own lives. The more time they have to meet and self-organize activities in groups that are meaningful to them, the more they will learn the importance of hearing and listening to each other. The more the adults organize for them and “make” them listen (or force compliance to make them look like they are listening) the more they learn about the social construct of adults having the power and them being powerless.

Again and again, I’m reminded of this lesson. I will get frustrated at times trying to teach the kids a lesson that I think is so important, yet I fail over and over again when I do this. People learn most powerfully when they:

1) Learn from their own experience firsthand.

2) Choose the person they want to learn from (and this stresses the importance of facilitators focused on building relationships with children rather then teaching children).

3.) Have content/an activity they are so motivated to learn/experience that they are willing to endure any challenge to achieve the outcome they desire.

I see this proved through my observation of the game Werewolves. For the kids, the motivation is to have the experience of playing a large group game involving storytelling, fantasy, and strategy. I’ve watched a 7 year old go from crying when they don’t get the role they want to saying, “I want to play and I’m not to get upset when I don’t get the role I want.” I watched the kids this week work together to build a giant fort so they could all go inside to play Werewolves together. That happened on Thursday of this week, after many unsuccessful attempts to play the game. I had given up on playing with the kids because it was so frustrating, yet the kids kept on going.

After building the giant fort together, the kids played with @Charlotte and then an entire game on their own to completion – something I think I’ve only experienced once in all the many times I’ve tried to play with the kids. Most of the time we just end the game in frustration. Yet there was something magical about having most of the kids in the school work together to build a structure for the sole purpose of playing this group game together inside. I think it increased the level of community awareness and bonding, and increased the determination the kids had to focus and try their hardest to contribute to the game in a way that would allow it to be played to completion.

The kids going in the fort they made to play Werewolves

Through this experience I’m reminded again the power of games, intrinsic motivation, and when true learning happens. I’m grateful for all the lessons the kids teach me here each day.

In-ergize Charlotte

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

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

The Structure

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

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

The presenters at In-Ergize Charlote

My Take-Aways from “Be Awake”

The Teacher: Richard Vreeland

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

The Storyteller: Mike Watson

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

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

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

The Experience: Laura Neff

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

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

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


My Take-Aways from “Be Authentic”

The Teacher: Matt Olin

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

The Storyteller: Tamara Wallace Norman

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

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

The Experience: Jonathan Winn

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

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


My Take-Aways from “Be Audacious”

The Teacher: LaPronda I. Spann

I loved the Disney quote Spann said during her presentation:

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

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

The Storyteller: Robbie Warren

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

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

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

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

The Experience: Jan Luther

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

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

To Summarize

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

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

The Opportunity in Conflict

When I taught conflict resolution to kids in the past, I always started with the question, “What is Conflict?” to create a dynamic list of all the ways conflict shows up in our lives.

Conflict happens. The point that I always stress to students is that how we respond to conflict is always our choice. We can take every conflict and turn it into an opportunity for growth or view it as a disaster.

One practice we have at school that I see becoming more and more powerfully used to turn conflict into opportunity is our Community Mastery Board (CMB). The CMB allows us to make explicit community agreements and norms we want to have in our school. We notice that we want something to change, we bring it to the awareness of the community, and then check in weekly to see how we are doing on that agreement.

Here are a couple short examples of our use of the CMB at Mosaic:

  • At the beginning of the year, slamming doors was a big problem. Our doors are big and heavy and the hinges slam them shut. Without intending to, it is really easy to create a very loud slam with very little force. This is not pleasant to hear all day! We added this to our awareness column “Slamming Doors.” Then each week, we check in, “Have you guys been hearing the doors slam a lot or is this getting better?” The act of just asking and then celebrating with the students each week on this has made this occurrence happen less and less. What I am celebrating currently is that every time the door does get accidentally slammed now, the person who did it almost ALWAYS pops their head back in the room with a meek, “I’m sorry.” That means a lot as a community – we will all slip-up, but acknowledging that our intent was not to disrupt others and apologizing goes a long way.
  • We also have made explicit the practice of “Ask before taking something that is not yours.” It’s important to not assume that everyone would automatically do this. If we work off that assumption, we open the door to a lot of negative feelings towards others – “What is wrong with them? How can they not know this?” Thoughts like this do not help to add to a culture of compassion and care. We make this explicit and then when it happens, we remind each other (which is also a sticky we have!) that this is something we are working on as a community – rather than telling the other person that they are a bad person for doing something we assume they know not to do. This is how I feel a community like ours can support kids with all types of needs and social differences – we never assume what another knows, we just actively looks for ways to support and create cultural practices we want to see happen.


