[Guest blog by Roan]
I played with Joaquin with Roblox. That’s all.
[Guest blog by Roan]
I played with Joaquin with Roblox. That’s all.
makeup snack lnuch
What I liked this week was that I made a picture for my mom. These are my intentions for next week: to make make-up, eat snack, and eat lunch. I wrote them. Now we’re going to look up how to make make-up.
I like that I can build stuff, like out of wood. I also like that I can swing on the hammocks outside. I like that I can read the animal books that are in the school.
I like that I can cook corn. In other schools, you cannot cook corn outside. I am happy that I don’t have to do homework like in other schools you do.
When it’s time:
At your team check-in:
Planning Tasks (sort-of in order):
As people fill out your form:
*****Invoicing dates/deadlines depend on whether you need to collect deposits to be able to book the space+caterer+etc. In NYC, we’re fortunate to have worked with collaborators who haven’t needed numbers until the week before and payment until the first day of the program. *****
At your registration deadline:
*****People will be enrolling and dropping out right up to the start of the program–and sometimes during it–if you let them. Your team will want to decide how adaptable you want to be and communicate that clearly. *****
1 Month Before:
Two Weeks Before:
One Week Before:
The First Day:
This post started as my journaling the process @ryanshollenberger and I went through in planning the first ALF Summer program outside the Network program in Charlotte, NC in the 2015-2016 school year. It’s one of 3 posts I’m putting together from my experience planning the NYC programs so far.
While I didn’t write that we were able to start how we did because we 1) had use of the school as a location and 2) had use of the school PayPal/bank accounts, which let us both send invoices and set the payment deadline later than we would have if we’d needed the money up front to pay the guest teachers and the caterer.
For 2016-2017, we looked at our feedback and reflections from the previous year and adjusted our plans accordingly. We also incorporated our new staff–@melody and @theanchor–into our planning. The bones of the program had served us well enough; those didn’t change. The most major planned changes were inviting multiple parents to come share as a panel about their experiences (so grateful to Alex, Diane, Sarah, Rachel, and Taasha!) and adjusting our closing/reflective exercises to be less structured and more personal. While our intentions in hosting the program had broadened (we were definitely more focused on supporting the Network than finding local collaborators than we’d been in 2016), our underlying program goals turned out to be almost exactly the same.
Here’s what I wrote about planning the 2016 summer program…
Mid-January, aware that the growth of ALC in NYC and the tri-state area will be smoother and more powerful if we have more practiced facilitators/entrepreneurs in the area, Ryan and I decided it was time to host a training at ALC-NYC. “ALF Summer”–pioneered by @nancy–had so far only happened in Charlotte, where planners arrange housing and transportation for participants on top of planning programming, running a nested summer camp program, and providing food. Right away, we opted to run a lighter program: we prioritized local participants and left travelers responsible for their own housing, we took advantage of having more extensive public transportation than Charlotte, and we forfeited potential summer camp revenue to release ourselves from summer camp paperwork. We were clear that our priorities were sharing our learning, supporting new projects/facilitators, and budgeting so we could break even.
We agreed to draw up our visions for the program independently and share/compare them the following day. We anticipated overlap in terms of basics we’d like to see covered, and we were hopeful that each of us will cover the things the other forgot. Here are my January 21st notes:
I came home tonight and turned the scattered notes I’ve been taking over the past two weeks into a sketch. In doing so, it became clear to me that I don’t actually want to offer the first three days as a conference or festival. If one of our intentions is to be connecting change-makers rooted in NYC, then we need to make time for them to build relationships.
I found it easy enough to mark out the daily rituals (opening, eating, cleaning, circling). I then played with the idea of giving the first three days loose themes…and realized that I like the feel of the Be/Think/Do from the Archetypes exercise. From there I filled in a basic sketch of what the first three days could look like, with flex time and play time built in. This took some focused and strategic thought, but it wasn’t as difficult as I had anticipated.
Planning days four through twelve felt funny, because I intentionally “planned” them as minimally as possible. I’m pretty pleased with myself for coming up with a new expanded definition of STW (Set The Week…our 5-day-sprint scheduling meeting) that wasn’t limited by the number of days defined as a week. Hopefully, Ryan likes Set The Warp (get it? like in weaving?) as much as I do 🙂
I’m also pleased with the possible last day closing rituals that I cobbled together. I don’t want to share and spoil them yet…
Once we met and patched our notes into a unified framework, I began the less fun work of budgeting. Ry and I discussed approximate numbers of participants we’d like in the space, decided we wanted to provide lunch, and agreed we would like to make enough to pay ourselves and some guest facilitators (like Yoni and some of those contractor ALFs…). If we turned a profit, the plan was to put it towards the school.
