By Tomis

Challenge Sprints pt 2

This was our first full week trying out the Challenge Sprints structure. I’m enjoying having more time with students and doing more facilitation when I’m at school, especially because it is a specific kind of facilitation that I’m really interested in.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be able to try out these tools with a small group of kids at Mosaic who are all enthusiastic about it. I learned a lot in the first week and we already started making small tweaks here and there based on their experience/needs.

We started out Monday morning by setting up their Trello boards (digital kanban) to manage the Challenges and the workflow for each Sprint. Once the boards were setup, we began by taking 10-15 minutes to brainstorm all of the possible items that could be added to the Backlog* — anything that could potentially be useful in addressing the Challenge and could inform future Sprints.

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*On Wednesday, when I was dialoguing with @alonalearning about her process, I proposed we change Backlog to Possibilities, as it is a clearer and more accurate description of what that column represents.

Once they all took the time to brain-dump into Possibilities column, we talked about creating the first Story for this week’s Sprint. A Story is a coherent goal or mini-project within the larger Challenge. The first Story or two come from reviewing all the Possibilities and determining where you are motivated to begin.

In Alona’s case, within the context of her challenge to Understand Genetics she decided she wanted to start with two Stories: Watch all videos and read all articles on Khan Academy and Create a three-generation fake family with odds of them looking like each other. Clearly, Alona has already done some learning about Genetics and had an idea of where she wanted to start.

In cases where the student isn’t able to generate a long list of Possibilities, or doesn’t know where to start with the first Sprint, more active coaching and support (through dialogue) may be necessary. What I’m focusing on is making sure they are motivated by the Stories — help them craft Stories that they are excited to jump into and work through. If they can’t find any, then they may need more support in adding to the list of Possibilities (the ideas that inform the Stories) or, the Challenge may not be fully aligned with their actual interests and internal motivations.

Once the Story (or Stories) are setup for the Sprint, we picked a label color for each Story. From there, we broke out each Task within that Story. Tasks are smallest, simplest, most-actionable items you can have on the board. They need to be specific — often carrying a time-frame, location (or context), and some inherent definition of “done”.

Because you can’t really do “swim lanes” on Trello, I had each student mark all the tasks with the same label as the Story it was associated with. This helps you see where you’re at in the workflow of each Story and to make sure you know which one you’re in when viewing a specific Task.

After the boards were setup we all went about our day. Some of the kids got right into it, others waiting until Tuesday. They are balancing these Challenge Sprints with all the other offerings and activities happening at school. I’m choosing to work from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I can be present at Mosaic Mon/Wed/Fri, so on Tuesday I was only communicating with them through Trello.

Challenge Sprint-end

Once they think a Task is done they move it to “Check-in” (we changed this column name — used to be “Control” but that didn’t feel right). Once they move the card there, I ask them to write @ me in the card so I get a notification that they’re ready for a check-in.

I didn’t explain anymore of my thinking around the process, as to not overload them with info upfront. So, initially, when cards got moved to Check-In they were essentially blank, other than the name of the Task in the title of the card. One I got notified, I wrote back to them and started asking them questions about the task:

What stuck with you from this article or video?

Did you feel engaged and interested throughout most of the task?

What do you feel like you learned?

I asked them to put answers to these kinds of questions in the description of the card for each Task. Other things that came up was when the Task included information or an activity that wasn’t totally clear, or by engaging with it, other questions arose. Thus, we decided to add a new column to the right of Possibilities called Questions. This would be the place to put any unanswered question that comes up for you so it can be reviewed later, marked when answered, or intentionally incorporated into a future Story.

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Similarly, I often use the Check-In time to see if there are any new ideas to add to the Possibilities list. This is the real power of the process: within a tightly held iterative loop with lots of reflection of the various pieces, the student is always engaged in a Sprint that is:

  • More interesting and/or motivating than the previous one*
  • Informed by the the Sprints that came before it
  • Always generating new possibilities for future Sprints

*I can imagine there will be times where the interest/excitement in the Sprint may be lower than the previous one, but the motivation will be higher. (Imagine a time when you’ve been working on a project of a while and you get down to the boring parts that aren’t super fun but you’re really motivated to complete them because of larger goal that you’re connected to).

I did some one-on-one check-ins with the kids on Wednesday and then we all met for 30 minutes at the end of the day on Friday. We took this time to simply see how everyone felt about doing this for the first time. Was it helpful? Was it annoying? Was it useful? Overall the feedback was positive. @willmh wasn’t there on Friday, so I’ll have to check in with him, but the other three all wanted to complete this Sprint and set up the next one.

Alona learned that there are TONS of videos and articles on Khan Academy about Genetics, so she renamed her Story according to the topical section she was exploring that week and kept the original idea in Possibilities. She’s now setup to do her second Story — a family tree and gene mapping.

Liberty intentionally practiced Spanish on DuoLingo each day for at least 10 minutes and determined it was worth continuing that, so she set up a new Story with similar Tasks. She also tried out talking to Spanish for an hour one day (even if others couldn’t understand her) and added that to her Possibilities list. She’s now planning to continue with DuoLingo and “Talk to people who speak Spanish”, which involves a series of Tasks.

Gabe’s Challenge to “create a Pong replica with C# in Unity” was iterated to “create a Pong replica with Java in Unity” as he decided Java was better after engaging in his first Story.

What’s really cool about this is the variety of things they are learning from each Task within this Challenge — things that aren’t directly related to the overarching subject. In Liberty’s case, she is going to practice speaking Spanish with others who speak it during her next Sprint. To do this, she’ll need to identify who those people could be, figure out how to contact them and setup times to have a phone call or see them in person, and navigate the best way to learn from/with them. She’s gaining tons of real-world skills in this process and she’s learning how to find the teachers she needs — a skill that is important no matter what the challenge may be.

Gabe and Will are learning how to do research online that is actually useful and moves you from one place to another. If he sticks with this one, Will’s desire to learn to sail is going to lead him towards a bunch of practice finding his own teachers, as well.

This coming week we are all going camping, so we won’t be Sprinting. When we return we plan to do a 3-day Sprint, as that week is only a 4-day week.

I’m excited to see how this goes after a couple Sprints and what it looks like when the kids find their groove with it. Like any agile tool, I’m most riveted to see how it evolves over time!

More later…

 

Piloting Wings: Challenge Sprints pt 1

At ALC Mosaic, we’ve mostly used “Roots” and “Branches” to distinguish between our locations and the programs/ages that they serve. However, in that separation, there’s also some distinctions in how our ALC model is applied. These variations in application — what a Self-Directed Education looks like — are based on what is developmentally effective, needed, and dare I say *cringe* “appropriate”. 

