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By Tomis

ALF Summer Recap, ALC Membership, and Back-to-ALC!

 

So much has happened since the last time I added to my blog! Lately, my “shareable value” has been mostly produced outside of this blog and I actually have a ton of stuff that I’m stoked to be working on today and for the next six weeks. So – let’s get right down to it and see if we can’t get a good summary of the last two months.

 

Alf Summer 2015

ALF Summer has only been around for two years, but it is already easily my favorite time of the year. I love summer itself — it’s my favorite season, for sure (I don’t care if it is really hot in North Carolina — love long days, warm nights, and sleeping naked). But beyond all of that, it’s incredible fun and exciting for me to invite new people into the ALCulture, grow deeper in relationship to my current ALFriends, and work on incredibly rewarding projects that have a huge impact on our collective goals.

In 2014 when we piloted ALF Summer, we had to throw it together pretty quickly. We put everyone up in host homes within the Mosaic community, charged almost nothing since we had to recruit most of our participants, and really just focused on having an experience that would bring the current facilitators together and bring coherence to the network. Now, after a whole year of doing the work with a community of facilitators and having some time to tell our story to the world, we were able to attract an entirely different caliber of participants. That’s not to say that those who came this year were better than those who came the first year, but that they were more clearly on this journey already, which was evident by the fact that they sought us out.

I could write ton about all of this and someday I will want to, but for now I need to stick to the highlights.

What worked:

  • beginning our preparation in January
  • building a sweet website that told the story of ALC and ALF summer so people had the context they needed
  • requiring a thorough application and doing interviews with people
  • not being afraid to say “no” to a few people who it just didn’t feel right for, or whose timing was not right
  • setting a high price tag and allowing people to “pay-what-they-can” along a generous scale
  • renting two really nice homes in Charlotte within close proximity to each other and to the school
  • advertising summer camp by February and getting a great group of non-ALC kids to participate along with most of the Mosaic kids
  • having a “Week 1” deep dive for folks that couldn’t make the full four week
  • supporting startup teams, specifically ALC Oahu, but getting several of their team members to come and live together

What we learned:

  • we need a larger group of committed facilitators to be a part of the organizing team
  • we need to start organizing sooner, which is tough because school ends two weeks before ALF Summer (change the dates?)
  • we would get much further in all our goals if we separated folks into tracks: participants get a track based on how much or little they know about ALC and current ALFs are either there to work on projects, facilitate the training, or support in some other clearly defined manner
  • we need to provide the context needed for people coming in from different levels of knowledge — which is really another aspect of the second bullet point
  • we always need reliable internet connections!

We gathered tons of feedback from everyone who was a part of the program and have done some extensive documentation around that, as well as all of the content, workshops, breakouts, etc. that were covered. Having all this extra information will be huge when we sit down to plan for next summer.

 

Preparing for the flood

In my last post, I spent some time fleshing out a proposal some of us came up with for ALF Membership process, and in doing so, was able to express some of the reasons it is important that we have a clear membrane established for participation in this work. We jumped right into this conversation during the first week of ALF Summer and quickly realized that we needed several different membranes — rather than having a single process that has you “in” or “out”, we needed to created several layers that can structure our organization and allow for people to move towards deeper levels of engagement and responsibility.

The written aspect of the previous proposal, or the personal intent content will probably come in handy for some of the higher layers of engagement when we get around to creating the processes for those membranes. At this stage, though, we were focused on finding a way of certifying new folks at a very base level. We decided to build on the peer review process we created at the first ALF Summer and incorporate the “membership circle” concept outlined in my previous post.

We came up with these fun names and layers of engagement. There’s a spreadsheet that explains each layer, it’s responsibilities, and what is needed to move into the next layer, but here’s the bare bones:

ALF Egg

Someone who has expressed an intention to be and ALF.

Kneaded

Someone who has been invited into ALC spaces to participate.

Baked

An ALF who has been declared “Baked” through the peer review process.

Cake Holder

An ALF who holds space, like an ALC or ALF Summer.

Muffin Tin

An ALF who holds multiple spaces and can adapt the tools and practices to new and different situations.

Network Holder (AKA: Lil’ Debbie)

An ALF who holds network wide spaces and can speak for the network.


 

@artbrock led the charge in putting together our beta StarterKit and several other ALFs were able to contribute to various sections/aspects of the project. We have amassed a pretty substantial resource that covers all aspects of starting and operating an ALC (in theory) — Administration/Organization, Communications/Promotions, and Facilitation/Operations. The StarterKit was the main project focus of the summer and will allow us to spread the ALC model quickly and easily — it’s a living document too, so we can keep updating it as we evolve and anyone can get the latest version from out site.

@drew and I have spent a lot of time redesigning out network site so there can be one central place to point people interested in ALC. We are now neck-deep in designing the StarkerKit site, where we’ll soon be launching the ALC Membership for startups. A huge thanks to @artbrock and @abbyo for content writing support in this effort!

ALC Membership for Startups

This is probably the thing I’m most excited about these days. We are working on getting the final process details in place and will soon be offering ALC Membership for startups (and other communities using our tools). Check out a sneak peak at this page to learn more about ALC Membership.

We’ve had 20 people download our the StarkerKit already and we haven’t even mentioned it was available on social media yet. I have also already begun the membership process with two startups. I’ve been making tutorial videos that will be available for members using Hangouts OnAir, which I’ve been enjoying. For a while, my sharable value will definitely be going into the StarterKit and the extra resources we’ll be putting together for ALC Members.

I foresee us signing up between 15 and 20 new members this year. I’m excited about the ongoing coaching we’ll be providing them and getting to see who’s work/journey is in alignment with ALC. This new layer of engagement will make a strong base for filling next year’s ALF Summer, and if membership grows even more, it may provide the opportunity to do multiple trainings in various places throughout the year.

 

Back to ALC

Back to school was always a depressing phrase. No amount of new clothes, sneakers, or school supplies could overcome the feeling of the woeful submission that was imminent. Thankfully, for me and all of the kids we serve, none of that is true of ALC. Back to ALC doesn’t feel like work, but another exciting thing to look forward to.