This week, we used our CMB to help establish some more boundaries and practices at our school that I’m really excited about! These two topics are ways I saw us creating opportunity out of conflict.

Our Community Mastery Board at ALC Mosaic
Our Community Mastery Board at ALC Mosaic

Loud Hour: We have some boys at school that are high energy! They feel that their loud play in our big room is important to them, and they want to be able to wrestle on the carpet and hit each other with pillows. A few weeks ago, we established a community agreement with them that they schedule a loud hour at our morning meeting if they want to engage in this play. This allows us to pick a time where quiet activities aren’t going on and lets everyone in the school know when to expect loud play to happen in the big room.

This has been going really well. The boys are remembering more and more to schedule these times proactively. I also appreciate that when they start the loud wrestling play outside of loud hour, I can remind them of our agreement and ask them to go outside if they want to be that loud. In the beginning of the year I would be met with lots of resistance and complaining, but now they just go outside. They know that our community needs space for quiet and focused work and they were a part of the process of making this agreement.

This week we had a conflict occur during loud hour with two boys. One could have seen this conflict through the lens of disaster, but with the CMB in place and the amount of work we have done as a community to create a positive environment, I felt confident that this could easily be turned into an opportunity for clear expectations of what loud hour was and what it wasn’t.

Here are opportunities I observed happen through this conflict:

  • Several of our older boys obtained practice in speaking calmly about a tense situation and practiced taking turns to hear others speak.
  • One child just naturally stepped into a role of mediator – he started re-stating the words of a younger child to help make clearer his meaning for others, a practice I’ve seen used in non-violent communication practices. I had the opportunity to say, “I see you are really hearing what ________ has to say and you are wanting all of us to hear clearly what they are trying to say.”
  • Two of our oldest boys made it clear what they felt was acceptable to do during loud hour and what was not for the younger boys to understand. Certain practices were abolished that felt unsafe, for example, certain pillows used in the room were banished. These boys were able to step powerfully into their role as leaders in the school and take ownership of what that means.
  • A clear request was made by the students: A facilitator should remind the boys of agreements made at the beginning of every loud hour.

Videogame hour/Technology agreements: Oh boy, this can be a hot topic with parents and educators, and it doesn’t surprise me that this then leaks down to the kids. Our prior agreement to this week was that videogames/video watching could happen from 2-3pm (an agreement made with the kids at a Culture Club meeting, the kids felt time at school provided opportunities to do more than play videogames/watch videos all day, but they had a hard time taking those opportunities if they got started playing a videogame/watching a video early in the day). However, our internet bandwidth cannot support the streaming of videos while kids are also playing on the same Minecraft server. Students were getting angry at other students choosing to watch videos at this time because they would continually get kicked off the server.

What I was also observing was an unhealthy obsession and relationship to technology that did not resonate with me. The culture was becoming one where other kids would tell on me that another child was using technology outside of this hour and want me to make them stop. A culture that supports seeking out how others are doing something wrong rather than focusing on supporting everyone on their own learning journey is NOT what I am signed up for! I also felt like the focus was on “How technology is bad” instead of “How can I make choices mindfully?”

The bandwidth problem led to some small conversations happening with the kids during the videogame hour. Then on Thursday, we had a beautiful conversation that got the input of all the kids about what videogame hour was and how they felt about technology agreements.