It’s been great to see the way @lacy created Roots from her own inspiration and intuition, partnered with Miguel and more recently Vidya and Amber, and how, especially over the last year, we’ve been able to see their work coming into a natural fit with the rest of the ALC model. In many ways, Lacy and @sarataleff (Cottonwood in Brooklyn) have been pioneers in adapting the ALC model to these younger ages without really knowing anything about it beforehand — which is pretty beautiful. Having them both step into greater levels of engagement with the ALC Network and ALF Community over the last year has been fun and exciting.

The original tools and practices we created in NYC (and the concepts around intention/reflection cycles) were geared toward the 7-13 age range — the current age demographics at Branches. Yes, it is true that other ALCs (NYC and Endor) have worked with some teenagers in this context before, but very few of them and one key difference is that these kids had not grown up (or spent several years or more) in an ALC before their teenage years. What we began seeing towards the end of last year is that some of the kids who are getting older and have been doing the daily intention-setting practice for a while were craving something more.

Inspired by some concepts I learned from Martin Peters and Guido van Dijk from Agora in Roermond, Netherlands, I decided to offer to pilot a new group for the oldest kids at Branches — working name Wings. My idea was to adapt the project-based kanban and scrum practices that are used at Agora to work in our environment, and of course, to iterate them over time with the kids.

The basic concept is to support the students in engaging in what we are calling Challenge Sprints — a period of time (usually a week) where the student determines a challenge they want to set for themselves (ex: understand World War II history, build a bicycle, become fluent in Spanish, plan a trip to the White Water Center, etc.). The challenge can be anything, big or small in scale. After they articulate the challenge, they produce a backlog of all the tasks or smaller projects that might possibly exist within that challenge.

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From there we discuss all the possibilities and articulate what the first step should be — what makes sense to do first? From that conversation, at least one Story is written, sometimes two or three. These initial Stories become the focus of the Sprint. Within each Story is likely to be the set of Tasks — the smallest, most actionable and specifically articulated steps.

After each Task is complete it can go into Control where it is reviewed by another person (sometimes me, as the Coach, sometimes another expert or experienced person, depending on the nature of the Task or its larger Challenge). If the Task needs more work it goes back to Doing for refining before it goes to Done, all of which is determined in dialogue between the student and coach.

When the Sprint ends, the student spends time reflecting on each Task that made it to Done and the larger status of their board. The Tasks that are finished can be assigned any kind of tags, categories, or information the student wants to document. How did this task make me feel? Was it fun? Was it challenging? What skills did it require? The possibilities for marking what was “learned” are limitless, and ultimately, it is up the student to determine what was valuable about it.

This information can be extremely useful, as it not only provides a large inventory of documented learning for a portfolio or transcript, but more importantly it helps inform the next Sprint. Considering what was learned in this sprint, what new items should be added to the Backlog? What’s the next-most-important Story to resolve? Does the Challenge need to be reframed? Does the Challenge need to be tossed completely? Why?

I’ll know more about what this actually looks like when we do it! 🙂

For now, let me back up and show you what we’ve done so far.

Since I made the offering, the four oldest students at Mosaic opted-in to be a part of the “Wings” group and start playing with these tools and practices. Today we met to do a pre-challenge-sprint exercise I came up with to get them thinking about what they might want their first challenge to be.

The exercise was essentially a series of brainstorming prompts about oneself.

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They each had their own space to work on the exercise.

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After we finished the exercise, they looked through all the columns on the right side, the “I want” side, and chose one or two items from each section that really stood out to them. We then went around and talked about those items and dug into the “Why” for each one — why is it that I am really interested in learning this particular programming language, or gaining car mechanic skills, or becoming fluent in Spanish, or traveling more?

Today their reflection time (built into Friday afternoons at ALC Mosaic) was spent capturing this information in their blogs and expanding on the “whys”.

Monday we start with the first Challenge Sprint!

More to come…

Agile in Education Global Scrum Gathering

Last week I spent four days in Orlando, FL collaborating with a dozen other folks who are working with Agile practices in Education at the Scrum Alliance Global Scrum Gathering. Most of us met for the first time on Sunday morning, then the group almost doubled in size on Monday, adding even more new faces to the mix. We accomplished a lot in 3 days. We were able to:

  • meet
  • get acquainted
  • share some of the work we’re doing in our respective projects
  • analyze our individual and collective strengths in the collaborative process
  • explore common values and principles threaded through our work
  • write a collective manifesto for what Agile in Education represents
  • evolve said Manifesto into an ‘Agile Education Compass’ (better metaphor)
  • design a visual representation of said Compass
  • compose a succinct introduction to the content of our Compass
  • present and share the whole thing at the Open Space
  • inspire others around the conversation of Agile in the education space

We all left feeling really good about what we created together, but more importantly we left feeling connected to each other — and, to the larger change that we are working to bring about in the world.

Some of the people I worked with had met each other briefly or worked together in some capacity, but most of us were strangers when we began. For me, this all started by seeing and eventually connecting with John Miller on Twitter, who was doing work with public schools under his brand — Agile Classrooms. John connected a bunch of human dots and last September set up a call for us to all meet. It’s pretty prevalent for folks in the Agile community to be really excited about the concepts they’re working with, because they’ve probably directly experienced some level of personal or social transformation from engaging with them. In our group, it felt like there was even more excited anticipation, as we all recognize the big problems in Education and the really savvy solutions that Agile can provide.

After our call in September we made some action steps. John really liked the idea of getting us together to see what an Agile Education Manifesto would look like and how it could advance our common goals. Not too much longer we landed on meeting in Orlando in April after John was able to get Scrum Alliance on board with supporting us. We have felt a lot of gratitude for John and the way he held this intention throughout the year and did what needed to be done to bring us together. Thanks, John!!

I did have some reservations — or cautiousness — about this event and what it would produce. I was definitely excited for it and really interested to get to know everyone, but I was a little uneasy about whether or not we would find alignment around what Agile really means in the education space. For one thing, I was representing the radical end of the spectrum here — ALCs are designing outside of the current system, which fully removes us from any curriculum or cultural constraint that the industrial education model may otherwise impose.

What was really amazing for me, was that my concerns wound up being completely dissolved by the second day. Of course, there was, at times, creative tension among us in the group — but never did I feel like, “Oh man, these people just don’t get it”. In fact, the opposite was true. While there are significant differences is the degrees of creative autonomy the students may have in our schools, it was clear to me that everyone I worked with really understood what kids are truly capable of, what they really need, and how an ideal educational experience would be fully self-directed and self-organized.