ALC Mosaic resumed this week and it’s been fun, easy, and more fun! Despite having a bunch of monotonous administrative tasks to tend to, it’s been a pleasure to see the kids come back with so much joy and excitement and many of them full of clear intentions. We had a great parent meeting last week and @jesslm has started running a spawn point in a lead facilitation role, which I think is going to work out well. @charlotte and @dinospumoni seem to be doing really well and finding their groove. @dthomasson is always a joy to have around and with so new found clarity around his role, things to be grooving for him too. AND, we have @alexp here most days, fresh off a month at ALF Summer with us, which was a huge blessing all around.

Up north in NYC things don’t again until the 9th of September, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do. For me it is the necessary but kinda lame stuff like renewing the insurance policy, getting out back-to-school communications, making sure financial stuff is in order, etc. Much more exciting than that has been partnering with @bear to work on Admissions. Bear wants to be an Admissions Jedi — travel around to ALCs and support them in enrollment. We worked out a proposal where he’ll get paid based on commission — when he moves finds or moves a prospect to a signed enrollment agreement (and they pay), he’ll get a small cut of their yearly tuition. This would normally feel like a really bad idea, as it is really important that people enroll based on right fit above anything else. That said, I have a high level of trust (increasing more each year) with @bear and feel like we can do this work in partnership in a way that emphasizes the ALC’s growth and health, rather than $ — not something @bear has ever placed much value on anyway 😉

I am listening to all my Mosaic ALFriends chatting in the food room, so I’m gonna go join them.

Oh.

And, @nancy and I go to Vietnam in October. We are super excited. I’ve got a lot I want to complete before then, and I’ll feel really good about putting down the ALC work for two weeks if I can.

PEACE!

ALF Membership: Membranes and Participation (in process)

With ALF Summer just a couple weeks away, I am getting pretty stoked about all that lies ahead. We are preparing to see another a major layer of growth to our network with the addition of three more ALCs and a significant increase of practicing facilitators. With the continued growth of the ALC network comes new challenges and organizational needs. How can we make it so that expansion and inclusion is easy, and coherence and reputation remains strong?

Last year at ALF Summer, we created a process for self-assessment and peer reviews so that each of us could have a personalized check-in around how well we understood and embodied the ALC concepts, as well as how effectively we used and evolved our cultural tools and practices. This process was extremely useful in marking the value of the summer program and all that was learned and birthed there. It also supported individual facilitators in deeper self-reflection and healthy feedback from their peers.

This peer review process represented a helpful evaluation for anyone who came to ALF Summer to learn about ALC tools and practices — brand new or well-experienced, just trying it out or fully committed — the process did not, however, attempt to distinguish between those things. As we continue to expand our network and the number of people attempting the work of an ALF increases, we are seeing the need to establish a process that could produce these distinctions and make them visible.

During a few of our ALF weekend work sessions this year we began to broach this subject and explore these questions. We started discussing the need and purpose behind creating a process for ALF Membership. @drew proposed an idea to jumpstart the conversation this spring and we all mulled through it, trying to understand how it would play out. Through that process we got clear that A) we wanted the person seeking membership to be the only person who could initiate the membership process and B) the process should be one that can very quickly accept a person who everyone knows “has what it takes” (we don’t want a long litigious process that feels like a uninspiring formality) and can also keep out a person who is not ready to take on the responsibility that comes with the distinction of membership.

Throughout these conversations, @nancy has wisely held the understanding that the membership process may not be important to some people working in ALCs who are already doing powerful facilitation work. Thus, we need to recognize that A) membership does not create a hierarchy among facilitators within any individual ALC community and B) membership speaks to the community of facilitators across the ALC network and their commitment to our collective and interconnected work.

@bear and I were inspired to dive into this project together this spring, as ALF Summer/ALC network development is a huge passion and interest of ours. We hit a roadblock when we realized that whatever process we invented would be useless unless the next layer of ALC collaborators saw it as useful and important to begin implementing. We decided to get to a stopping point and share what we had come up with, while knowing it would need to be a discussion we all entered into during the latter half of ALF Summer.

The framework for our proposal is built around each individual seeking membership putting forth a written piece (other mediums could potentially be considered) that would be known as their Personal Intent for ALF Membership. The Personal Intent currently consists of six questions/sections that would be covered by the person seeking membership.

  • Why is ALF Membership important to you?
  • What skills and experience do you bring to this work?
  • Explain and articulate your understanding of the work of the ALF community, and how the ALF community works.
  • How do you see yourself fitting into and contributing to that.
  • Write a short reflection on how you embody each of the Agile Roots.
  • Write a declarative statement that describes your commitment to this work and the ALF community, as well as any specific results that you are personally committed to.

After completing the Personal Intent, they would select two members of the ALF community to be in their Membership Circle (MC) and the rest of the ALF community would collectively select two more members to join the MC. The person seeking membership would call their MC together to review their Personal Intent. From there, the MC would openly discuss it — make acknowledgements and discuss any tension points or gaps that may exist in the person’s readiness for membership.

The MC may discern that membership should be granted immediately and do so. Or, they may identify reasons for not granting membership. In this case, it should be determined in a path towards membership is clear and possible or not, and if so what actions/work/results would be needed to make that possible. Next steps in the process should be determined before concluding the circle.

If we decide to implement this general framework for ALF Membership, we will have to do so from scratch, with no formalized members from the beginning. To begin the process will require that we trust the foundation of relationships and the natural authority that has already been established over the last two years.

To put forth a starting point for the conversation this summer, I’ve decided to share the first part of my Personal Intent for ALF Membership. My response to the other five sections will come later (assuming we move forward with this process). We may choose to keep Person Intents private so that each new one is more likely to come from an individual’s authentic thoughts and feelings, rather than a recreation of Personal Intents that come before them.

