Guest Post by Max

On  Monday   the  first    day      in    ALC  I  feelt     excited .  I   went  crazzzzzzzzzzzzzzy.            I had fun tackling Luca and pulling him down. Again and again. I had fun playing on the computer. I played Minecraft, of course. I usually went to creative mode, but on Wednesday James made me in spectator mode and wouldn’t let me go back to creative. And then on Thursday I told Ryan and he helped me go back on creative mode. I read a Pokemon book for the whole week, almost…except today. But I’ll read it after the blog post. I watched Garden Warfare videos on my sister’s phone because I couldn’t here on the computer. I played Animals. I took Japanese class…that was very very fun. And very messy. I wrote Douglas’ name. Six times! Or five. I played Werewolves. I died two times. I insulted Donald Trump big time, by saying…I forgot. I played Animals with Saylor. I protected the beanbag while Saylor and Aiden tried to invade it. I ate my lunch all the time. I got revenge on Luca. I did not make a lightsaber or work on the comic with Sophie, sadly. I’m going to say good-bye.

I had a very good week. I hope you make me join the ALC.

Making it official.

Growing up, I was often told that I should go to school to become a professor.

Meanwhile, I read stories about and observed the lives of master teachers. And I started asking how they got to where they were.

A pattern soon emerged, and it made a lot of sense to me: the master teachers–the ones who were most interesting, impactful, and expert in their fields–had pursued experience rather than certifications. They had made decisions in their lives that gave them chances to practice and deepen their expertise. Sometimes this meant studying or getting titles, but it often meant doing the work with an intention to continue learning. When they became masters–at knitting or acting or writing or horseback riding or astronomy or geology–members of their communities saw this and spread the word. Students sought them out. Sometimes certifications or titles followed, but that wasn’t really the point.

They cared about doing the work and doing it well. Each had an underlying goal of personal growth towards expertise and confidence…a goal which frees the learner from dependence on external progress markers and acknowledgements (though some of us create our own progress markers and acknowledgement often feels nice). It was often a longer and harder journey to become a teacher than it was to acquire the certification and position of one. But it also sounded like a more interesting, honest, and fulfilling one. Guess which I chose 😉

These are my thoughts today, because I just requested a certification–an entitlement–and I feel really good about it. We have a peer-review process for those engaged at ALCs to become officially acknowledged as ALFs, and the PRs are usually convened at ALF Summer. I missed the first year of peer-reviews, held space for others the second year, and am pretty sure there will be more urgent conversations on our agenda this year. But it’s time. I’ve been doing the work and growing in expertise, so the title feels like a description of what I’m already doing…which is how I prefer my titles 😉 And while I’m content with personal rituals to mark transitions in my life, I no longer live in a small town where word-of-mouth is enough to orient community members to each other. When we live and work in a spread-out community, it becomes important to enact rituals that externalize our internal level-ups. There are the relationship-nurturing opportunities in such rituals, shrinking distance and grounding us together; that said, what are really exciting for me as part of a growing network are the relationship-starting opportunities that arise from such rituals. Asking for a community conversation to make clear what I do and am skilled at opens space for new ALFs to approach me seeking support on their own journeys or offering support for mine. This is super exciting.

I’m very fortunate (a reflection that comes from the awareness that my friends @mandyjayh and @jacobcb are thinking about initiating their own transition-marking rituals): since I am looking to the ritual to communicate what is–rather than hoping it will validate an identity or community relationship that I’m not already secure in–I can choose a virtual peer-review (more scheduling flexibility! yay!) and trust that I’ll get what I need. It’s interesting and fun for me to play with translating a group ritual into a remote one, but if my situation were different I’d probably opt to wait until I could convene an in-person PR.

Curious and excited to see how things play out.

<3

 

This week!

It feels like I could write separate posts for each thing that happened this week…The days are just packed, as Bill Watterson might say if he could see us.

We returned from Mid-Winter Break for Oliver’s third week, Saylor’s first, and Aiden talking about adding a third day with us. @Bear was back from his travels, with stories. @Tomis was in town, running Parent Interest Nights, having meetings, and generally being the Tomis we love. @rochellehudson has been here all week playing with Makey-Makey pianos, being adored by @pigsfly and @thewitchqueen908 and @serenagermany, and reminding me that putting energy to stay connected to facilitators at other ALCs needs to be a priority of mine (because they’re fantastic and inspiring…of course…).

