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 😉


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.



Psychology Meet-Up 11/17

At the beginning of the school year, @cammysherbert and @failspy started up an inter-ALC offering: weekly psychology meet-ups, using Crash Course videos from YouTube. We meet every Tuesday, discuss a video we’ve independently watched, watch a second video, and have a second discussion session.

In recent weeks, we started discussing theories about our minds and selves. The episodes about Mind were interesting: we discussed cognitive development, how people learn, attachment, motivation, morality, and more. We had lots of conversations about how different theories made more or less sense as tools to understand our lives, as well as ways they do or don’t support what we do at ALC.

We started exploring our Selves with discussions about consciousness, Freud and Jung and Roraschach, where we see the impact of nature and nurture in our lives. We ended last week discussing whether Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development resonate with us, and we appropriately (considering Erikson’s emphasis on the importance of identity formation for adolescents…) spent this week talking about our personalities.


I watched the video with @douglasawesome @thewitchqueen908 @serenagermany and @xxxxpgainzxxx. Of course, even while discussing how none of the personality measurement schemas struck us as complete or perfect, they were most interested in figuring out who the tests would say they are. So we started to play:

We looked at the Meyers-Briggs test through a chart and this website where we played with the test.

Eli and Askani were saying how they love to take tests and joked about wanting to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory exam when the video mentioned it as the most comprehensive…joked until we learned that it was 500+ questions, that is.

We talked a little about Buzzfeed quizzes, why we want to develop our internal locui of control (as mentioned in the video) but also of identity…how we know that our identities are based more on what we decide than on what others say we are, but can still take quizzes for fun. And then we got into playing with other tools and schema.

For example, we explored the idea of Love Languages:

We explored the concept of gender expression:

And we ended brainstorming ways that these tools–developed for helping us measure and articulate the characteristics of our Selves–can alternatively be super useful when trying to improve communication or figure out how to best work/play with others. We’ll see if that’s where the Crash Course videos choose to direct our attention next 🙂

Guest Post: Aiden

I remember that I played Werewolves. I did cooking…made potatoes. I also was just sitting around a little watching people eat the potatoes. I had a little rest. And I watched people doing stuff besides eat the potatoes.

I remember I was watching the second Werewolves game, so I knew who the werewolves were at the end. And I met the cooking teacher @nhoopee finally. And I always wanted to meet the cooking teacher. And I realized that they cook downstairs…I thought they cooked up here. And I was really excited to go to the cooking class. And I remember that it was really fun to meet the new teacher…the cooking class teacher.

I liked wrestling. I also liked watching @agilepanda do a video game. I also liked watching the people in the cooking class make the things. I also remember that I did two things: I cut up the broccoli and I cut up a little of the cheese. And I cut up the chives, too. And I was the first one to see the potatoes. I put everything on my potato, except for a few things. I really liked my potato. I named him Potato Man. I like his name. And that’s all.

I made two Barbie cakes on Monday. One of them was yellow and the other one was orange. Mine was the only yellow one. And that was mine. I really liked the whole week. I did a sword competition. I made a spear, that @ryanshollenberger helped me with. We made it by using a long piece and making a point at the end. I like @ryanshollenberger’s fluffy beard. I like that we made my spear for the sword competition. I made a sword. It was about five inches long. I like that we built it. At the sword competition, I colored it. I made it look old. And I put some red stuff–that kindof looked like blood–on the spikes. Because that’s where I stab the people and that’s the blood. It had four spikes. The spikes could shoot. The sword could cloak. I liked playing Werewolves. I made a sword in a whole two days. I did not use any help. I colored it mostly green. Me and @loveabby chased @creeperclaws about a week ago. I liked that day.

I like making my clay thing. I made a cup. It took three days to dry. I like it. It’s totally round. I made it for my dad’s birthday. I also like the toppings that I put on my potato. I put this in my blog a little earlier…I like my potato. I also gave it a nickname: the potato soup man. Since he likes to eat soup. He’s my pal. And my potato also got a normal name. My potato also has a middle name: it’s potato yummy man. He laughs a lot. He doesn’t do a lot. I really like him. He does only a few things. Like jumping around. And doing some jigs. Dancing around. And doing things that people don’t usually do. Like drinking water. And blowing it out. Like an elephant would do with his big spout. He likes riding on animals. His favorite is a cat. My favorite animal is also a cat. I have one.