 


 

The answers and explorations of the following questions will serve as my Personal Intent to begin and gain the designation of Agile Learning Facilitator (ALF) Membership.

ALF Membership is intended to create a coherent and recognizable designation for those who hold the mission and vision of Agile Learning Centers, as well as those who directly and indirectly work to start, support, and sustain these learning communities.

ALF Membership is not intended to dissuade participation from non-members, but instead, provide a clear and explicit distinction for those who are a part of the ALC network (parents, staff, students, supporters, resource people, etc.) and those interacting and interfacing with it in the world.

Primarily, the membership designation speaks to one’s commitment to advancing these ideas in the world, and to the collaboration and support they have within the ALF community in our collective effort to improve our craft, evolve our model, and expand our network.

Why is ALF Membership important to you?

In the year 2015 we are on a precipice of sorts. Collectively, we are trying to shed the bondage of the Industrial Age, but are not sure how to do it and what it looks like on the other side. To move into the next level of our spiraled evolution seems to require a remembrance of our past and an embracing of the future — a leap of faith into the unknown, rooted in trust and love.

The work we do in creating, sustaining, and evolving Agile Learning Centers is both simple and natural, as well as innovative and radical. We are pioneers and propagators of ideas that will soon explode into the forefront of human consciousness. As openness and readiness towards these ideas expand, we must take responsibility for our role as leaders in this movement and architects of these new systems.

ALF Membership is important to me for the following reasons. The first three outline a general context for the purpose and need for a membership process. The fourth reason is my personal answer to the question above.

 

  1. This work is not easy, not thoughtless. This work is not done with part of a person, but with and through a whole person. This work requires a certain level of maturity, self-awareness and self-confidence, a deep understanding of its root ideas and assumptions, and a commitment to personal development as the medium for which one engages with each other and creates change in the world. ALF Membership is a clear marking of who carries with them these essential capacities, as well as a commitment to continually expand them.

  2. As we seek to build communities that celebrate children and support them in leading, we are committing ourselves to the medium of trust. To build ALCs that are rooted in trust, we must be simultaneously creating a larger container that can hold and feed us in the same way. An effective ALF Membership process will allow us to create an underlying social fabric that transcends politics and process through deeply connected relationships that swim in the peaceful waters of love and trust. ALF Membership creates a relationship currency that allows us to hold each other in love and act swiftly and assuredly together.

  3. As we expand our learning communities and our network of facilitators, it is essential that we have a membrane that can keep toxic elements from entering our social organism. We need a process that engages us in deeply considering the abilities, motivations, capacities, and understanding of each individual who will represent our collective efforts. By energetically emphasizing reason #2 (creating a medium of trust) this becomes a positive side-effect of our membership process. ALF Membership creates a relationship currency that allows us to hold each other in love and act swiftly and assuredly together.

  4. I am but one man who has just a sliver of the skills and abilities needed to advance the mission and vision of Agile Learning Centers. I cannot be effective in isolation and my independence is only as strong as my ability to create powerfully with and for others. I cannot create the possibility of a better world for children unless I am actively creating it for myself, right now. To do this, I must be in community with others who share the same values, convictions, motivations, and dreams. ALF Membership is an act of calling forth an intentional community of individuals who have declared a new world is possible, creating a coherent container in which we can act with power and joy.   

 

Got Married

 

 

It’s pretty remarkable how we change and how our desires, perceptions, and needs evolve. A few years ago, I began feeling like my time in NYC was running out — like I needed to get out. After taking on the ALC project in the spring of 2013, I knew I was signing up to be there for a while, but I also knew that it wasn’t where I wanted to be forever.

My orientation to romantic relationships was beginning to shift, too. I had just moved on from an intense three-year relationship that had me playing all kinds of roles I didn’t expect to hold at the (then) age of 26. I invested a lot of myself and it was an emotionally challenging transition to make, but ultimately the right one.

I reaffirmed my dedication to this work (building self-directed learning communities as a vehicle for systemic social change) and was clear that was my #1 priority. I wanted meaningful, joyful, and passionate relationships in my life, but I didn’t feel like I could shelve my desire to work on ALC to nurture them. Ultimately, I began to think that my preference for a singular, deeply-connected relationship would have to evolve to fit into the rest of my life’s landscape.

For as long as I can remember, my experience of self-discovery and my desire for deeply-connected romantic love seemed to always involve some degree of confliction. The friction between who I was (and was becoming) and how to operate in a powerful partnership with another was most intense as a teenager. As I got older and had more relationships, I learned a little bit from each — which both sharpened my sense of self and informed my choices about future relationships. Now, I can look back and be incredibly grateful for all of it — especially the heartbreak, intentional solitude, and erosion of everything that was not my true self. It was all a process of clarifying and creating.

When I first met @nancy we were both in other relationships, and though I was excited about our partnership in work, I didn’t think about it beyond that. Once those other moving pieces began to shift and space was there for our connection to fully bloom, an incredibly powerful and captivating dynamic began to emerge.

We were both neck-deep in actualizing our life-long commitments to the same things without having ever met. We were both intentionally looking to manifest powerful people in our lives that could help us create the learning communities we were dreaming about. We were both independently stepping into our individual power in a way that was new and exciting. We were both figuring out how to be effective leaders.

The past year has been one experience of infinite possibility after another. It’s been a culmination of my convictions through my diligence in living by them. It’s been an abundant harvest and a setting of new foundations for a blissful future.

 

Yep, that’s right. Last week I did something that, until this past year, I thought I would never do — got married.

 

I’ve been skeptical of marriage for a while now, and in some ways, I still am. Certainly it is not my aim to judge other people’s lifestyle choices, but from my observations growing up and as an adult, it seemed like married couples were always sacrificing something important, often several things, for the sake of their union.

She doesn’t like the city, but it’s where his job is so she’ll deal with it. He doesn’t like living around here, but she wants to raise kids near her parents and hometown. She loved traveling in her early 20’s but now he’s looking for someone to keep a home and start a family with. They’ve been together since college and are good at pushing each other’s buttons and generally uninspiring to be around, but it’s better than being alone.