I looked up typical costs of similar programs in New York City and calculated what our tuition would be if we charged the same as them per day. From that, I picked some numbers that felt like they would both value our work/time and be accessible to me-of-three-years-ago. I also researched how much it would take to cater lunch for different numbers of people for the duration of our program. Numbers numbers numbers, crunch crunch crunch. I worked out projected budgets depending on different numbers of applicants, but I haven’t yet looked up how much each of the guest facilitators we’d like to invite usually makes per hour. That’ll be important going forward…
Once numbers, dates, and times were chosen, I got to work building a webpage–complete with forms–for the event. My WordPress skills have been slowly improving over this past year. I had to rework the page a few times (more text or less? links to click or all the information on one long scroll-able page?), but ended up pretty happy with it. I shared it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, the Nonsense NYC listserve (Thanks, Jeff Stark!), and the nycagile.org website (in a banner at the top).
Then we waited….
As applications came in, I replied to questions (vegetarian meal options? childcare available?) and kept updating the “applicants” tab on my planning spreadsheet. WordPress made this really easy; I just exported application form entries as a .csv then opened them in Google Sheets.
On line, I translated my hand-written notes into a “finances” and a “schedule” tab on that same spreadsheet. This let me share with Ryan more easily, so we could track updates as things changed. Off line, Ryan and I arranged the program set-up by coordinating with teenagers from the community to offer childcare, organizing the catering through an ALC-NYC parent, scheduling a Acro-Balance and Cooking with Yoni Kallai and Nancy Hooper, asking the marvelous Alex Patz to come share about her experience as an ALC parent, and checking the alignment of our intentions with ALFs who asked about dropping in.
In late spring, we told the parent community at school about the training. We offered discounted rates for those who wanted to attend, and we let them know that we’d run the second week of the training as a week of bonus school that their kids could attend for free. While this made the end of the proper school year feel a little strange, it ended up being an awesome gift to offer parents, kids, and new facilitators.
About a month before the program, I emailed everyone who had applied, asking for dietary restrictions/allergies and letting them know I’d be sending invoices via PayPal. Ryan and I also brainstormed about supplies we would need; we ordered some extra dry erase markers and toilet paper 🙂
Two weeks before the program, I emailed again. This time, I send out both the details from the website (address, dates, times), newer details (childcare rates, what to bring), and suggested reading (really just the Network website…). I asked for questions anyone might have, and I shared that Ryan and I would be sending out a call for introductions the week before the program.
A week before the program–while wrapping up the school year–Ryan and I sent out the call for introductions, which we started by introducing ourselves. We refined our schedule and sorted out our roles for different points. We discussed breakfasts, and I confirmed lunches with our caterer. Then I sent invoice reminders and updated my spreadsheets.
The day the program started, we arrived early to clean, set up breakfast/coffee/nametags, and arrange our workspace. Folks started showing up and…we were off!
Margins of planners. Notebooks. Arms. Chairs. Bookshelves. Trees. Rocks. Napkins.
Any blank space as an invitation for my pen. I scratched out song lyrics and lecture highlights, webbed thought-explorations, inked out feelings I wanted to examine, captured quotes from all my favorite authors, promised friends that I loved them, tested forms and the boundaries of letter-making. Apparently, active minds trapped in not-quite-stimulating-enough places frequently free themselves through ink on a page…though usually the context is an imprisoned visionary rather than an ordinary teenager in some extra-ordinary suburbs.
What I’m getting at is that I used to be A Writer. It’s the most recent awareness on my [metaphorical] personal-growth CMB: I used to be a writer, and I have stopped writing.
As a newbie ALC, I used to journal and blog and doodle-meditate. As a full-time facilitator, co-director and administrator, parent resource, regional coordinator, training organizer, event planner, network schemer, finance juggler, partnership builder, field trip guru, and pragmatic visionary, I…write meeting notes and emails.
Not to knock it…My notes are clear and precise; my emails occasionally become exquisitely crafted masterpieces. Writing is–still, somehow–one of my superpowers.
And I still doodle my meditations, but only when I really need to pull my thoughts out so I can see them clearly or at milestones (I’ll probably do some to open and close spring break this year). Is that a kind of writing that ‘counts’ as ‘sharable value’? IDK.
As I’ve learned and practiced more and more that would be useful to document and share, I’ve been immersing myself in the ‘doing’ and keeping the ‘reflecting’ mostly to myself.
