Tagged ALF

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!