Despite my own parents’ modeling a pretty healthy marriage for me, examples like these seemed to be everywhere I looked and all I could focus on was what people were so obviously giving up to feed their co-dependency. Viewing it that way really turned me off to the idea of marriage. I also had many of my own experiences of making similar sacrifices that tended to reinforce this view.

I’ve learned that it’s not simply marriage as an institution (flawed as its history certainly is) that ruins relationships, but the perspective and intention that you take into it. What was possible for people if they saw their relationship as an unfolding of unknown potentialities, rather than the obligation of their lifetime? What dynamics, foundation, and individual perspectives were necessary to create a union like that?

With Nancy all of that fell into place almost effortlessly by virtue of who we were and where we were headed as individuals. We weren’t looking to each other to fill a hole or bridge a gap in our experience of life. We weren’t needing someone because we were bored or uninspired by life. In fact, it was the opposite. We had both spent the majority of our adult lives prioritizing our need for self-learning, which created the potential for such a powerful partnership.

We set out to have a simple, joyful (no-stress), and authentic wedding. We decided to have it at the park during a school day so that the kids and ALC community could be a part of it. We made a promise to ourselves that if any aspect of planning or preparations became stressful we would stop and come back to it later. We already knew we didn’t want a traditional wedding, but this worked really well in helping us cut out a bunch of additional wedding stuff that was ultimately unnecessary. The amount of support and participation we got from friends and family that day was incredible. It seemed like every last-minute need we had was met — and then some.

Weddings have always felt like a performance to me — like a big staged act to convince everyone that this couple and their vows are worth celebrating. It makes sense. When the bride and groom vow “until death do us part”, they are making a pretty audacious declaration, one that needs a considerable amount of convincing (especially if you have a mind for statistics). Going through a bunch of ostentatious formalities so that we could cross our fingers and quote the Book of Common Prayer has absolutely nothing to do with the love that we share or the inspiration we carry.

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“Truth is a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition.”

-John Milton, Areopagitica

I’ve written a dozen drafts and erased them all.

I’ve decided to spare you stories of my youth and my fantastical conquests to find a partner, without having first explored my own sense of self.

I’ll spare you a historical review of the institution of marriage.

I’ll spare you a scathing critique of patriarchy and the ways in which it infects us all.

It would be pretentious of me, as I’m above none of it —

Instead I want to focus on why I’m here today — a day that feels both surreal and simplistically obvious at the same time.

Over the course of my life, I’ve come to believe in the power of relationships. It has been through my relationships with others that I’ve learned the most important lessons of life; experienced love, accepted pain, and developed my own sense of purpose.

I’ve learned that relationships shape our reality more powerfully than any other force. It’s in relationship to another that we recognize our individual agency to choose how we will experience the world, and understand we are all unique expressions of its universal source.

To quote another,

“…That’s how you live free — to truly see and be seen

I see a woman who seeks truth and understanding and who acts from an abundant love.

I see a woman who has learned to listen to her heart and to see possibilities instead of problems.

I see a woman who knows true joy because she works her ass off in service to others.

I see a woman who shares my dreams and holds my convictions.

I couldn’t have imagined a relationship that stretches me in all the right ways than what I have found with you, Nancy.

Being in relationship with you spawns my continual self-creation in the most incredible ways. Loving you takes nothing from me; loving you dissolves all illusions.

I vow to give you my thoughts — honest and pure — and to listen carefully to yours.

I vow to change with you and through you.

I vow to play with the infinite fantasies of our future, and remain attached to none of them.

I vow to be, do, and have love with you.

The DC/NASA trip

I just got back from a three-day trip that I was calling, “The DC/NASA trip”.

For me, the trip began in NYC where I took a Greyhound from W 33rd and 11th Avenue with Askani, Jack, and Javair down to Greenbelt, MD. It was a special “change-up” to get this time with them outside of day-to-day happenings at the ALC. We met at @nancy’s parent’s house and were greeted by nine or ten Mosaic kids and parents.

Jim and Hac (my inlaws!!) generously gave up their home to about fifteen of us for three nights and two days. I’m so grateful to them for that, as this trip was adored by all the kids and fostered some more inter-ALC mixing, which always brings me joy.

On Wednesday we got a special tour of NASA Goddard where Jim has worked for over thirty years as a Computer Scientist. I learned that Senator Ted Cruz visited NASA and after hearing their report on climate change asserted that NASA should stop studying the Earth and stick to “space”. LOL.

Thursday was a full day in DC — we visited the Library of Congress and the Air and Space Museum. Like most days in DC, we were all pretty pooped by late afternoon.

Though DC isn’t my favorite place in the world, I definitely loved being a part of this trip. Anytime kids, parents, and facilitators from multiple ALCs can gather it is a good time. The NASA tour and presentation was interesting and engaging and the Tilton’s were amazing hosts. It was fun to do this @nancy <3

I’m feeling uninspired to write creatively about this trip, so instead I’ll share the photos I took.

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I made this

I am slowly learning more in the front-end web design department (see last post), which also means you gotta learn more graphic design, too. It took me way too long (like 5 or 6 hours) to finish this email ad for summer camp. Part of the reason it took so long (other than my lack of expertise with Illustrator) was probably because I didn’t have a clear vision for what I wanted to make when I started and just made it up (with lots of tangents) as I went.

 

ALCSummerCamp-01

 

I also spent a good bit of time on ALF Summer stuff this week, and will surely be doing more of that next week. We had a total of 26 applicants — it was super inspiring to read all of the applications and see financial pledges from so many people who want to be a part of changing our education paradigms. I had a little “field of dreams” moment the other night when applications kept coming in before the deadline. There’s also tons of people who I’ve spent time talking with this year who aren’t able to make it this summer and will probably apply next year. It’s going to be a wild ride the next few years as we grow this network and figure out how to organize and scale with Agile.