I continued reading a book [Far From The Tree] that I started over the break, that I’m really excited to blog about. It has me thinking about how I read a lot but don’t read at school (because I can’t listen for kids and read at the same time…). Expect a new series of posts and hashtags, probably sometime over the summer, about awesome books.

This week I’ve also been researching how to cook eggplant, how to run anti-oppression workshops, how to write grants, political happenings in Ukraine and Venezuela, how to convert data from a spreadsheet into a word cloud, the history of sign language…Whew!

@agilesaylor and I had a park trip where we climbed rocks and built a fairy house. @serenagermany and Rochelle and I picked up a Greenmarket Fresh Box. ALC-NYC had its first ever game night, @creeperclaws learned how to super swing herself by watching and copying @loveabby, and I had an awesome conversation today with @timotree and @jacobcb about methods of culture setting and adjusting.

Signing off with a thought that next change-up, I may want to propose a system so kids are set up to support each other blogging a bit more (they already do quite a lot, which I really appreciate!). There’s an early spring in the air…

 

 

 

 

Broadcasting

It’s a behavior that various magazines I read as a kid attributed to pregnant women and children in the early stages of speech development. You’ve likely encountered it…”I want macaroni” or “I’m going to the bathroom” or “I’m drawing now.” These are all examples of broadcasting.

Now, I’m not pregnant or celebrating a new ability to express myself verbally. And between us, I’m most comfortable keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself. Or at least keeping them close. So…why am I broadcasting? And writing about it?

A few years ago, a younger ALC kid who I was fairly close with off-handedly mentioned that he never sees me struggle. By “mentioned” I mean that he declared, based on his experience, that I don’t ever struggle. And I struggled with this.

On the one hand, I’ve put many years into learning how to manage rough seas gracefully. On the other hand, if I think it’s important for kids to learn that struggling is perfectly normal–is something they should expect and make peace with if they aspire to try any new thing ever–then I have to figure out how to model that grace while pointing to the forces behind it.

In some situations, it’s easy to make my struggles visible. When I participated regularly in acro-balance, for example, or when I practice piano in the library, my challenges are pretty apparent. But usually my struggles look more like remembering to eat, overcoming shyness around new people, managing assumptions in relationships…that is, even if a young person were looking, they would be hard to see. And so, intentionally, as a facilitation upgrade, I started broadcasting.

To clarify, it doesn’t look like walking around school narrating my every action or turning small happenings into epic productions. Either would be counterproductive and annoying. I’m also always aware that what I contribute to the conversation influences school culture, so I choose language that acknowledges an obstacle and declares how I intend to engage with it, knowing I have to be careful to not accidentally end up communicating insecurity or glamorizing self-deprecation instead. My broadcasting usually consists of thinking-out-loud (“I’m a little nervous about this event, but I know I’ll have fun once I’m there, especially if I try to meet at least two new people right away”).

Sometimes my broadcasts get really radical…I ask the kids for help. At least two definitions of love that I’ve encountered include asking the other for help as an expression of love. Maybe this is because doing so requires becoming vulnerable, acknowledging the other’s power, and providing an opportunity for the other person to act in a way that affirms your relationship. Regardless, asking for help is something I would like to become better at. So when I address a struggle by asking for help–“I’m not feeling very hungry today, but I know I should eat. Do you mind if I join you when you get lunch? I’ll remember if we have plans to spend that time together?”–and kids agree, I usually thank them for both helping with my immediate struggle and for helping me practice asking for help.

It felt a little strange at first, but I’ve worked broadcasting so thoroughly into my facilitation practice that I sometimes catch myself composing broadcasts in non-school settings…like the facebook status I wanted to write tonight about talking to people on the subway. I may still publish that status. The point is, I thought to write it mostly as a reflex, and then I stopped to check what I was doing and why. Since I like the idea of adults facilitating each other’s growth, and since I’ve been told by non-students that my tendency to undershare can make me feel distant, I’ll probably keep broadcasting outside of school, in moderation, and see what happens.

Figuring out how to balance my quieter, listener self with my more expressive facilitator self is an ongoing struggle. It’s especially challenging when my quiet self gets nervous about sounding narcissistic, even while my facilitator self insists that it’s important to share my experiences if others might learn from them. I keep trying, though, because I really want to be both my authentic self and an excellent facilitator. It’s definitely possible…I just have to stay aware and patient.

Thank you for supporting shared reflections by engaging with the ALC website and my blog! I appreciate your help 😉

Playgroup

My parents moved to a new area when I was born. They were young first-time parents, and my mom especially was looking for community. They wanted community for themselves as humans looking for company and parents looking for advice, but also for my sisters (not yet part of the picture) and me as we grew up.