Opportunities we had out of this conflict:

  • We had the opportunity to re-establish the fact that the kids do play videogames collaboratively with one another, and this is a practice they still want to have space for at school. They play together at school and work together on the same server for Mindcraft. This is something they couldn’t do at home by themselves (well technically they could, but they couldn’t hear and talk to each other while doing so). We banned the practice of streaming any video during this time to allow for the bandwidth to support multiple players on one server.
Collaborative gaming at school
  • We had the opportunity to re-visit how technology can be used outside of this hour in a mindful way. Rather than telling on someone when they see them on a device, they can talk to the person using the device and the expectation is for each individual to be able to explain the purpose of what they are doing. If there is still question, than 4 students volunteered to check-in on the device use. Those 4 students identified themselves to the community as people capable of making mindful choices using technology. If 2 of those students support the use, it’s okay. This stops the practice of “telling on” a child to an adult and instead shifts the focus to, “Do you support how I’m using this device to _____________.”


Rather than assume that all use of technology will take over our brains and turn us into zombies, we can encourage everyone in our space to think about how we are using it and what our purpose is. Rather than having students believe that every time they see another child on a computer or device they are doing something mindless, they can ask, “What are you using this for and how is it supporting you?” If someone can’t answer that question, it is brought to their own awareness that they are not making a mindful choice. It’s also okay to just zone out sometimes! We all do it. I simply believe that we can make that intentional as well. I had a student tell me once this year, “I’ve done so much today (and listed activities), I just need 15 minutes to do nothing.” That demonstrates to me a powerful sense of self-awareness.

Our new agreements also support the kids in our space being held accountable to what they chose to do on devices, with the realization that others in the school will probably ask them what they’re up to online. Sugata Mitra‘s research has shown that children who have unlimited access to technology in a way that allows all others in the space to see what they are searching and doing online almost always eliminates all use of technology in a way that would be considered “inappropriate” to adults (i.e., looking up adult content, like porn, purposely). This is a question I asked Sugata Mitra about directly when I met him and participated in a small group discussion around technology and self-directed education at last year’s International Democratic Education Conference. You can read more about that experience here.


I am now taking the opportunity for myself to reflect and celebrate that we have been able to create opportunities for growth towards a healthy culture at school at every turn. Part of that celebration is taking the time for myself to write this post!

With adults in our space modeling this mindset, our children in the space can learn how the practice of creating opportunity out of conflict not only makes ourselves happier, but can powerfully lead to a community around us that supports positive thinking, reflection, and trying again when we fail.

I’ve been a part of the opposite in other school environments and watched many kids and adults beat themselves up so badly after a conflict that they cannot see how to turn it around into positive change and growth. I sadly find this the norm in many schools. It takes self-confidence and love for ourselves to spread a positive growth mindset to others. This is the learning I want to see happen in schools.

I am feeling grateful for every experience I’ve had with this community, the joyful ones, the sad ones, the exciting ones, the uncomfortable ones. I can feel grateful because I know I have the power to turn every one of these experiences into an opportunity to examine, what do I want more of in my life? Less of? What decisions serve me? What does not? I have the power to create how I experience this world, and that feels AWESOME!






Highlights from the week – October 27-31

This week was full of ease and flow. I feel like we are harvesting right now the fruits of having a group of kids that has been working on how to be in community with one another for over a year now.

Some quick highlights from the week:

  • I visited a teen program in Asheville – they are beginning to use Agile tools and practices! I wrote a blog post earlier this week with more details on that trip.
Morning circle at Endor
Morning circle at Endor
  •  Tomis taught the kids a super fun strategy game called Tictactics. It’s tic-tac-toe to the extreme. What was really interesting is the he presented the game the morning after I read an article called, “How Guessing Games Help Kids Solve Math Problems.” While the article focus on numerical guessing games, I see the link to strategy guessing games also providing a strong mathematical foundations. Both girls and boys got into the game during our Math Club hour and I loved seeing that!
Level 3 of the Egg Drop Challenge
Level 3 of the Egg Drop Challenge
  • Our Language Club visited Pura Vida in NoDa to practice our Spanish skills and see the Day of the Dead Altar. Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on Nov 1 of each year in Latin America. I’ve been taking kids to Pura Vida to see the Altar for 5 years years now! The owner and all the employees are very friendly and kind to the kids. The let the kids pretend to buy items in the store using the Spanish they knew. @Sassygirl26 could speak fluently of course and also taught us what she knew about Latin American traditions! She saw egg shells filled with confetti and told us that they are used to crack over the heads of others we want to wish good luck on. We bought 12 eggs for $1.25 and used them to wish each other luck the next day! It was a mess, but lots of fun 🙂
  • Our Fall Festival! Oh man, what a fun day. We had face painting, bobbing for apples, fashion shows/clothing displays, a costume contest, and an International Display where we tasted food from various parts of the world. @Sassygirl26 and @Tessa were really excited to plan this day and met many times over the weeks leading up for it to prepare a runway, make decorations, and plan activities and a schedule.
Prepping for the Fall Fashion Show
After the costume contest
After the costume contest

We certainly ended October with a bang, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

Visiting Endor Initiative: Self-Directed Learning for Teens & Budding ALC!

After a whirlwind weekend making it to two weddings in Virginia and Maryland, I arrived back to my home in Charlotte 9pm Sunday night to meet @Alonalearning. She was spending the night because we were waking up at 6:45am to head to Endor Initiative with @Gabe.

Liam Nilson is running this self-directed learning initiative for young people ages 14-22 out of a dance studio in Asheville, NC. Last year they met in various places around the city, but this year they have a set place to be together for 3 days a week. Liam came to visit Mosaic a few weeks ago and has begun using some Agile tools and practices at Endor. I’m so excited for this new collaboration with educators in North Carolina!

Our plan was to see what a self-directed learning program for teens looked like so we could brainstorm ideas for what a teen program could be here at ALC Mosaic. Alona and Gabe are our two oldest students, both 11, and our only middle schoolers. I left Monday morning with Alona and Gabe feeling immensely grateful for the opportunity to see Liam’s program.


We arrived just a few minutes late, but made it to the morning intention setting. This was a big group, and we had new faces to also get to know! With so many other versions of “school” out there, it felt so safe and comfortable to go to Endor and to easily understand and know how to start the day. Alona, Gabe and I are used to the practice of setting intentions for the day, even if our intentions are to just watch and observe – or to have no intentions.

Morning circle at Endor
Morning circle at Endor

Next up was their Monday morning Change Up meeting, something else our Mosaic group knows about and is comfortable with. I had the pleasure of being asked to lead the Change Up meeting, which I did happily!

I wish I was writing this blog post the day of my visit instead of two days later – I can’t remember every detail, but I remember Alona chiming in at one point and that’s when I realized what a benefit it is to have similar tools and practices present in our network of schools. Every ALC is different, but we can move easily to and from each ALC with students and know that some fundamentals are the same. It’s not that every ALC needs a Change Up meeting, but knowing that each community makes agreements together and works on evolving those together helps newcomers understand where the community is and how they can engage in it to be supportive rather than disruptive.

Endor's Community Mastery Board for Change Up Meeting
Endor’s Community Mastery Board for Change Up Meeting

We also saw all the different activities that have happened or could happen at Endor – this board looks similar to the walls of stickies we have up in Mosaic’s big room!

Stickies of possibilities!
Stickies of possibilities!

When I spied @Charlotte’s “Seeds to Bloom” board at Endor, my heart skipped a beat! Here is a concrete example of how educators united across a network can support each other – we can visit a different ALC and try out different tools that are used to support the community and try them out at our own ALC.

Charlotte noticed the kids at Mosaic constantly coming up with ideas for trips, projects, or activities they wanted at school, but then not knowing how to move those ideas to fruition. She created our Seeds to Bloom board to support them. When they come up with an idea, they plant it as a seed by placing the sticky in the Seed section. They plant the seed by setting up a meeting time with other people that want to make the idea happen. The seed is growing after this first meeting if steps and an action plan has been created. Then when the idea comes to fruition, the whole school celebrates that the seed is finally in bloom!