It felt great to show up as my authentic self and hold the pieces of this work that I believe to be so important and to have others who not only recognized and appreciated my convictions, but passionately embodied their own.

While ALC is committed to showing “another world is possible” as we create in our open sandbox, I absolutely understand how essential it is for others to be bringing these ideas directly into the system that we all want to replace. I believe for major change to occur in Education, people need to see effective solutions happening all around them. Elements of those solutions need to brought into the current system to create more spaciousness for students and teachers — to allow them to really access their agency for the first time. Simultaneously, we can be building ALCs and other innovative schools from a foundation of complete composability and creativity.

Ultimately, I believe in a world without “school”. I believe we can have living learning communities in our towns and cities that are self-directed and self organized — completely tapped into the resources that exist all round us and within us. To get to something like that we have to pry back the blinders — we have to give people access to themselves and to different language that is inherently co-creative.

I was so happy to meet and work with these brilliant, big-hearted people who believe in giving students (and adults!) the trust that we all need to start creating the world we want to live in.

*Gratitude bow* to you all:

  • Arno Delhij
  • Guido van Dijk
  • Mark French
  • Erin Horn
  • Marmy Kondras
  • John Miller
  • Martin Peters
  • Robert Rodenbaugh
  • Krissyn Sumare
  • Mike Vizdos (facilitator)
  • Marian Willeke
  • Willy Wijnands

Read the Agile Education Compass here.

Check out everyone’s work here.

#OneCampus Journey

It was about two years ago when Nancy and I started planning the first ALF Summer. We needed to find a space that would work for the program, and Mosaic needed a bigger space for the school, as it was outgrowing the double-wide trailer where it all began. Nancy found a great church rental in Plaza Midwood, and so that summer Mosaic split into two locations, allowing the space for Lacy to develop the younger half of the school (Roots).

That first full year was crucial for everyone to have the creative space they needed to develop their ideas, play with them, and then begin to see what unified us as one community under the ALC Mosaic umbrella and the within the context of the ALC model. Since last spring, after having some of those important conversations, we’ve been extra excited about moving both programs to one location and and fulfilling our commitment to being a fully age-mixed community. We’ve called this initiative #OneCampus.

There was some initial movement and energy put into #OneCampus from some parents who were motivated to have all their kids in one spot. I still very-much running ALC-NYC back then, and wasn’t really able to focus on real estate acquisition here in Charlotte. We talked about forming an LLC with a group of families who would all invest and then rent the property back to the school. I think something like that could work, but you would want to make sure you were really, really solid with each of those families and that the intentions for investing were all aligned. We held a meeting for people to share what was important or desirable to them in finding a permanent home for the school, which was an important first start in making visible the ideas, desires, and expectations that we were each holding.

It soon became clear that the multi-family LLC idea was going to be more complicated than it should be, and that our first priority was having #OneCampus. Last summer, a friend who attended ALF Summer mentioned to Nancy and I that they were open to discussing possible investment ideas with their company to support us in getting a property for the school. At this stage the school had virtually no “savings”. We didn’t really allow ourselves to take the suggestion too seriously, but a seed was planted none-the-less.

A few months went buy, and then in the fall, a friend of ours mentioned a property she had been eyeing for a while that would be perfect for a school. I decided to drive by it a day or two later to check it out. I was very intrigued — a 7,000 square foot home with two kitchens and two entrances on 8.5 acres with a private lake in the back. It was as if it had been constructed for a school that had two programs, but wanted to be intermixed at the same time. Nancy, Lacy, and Rick and I all went to see it a couple days later and we all fell in love.

The excitement hit a wall when I discovered in the material provided by the agent that the home was part of a private HOA, comprised of all the properties that surrounded the private lake. The HOA agreement was several pages long and included a clause that prohibited anyone from operating a business out of their home. The agent told me this was an issue for others in the past who had been interested. I did a bunch of googling around and found out who the president of the HOA was and called him. I explained our situation and he pretty bluntly said it wouldn’t work because everyone in the HOA would have to vote to change the rules. I started emailing and calling all the other members, but only heard back from a few. Some were polite and sympathetic, some were a little curt and clear that they didn’t want a school (albeit a small and friendly one) operating in their neighborhood. A week later, the agent told me the house was under contract. Woody Point, the name of the road the property sat on and the affectionate name we gave to it, was dead.

Woody Point inspired us to take this idea a little more seriously. Our imaginations were lit up when we walked around this property, imagining 40, 50, even 80 children of all ages playing, building, and homesteading together. After that we began putting it out to the world that we wanted to find the funding we needed to make #OneCampus a reality — literally, we made some Facebook posts about it and talked with experienced and well-connected friends. It was at this point we were reminded by our friend of his interest in supporting the project, which we took much more seriously this time. We had some conversations to begin to understand how that might work and I started talking to others friend and family members who just maybe would be able to invest or know someone who could.

Long story a little bit shorter, several funding options emerged but none were fully fleshed out. One of them, which has proven to be the most significant in making this possible, is a large donation that has been offered to the school to help us find a permanent home for the whole school. Several other people have offered to invest and support in various ways, as well — all contributing to our renewed feeling that this is actually possible for us. It is a combination of factors; I’m privileged to have access to people with financial resources (significant), we’ve done some really amazing work that has inspired others, and I’ve let go of the thoughts that once held me back from simply asking and inviting others to support this work.

In January, the idea of a multi-family collaboration re-emerged, but this time with talk about forming an intentional community that would exist around and in support of the school. We started having some gatherings and dinners with a small group of families who were all interested in this idea and could potentially contribute financially to it, assuming it would be a more permanent home for them. We found a property that had enough land and was affordable — we looked at it a few times as our discussions increased in seriousness. The project seemed like a massive undertaking, especially because the house and additional garage structure on this property were going to need a lot of renovations in order to used for educational occupancy. That part alone could take 6-9 months — living there seemed like a distant idea. I kept coming back to the highest motivation, which was to find a property that allowed us to have the school all in one place. The next highest priority was for Nancy and I to be able to live there. Next after that was for Lacy and Rick’s family to live there, as well.

In February, Jess asked me if I had looked into the property that was just a few blocks away from where she and Lacy live on Monroe Road. I found the place she was talking about — I had seen it before — but noticed the price had just been reduced another $50K. I went and looked at it with Nancy and the architect that we had connected with over the past month or so. We were pleasantly surprised! The main house was charming and over 3K square feet and the second building, which the listing seemed to undervalue, had a huge open space on the ground floor already coded as an assembly space with two bathrooms and multiple exits. Even better, the second floor of the second building had a very nice two-bedroom apartment where Nancy and I could live. Lacy and Rick’s house happened to be a 5 minute walk from here. When I told them about it, the said they’ve fantasized about having the school at this exact property many times (as they pass it often), but knew it was out of our price range (until recently).