They joined a church and craft groups and a service organization; I remember the people from those spaces the same way I remember the neighbors they also built relationships with. As life flowed on, so did most of the faces and voices that surrounded my baby self. Three of the most notable exceptions are in this photo:playgroup

It’s already an old photo; Nicholas and Libby got married last year, Mihali is wherever the Marines have sent him, Michelle moved out west for graduate school. It’s also an incomplete photo. My youngest sister isn’t in it, nor are our parents or a few kids who were in and out of our circle over the years. But it’s the photo I have and it’s good enough. This is Playgroup.

Playgroup started before some of the people in it were born, but I don’t really remember those days even though I was there. Essentially, our moms wanted friends for themselves and playmates for us. So they were all, separately, joining “moms’ clubs” and “play groups,” until they found each other.

We still went to other “play groups” sometimes, but most of those didn’t last very long. The chemistry of this one…the culture that developed…This became Playgroup.

Why am I telling you all this? Am I just feeling nostalgic?

Not really…You see, Galactic Nemeses has been reintroduced to the space, and there are kids screaming at each other in the next room. I’ve asked them to quiet down, but they’re excited about a new game so I’ve settled for taking my aching head to a quieter room and closing the door.

When I breathe enough to transcend my aching head and release my desire for a quiet space, I want to laugh from appreciation and joy…also caused by the screaming. Because I hear in their commotion echoes of a world I once looked forward to joining more than I looked forward to any birthday or holiday. Playgroup was that world.

Once a month, we’d gather at someone’s house and rule the basement or playroom or yard. Interrupting the parents for any reason other than getting food meant we had to part ways earlier, so we were strongly motivated to keep our conflicts and noise out of the space where they were immersed in conversation. So long as we didn’t disrupt them, though, they left us to our own devices.

Sometimes we split into small groups to talk or play. Sometimes we created huge elaborate fantasy worlds that we all improvised stories in. We compared experiences with having siblings, losing teeth, going to school…with puberty and broken bones and crushes and dreaming.

And sometimes, when a really exciting new game with ambiguous boundaries was introduced, we’d enjoy getting super loud and emotional in some cinderblock room as we figured out how to play it together. And we could, because at the end of the day we knew that–however much we yelled (though we did watch what we yelled)–we were safe with each other.

That phase of integrating certain kinds of games never lasted long. It took a lot of energy and we all knew we were running the risk of attracting the adults’ attention, thus ending our time together for another month. We’d move on to other things, then return to the novel game as much calmer and more collaborative players.

Playgroup was one of the more significant experiences of my youth. I frequently tell NYC parents apologizing for their kids’ off-site-to-play-with-other-friends days that I fully support their decision, that I’m grateful my parents made sure my social world was more complex than just my classmates and immediate neighbors.

Having Playgroup every day would have been a dream. I wonder now at how much I learned from it just being there once a month! I used to swap books with Michelle and then we’d read them under our desks at school so we could discuss them next time we saw each other. Playgroup friends are the reason I became interested in languages and instruments. They were my introduction to Apples to Apples and Continue the Story and conflict resolution and balloon animals and and and…

Having Playgroup with a contract to make expectations clear, Change Up to address cultural shifts, and Culture Committee available for conflict resolution support? Woah. On the one hand, if our moms had had the intentional culture creation tools we have at ALC-NYC, they might have created communities they liked from other “play groups” and so my Playgroup family might never have met. On the other hand, if we’ve managed to stay connected and nurtured for over twenty years just in the culture that happened to come from us, imagine what we could have created together if we’d tried.

As I finish writing, the screaming here has quieted (after…three hours?). There was a brief episode where the Galactic Nemeses negotiators burst into the hallway and played a live-action game, and now they’re back at the joysticks…much quieter (though still super excited) astronauts and aliens than they were.

I shake my head at the familiar pattern and wonder how many of them will know each other in twenty years. I suspect that even if they don’t, they’ll be grateful to have known each other. Just as I’m grateful to witness these days of their being and becoming…headaches and all.

 

January 15th…week end…

I sat down to write with all kinds of snippets that I was excited to share, but in reflecting on them to find a theme for the week (an approach to blogging that I’d like to play with transitioning to rather than listing happenings each week) I found a deep feeling of contentment.

Days are full. Projects are abundant.