We love empowering self-directed learners to take their ideas and make them into reality.


Endor's Seeds to Bloom board - appropriate for teens!
Endor’s Seeds to Bloom board – appropriate for teens!


Mosaic's Seeds to Bloom board - more suited for young children!
Mosaic’s Seeds to Bloom board – more suited for young children!


One of Liam’s intentions for the day was to make the schedule board clearer, something that came out of the Change-up meeting. The Mosaic kids opted to keep up Language Club as we normally do from 10-11am each morning, and then to have some open time after, then go to the tea house for Ethics, followed by the clay workshop at 1pm. It was a full day!

Liam’s new schedule board @ Endor Initiative

10am: Language Club

Alona and Gabe practiced on Duolingo and I finished translating a chapter of my Spanish reader for @Sassygirl26 to check.

Rochelle, who is working with Liam at Endor (and will hopefully be more present at Mosaic this year!), also speaks German and she and Alona compared silly Duolingo phrases that they’ve encountered. Rochelle had never seen Duolingo on a computer (she always uses the phone app), so Alona showed her how the computer offers more options – like timed practice.

Gabe also shared some silly Spanish phrases taught through Duolingo and worked from his phone app since he didn’t have his computer with him.

11am: Group discussion about self-directed learning

This was a discussion that organically happened and ended up including almost all of Endor along with the visitors – Mosaic & fellow Agile SOLE board member Steve Cooperman along with Robyn who is planning to open a center for young children in Asheville.

Steve, Rochelle & Robyn had questions about how Mosaic started, including financial and structural questions. This flowed into an engaging discussion of how to support all types of kids in a space – those who are self starters along with those who sometimes need a nudge to try things out. Around this time, the Endor kids popped their heads into the room and asked to join us. Hearing from them about what works well for them and what they want for their own education was exciting to me. I listened to a teen girl talk about the struggle of balance. She recognized that sometimes she wants to be pushed to try something new out, but that if she’s pushed too much she will resist. However, that line is not always clear about when the push is needed or when there is too much push. This was a teen who also spoke up in the Change Up Meeting about how she wanted 5 minute check-in’s each week with a facilitator. Her point was that even if things are going well, knowing that there will always be a check in would bring her comfort in case a time came up where things weren’t going well.

For me, this reaffirmed that it’s the relationship between a facilitator and a student in a self-directed learning environment that is the most important thing to establish. A conversation I feel like I am constantly having with other educators and parents are about boundaries and structure and how much to have when large groups of students are together. This is ever changing because the needs of the kids are constantly changing! Facilitators need to first know each child and recognize when a child needs a loving push, a little more structure, or when to back off.

12pm: Ethics Discussion at Dobra Tea Room

At Dobra Tea Room for Ethics discussion
At Dobra Tea Room for Ethics discussion

What a treat! Literally! @Alonalearning and I were so excited to see that EVERY baked good was gluten free! We split a hummus plate with gluten free pita bread & veggies and then each picked a cookie to have.

Dobra has a quiet and intimate setting, perfect to grab a snack, cup of tea, and to then debate ethical dilemmas. We took off our shoes and then sat with small tables, cozied up in a circle. One of the teens seemed to flow into a natural role as facilitator and we all went around the circle – we could either present an ethical dilemma to discuss or pass. The topics discussed were:

  • One teen read an article recently about an artist who copied famous works and gave them to museums for free. Is this ethical since they are not selling copied works?
  • One teen had a grammatical dilemma with a friend that they wanted to talk about with the group. This turned into an interesting topic of whether or not a person who hasn’t learned grammar rules should reproduce.
  • The last topic was about whether or not a doctor should conduct CPR on a person who has the Ebola virus. Should the doctor put their life in danger? If they contract the virus and spread it, is that causing more harm?

What I most admired was the level of respect the teens gave each other. They listened to each other, were able to jump into the conversation without the need for a strong facilitator and were engaged in each topic of discussion. Being a part of this group made me feel a lot of excitement for what is possible with a teen program.

1pm Clay!