This property wasn’t the 10+ acres that we had initially imagined. It was under 2 acres and much closer to the city, but in an area that is developing quickly. It wasn’t going to be the location of a multi-family intentional community, but there were a lot of houses in the neighborhood that surrounded it that were affordable and could be purchased by some of our families over time. It was a place that we could all be together, where we could have some animals (chickens and even a pig), where Nancy and I could live there, and other facilitators would be a short walk away. It was a place that was accessible to a lot of our families and in a prime location. It had great potential as a gathering space for other events and organizations that we’d want to support.

Now it was time to figure out what our financing options really were. Our friend who initially offered to discuss investing in the project was too busy and unable to find someone to take this on. Adding to the complexity is that he, and his company, are not based in the US. After a few weeks of no clear progress, I made some more bold invitations. Serendipitously, another close friend and her partner were interested in investing in real estate together and she happened to be a huge supporter and ALC collaborator.

It took several more weeks to get clear on all the details and to get a real estate agent in on the conversations. A huge variable for us was not knowing how much the renovations necessary for educational occupancy would cost. The property had been on the market for almost three years, but the recent price drop was making it affordable for us to consider. We started with a really low offer. The Seller opted to not provide a counter-offer, saying they had received offers higher than this in the past. We put in another offer significantly higher than the first and the Seller responded with a counter-offer, though it was only a slight decrease from the listing price.

The whole process was driving me mad. I like to have very open, honest, and transparent conversations. I’m not a fan of beating around the bush, or bullshit in general. This person wanted to sell their property for the last three years and we wanted to buy it. Though the real estate agents involved were super nice, I really wish we could have just sat down at a table and had a discussion in order to get on the same page. Instead, it was a lot of guessing, angling, and maneuvering. BLECH.

We were told that another offer was going to come in from a different party, but that we would get a chance to respond if we were outbid. We submitted another offer, inching our way forward to where we thought was a middle ground, not sure how real or serious this story of another Buyer was going to be. Two days passed. Then we heard that the Seller had decided not to sell. What? With two offers on the table, she’s not selling? The listing came offline and the physical signs were actually taken down from the property. Her agent told our agent that she wasn’t communicating much with her but that she was planning to move back into the house. We were dumbfounded. We decided the only next move was to submit one final offer for the price that she originally countered with and hope that would change her mind. It wasn’t easy, as it meant that we’d have to engage our community in a big fundraising campaign to cover the costs of all renovations now that the closing price was rising well above our target.

This was all happening in the past two weeks. Last Thursday we found out that the Seller decided to “go in a different direction” and that another Buyer had “met her terms”. Just like that it was under contract…and not with us.

The disappointment and frustration set in the next day and I’m almost done fully releasing it. I realize this blog post is essentially a long narrative and reads like an adult diary entry. I don’t know if there’s much value that I’m sharing here, or if anyone is going to find this particularly useful to read. That is OK. I’m mostly writing this for myself — to document this journey and share what I’ve been putting a good bit of energy into lately.

I’ve learned a lot through this process.

I’ve learned that there are so many people in my life that love and support the work Nancy and I are doing — the work that so many of my closest friends are doing. I’ve learned that people are generous when they are inspired. Not just with money, but with their time. It takes a lot of different layers of expertise to figure out how to buy a property and have it legally occupied by a school. I’ve taken a lot of bold actions and have been really clear about my intentions and needs with everyone from whom I’ve sought help and they’ve all been incredibly supportive.

I’ve been able to figure out a way for the school, as a non profit, to leverage the donation that’s been promised, to purchase a property itself with funding from a community lending organization. I’ll be moving those pieces forward in the coming weeks so we are more prepared to act swiftly on the next opportunity.

Really, it has been a huge  lesson in how to create the life we want for ourselves, while being fully present to and grateful for everything we already have.

For me, it went something like this:

Be inspired.

Understand and clarify the source of your inspiration.

Figure out the moving pieces and which ones need attention.

Imagine exactly what you want and need. Imagine it again.

Act boldly. Make explicit and well-defined requests for the help you need.

Assume others want to help you. Recognize when someone may not; that’s OK.

Allow yourself to be captivated by your desire and the imagination you can create around your desires. Let that imagination motivate you to keep acting boldly.

Let go of how it will happen and which form it will take, and stay committed to root of your desire.

 

So we are marching forward!

Trusting that the “right path” will unfold does not mean sitting back and doing nothing — it means taking bold action to your desired goal while releasing specific expectations at the same time. The real lessons of life are learned through our experiences — they appear and reappear often and are self-evident. I have learned — again — that there is to done, there is no end.

How to Know When It’s Right to Collaborate With Someone

“Hey, I’d love to collaborate with you!”

For people who love to please others, are mostly inspired by the endless possibilities they see, or feel like they are overwhelmed and lacking too many abilities they need — it can be easy to welcome in too many people/too much collaboration. Then, it just becomes more work to manage the mismatch.

For folks who are very headstrong, have strong visions, are super proud of the work they’ve done, or are perfectionists — it can be really challenging to remain open to the right kinds of collaborations. Then, you just wind up drowning in the work or making too small of an impact for real growth to be generated.

I’ve been both of these people — on the wrong side of the collaboration sweet-spot. Those experiences have helped me learn how to recognize very quickly who is worth collaborating with and who probably is not. At this point, I feel like this is one of more crucial skills I’ve developed for the role I play in the ALC Network.

Here are a few conditions that I spat out very quickly when discussing with @bear how to determine when it is a right fit to collaborate with someone, specifically in the ALC context.

I may expound on this more later because it is a really important and underrated skill to develop.

  • They show respect and reverence for the work you’ve already done.
  • They demonstrate a knowledge and awareness of the content you’ve shared.
  • They ask permission for deeper levels of engagement.
  • Their potential contributions make it easy to say yes to collaboration because they meet a need and build on the work and patterns that have already been established, rather than suggesting disruptions to them. (Unless, of course, a disruption is being sought.)

What am I missing?

Getting an Education

This week I was pleased to finally nail down the dates (and one of the locations) for Peter Gray speaking events in NYC and Charlotte. I love Peter’s work and I’m super excited about having connected with him and some other great folks he’s working with these last few months.