This struck me last week while thinking about an enrollment puzzle and simultaneously reworking an Annual Report draft: I can’t calm anxieties or reassuringly cite accounts if the words are sitting in my drafts folder or in the back of my head.
It struck me again while reading @drew’s blog post last week, when I realized he couldn’t know how I identify (to be clear: not as an overworked volunteer, but increasingly as a leader) and couldn’t know that in November I took on some of the work he’s presently calling for. I didn’t broadcast beyond the people I regularly speak to, so we missed months of potential collaboration.
Finally, it struck me on the phone with my parents last night, when they asked point blank how anyone outside ALC-NYC is supposed to track, weigh, attribute, apply, and learn from my work if I’m not writing. And they follow me on social media enough to get all the snapshots I do think to post!
Awareness, that’s three times in a week. I hear you. ALFs, [after a anti-colonialist pause to assert that non-written histories and un-recordable expressions have as much weight and power as those that are written/recordable] I owe you. The analogy of a Reddit lurker doesn’t quite fit here, but rather than search for an accurate analogy I’m going to skip ahead and just declare an intention to change. I have check-lists and templates and spreadsheets and anecdotes and research and rituals and counsel. I have meeting notes and meditations that you may be interested in excerpts from. I have wild ideas and more reasonable ideas–as the local folks I’m constantly in communication with are well aware–and so. much. experience. And none of it moves the world unless I share.
When I was A Writer, I read that with every word read a reader gifts an author an irreplaceable instant of their life. Many lifetimes later, I still worry before hitting publish about whether I could ever write anything worthy of such a gift. I mean…really. That said, oh anonymous internet reader of the future, here’s my pledge to trust your generosity, to trust you to walk away from what hasn’t earned your headspace, and to start broadcasting more widely by giving at least two days this April to making offerings of blog posts to cyber ALC-land. Small steps for now, but I need a light way to start.
Meanwhile, here’s to blank pages, creative punctuation, and ever changing seasons.
Last Tuesday, a friend reached out and asked about giving a TEDx talk at the United Nations International School. It’s been a draining couple of weeks, and I was intrigued but not feeling quite on top of my game. I asked what he wanted me to talk about, ready to say ‘no.’ Agile, he said. The future of education, he said. You’d have to be mad not to, my other friends said. So I got to thinking.
Public speaking has never been a problem for me. I have some trouble with scripts, so never really got into acting, but over the years I’ve read, sung, done Q&A’s, been interviewed, lead trainings and sessions and classes and…it’s really nothing new at this point.
That said, I have my own style of preparing. It always works, but it used to get me into trouble as a kid. My teachers wanted notecards to grade; my parents wanted mirror-rehearsals to time. I wanted to learn the material, think it over, bullet a couple main points, then get up and improvise.
Maybe it was “TED” or “UNIS” or just fatigue, but I got really anxious as soon as I agreed to do this talk. I knew I had all the information and skills I needed, but the old, well-schooled self-doubt took hold anyway. In spite of the best efforts of friends to reassure me, I gave hours to writing an essay, making detailed notes to get all the words exact, and practicing late each of the three nights before the event.
I got to UNIS at 8:30 am on Saturday, chatted with kids and staff, had some coffee. The lights dimmed, and I listened to the well-rehearsed speeches of some 7 to 9 year olds and waited. The girl next to me grinned as a mic was clipped onto my dress. Things went quiet and the background slide changed. I smiled reassuringly at the boy who announced my name. Walked out to the middle of the red square, as directed, and…choked.
My notes looked blurry. The audience waited, their faces kind and blurry, too. I flushed. Stumbled through a sentence or two, trying to coax what I’d prepared back into my mind. And then I took a breath and let go.
Narrated reality to the audience as I tucked my notes into my boot and switched my brain from ‘giving a talk’ to ‘talking to the humans in front of me.’ There weren’t so many of them. They were kids there to present, parents there for their kids, and staff there to run things. I breathed and talked and don’t really remember what I said, but I think it was mostly on-topic. They smiled.
Maybe the responses I got were sincere; maybe they were just polite. Regardless, I was reminded that–no matter how much progress I make–I’m still de-schooling, and my self-doubt shadow is always most dangerous when I’m fooled into thinking I’ve escaped it.
Next time, I’ll do it my way from the start. This is me writing a note to my future self, for when I need the reminder.