There are currently 28 RSVPs for our Parent Interest Night next week, which is about twice as much as we’ve ever had before. The increase in RSVPs is definitely a result of some of the paid advertising we’ve done in the past six weeks. Google Adwords and a couple email blasts with online publications probably have a lot to do with it (which is nice to see those efforts will probably be fruitful). It’s also likely that more people are looking for things now that school is coming into the final stretch and they are trying to figure out what next year will look like.

@theskycookie moved back to Portland a couple weeks ago, so we are down to 12 students. It looks roughly ten of them will remain for next year, so ideally we’d enroll between 6-9 more students for the fall. This would allow us to give @ryanshollenberger and @abbyo a raise so they can get health insurance, offer slightly more rent in exchange for redecoration rights, and potentially have a resources to support @bear and @chuck to trade off coming down here on the regular. That’s what I’m imagining!

Off to PA in a few to spend some time with mom, the niece and nephew, and play a round with the old man.

 

Weekly Achievement: What I Learned This Week

Last Friday (in NYC) we implemented a proposal I made at Change-Up meeting, which I’ve been referring to as “weekly achievement” (others are calling it weekly intention). Though there are several students working on longterm projects and who naturally create goals for themselves beyond the daily cycle, I wanted to address what felt like a noticeable gap in our weekly sprint.

Each Monday we have Set-the-Week meeting to sketch out activities, trips, and whatever else needs planning and coordination for the week ahead. Then, we return to our spawn points to set our intentions for that day. My Change-Up proposal was that we try setting a weekly achievement goal on Monday mornings, as well. This would be an addition to the daily intention process and would be used to support us all in holding a goal or intention that we want to have fulfilled by the end of the week. The group agreed to try it and so this week we gave it a go.

 

My weekly achievement goal was to build a landing page for a Google Adwords campaign (for NYC) and launch said campaign. I officially achieved this on Thursday, but damn, I sure put in the hours. The vast majority of the time was spent building the landing page itself. I’ve heard over and over in conversations about online marketing that the landing page you send people to is the most important part of the process.

The page needs to grab their attention, be accessible and pleasant, provide enough information and context without requiring them to read too much or click through your site. I’m still skeptical about all of this — not that this information isn’t true — but that the parents we are looking for should be able to hold their focus for a minute or two, especially if it relates to their child’s educational future.

That said, I understand there’s A LOT of noise out there, and your first impression has got to be effective — figuring out what that looks like is the trick. I wanted something simple, clean, and playful, and also bright and colorful. I wanted it to feel “new” and “fresh” cause I think that is true to ALC, rather than some classic staged photo of a child engrossed in a “learning activity” — so passé.

I decided to try and create what would look and feel like a text message or online chat conversation between students who would be talking about ALC and why they liked it. Luckily we had Student ID photos already taken that worked well for this. I requested to meet with Lyla and Askani on Monday to explain my idea and see if they wanted help write the copy. Javair was on a trip all week, so I scheduled a hangout with him for that night (after the weekly ALF call) and he sent me copy for his piece the next day.

 

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The best part of this whole process for me was learning more CSS and becoming much more competent at using the developer tools (command + option + i) to target specific sections of the page, play with the CSS right there in the browser, and then commit changes with Custom CSS in WordPress. I got a lot of help from @drew when I was stuck. Much gratitude to @drew for showing me some important parts of this process.

I really, really wanted to make these little triangles that would be at the end of certain full-width sections of the page as a visual signal to keep scrolling. I did a bunch of googling and figured out how to construct the triangles with just CSS, using the sudo “after” selector — which stylizes the small space after a particular section. It took me a long time to finally get the shape and position right, but when I did it felt pretty sweet.

 

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I was able to finish up the landing page by Wednesday night and spend Thursday focusing on getting the ad campaign set up. I launched it yesterday, which means I successfully met my achievement goal, though there’s still a lot of work to do on the campaign. More importantly than just meeting the weekly goal, I feel like I can do a lot more front-end design stuff than I could before the week started, which should be a gift that keeps on giving.

I have a feeling a lot of this was good timing, in that, I happened to have a project that lined up really well with the whole weekly achievement thing. I’m sure each week will be different and some weeks it won’t feel as significant to set a weekly achievement goal. In general, though, I think it is a great practice to have a weekly focus. Even if it is a simple thing you can knock out in the first two hours of a Monday morning, being able to identify the most important, highest priority task/project/focus for any particular work week is an important and useful skill.

 

Check out the full landing page I built here. 

SPRING

The weather in NYC made a pretty significant shift this week, and though it’s just barely pushing 50 degrees each day, it seems like winter is behind us. I love this time of year — the snow melts, each week gets a little warmer on the whole, and daylight persists later into the day.

 

This week I focused on:

  • Admissions communications and outreach for NYC

I’m going on ten Parent Interest Nights between NYC and Mosaic for the year. We’ve got two PINs and three visiting weeks lined up for the spring to support new fall enrollments. Lots of emails as a result of holding this coherence.

  • Project Guess (follow @guessnewyorkcity on Instagram!)

Today we launched NYC’s chapter of Project Guess, as inspired by @liam and Endor. The gist of it: we post a photo everyday of something unique in the city (street art, graffiti, landmarks, etc.) and the first person to comment the correct location gets $2 via PayPal. The goal is to get 1K followers by April 30th. Then, we would start looking for local businesses to be a monthly sponsor, so they pay for the winners’ prizes in exchange for some advertising options. This week I learned that it takes a lot longer to find street art and interesting graffiti in Manhattan than I expected — I’m sure it would be A LOT easier in Brooklyn.

  • Getting a new insurance policy in place for Mosaic

Not much to say here. Pretty boring work. One thing that I learned through this process I really can’t say publicly…so I won’t!

  • Yearly financial projections for NYC and Mosaic

I’m pretty proud and stoked to have both NYC and Mosaic projected to finish the year about $10K in the black. Both schools faced a substantial deficit at the beginning of the year for different reasons. A combination of fundraising and new enrollments have pulled both out from the hole and are in great shape with a ton of momentum to grow significantly next year.