I hosted a couple of tours at ALC-NYC this week. One of them was part of a city-wide, week-long, micro-school tour that Manisha Snoyer put together for her project, Cottage Class. Later in the week, I was able to attend an open house at AltSchool at their new location in the LES. It has been great to see more things like AltSchool and the XQ Project coming out of mainstream industries (AltSchool is started by a former Google exec and XQ is funded by Laurene Jobs).

It’s very clear that support for education transformation is going to come from innovative businesses, change-makers, and thought-leaders in management and entrepreneurialism. In our culture, agree or not, success is working for Google or creating the best-selling app, or having your startup acquired by Facebook. You probably saw those articles being passed around a couple months back about Elon Musk un-schooling his kids and more recently funding a small school for them to practice self-directed learning. These are the people who will influence public education to make slow changes overtime — not politicians, and sadly, not local communities.

The last thing I want to do is paint myself or ALC as adversarial to projects like AltSchool, XQ, or any other (new?) Progressive Ed model. I want to both cheer these ideas on, and, at the same time, draw a really important distinction between what they do and what ALC does.

There’s a quote by Peter Gray that sums it up better than I could:

My argument to society at large is that we need to stop thinking about educating children and start thinking about how to provide the conditions that maximize each child’s ability to educate himself or herself.

Everyone hates testing. Duh. It’s easy to see how preparing for and scoring well on a test has nothing to do with anything outside of that menial task. It’s great that people are fighting back against that and demanding changes to public education. It’s great that publications like KQED’s MindShift and Edutopia exist and that there’s EdChat on Twitter and teachers who are passionate about their profession are creating and finding outlets to explore better ideas.

It’s great that Laurene Jobs wants to fund some new high schools and that her organization sees emotional intelligence and student choice as fundamental to an effective education. It’s fantastic that Mark Zuckerberg and other silicon superstars are backing AltSchool, and that they too want to broaden the definition of education to include more than what the industrial era sold us.

All of that is better than none of that. Yet, there is a fundamental and utterly essential distinction between educating kids and supporting them in self-educating. If education is viewed as preparation for life, then the child is learning that there’s always something else to strive for and chase — that they’re not already equipped with what they need, they’re not yet whole. If education is something that educators are responsible for, then children are learning the lesson every-single-day that they’re not in charge of their lives.

When I call the New York State Department of Ed and they need paperwork from me for something, they almost always give me a fax number. I try and remain calm and remind them it is 2015. “Can I have an email address to send a photo or scan to instead”, I usually ask.

It’s worse when it is a massive institution, but the metaphor works on a micro-scale, as well. Parents, grandparents, or teachers who grew up in a completely different world are supposed educate kids about how to live in one that doesn’t even exist yet. The biggest economical and social issues we face as a global society cannot be solved by continuing to pass them down to the next generation, leaving them no choice but to accept them as true. “Deal with it” — the most significant lesson learned in any school.

We have to learn how to cheer our children on as the creators of a new world and as painters of possibility. It can’t and won’t happen until we make their education, their education.

Scaling Trust: A ∆-Up to Change-Up

The ALC educational model is emergent, meaning it is constantly “coming into being”. Just like people, especially young people. When you build a framework for something that is supposed to serve people, by nature, it needs to be emergent. We’re just starting to realize this in our organizational, management, and general business practices. ALC is moving this idea forward in the “K-12” education world.

A fixed or static framework usually comes with a set of tools and practices that can be adopted. An emergent model has tools and practices that are being adapted. One letter, big difference.

One of the practices we use in an ALC is called Change-Up (∆-Up) meeting. When first started this practice we had the meeting combined with our other weekly meeting, Set-the-Week. At the ALC in NYC, where these practices were first used, we quickly realized the two meetings had very different purposes and it would be better to have one at the beginning of a weekly sprint and the other towards the end. We adapted.

Change-Up meeting uses a tool we call the “Community Mastery Board” or CMB. The CMB makes visible our awareness of things that are working and not working in our community. It also displays the process we use for creating, implementing, practicing, and mastering community agreements and cultural norms.

 

AWARENESS –» IMPLEMENTED –» PRACTICING –» MASTERY
 

 

 

 

 

Later, we realized there were more distinctions needed within Practicing, as we often have to practice things for a while before mastering them. Thus, we added three levels within Practicing to help mark how well we were doing with each agreement. We made another adaptation based on the needs of the community, rather than just relying on the tool as is.

Originally, the meeting would involve the entire community (all students and facilitators). We would start with all of the items in Awareness and try to come up with solutions to implement, then work our way through the rest of the processes from there (moving effectively implemented items into Practicing, and checking in on how well we were doing with the items already in Practicing).

Recently, at ALC Mosaic (Charlotte, NC) @nancy suggested significant adaptation to the ∆-Up meeting process that I’m particularly excited about for a few different reasons. The shift mostly came out of a need to keep meetings short. As the school continued to grow in size, it made it challenging for everyone to participate without having the meetings drag on way too long. To address this, we started taking the items in Awareness and self-organizing in small groups around our interest/desire to address each of the items. For example: there may be three cards in the Awareness at the beginning of the meeting that say:

  • “I’m aware that there is less conflict and more joy at school when we spend time playing as big group”
  • “I’m aware that there are stickers on fruit scraps being put into the compost bin”
  • “I’m aware there are often groups of people meeting to do a class or workshop in the Quiet Room, which makes it not very quiet”

We read these three items aloud and mark a spot in the room where each discussion will take place. Everyone chooses the topic that is most interesting or important to them. We set a timer and give ourselves ten minutes to come up with solutions that we can implement for the next week to address each of these “awarenesses”.

Then we come back as one group and the facilitator gets a report-back from each small group. The goal is for each group to have a proposed solution to implement. We check each solution with the larger group to make sure there aren’t any major problems with it or significant logistical issues that were overlooked, but the default is to accept each small group’s proposed solution and agree to try it out as a community for the next week. From there, we can alter and iterate it based on our experiences.

Scaling Tools & Practices
Breaking into smaller group discussions during ∆-Up meeting was an awesome example of scaling our tools and practices. We did this once before when we created Spawn Points (small groups of students and a facilitator), which was a change from having the entire school start the day together declaring intentions. Both of these adaptations were meant to meet the needs of a growing community. I’m stoked about the possibility of having an effective ∆-Up meeting with 50 or 60 kids and it still keeping it under 30 minutes.

Scaling Trust
Even more exciting to me than the practical aspect of this adaptation is the fact that it also scales trust. Trust is the most fundamental aspect of the ALC social DNA. Trust is the water we swim in and the soil from which we grow. Our commitment to trust allows us to create an environment where students and facilitators can feel safe, autonomous, and aligned.