My heart is full, and opportunities to learn are abundant…if I stay humble and trusting and clear-sighted.

I had intentions to practice piano and Spanish everyday at school, but there were visitors, questions, and emails calling me, so I released that intention (without getting upset with myself or the surprises I gave my time to instead) and just decided to practice at home.

We had two visiting students this week: @chimp and @hlove2362. Visiting weeks are all so different, depending on the community, the kids, and the parents. One common pattern, though, is that parents show up a little anxious about whether their child will engage with the community and make a place for themself in it. Usually, those kids have no trouble jumping in when given the time and space to do so. I’m excited that the kids invited both visitors to join the community; it would be really fun to have them both around.

We also had a bunch of other visitors! From NYC and NC and Philly and Australia and… 🙂 They all integrated themselves pretty seamlessly; I love walking down the hall and seeing really age-mixed groups clustered around different conversations, games, and projects. Especially when they’ve just met each other and some are @thewitchqueen908 and @serenagermany who frequently talk about being unsure how to meet new people. It was especially fun to see @liam’s gathering of spies in the Library!

Big happenings this week included a field trip to The Uncommons and a Culture Committee meeting.

We went to The Uncommons on Wednesday. In the morning, I got a couple of texts asking if we were still going even though it was 22 degrees out. I responded that we were and headed to school wondering how many kids would bail on the trip, intimidated by the thought of walking from the subway to the cafe in such temperatures. Fantastically, we ended up going as a big group! Thanks @serenagermany @thewitchqueen908 @pigsfly @xxxxpgainzxxx @agilealfie @douglasawesome @chimp and @abram! Even more surprisingly, everyone wanted to go play in the playground at Washington Square after we finished our games!

I also really enjoyed the subway rides both to and from The Uncommons. On the way there, a conversation about writing intros for the Peter Gray event flyers turned into a conversation about how they would introduce @Tomis. Which turned into planning to collaboratively write a book. @xxxxpgainzxxx @douglasawesome and @agilealfie had all kinds of ideas for titles. With @thewitchqueen908 @pigsfly and @serenagermany they talked about each writing a chapter about their experience of ALC. They also decided we should have a chapter introducing the school and probably two chapters for @tomis. They debated the ideal lengths of their chapters–a paragraph each? a page each? ten pages each?–and didn’t balk when I proposed they start drafts for review in two weeks. Hearing how excited they were, and knowing that books by kids about alternative schools are both rare and fascinating, I proposed that we aim to invite Peter Gray for another event a year from the upcoming one (Jan 28th) and have that also be our book release party. They weren’t sure it was possible, but I committed to get the book published if they actually write pieces of it. I’m going to bring it up when we get back to school next week. I really hope they’re serious about this idea.

Culture Committee I won’t go into too much detail about. But I want to say that I love being part of those meetings. The kids walk into the quiet room, shut the door, and then focus completely on listening deeply and responding with the aim of supporting the growth of those involved. They consistently do a remarkable job.

 

The last happening that I’ll comment on is the first meeting of Finance Club. We’ve been talking about it for weeks and I made us a nice whiteboard modeled similarly to the one ALC Mosaic uses and the appointed time came and…*crickets*

We did gather a small crowd, belatedly. I had expected the meeting to start with big goals and dreams and wishes, but instead we got right into the juicy stuff. We’re starting with $50/month. I shared with the kids that Mosaic has increased their monthly FC budget to $250/month, and they immediately asked why they had such a small amount…as someone knocked over the projector. So we had a conversation about how breaking/wasting resources means they need replacing more frequently. Part of the intention for budget club is to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility for shared resources at school (while teaching money management and giving the kids a say in customizing the space); if we want more money to play with each month, we need to stop breaking computer parts and ruining paintbrushes.

The meeting only lasted about half an hour. The kids asked a bunch of questions about the current financial situation of the school (which I answered as honestly as I could), decided promptly that they were going to save this month’s $50, brainstormed which kinds of things we should save for (gym time and gym-type materials, to channel raucous energy into), and adjourned. I wondered if anything had really happened during the meeting and how many months it would take to see the effects of this FC experiment.

Then the next day, I walked in to hear some FC members reminding other kids to be careful with our cables and computers. They requested that everyone conserve post-its and put the caps back on the sharpies. I smiled and laughed to myself…reminded again that the kids see and hear everything, even when it seems like they may not.

Last (in school) post of the Year

Each school year–each day, really–brings expected joys and challenges.