Alona and Gabe partcipated in the clay workshop with a local artist. During this time I got to dive in more deeply with conversations with Steve, Rochelle & Liam about how we can collaborate more in the future.

Working with the clay artist @ Endor

2pm: Wrap up and Reflection

Here is another practice our kids are used to – sharing a reflection at the end of the day. We shared a “delta and a plus,” something good and something that could have been better.

Gabe, Alona and I had to share quickly and then jump in the car to head home! On our way home, we talked even more about our day and what we wanted to see for a teen program at Mosaic. Both Alona and Gabe shared that they liked how it seemed like focused conversations could happen with older students. They felt like teens listened more than younger students and they liked that. We discussed the possibility of renting a room on the 3rd floor at our current location if we enrolled more middle schoolers and could afford to do so. Then there could be space for older kids to go if they felt like they needed to be separate from younger kids.

I had an incredible time visiting Endor. I was so appreciative of how easy-going Alona and Gabe were, they never complained about the long car ride and they simply joined into what the older teens were doing at Endor with ease. I loved collaborating with other educators that support self-directed learning, and I loved seeing Agile tools supporting the community to create a space where teens can self-organize and self-direct their learning. I hope to continue nurturing a collaborative relationship with our Asheville friends!



Intentions & last week’s failure…

Intentions for the week: 

  • Create a mail chimp fundraiser for the school
  • Prep some ideas I’d like to share about school structures at our community meeting
  • Create a clear admissions process with the admissions working group
  • Support Isabella with Fall Festival planning
  • Work with students on designing the perfect school (asking them to create potential schedules they’d like to have at school)
  • Visit Pura Vida with language & international club to see the Dia de los Muertos altar
  • Practice every day on Duolingo
  • Finish translating my 5th grade reader into English
  • Write an update for the Book Club for Punished by Rewards

Last week’s failure: 

I forgot to upload the trello boards for the kids in my small group. And now the boards are deleted. And now one week in the life of ALC for @animalfreak9, @john, @jamesisland, @gabe, @superleaf08, @hermoine are gone.

I feel badly about this and will intend to do this every Friday or remember to ask another ALF for support if I’m unable to (this Friday I left school early to travel to a wedding and did not do the trello updates myself or ask @Charlotte or @dthomasson for help…)


Movie Day Reflection

photo 2 (2) photo 1 (2)


Movie Day happened today! One of our students, Nate, added planning a movie day to our “Seeds to Bloom” board (You can read more about what that is in our Tools & Practices forum) a few weeks ago. Today our Movie Day was in full bloom! At the end of the day we congratulated the Movie Planning Committee and held a group reflection of the experience.

First we asked the Movie Planning Committee, “What did you do to make this possible?” They responded: 

  • Met as a group
  • Took notes on a google doc
  • Picked 5 movies to bring to the whole group to vote on
  • Formed a snacks committee to plan out a snack that everyone could eat (GF, no dairy)

Next, I reminded the kids that, just like any person who has experienced success would tell you, it takes lots of failures and do-overs to learn how to get results you want. We all agreed that some things could have gone better, and I reminded them that this is a huge learning opportunity and gift that the Movie Planning Committee has given us. We can all learn what we can do better next time!

When asked what could go better, the response was: 

  • tested movies first
  • made sure we had the right equipment
  • found DVDs for all movies b/c internet isn’t reliable here (Sand lot wouldn’t play correctly and kids had to crowd around Charlotte’s computer instead of watching through Dan’s computer and projector)
  • Tessa added, “I wish people didn’t give things away (parts of the movie).”

Then we celebrated what went well! Those responses: 

  • they liked the movies
  • everyone cooperated on making and eating the snacks
  • making the tickets and giving them out was fun

Then we became movie critics! We learned what that meant and reviewed the movies!