TrustGraph-01

By self-organizing around the topical issues we face as a community, we are having to choose the conversation that is of most significance to us. Of course, this choice may be difficult. I may really want to share my thoughts and ideas about every topic being discussed. Within this constraint we have to prioritize and limit our focus, which is consistent with many of the other practices we have in an ALC (Kanban, daily intentions, etc.) and an extremely useful skill to develop early in one’s life.

By choosing to go to the discussion about stickers on fruit scraps in the compost bin, I’m actively trusting my community to effectively address the other topics that also affect me. Of course, in an emergent framework, no decision must be final. The key is that we collectively agree to practice the newly implemented solution so we can actually determine if it is effective or not. Usually there are aspects to our solutions that work and some that don’t. If we see it as a process of refinement that we are all participating in we can all become powerful collaborators and creators of culture.

Power: Democratic VS Agile
For kids to be (and become) self-empowered, they need to actually experience agency in their lives. If we want our children to be able to shape and change the world as adults, they need to be in collaborative communities that respect them as creative and powerful individuals.

A political democracy attempts to construct a system where the individuals and the group can be empowered, however there is a significant limitation within this framework. In a political system, power is viewed is a scarce commodity; if someone has more power then someone else must have less. Of course we all want to be powerful, so within this framework rules are created to limit and distribute the power. The emphasis is placed on adhering to governance and following a process as a way of protecting each other from power, as there is a fear of its accumulation. Essentially, within this type of framework there is a lack of trust.

There may be a “democratic” community that trusts individuals to lead their own lives and make decisions for themselves, but when it comes to the collective, trust is traded for fear. I’m not naively assuming that we can or should expect everyone to agree all of the time, or even most of the time. But, there’s a fundamental difference between being in agreement and being in alignment. Agreements are many and they come and go, whereas alignment speaks to the big-picture trajectory — the direction we are going and the space we are holding. I suppose a group of individuals could be in alignment about their distrust of the collective, but I don’t think that supports collaboration, collective intelligence, or anything truly revolutionary.

In an Agile environment we view power as way of experiencing oneself. Power is abundant. I can have more and you can have more — and, even better, together we can generate more than if we acted alone. The emphasis is placed on what is emerging from the present as a way of understanding who we are and what we need to be even more powerful, both as individuals and a collective.

This may sound obvious, but there is a significant difference in the way a community functions depending on how it views power and whether or not there is a cultural commitment to build trust into its relationships. If there is a commitment to choosing trust over fear and the emphasis is on emergence instead of governance, then we can create a powerful spiral where the individual’s gifts feed the collective, and the the collective continues to feed the individual.

Power grows in the soil of trust.

What I do: Part Deux

A year ago at our first ALF Weekend (October 2014) we did an exercise where we each mapped our work by answering the following questions, all in an ALC/ALF context:

What do I do?

What gives me juice?

What do I want to do?

What actions will I take to make these things happen?

A couple weeks later, I wrote this blog to expand and add to this exercise with all of the trello data I was generating for myself. At the end of that post, I made a list of the things I wanted “more of” in my work. Here’s that list with updated notes under each item:

  • Being the point-of-contact for the ALC Network or the ALC(s) I’m working with
    • This has been working out. The best part is that for each of the domains I’m holding (ALC-NYC, Mosaic, ALF Summer, and Network), I’m now sharing the point-of-contact responsibilities with other people. There’s a larger team in NYC now and @bear has been working on enrollment there so we’ve been sharing that. ALC Mosaic has an Admissions WG that shares contact form submissions, though I’ve been coherence holding for most of it lately, though @lacy handles all things Roots, which is fantastic. I partnered with @bear for the entire scope of ALF Summer, and with the new ALC Membership model and Startups WG, I’ve been sharing this responsibility with Bear, Drew, and Liam. A major project on the horizon related to this is implementing a significant CRM system. 
  • Communicating about ALCs at Parent Interest Nights, with visitors, current parents, etc.
    • I wrote this a year ago, and I think I wound up clocking 14 Parent Interest Nights by the end of last school year, so this definitely happened. With Bear handling this in NYC now, I’ve had less of it going on, as things have been slower on the enrollment front for Mosaic, too. Still doing tours for visitors at Mosaic. I hope to always have a home-base ALC, which should be Mosaic for the foreseeable future. This is something I may not want to be responsible for forever, but certainly can easily step in and do and have a significant impact. 
  • Sharing the story and big picture vision of ALCs through emails, G-hangouts, public talks and meetups
    • This is definitely happening through my work with the Startups WG, supporting new ALC Startups and doing online office hours. I’m excited to be doing more of this as we get our infrastructure and processes automated, which will allow us to take on more new members. I did a talk for an Agile/Kanban meetup in NYC, and a “What If” talk that was kinda “meh”, but gave me practice in the process, and most importantly helped me write a decent blog post about schools being collaborative.I also connected with John Miller of

      Agile Classrooms which led to a call with a dozen other folks from around the world who use Agile in Edu. I’ve joined a core team that will be planning an international gathering where we’ll write an Agile In Education Manifesto. I’m pretty excited about this project and about representing ALC, and specifically, Self-Directed Learning as the core of anything Agile in Edu.I’ve recently been connecting with some of the folks from AlternativesToSchool.com and sharing more about ALC with Peter Gray, which feels really good. I’m working on setting things up for him to some speak at a few ALCs in early 2016.