  • Next steps with ALF Summer planning

We had an ALF Summer planning call this week to discuss a the addition of a Week 1 Deep Dive option for participants who can’t commit a whole month to the program. We discussed current applicants and @bear and I made plans to follow up with a few of them. I have some space preparation work to do the second half of March when I’m back at Mosaic — we need to get really good internet setup there and discuss renting more rooms upstairs so there’s ample workspace for ALF Summer people during the summer camp.

Things that I’m present to/reflections on the week:

  • ALF Summer Week 1 Deep Dive option is a great idea 

I’m stoked that we have added the option for people to just attend the first week of ALF Summer. The idea came to me last week and I started by asking specific ALFs for feedback (all seemed positive), then we discussed in on our weekly call. This move allows us to have a whole group of folks that otherwise wouldn’t have been quite a fit for a four-week intensive, but are super into the ALC project and want to take next steps in their understanding and implementation of our tools and practices. I think we’ll be able to have around 10 extra Deep Dive participants that wouldn’t have otherwise had any ALF Summer experience. I expect the relationships we make in that first week to be extremely useful in planting seeds for future ALCs and future 4-week ALF Summer collaborators.

  • ALCs have the ability to serve kids with an extremely wide range of needs from all kinds of backgrounds

We decided to enroll a student in NYC this week that has come from an extremely difficult background and who’s developmental and educational needs are different than most kids. We decided to enroll a student at Mosaic last month with similar needs but with a much different background and with different factors responsible for their disposition. Sorry for the ultra-vagueness, but I’m trying to respect privacy.

What I’m present to is that when you take a “people first” approach to everything you do and your community is organized with truly lean and agile structures, the capacity to serve a wide variety of needs increases. We aren’t trying to produce the same educational product or result for each student. And, we are open, honest, and transparent, which means our students, facilitators and parents know the deeper context necessary to love kids for who they are, rather than fixate on some abstract construct of what we wish they would become.

  • Putting a potluck before a community meeting is a great way to increase engagement

Yeah! People like food and socializing much more than logistical business meetings 🙂 People are way more willing to engage and contribute positive energy towards logistical business-y things when they get to eat and socialize first 🙂 I’m good at talking. I want to continue to increase my capacity to listen in a group — specifically in the context of facilitation — to listen for what the group energy needs to deepen engagement and be able to shift things to produce that. Luckily this is a practice and a skill we are all developing together each week in our meetings (assisted by Gameshifting tools).

  • A huge part of my personal development is a dance between being powerful and humble

Oh boy. I could write a whole blog post about this.

ALF Summer: Designing a New Education System

 

I spend a good bit of my time handling backend administrative logistics for the ALC in NYC and ALC Mosaic in Charlotte, NC. Though there’s a sizable amount of mundane tasks involved in this work, it is exciting to be learning so much about managing a nonprofit business. I’m getting to implement people-centered, agile methodologies across two organizations while employing a lot of my strengths like rational thinking, strategic planning, interpersonal dynamics/communication, and a little bit of math.

Administrative work, managing an organization, and routinely cleaning toilet seats that young boys struggle not to piss all over is absolutely necessary work to maintain the forward progress we have generated thus far. This has been my piece in supporting two of the current ALC communities that we already have up and running.

When I’m not doing this work, I’m usually thinking about ALF Summer, or talking to someone who is interested in attending. I’m stoked on ALF Summer because I see how it encompasses so many things that are essential in our efforts to design a new, relevant, and generative education system. Plus it is just a ton of fun!

From the website:

“ALF Summer is a four-week immersive experience that serves as a co-creative training and incubator for the Agile Learning Centers network.ALC coherence holders and experienced facilitators come together with parents, new facilitators, and startup groups to support the continuous improvement of our work, the ALC model, and the next stage of ALC network growth.”

That’s the most succinct way we could describe it. This blog is an extrapolation of sorts.

ALF Summer accomplishes many, many things for the ALC project and for the individuals who participate — I see it as absolutely necessary in our work to build a new education system based on collaboration.

Last July we piloted the concept with great success. We were able to bring all of the momentum from that first year to birth a living network of ALCs and a connected facilitator community. For three weeks we created our own Agile Learning Center, where we acted as both the teachers and the students — sharing ideas, using and evolving tools, and generating significant results. We even squeezed a peer-review and self-assessment practice in during the final week. This next ALF Summer will be a month long because we saw how valuable another week would be to the process.

A lot of people are reaching out with interest in the ALC model and in attending ALF Summer. Most of them are pointing to the difficulty in making time for a four-week program. I totally understand this, as rearranging your life to be able to spend a month away from home, friends, family, and other responsibilities is no easy feat. Because I’ve heard from so many people who are thirsty for more but can’t make this investment, I’m motivated to start planning an ALC Conference for 2016. But that’s another topic, another project.

ALF Summer is an investment and a significant one at that. No doubt about it and there’s really no other way around it — it has to be. There’s so many theories, pedagogies, curriculums, teaching aids, tools and strategies out there already, but a relevant education system isn’t going to magically emerge from implementing a few new (or more realistically, old) tricks.

 

So why is a four-week intensive necessary and what does it accomplish?

When I first moved to New York City in 2009 to begin working in a self-directed learning community, I was excited, fascinated, and naive — pretty much everything you would expect. My job title was officially known as “staff member”, and though it wasn’t explicit it was implicitly known that my responsibility was to work with the students.

Well, what does that look like? What does “teaching” or being an adult in a self-directed learning environment actually entail? Did anyone know? Not really.

Over the next few years I was able to meet a lot of other people from around the world working in similar independent schools who were also pretty unclear about what the they were supposed to be doing, or what it looked like to be an effective and powerful adult in this kind of learning environment. This makes total sense since it is extremely rare for the adults doing this work to have experienced growing up in a self-directed learning community; there’s been very little modeling of how this works.