Its name is Boots. He’s really handsome. He breed’s a Devon Rex. He can do a lot of things. Like opening the door when the doorknob’s shut. He can also turn on the sink. He begs to go outside. He knows how to beg for food. He kisses a lot. He knows how to speak. We taught him human language. I like playing with him. He’s adorable (Abby: @kingthanos) I like playing with him. He does a lot. He’s really funny. He makes people laugh. I call him a home-y kitty. His name is Boots. I’m not sure if I repeated that. I like his colors. He’s black. And beige. He’s got big eyes. They’re blue. He’s a nice kitty. He knows what to do. He meows and makes his eyes big when he’s mad. He licks people; that’s how he kisses them. It was difficult to find him. My dad was going to name him Hudson because we live right next to the Hudson River. But when I was two, I screamed out “Boots!” because I just saw some black feet that looked like boots. And that’s why we named him Boots. And that’s his name still today. In cat years, I don’t know how old he is. But in normal years he would be four. He’s full grown. He’s big for his age. But to people he looks cute. He likes jumping around. I like chasing him. I’m happy that I have him. I would be sad if I did not have a kitty. Especially if I did not have a Devon Rex. It was difficult to find him. He came from a pet breeder. We got him a long time ago. He was shipped by a plane (in these days they’re not allowed to be shipped by planes). And I want to continue the blog next week.

[or now…because we have 15 more minutes]

So. I liked making the potato. I realized that the cooking teacher that works there (@nhoopee) I did not know. She was nicer than I thought.

Now I’m going to a different subject. My favorite movie is Star Wars. I watched a lot. I like other movies. But not as much. My second favorite is Planes Movie 2. I also like the first one, too. The first one I like a little worse because of Whip Slinger and adventures that they have with Dusty the crop hopper who became a racer in the Wings Around the Globe rally. Planes is a fun movie. I like it a lot. And that’s all for today.

I like making my blog. I like @creeperclaws. I like this school. The Agile school.

The Week! 11/9-11/13

We had such a full and busy week!

We’ve been having busy weeks in general. Mondays have Set-the-Week, Spawn, Acro, Maths, Drawing (or this week…cake decorating!), and usually a Werewolves game. If you wanted to participate in scheduled activities all day, you easily could.

I haven’t been. I’ve been spending much of my Mondays doing admin/email things…getting things set up and organized so they’re off my mind the rest of the week. That usually takes the morning–with a few breaks to do laps around the space and take pictures–and then I get to spend the afternoon hanging out and chatting with kids.

Tuesday we had lots of sword making this week. And music. In Psychology, we talked about child development last week and then theories for understanding consciousness this week. I love the Psychology offering and am so grateful that @cammysherbert and @failspy are running it. We’ve passed video 20 (CrashCourse), which feels really good. This week, I had a great conversation with Javair about what it would look like to take the theories and ideas from the videos this week and find ways to practice/apply them in trying to interact with other humans in ways that support them (and take care of us).

Wednesday we had our second field trip in a row to The Uncommons. Well…kindof to The Uncommons. We started at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. Then we walked to M2M (a Korean market), Sunrise Market (Japanese supermarket), Washington Square Park, The Uncommons, and back to Union Square to play at the playground there before returning to school. I’m grateful to @serenagermany @pigsfly @thewitchqueen908 and @failspy for coming (and to @ryanshollenberger for holding down the fort so we could go)! I love watching young people learn to navigate the city and become more confident travelers.

Thursday–yesterday–I’m not really sure what happened at school. It seemed like lots of woodworking and wrestling and programming. I was buried in spreadsheets and paperwork…Which I noticed feels much better when I’m in a room with big windows and people I love doing productive things around me.