  • Developing and maintaining the organizational flows of the school(s) — Assembly, working groups (though doing this for two schools simultaneously is not sustainable)
    • I have largely removed myself from this in NYC, which as the second half of the statement mentions, it super important. There are things I can do for multiple schools at the same time that aren’t too taxing and are still high-leverage (such as, manage tuition invoicing). Actively managing and moving workflows forward for one school is hard enough for me right now with all the network-level projects I’m involved with. I’m still the “Director” for ALC-NYC this year, but I’ve mostly passed off a lot of community managing responsibilities and @abbyo and @ryanshollenberger are taking them on nicely. I am still making sure Assembly meetings get scheduled and that I’m there for them, but other than that, I’m simply not around enough to make sure working group projects are moving. That said, I still hold coherence for all things financial, which means the Finance WG. 
  • Supporting, coaching and mentoring facilitators — I love doing this and feel effective in my ability to support and invite new levels of leadership from the facilitators who are on the ground with the kids each day
    • Yes. I don’t think this will ever stop, and that’s fine. Supporting other adults in a coach-y kind-of way is a sweet spot for me, so I’m good with that. One thing that has been evolving with this is that a lot of the folks I was supporting last year are now in much larger leadership roles and are doing a lot of this for other people now. Coaching facilitators has continued for me mostly through my work with new ALC Startups, though there is still regular and important collaboration taking place with both ALF teams form NYC and Mosaic. 
  • Developing and managing the logistics and communications of the Admissions process — I’ve learned how important it is to be organized in the is process and clear in the communications around it (enrollment contracts, tuition policies, cultural norms of the school, etc.) and I feel good about my ability to add a lot of value here
    • As mentioned already, I’m sharing this with @bear in NYC, which has worked out pretty well. I continue to find new levels of trust with Bear and it has felt good to share this work with him, as it is a domain I can easily feel overprotective of (and sometimes for good reason). I’m not sure who will handle this longterm for NYC, but it may be a combination of @bear and @sarataleff, with me available for support. I have been doing this for Branches at Mosaic and that’s been working well. @nancy and I have been learning and re-learning the importance of being clear with prospective parents about what we do and don’t do. We are definitely developing in our capacities and clarity in this important part of growing a community and culture. 
  • Culture hacking! I thoroughly enjoy inventing and evolving tools and practices. The trick here for me is being able to spend enough time engaged with the kids to do this effectively. I definitely want more intentional time for this.
    • Haha! It’s fun to read these from a year ago. This is still very accurate. I really enjoy culture hacking and have definitely been doing some of it — ALF Summer was a great forum for it. It’s kind of a tough spot sometimes because I don’t want to impose or step on facilitator toes when I’m not actually spending the time facilitating with kids everyday, so I mostly look for opportunities and invitations to make suggestions and culture hack with my facilitator teams. That said, I’m around the ALCs so much it is easy to pick up on things and trust levels are high with the staff in general, so I still do a fair amount of this.

      One culture hack, really a tool adaptation, that I’m really excited about came from @nancy earlier this year at Mosaic. The first ∆-Up meeting or two of the year were a little challenging with as many as 22 kids in the room and too many topics to discuss and potential solutions to implement. She came up with the idea of having small groups self-organize around three or four “Awareness” topics and come up with a proposed solution, then the small groups report back their idea to the larger group and barring any major issues with it, we put it in “Implemented” and try it for the week. This ∆-up hack solved a lot of immediate problems, but I’m most stoked about it because of its potential to support scaling ∆-up meetings for large groups. I will likely write a separate post about this. 
  • Plan and facilitate ALF Summer and other Agile Learning Facilitator intensive training experiences
    • ALF Summer 2015 was pretty magical. It took a ton of work to plan and prepare — just interviewing all of the applicants took months. We grew our network tremendously and we learned A LOT about what we do well and what we can improve on to make trainings more effective. The feedback we got from everyone that participated was overwhelmingly positive. Growing the ALC Network and strengthening our facilitator relationships is the main intent, but seeing how ALF Summer really transformed some new folk’s lives is the cherry on top. I expect I’ll want to be doing this work for several more years before it is something I’ll want to move on from.For ALF Summer 2016, we are already looking at two 3-4 week sessions, one on the East Coast and one out west.
  • Develop and implement (with lots of help) the big picture vision for ALC Network website — a social network of purpose
    • I just got off a call with @drew about this very thing. I don’t have the technical skills or the time to be the one doing the actual building of these online tools, but I have continued to partner with @drew in making sure things are moving forward with our online platform (albeit slowly). I talk to people about this a lot and whenever I meet others interested in similar things, I’m sharing the endless possibilities I see for online collaboration that directly supports physical SDL communities. This is really exciting frontiers, so I’ll continue to make sure these conversations happen and we are investing where we can in making our online tools more and more useful. 

In the original exercise we did during ALF Weekend 2014, my list of “What do I want to do (that I’m not already doing)?” included the following:

  • To help transform current schools or communities into ALCs
    • I suppose this happened as we began collaborating with @liam and Endor, which was already a learning community of un-schoolers before becoming an ALC. Definitely more of this coming…
  • Help start / sustain ALCs in new places
    • I’ve been supporting new ALC Startups through our membership process, but I haven’t had the time to go somewhere and join a startup team in any significant way. I still want to do some of this in the future, but I’m not exactly sure how it will look. 
  • To communicate our project and its emerging potential to the World
    • Yes, this is happening in small ways, but I definitely want more of it. I’m most stoked about the Agile in Edu manifesto project that I believe will wind up being pretty important.
  • Bring ALC Social DNA to other communities
    • Our army of ALFs are definitely doing this, but I haven’t had too much time for it myself outside of the obvious ways it is already happening through our network expansion.
  • Bring ALC Social DNA to public schools
    • YES! It may not be a coincidence how far down the list this is, because honestly, I thought it would be years before this happened. It only took a year before we were able make an impression and connect with Jamaal Bowman, an extremely passionate principal at CASA Middle School in the Bronx. Jamaal is all about child-centered, love-based culture, and self-directed learning. He’s got major obstacles to overcome but he is making a lot of amazing things happen, and as a principal with courage, has a fair amount of latitude.

      Mostly @bear and @drew will be doing the work for this initial consulting project with CASA, though I’ll be able to attend the initial observation and meetings with the staff. We will be working with them to introduce ALC tools and practices into their “Genius Hour”, a time for kids to explore their own interests and research topics of their choosing. The teachers are needing support in shifting from “teacher mode” to “facilitator” and so we’re excited to come learn with them and see what kind of support they need to amplify their students’ agency. 

  • To figure out how to effectively scale our model & network
    • This continues to be significant and exciting work. This summer we took major strides in developing ALF Membranes that help us scale our organization with trust as the foundation and the social DNA. To do this, we have to continue to be real about who has what knowledge and abilities and who does what work well, naturally. We need an organizational model that is fluid and gives people the space to do work quickly and effectively and for decisions to be made because people are trusted to make them. We also need the organization to allow for new people to access it and move into it with clarity and purpose. The membranes are partly for protecting and holding coherence, but also for making possibilities for participation clear and available. This coming week at ∆-Up I’m proposing we implement an ALC Network Organizational Charter that I’ve been working on. The Charter mostly clarifies definitions of things and makes the creation of working groups and project work more explicit and clear.

      We’d like to have the ALF site refreshed by January 2016 with a lot of info about how our ALF Community is structured and how to begin participating, as well as info about previous ALF Summer programs and upcoming ones for next summer. 

Regarding ALF Membranes and Declaring my Accountabilities:

I am an Agile Learning Facilitator; Holder (ALC-NYC, ALC Mosaic, ALF Summer, ALC Membership/Startups) and a Network Holder. I am looking forward to developing a clear peer review process for Holders and Network Holders soon!