And just for kicks, here’s the speech that only my mirror got to hear in full:
In 2006 Sir Ken Robinson gave a Ted talk that would go on to become one of the most viewed Ted talks of all time. It was called “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” But he doesn’t start by talking about either creativity or schools. Rather he starts with the question that you’re asking today: the question “What next?” And his answer is that we have no idea. He goes on to explain that this is why everyone has a stake in education. It’s education, he says, that’s meant to take us into this future we can’t grasp. From there he goes on to discuss schooling, as if education and schooling were the same thing. But this is the problem. They’re not. And if they were, he wouldn’t have had much to talk about.
Why? Well. When I say ‘education’ I’m referring to all the experiences that shape your brain and your sense of self. These are the experiences through which you learn what you care about, what your strengths are, how to make choices, and what kind of impact you want to have on the world. This is…very different from schooling. Schooling is what most people think of when they hear ‘education’ but it’s a word with a much narrower definition. Schooling refers to a process designed in the 19th century to prepare young people for the factory jobs that it seemed most of them were headed for. And at the time this made sense, but that’s not the world we’re sharing today. They had printing presses and steam engines; we have WhatsApp, Minecraft, and Uber. And even though we don’t know what the world you’ll graduate into will look like–though I’m rooting for the solar roofs and self-driving cars–we’re pretty sure it’ll look different than the world of today.
Which brings us back to Sir Ken Robinson. Ten years ago, when he gave that talk, he asked that we stretch our definitions. That we have the courage to question the very assumptions about ‘what’s next’ that schools were designed around, so we could create schools which nurture creativity and value a variety of intelligences…the ideas danced and drawn as well as those calculated and spellchecked. He challenged us to stretch schooling until it looks more like education, so it helps young people develop the skills we’ll need to face the unknown.
And that’s the work I do. Currently, I serve as co-director at one of these schools for the future, called the Agile Learning Center. Since we know learning is happening all the time, that really all living is potentially education, we focus on the skills of deciding what to learn, figuring out how to learn it, applying what we learn across contexts, and practicing all this self-direction while building community together. It’s work. It’s fun. It replaces grades and tests with conversations and explorations, so each day brings new surprises for us to adapt to.
Now you probably aren’t in a position to radically redesign your school at the moment, and that’s ok. You still have the power to bring more education into your schooling…and to nurture those skills you need for the future in your out-of-classroom life. Find your art. Feed your creativity. You can learn improvisation games to practice meeting the unknown with confidence. Pay attention to communication styles around you–spoken and unspoken–and how they work. Try to understand those who are different from you.
When your schooling is finished, your education continues. I’m excited to co-create the future with you–that’s the mission, should you choose to accept it–but we’ll have to learn to collaborate and you’ll have to stay curious whether the Scantron values your efforts or not. If you’re in, let’s start practicing now. Thank you.
This summer I worked some days at an adventure playground. I was there Saturdays, with two other adults and sometimes volunteers. It was work I really enjoyed, and I have lots of thoughts about it, but the biggest impact it’s had on my ALC-NYC school year life is that it’s where I started keeping a day log.
Because we were so busy during the day, staff didn’t get much check-in time until after we’d closed the site and sent the kids off for the day. We’d spend hours immersed in our work as the activity on the playground ebbed, flowed, and whirled. There were children in tires, children on forts, children with hammers, waivers upon waivers, and adults with questions. I always felt like I’d lived several days between when we opened in the morning and closed in the evening, so it was a relief at the end of the day to have intentional time set aside for reflection and sharing.
Asher, the lead playworker on Saturdays, would pull out a book, and we’d sit together to talk about our days. In the book, he’d log big happenings and observations from the day. I found the practice really helpful; sometimes my brain gets busy with all its ideas, and I lose details from the day that I’d like to remember. Sitting down with a blank page (a pensive, Harry Potter fans…) lets me hold and examine different pieces of the day. As a collaborative practice, it helps me hear what my partners are experiencing. As a personal practice, it helps me check that I’m giving equal notice and attention to multiple things.
The reason I’ve started keeping a daily log book this year at staff check-ins is something that I felt the potential for this summer but didn’t really get to experience with the ever-changing cast of kids at the playground. My external brain of a notebook at school provides all the benefits of my playground log book, with the added bonus of allowing me to look back over days, weeks, and months at individual kids’ development. Two months into the school year, it’s already starting to get interesting to read back and notice how people and dynamics have changed. Not to mention that it’s sometimes helpful during parent conferences, since specific notes let me share stories with much more detail than I otherwise could.
So grateful for transferable tools!
Last Thursday morning, most of the ALC-NYC crew headed towards East Harlem for a day of philosophy, visitors, Japanese, wrestling, music, and more.