This year started with lots of challenges. Mostly growing pains in the sense that we started the year with a 4:3 ratio of returning to new kids. Even if all the established ones were culture keepers and all the new ones showed up with culturally neutral habits, it would have been work to acculturate that many people at once. But since we’re all complex humans, not all of our established crew set great examples and some of the new kids showed up struggling to keep agreements and using some tough language. While I felt like I was barely keeping up with the back end running-of-the-school stuff I’d taken on and was so super grateful that Ryan is such an aware, dependable, and stable partner.

I reflect that it felt like we might have bitten off more than we could chew. For a solid two months, I wondered and breathed and trusted. And drank a lot of coffee.

And it’s starting to feel like we may have made it through the toughest part of the year. Are there still challenges with some of the newer kids keeping agreements, people using mindful language, and all of us navigating the landscape of different communication styles and emotions we are and are in each day? Yes.

But there’s also been tremendous growth. I’m seeing leadership from people who were very neutral last year. Leaders learning how to boundary set, not take things personally, and release the need to try transforming/controlling others. More independent travelers. More communicative and responsible off-site learners.

Most people are keeping agreements now. The language that I’d like to see softened isn’t offensive, just harsher than I’d like. And 18 humans social-emotional self-regulation in a shared space? That’s a perpetual dance, and one I’m grateful to be part of.

 

On expectations…

This was a week in which I reflected on the difference between intentions and expectations.

Twice, I set the intention with kids to go ice skating. I intended to reconnect with a friend who’s been off-grid. Intended to get new body art. To stretch. To blog. To clean.

I called these my intentions, but they were more like expectations. And it took watching everything happen in unexpected ways for me to see the expectations in my pseudo-intentions.

The ice skating rink was closed the two days I could go, so we played in the park instead. My friend showed up, but just long enough to announce that he’s leaving again. My art won’t be finished until February, my stretching was toddler chasing, I spent blogging time de-bugging a computer and reminding kids that blogging is part of the student agreement, and my cleaning was the vacuum-all-the-nooks kind that I feel but no one sees.

Nothing this week seemed to go as intended…

Except that it all did.

I got to play with kids outside, which is what I really wanted from ice skating. Got to tell a friend I care and wish him well, show an artist I value his work highly enough to wait for it, to use my body, to reflect, to reset.

By going with the flow when things didn’t go my way, I got exactly what I’d actually been looking for. And more, because I also am grateful to have been reminded to look for the intentions behind my expectation-intentions.

Hip Hop Nutcracker

Two all-day field trips in a row! What an awesome week!

Yesterday, I spent the day roaming Central Park with @agilealfie @pigsfly @serenagermany and @xxxxpgainzxxx, in search of rocks to climb and some tasty Two Boots pizza.

Today, our trip involved less fields, more rain, and much more theater. We went to my neighborhood–to Washington Heights–to see the Hip Hop Nutcracker. I went with Alfie, Hannah, Eli, and @douglasawesome to United Palace…a huge building that I’ve walked by but never been inside before. We had some bus hiccups on the way there, and we ended up ditching the bus with 10 blocks and 5 minutes to showtime. We power-walked, then did a lap around the building because there was construction blocking the courtyard I’d been planning to cross. Fortunately, we didn’t miss any of the show (so so grateful they didn’t start without us!).

I mentioned that this was my first time inside that building. It was dizzying!

We had second row seats all the way on the right side, where the DJ table was. I’ve seen The Nutcracker before (and the kids mentioned that they had, too), and it’s honestly not my favorite fairytale. But when we walked in to a DJ and an electric violin, I became really excited to see what this adaptation would look and sound like.

It was really amazing. The kids were each either riveted or constantly turning to give me the “did you see that?!?” look. This Nutcracker featured more headstands, romance, and time travel than the ballet versions I’ve seen before, but it was close enough to the original that Alfie recognized certain scenes, and the story was enjoyable (I often end up feeling like the story of the original Nutcracker just barely works as a story…it feels to me as if it were contrived to be a vehicle for threading light narrative through the scenes of a dance showcase…though I could be totally wrong about that).

I would definitely recommend checking out the show.

And the adventure didn’t end there! After the show, we took the train down to 116 and Broadway. Walked through a farmers’ market. Discovered spinning chairs at Book Culture. Wondered at the sculpture outside Saint John the Divine. Then Douglas and Hannah headed home while Alfie, Eli, and I walked through the rain across the top of Central Park.

I’m so tired and so excited to have a cup of tea 🙂 What an amazing day.