 

ALC Membership: Sharing the vision, spreading the model, and supporting startups

When I decided to join @artbrock’s Emerging Leader Labs to develop the culture, vision, and brand of the ALC project, I brought with me a strong motivation to address the various challenges I experienced working in the alternative education world. I’ve written about this before so I won’t go into too much detail – but in order explain the new ALC Membership model, laying some of this context is important.

There are many gaps that the ALC model and vision aims to address, but I want to focus on the following, as they are the ones most directly related to ALC Membership.

  • Most alternative schools choose an identity by clinging to a static, dogmatic, and top-down model.
  • Whether adopting a preexisting model (Waldorf, Montessori, Sudbury(?), etc.) or “making up as we go along” there is a growing number of change-makers generating disparate investments, leaving them disconnected and generally isolated from one another.
  • An incredible amount of wisdom, experience, and practical tools have been acquired through alternative school ventures but very little of it has been used to connect and inform future projects or amplify the voices in this movement towards a new education paradigm.

Don’t Get Montessori’d

To be truly agile means to always be evolving and iterating your tools, practices, and support structures – informed by collective wisdom and most-recent experiences, always with the aim to best serve the people in your group (community, team, family, etc).

Within a school or an organized learning environment this represents the fundamental distinction between a progressive school and self-directed learning community. Progressive schools go as far as they can to use new ideas and concepts to inform the curriculum and teaching practices, but they still hold on to the notion that curriculum (whether content or processes) should be created, curated, and controlled by the teachers. Explicit consent from students (let alone direct collaboration) is almost always missing, which means the actual educational experience and medium is not one of self-creation or self-direction.

From a larger scale, or meta-level (if you will), being agile means the educational model is itself a living thing – it emerges from the direct engagement, experiences, and inventiveness of the facilitators, students, and parents. To be an effective facilitator in an ALC you don’t get trained by learning a bunch of theories of development and static practices to go and apply to your school. Instead, you enter into a cultural experience and a practice of creation and collaboration with others (fellow facilitators, parents, and especially students) – you learn how to cultivate a culture that fosters self-empowerment and collective intelligence. There’s never a single right way to do this, and so this work is inherently creative and cannot be done by a dedication to any one person’s theories or books, whether from 1900 or 2015.

Creative Coherence: Autonomy and Alignment

The number of people choosing to homeschool in the US and around the world continues to increase significantly each year and so does the number of passionate and motivated individuals taking the leap to create a school or co-op for their local community. How many more would do so if there were tools, resources, and experienced people to support them? How many more than that would take the leap if the collective actions of everyone in this movement could be leveraged to help legitimize their choice to do so?

Dissatisfaction with traditional schooling comes in many flavors, but even when you drill down into the world of real learner-led, trust-based approaches you find terms and concepts like unschooling, self-directed learning, democratic education, free school, and many more. From those broad strokes people try to create a brand to distinguish their project and make it appealing enough for people to enroll their children (Insert: “The Green School”, ‘Organic Learning Community”, “ Open Road” and other random names I just made up that are probably actually names of real schools). They also clammer to find a practical approach to developing a healthy culture so that their learning community actually functions as intended. Most of them really struggle with that.

Part of the reason the ALC model has been so well received by this demographic of educators and social change-makers has been the tools we’ve adapted and invented to support healthy culture creation and effective organizational management. As we are beginning to see a quantum leap in growth on the horizon, it’s becoming clear that there is something infectiously attractive about offering folks an opportunity for their efforts toward starting a school or co-op to be directly contributing to a bigger movement. It’s critical that we continue to scale autonomy and alignment equally through this next stage.

ALC Membership

So far, our network has grown out of the work of a handful of facilitators who either co-founded the ALC model or were directly involved in our initial Agile Learning Facilitator (ALF) trainings. More recently, a lot of groups have reached out to us and have begun using our tools and practices in their own learning communities/startup projects – a trend that should only increase now that we’ve shared the first version of our StarterKit. Because the ALC project is rooted in collaboration and the model is evolved by its practitioners, we have to find a way to balance our desire to spread the model wide and far with our need to keep a tight-knit and highly-functioning collaborative facilitator community.

To do so, we’ve structured the new membership model so that our current core team can continue to work on our ALCs, while a few of us provide coaching and support for a whole new layer of engagement. This approach sets us up to support new startup projects that are wanting to begin collaborating with us, access useful resources, and through the process discern if the ALC brand, vision, and network is right for them longterm.

Folks using our tools, ALC Startups, and “Official” ALCs

Through this membership process we are further clarifying the various circles of engagement that exist within the ALC organism – we’re creating some terms that carry these distinctions in their definitions. The terminology and the membranes they represent will certainly change a bit over time, both in our effort to clarify them and in our need to adapt to the continuous growth we expect. For now, we are looking at three different circles of engagement with ALC from the organization/group level as it relates to the new ALC Membership model.

The outer layer is comprised of “folks using our tools”. These may be schools, co-ops, camps, social non-profits, etc. that have their own brand established and a mission or pedagogical approach that may not be fully aligned with ALC, but comes pretty close. These folks have found our practical tools to be useful and have begun implementing some of them in their communities or organizations. The engagement with this layer probably stops there – they’re not on an intentional path to directly collaborate with us, but have established some relationship to ALC and find it useful to have the association made explicit. ALC Members that have self-selected this distinction get added to our map and can still access the same additional resources as other ALC Members.

The next layer is is similar to the one before it, except these organizations are considered ALC Startups because they either want to explore if the ALC model is for them, or they’re already clear that it is and want to start forging a path towards higher levels of engagement. ALC Startups will get a lot of support and attention from a small working group of network holders who have a variety of skills and expertise through online coaching sessions. We also provide ALC Startups with access to ALC.network – our online buddypress platform that hosts individual blogs, schools websites, and connects users through a twitter-like activity stream. Our aim is provide as much support as we can to new startup projects while introducing them to our network in these basic ways – we share our online tools and collective experience with daily facilitation and organizational enterprising.

The goal is to be able to invite a whole new group of ALC Startups into the next layer of engagement after working together in this capacity over the course of the year. We still have some decisions to make about the membranes for “official” ALCs, but it will certainly be built around participation in ALF trainings and group peer-review processes that we’ve already begun implementing. At this point we are preparing ourselves for several ALF Summer programs in multiple locations for 2016.

Last year we started to get a little taste of inter-ALC student trips and exchanges. Another huge part of our vision in having a global network of ALCs is the ability for students, facilitators, and families to travel around the world and spend time in other ALC communities. A relevant education in today’s world has to involve direct exposure to many different cultures and we are stoked to have begun this process with just a handful of ALCs last year.

Learn about ALC Membership here.

Curious? Download our StarterKit for free.