How do you create and maintain a healthy and effective culture of self-direction, passion-driven learning, and personal responsibility for kids? It wasn’t until I participated Emerging Leader Labs that I fully realized the answer to that question. You have to do it yourself, first.

 

Relevant training for new facilitators looking to work directly with children in a self-directed learning community.

Those who come to ALF Summer because they want to work with kids in an ALC are getting the only kind of training there is for that. It’s learning by doing. Whatever we want our schools to look like for our students we have to be able to generate for ourselves. “Training” in this context means embodying the cultural distinctions that we hold sacred, engaging directly with tools and practices that support an intentional culture, and experiencing yourself as an autonomous, collaborative, and generative learner.*

*Once you stop consuming curriculum nostrums and pushing them onto children, you have to fill that void with something positive. Who you are — defined mostly by what you do — becomes what you teach. We don’t want kids to just consume content, material, and resources anymore. We want them to act powerfully in awareness of themselves towards a happy, healthy, and engaged life. We want them to be generative for themselves and their community. Being a “teacher” in a self-directed learning community means producing tangible fruit from your work — shareable value.

 

An opportunity for current facilitators to share the value of their experiences.

ALF Summer is all about practicing our collaboration skills and learning to share the value of our time, work, and experiences with others. Part of training new facilitators means having active and experienced facilitators share what they’ve learned from doing the work directly.

What’s possible if the people learning how to do this work were actually sharing their insights with the next wave wanting to learn? I have seen so many passionate people in the alternative education world tirelessly reinventing the wheel because there’s no opportunity to learn deeply from others.

 

Filling the gaps in our skill sets, casting the net wide, and maintaining coherence.

Running a business and managing an organization of interconnected relationships is a whole other part of this game — a part that is often overlooked by those starting a school who are primarily motivated by their passion to work with children. Many of the self-directed learning startups I’ve seen or read about have emerged from subcultures that usually don’t associate with the business world and don’t have much practice with entrepreneurialism.

I’m excited about seeing this shift lately, as this is an intention of the ALC project — to bring together any and all subcultures and lifestyle genres that have shared beliefs regarding the way humans learn, work, and play best. The hippies need to upgrade their tools, and learn about effective organizational management and financial sustainability from the business world. The yuppies need to slow down, and learn about the inherent value of every human and systemic inequality from the social activists. (That’s just one example of this idea contextualized to my personal reference points.)

All across the board we need to do more listening and begin looking for the places in which we have similar goals. Last summer we drafted our “Agile Roots” as a way of building an inclusive and clear foundation for the ALC project — the coherence in which we currently operate within. Because a theory of education cannot exist in isolation, we are looking to play and partner with people from any subculture that is committed to operating from these assumptions:

  1. Learning is natural. It’s happening all the time.
  2. People learn better when they make their own decisions. Children are people.
  3. People learn more from the culture and environment they are immersed in than from the material they are taught.
  4. People develop their strengths and sense of purpose through cycles of intention, creation, reflection, and sharing.

 

 

A practice in true collaboration

Working together in this collaborative context is not just important to kickstart a project like this, it is absolutely necessary to maintain as a consistent practice. An Agile principle that I hold dear is, “people over process”, meaning you should always make sure your process is serving the people, rather than the other way around. (A pull-based approach, rather than a push-based.) Still, you’re always balancing people dynamics since it is impossible to serve everyone within a single organization of purpose and still maintain social coherence.

In an ALC we are iterating our agreements and cultural practices weekly. In the larger project we need to be iterating our tools, practices, and support structures every year. This is the only way to remain relevant and effective and not get stale or institutionalized.

Last summer many of us began as strangers and left connected and committed to continued growth and mutual support. Of course, that’s not always easy and usually there’s some bumps along the way. But that’s just it — there’s something so powerful about strengthening the connections between people who have set out to accomplish the same things before having ever met each other. It is at this intersection that autonomous collaboration can thrive.

The number of people who want to dedicate their life to redesigning (and living!) a new education system continues to grow, but we have to do something productive with all that action potential. So, what’s possible if we get together for more than a weekend of workshops and blah, blah, blah, and actually start inventing, creating, and doing it together?

Relationships

Having healthy, happy, supportive, and trusting relationships is a pretty big deal when it comes to the human experience.

The relationship a mother has to its baby both before, during, and after its birth have an immense influence on how the child will view the world and experience life. The relationships we have among family members form a foundation for our sense of self and the way we seek (or flee from) being in community as adults. The relationship our parents modeled can create a powerful imprint — attracting us, often unconsciously, to similar dynamics and traits in others for the rest of our lives.

Relationships take us places and teach us things. It is only in relationships with others that we can experience love, a sense of belonging, and a joy in something greater than the daily functions of eating, sleeping, and defecating.

It seems the older you get the more you realize that being in relationship is medium in which our lives are lived and the world is experienced. We start to see how much choice we actually have in how we relate to others, and we come to recognize that our relationships are simultaneously the canvases on which we paint and the recipes that concoct our reality. How we relate is our ever-present power to create or to crucify, to shape and shift our world.

Nothing I just said may sound all that profound. I mean, I guess that depends on what kind of mood you’re in. Regardless, it is shocking how utterly ignorant and neglectful we are as a society to these very basic ideas. Virtually any conversation about the role of education is so incredibly imbalanced in its emphasis on training an preparation for work. We focus so much on what skills or information we need to acquire to serve particular functions as adults and forget how many people are simply doing anything they possibly can to serve their most important relationships.

How many people became an adult and basically chucked everything they’ve been “preparing for” out the window because they fell in love or had a child?

How many people switched careers six times or learned new skills to support their family because that was the most important thing to them?

How many people got their most fulfilling and successful job opportunity because of a key friendship or through the cultivation of various relationships?

How many people have lost their job because they didn’t know how to deal with the social dynamics or their workplace or the difficult personality of their boss?

Well I could go on and on…

What if schools were actually collaborative?