Meanwhile, I texted with my co-conspiritors and packed a notebook into my field trip bag.
Learning is natural and happening all the time.
I’m generally a fan of our foundational principles at ALC, but the first one (above) is my favorite. As soon as we stop pretending that learning only happens through schooling, we get to start thinking about the kinds of experiences we want contributing to our education. Which means field trips. In this case, it meant a day trip to Philadelphia with Douglas, Javair, and Geva.
All three were still a bit tired after a long weekend in Boston for MIT Media Lab’s Virtual Reality Hack-a-thon (where they were finalists!), but Javair’s imminent departure made them all determined to pack as much as they could into their last few days collaborating in person. They’d met my friend Nick McGill over Maker Faire weekend, when he was trend-spotting and they (well…Douglas…) were talking game-design. They enjoyed picking his brain, and when I mentioned that the company he works for, Bresslergroup, was holding a debate on the nature of innovation, they made clear that both the content and the company interested them. So off we went.
Having two wonderful co-facilitators this year means I can do things like spend whole school days off-site with two kids and a parent. We got a decently early start, and managed to arrive in Philly just in time to have lunch with Nick. When he went back to work, we walked over to the Franklin Institute to check out their Robot Revolution exhibit. We compared robotic “hands,” played Tic-Tac-Toe, and scrambled a Rubix Cube. I particularly liked the wall-climbing robot that was designed to mimic a lizard. Douglas was more interested in the robotic baby seal, while Geva and Javair competed to catch the eye of a face-tracking Robotis. Then I listened while they discussed the wheels and programming of the soccer bots. I…couldn’t really follow. But I did get to share the pendulum and walk-through heart with them after we left the robots!
The doors for the Bresslergroup event opened around 6. We headed over a little early, hoping to get a glimpse of Nick’s workspace. Can’t really write about what we saw, but our tour inspired lots of excitement and questions. Curious to see how long it takes before I’m handed a wishlist for our Makerspace 😉
After our tour, we headed to the lobby for the great debate. Douglas picked front-row seats for us, and I ended up sitting across the aisle from my crew. Watching their faces was as much fun as listening to the debate, but I was eager to hear their thoughts on our journey home…especially since they voted for different sides at the end.
Innovation: driven by research or technology? Do you invest in seeking to understand your customer base’s wants and needs? Or do you presume they can’t know to ask for a tool they can’t imagine, so you invest in developing new technologies? The question got us talking about the nature of both creativity and of markets. Like a good debate question, it gave us lots to consider as we reflected on the evening.
Douglas voted for Team Research at the end of the evening. He made clear that his vote was not necessarily aligned with his personal opinion; rather, he explained that he heard Team Research make multiple sound arguments to support their side, where he heard Team Tech stick mostly to one argument. He really enjoyed the “quips” and pleasantly competitive banter from both teams, though he mentioned that he’d have preferred moderation that prioritized point-counterpoint discussion over polling of participants for each question.
Javair voted for Team Technology, in large part because he agreed that you have to create a product for people to interact with before you can research [using technology] how they receive it. He really appreciated the dynamic between the teams and the distinct contributions of each individual.
In the end, we agreed with the debaters that Research and Technology are interdependent. Since we play in alternative education, we touched on the evening’s assumption that we value innovation and have the courage to pursue it, one way or another. It’s an assumption that holds true for all of us, but we agreed it’d be interesting to discuss what it takes to get someone to that starting point. And what did we decide is necessary for those interested in innovation? Douglas said that a willingness to compromise and incorporate others’ ideas, without losing your vision, is invaluable in general and particularly helpful when collaborating on new projects. Javair advised that aspiring innovators choose questions and causes they feel passionately about so that they can stay motivated to persevere through challenges. He also cited the creation story of the video-game Prison Architect to support Douglas’ idea that willingness to adapt plans and change direction opens space for surprise successes.
Our verdict on the evening all in all? We arrived back in NYC happily exhausted and plotting our next Philly trip. Hopefully there’ll be more engineering adventures for us soon!
*I intentionally tried not to mention people’s ages, to avoid inviting assumptions about their knowledge and capabilities. I also left out much of what Geva and I had to say about the debate…mostly because it’s much more fun and interesting focusing on young people’s voices.
We have our own ever-evolving language at ALC-NYC, and much of it is comprised of earworms.
It’s a real word. Wikipedia has my back: An earworm, sometimes known as a brainworm, sticky music, or stuck song syndrome, is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.
Now you have the language to thank me for all the songs I just got stuck in your head…and to ask a friend for a replacement tune to push them out. Here’s some more serious, official info.