Critiques for The Airbender:

  • “It was good. I recommend it.” – @gabe
  • “It was appropriate and exciting.” – @sassygirl26
  • “I had a reaction to the casting choices.” – @Charlotte
  • “I liked the theme of the four elements.” – @Charlotte

Critiques for The Sandlot:

  • “I liked it because it was exciting and there was a dog.” @animalfreak9
  • “Humorous and great casting of adults, they looked just like how the kids would look when they grew up.” @sassygirl26
  • “I liked the morale of the movie.” @Alonalearning
  • “It was super-realistic.” @dragon



Week 1 after ALF Weekend…the journey continues

It seemed like @Charlotte, @dinospumoni, and @dthomasson and I were fueled by fire after leaving Chatham last week. The magic of the Quaker Intentional Village Community and being with other ALFers is something that stays with me…and I can see it staying with Charlotte, Dean and Dan too.


What have we been up to in the week we’ve been back? 

  • Our Book Club is underway! Join us in reading Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn! Check out that forum here.
  • I shared Charlotte’s “Seeds to Bloom” board for helping kids take their ideas to fruition at school. We shared her board at a breakout session during ALF Weekend and I promised to post a picture of it. You can see her board and others in our “Tools and Practices” ALF forum.
  • It looks like we might have an ALC in progress in Puerto Rico. @alex is a good friend of mine that I met at AERO in 2013. We’ve stayed close and Alex has been following along with our growth. He came to this year’s AERO as well and saw our ALC Presentation, and then he and his wife met @Tomis and I to talk more over dinner. That, interspersed with emails, calls & gchats has led to Alex currently translating our website pages into Spanish. Knowing Alex personally, I’m thrilled to have him working with us closely and can’t wait to see what the future brings! Check out & like his Facebook page here.
  • ALC Endor in Asheville, NC is also in progress! Liam came to visit us a few weeks ago, and I’ve arranged a trip to visit him and his teens on Monday October 27th with Alona and Gabe (our two oldest students). We’ll see what they are up to and hopefully use that to fuel a discussion of what our middle and highschool program can look like at Mosaic.
  • We are in the beginning stages of planning for ALF Summer 2015. We’ve got our working group setting up our first meeting to pick dates.
  • I went on an organizing spree this weekend at school and the school space is getting better and better.


Cool highlights from my week with the kids: 

  • @animalfreak9 and @libby writing play reviews of 101 Dalmations. I’m glad Charlotte asked them to write their thoughts – it’s their opinion and they are entitled to have it and share their reasons for not liking the play.

    At Children's Theater
    At Children’s Theater
  • Watching Hannibal the Liar at the Carolina Renaissance Festival. @Ayan drafted an email to him requesting he come visit our school!
At the Carolina Renaissance Festival
At the Carolina Renaissance Festival
  • Having a line of kids beg me for homework on Friday during small group time – they seem to think we are “playing” school and that homework is a part of the game! Hearing our youngest student, Jackson, yell out, “Give me math problems because I LOVE math,” made my heart skip a beat 🙂
  • Having @sassygirl26 (Isabella) check my Spanish homework again this week and not having very many mistakes! I’m translating a 5th grade level book to English.
  • Dan’s super awesome geocaching treasure hunt! Inspired by the interest we have in geocaching, Dan created a scavenger hunt around the building this week. He hid 7 keys that the kids had to find (and keys were hidden in places like under a KEYboard and on piano KEYs). Each key corresponded to a letter and the kids had to them unscramble the letters to enter the word that unlocks the cryptex in the picture here. In the codex is the final clue that led the kids to park where the treasure is hidden!!
Cracking the codex for the last clue

I want to send lots of appreciation to @Tomis for supporting the behind the scenes work at Mosaic so I can spend most of my days working with kids. That is what I want to be doing every day!!! (I can’t stress enough how I don’t like office work…) I’m very, very grateful that I get to spend most of my time with young people, and that includes @Charlotte@dthomasson, and @dinospumoni who are young at heart!

I’m also incredibly grateful for the flow the staff team is currently in – as I said at the beginning of this post – it seems like our ALF weekend really lit a fire in each of us. I think about where I was over a year ago, not sure of how this “starting a school” thing would go…and now we’ve grown into a network of supportive educators that inspire one another. I’m seeing what’s possible and it’s exciting!