 

 

History Lesson 

As far as education goes, we are living in very strange times. School as we know it was officially implemented in the United States about 175 years ago by the very first Secretary of Education, Horace Mann. By 1918 all forty-eight states had made laws requiring children to complete elementary school, a historic shift that began to challenge age-old wisdom about how people learn. Early 20th century schools were designed like early 20th century factories, intending to produce a workforce that would serve the industrial economy of that time.

Since then, and especially in the last forty years, modern advances in technology have created exponential change in virtually every area of our lives, except for education. An honest look at the industries, workplaces, and economic demands of the 21st century reveal the utter irrelevance of an education based on standardization and compliance.

 

The Future of Work 

Here’s a quote from Dr. Tony Wagner the Expert in Residence at the Harvard Innovation Lab, and author of the books, “The Global Achievement Gap” and “Creating Innovators”.

“Today because knowledge is available on every internet connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate – the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life – and skills like critical thinking, communication, and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge.”

So, in 2014, we’re hearing a lot about autonomy, creativity, and collaboration as some of the most important elements for tackling the biggest problems we face as a society. And, the Social Sciences have confirmed over and over again that cultivating these abilities makes happier and healthier humans.

To learn how to collaborate, I think it is safe to assume that the educational experience needs to be itself, collaborative. So, what if schools were actually collaborative?

 

Collaboration with Students 

Before we can design an education that is collaborative in nature, we need to first make sure we understand what collaboration means. Collaborate: to work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something. Synonyms and related words: co-operate, join forces, work together, co-produce, agreed-upon, mutual.

So, we are seeing the same themes over and over; to be in a collaborative environment implies that the participants have agency and autonomy and that through the process they are creating and learning to be creative.

In a truly collaborative environment, it would be clear that anyone can be a teacher and that we are all students of life — not contained by the walls of a school or artificial social roles.

This is the fundamental problem with our prevailing education system — it cannot and will not teach collaboration as long as the Student-Teacher relationship is built on contention. Education is broken because it neglects consent as a necessary foundation for a healthy relationship. Without consent, you’ll never achieve partnership, co-creativity, and genuine engagement.

In a truly collaborative school, the adults would act from this understanding and would design from this awareness. So then, if the adults aren’t the monolithic “Teacher”, what are they? What do they do?

 

Teacher out, Facilitator in 

In an Agile Learning Center, adults become facilitators of the learning environment, which means they are primarily focused on: “bringing about an outcome such as, learning, productivity, or communication, by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision.” Once we recognize the need for consent as the very first step towards collaboration, we stop asking questions like:

  • How can I get them to pay attention?
  • What tricks can I use to get them to remember this information for a couple of weeks?
  • How can I create the appearance of learning and momentary engagement?

And we start asking questions like:

  • What do you want to do, learn, create, explore, try for the very first time?
  • What are your intentions, goals, visions for yourself?
  • What support do you need from me or your peers to make those things happen?

These would be some of the recurring questions that form the basis of a collaborative relationship with children. After we start asking the right questions, we can begin designing the learning environment to support active engagement in those questions, as a basis for true collaboration.

 

Tools & Practices for Intentional Culture

Our Agile Learning Facilitators are borrowing, inventing, adapting, and evolving a whole bunch of tools and practices to support students without getting in their way.

Each day at an Agile Learning Center, students are practicing identifying their priorities, declaring their intentions, making their work visible and reflecting on their personal process, and using modern tools to support these practices.

One of our lean structures is called “Set-the-Week — a short meeting each Monday morning to plan and sketch out our week. Through Set-the-Week we open up the walls of our schools to collaborate with parents and volunteers from the local community who want to share their passions and skills with us.

These are some of the ways we’ve been able to create a collaborative learning environment for our students and families, but what about the Facilitators? It’s pretty much impossible to do this work alone, especially when there’s no degree or training manual that will have the right answers ten years from now, maybe not even one year from now.

 

Facilitator Collaboration 

After immersing myself in the world of Alternative Education for five years, it became clear to me that though many small, independent schools were collaborating within their communities, collaboration was seriously lacking at all other levels.

What if the people starting and holding the schools were collaborating too? I realized that for our tools and practices to remain relevant and to build critical mass for these ideas — this would have to be the case.

We started a meetup group in NYC in the fall of 2013 to share our vision and some of the tools we were using, and to begin inviting new educators and social entrepreneurs into this project. By the spring we had a partner school and ALC startups forming.

ALF Summer 14
ALF Summer 14

This past summer we held our first Agile Learning Facilitator Intensive as a way of training ourselves through deep collaboration and intentional culture creation. We embodied our own ALC together for 3 weeks — we used and evolved our tools, launched new websites, drafted the first iteration of a training handbook, facilitated a 2-week summer camp for 20 kids, and got clear on foundational assumptions that inform our work.

 

Ongoing Facilitator Collaboration 

We are continuing our collaboration throughout the year with weekly calls, and a few meetups where we all gather for a long weekend to learn and play and improve our craft. Now instead of a couple small, isolated groups of passionate people, we are an expanding connected autonomous network of change-makers.

 

Connected Autonomous Network (CAN)
Connected Autonomous Network (CAN)

 

But the collaboration can’t stop there.

 

A Global & Local, Digitally Connected World

For an education to be fully relevant in 2014 it has to be engaged with digital tools. This is the world we live in and the world that young people are growing up into. What if there was an online social learning network that existed to support the growth and richness of smaller physical learning communities?

We are really excited about having launched the first iteration of that vision on agilelearningcenters.org. Now there’s a blog and fully-functioning website for each student, facilitator, or parent in the network, and activity stream where articles and links can be shared and blog posts are featured. And, groups with discussion forums so that students can collaborate on their latest Minecraft creations or their progress in learning a language, and network-wide discussions can take shape and knowledge can be shared.

 

Online Social Learning Network
Online Social Learning Network

 

To create a better world we need to develop collaborative organizations and businesses. To create a better world we definitely have to design schools that are actually collaborative — which means always having consent and working with kids, rather than working on them.