Today I hosted a visitor, hung out with a different visitor, did some acro, and am blogging early (while most everyone else in engrossed in a Werewolves game). I’ve noticed that it’s difficult for me to make time to blog these days; during school blog time I’m supporting younger kids, after school I’m in meetings or catching up on emails/paperwork/admin things, and on weekends I’m catching up on housework and trying to maintain my non-ALC relationships. Excuses excuses…The point is that I already failed my intention to draw every day in November and I’ve been failing on blogging. BUT! I’m committing to blog early on Fridays, to make sure I’m blogging. And I have been reading kids’ blogs, but I want to be commenting more. Putting that in awareness for now…




On Consequences

The word “consequence” seems to trigger strong reactions from people, particularly in the context of adult-child relationships and school power dynamics.

Over and over, I have found myself clarifying that “consequence” is not the same as “punishment.” A consequence is simply the effect brought about by a decision or pattern of decisions. We tend to discuss undesirable consequences most frequently: if I don’t dress for the weather, I’ll be uncomfortable; if I break my word, others won’t trust me; if I don’t learn another language, I won’t be able to travel as independently or make as many friends as I otherwise would. However, there can be desirable consequences, too! If I exercise regularly, I’ll get stronger; if I call my mom, she’ll be happy and she won’t worry about me; if I play with a team, we can do more and stress less than we would solo. Consequences aren’t good or bad inherently. They just are.

Natural consequences, anyway. So what about contrived consequences? Constructed ones? Those artificially implemented…like the classic “if you don’t eat all your dinner, then you cannot have dessert?” These are trickier, mostly because this is where there is potential for punishments to masquerade as consequences. When the “consequence” created isn’t related to the decision made, it’s a punishment. When its intention is solely to demonstrate who has power over whom in a situation, it’s a punishment (and bullying). Unfortunately, these are the two kinds of punishments that most people seem to think of when they hear discussion of “consequences.”

As a facilitator, I deal in consequences quite a bit. It’s my job to reflect students’ decisions to them, framing those decisions as catalysts for their consequences. Some facilitators do this mostly during intention-setting and reflection conversations (“You didn’t eat lunch and now you feel angry? Maybe your hunger is causing your anger. What different choice can you make tomorrow so you don’t get hangry?”). I do this, but I also mention consequences as a type or redirection or invitation to thoughtfulness. Those moments usually sound like “You can break your student agreement, but then you’ll have to go to school somewhere else, where you will probably have much less freedom” or “If you yell at your friend, he may not want to play with you anymore” or “You can eat whatever you want for lunch. If you eat only sugary things, you will run out of energy more quickly than if you eat savory things.” I often find it really amusing to play the game of of course you can do X so long as you are ready for consequence Y, but I play because I want kids to know the power of their decisions and the importance of thinking about what effects their actions may have.

Sometimes, though, the natural consequence of an action is really undesirable. Like the school getting shut down (if we leave lots of crumbs around and invite the mice to overrun the school) or someone getting hurt. In those cases, it is the responsibility of the community to protect itself and its members by creating artificial consequences that motivate a change in decision-making before the big, scary natural consequence kicks in.

People sometimes get awkward about creating consequences. They worry about ‘being mean’ or misusing their authority. These worries are unfounded if those creating the consequences focus on their intent (to protect themselves and the community by supporting positive change) and keep the consequence relevant to the situation. For example, if I’m saying inappropriate things to strangers during park trips, the natural consequences include my peers feeling unsafe with me and my inviting a stranger to get angry and retaliate. For their and my safety, my community needs to create a consequence that will motivate me to change my behavior. Banning me from the computer for a week would be a punishment, and I may check my language to avoid the discomfort of the punishment. But…it doesn’t address my behavior. Revoking my permission to go on trips until I demonstrate that I can be trusted to regulate my language would make much more sense; it’s directly related to the problematic situation, addresses the problem behavior, and protects me/others from the natural consequences that are imminent if my behavior continues.

So, to recap: understanding that our decisions invite natural consequence can be really empowering, learning the connection between their decisions and the consequences that arise is important for young humans, and constructing preventative consequences is the responsibility of those in relationship with each other…and is often the most compassionate, supportive thing to do when problems arise.

I hope you’ve gained some clarity as a consequence of taking time to read this 😉