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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!

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!



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!

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 🙂


What if…? Vegas, Baby!

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

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


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

I’ll attempt to clarify what I mean:

The Big Conferences (think BIF, TED): 

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

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

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

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

The Gap Filled: 

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

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

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

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

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

The Education Parallel 

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

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

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

So…I’m Going Back!

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

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

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

BIF10 Highlights and A Random Act of Collision

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

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

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

IMG_2245 IMG_2246


A few speaker highlights 

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

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

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


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


A not so random collision

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts

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