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Newsletters Sept-March

For the past few months, I’ve composed and sent out monthly newsletters to ALC Network members. Here are a few of them…

9.4.17

Hi everyone!

Back in September of 2013, I could have updated the whole ALC Network by just walking into the back room of the East Harlem school and talking to the 4 men there. Today, it takes coordinating lists of nearly 200 contributors across several platforms–and I know I need to request ALC coherence holders pass this on to co-facilitators I’m missing // polyglots translate this into the primary languages of your communities then share it–to reach almost everyone. It blows my mind, and this is just the beginning. Ready?
We have new calls, coherence holders, learning centers, and email lists! 
Are you ready for our Year 5 upgrade? Read on…
Calls Monday nights at 7:30 pm EST
  • First week of the month, we’ll have a call for new members and those in Start-Ups.
  • Second week, we’ll have an Hangout hosted by ALC staff (NYC hosts 9/11/17).
  • Third week, we’ll have a recorded call on a specific ALC-relevant topic.
  • Fourth week, we’ll have a big-picture, network updates call.
Our Hangouts room is —
Check hosts/topics on our —
Email me to offer to host a call/propose a topic.
 
CH
  • Loren, from ALC Heartwood, is our current web-tech CH. He can be reached at —, or on Slack.
  • I’m still CH for weekly calls! Let me know if you want to tap me out.
  • Mercer, Tomis, Art, and I are CH for a Network-wide reboot/update this fall. We’ll be coordinating with the working groups (WG) of volunteers tending the website/tech platforms, updating the Starter Kit, managing the Network nonprofit’s finances, and organizing trainings. We’ll probably see some new working groups emerge before the year’s out…which I’m excited for. In the meantime, I’m CH for reviewing and organizing some of our data, so you’ll hear from me a bunch this year. Want to link up with or start a WG? Or help me go through our data? Just let me know 🙂
  • Mercer and I are CH for new member support. She’s at — and I’m at —
ALCs
 
Eeeeep! There’s so many! Our InterALC support infrastructure has grown from calls and emails to blogs, incorporated Trello, shifted from email to Slack, and started to include regional retreats//trainings. We’re looking to keep that momentum going and find ways to get better and better at supporting each other.
I have a REQUEST related to this intention: Please have a coherence holder from your ALC fill out THIS FORM. Or do it together like we will in NYC…whatever works for you is fine. Please have it filled out by the end of September. If you do it now, you won’t forget 😉
Email Lists
 
Our email lists are outdated. I want to fix this, so please let me know if you’d like to be added or removed from:
  • support@alc.network  — where we answer questions, like on #support on Slack
  • info@alc.network  — where we answer more general questions and get updates
  • editors@alc.network  — this isn’t active, but it was for those managing our GDrive
  • ——@alc.network  — for ALFs…and where I will someday send emails like this one
There’s no newsletter/supporter list yet. Speak up if you want to start one. Also please speak up if you want to volunteer to translate communications. 
 
That’s all! For now 🙂 
 
Love and logistics,
Abby Oulton

Co-Director & administrator, ALC-NYC
————————————————————————————–

10.8

Hi everyone!

Last month I sent an email with updates…Last week I decided I’m going to do this monthly until we get a Newsletter working group up and running. Cool? Cool. 

I drafted this email in the

4 facilitator

4 regular volunteer

30 kid and

51 parent

diverse and vibrant

flagship of the ALC network,

connected [officially] to

37 other projects sprung of

1321 Starter-Kit downloads from our

350 user website which

149 of us discuss (among other things) on Slack and

200+ of us do work related to.

It’s fall (well…in NYC it is) and since I’m still a farm kid at heart, fall for me is a season of preparing whatever we want to have nourishing us through the winter so we can bloom in spring. I intend to cue up projects and organize working groups, so that when the holidays are over and the snow has melted here in the city I’ll get to reflect with gratitude on what we’ve grown together. Stay tuned 🙂

Survey…

The information from the surveys last month has been super helpful. I’m really grateful for the time so many of you took to fill them out and send me individual emails about how you’d like to be involved in this year’s network upgrade! Thanks to what you shared, we’ve got a logo option in the works for folks using-ALC-tools, are putting together a plan for individuals to become network members, have working groups actively upgrading the Starter Kit and network website//map listings. More to come…and the survey is still live if you haven’t submitted it (if you’re a new member, don’t worry about doing this unless you’re excited to…I have your info surveys from when you registered…).

Calls…

You can find our call schedule on our InterALC Calendar. Our call room is —…which redirects to a Zoom room that Tomis set up for us.

This coming week’s call is hosted by ALC Mosaic staff and will likely be the last one that Nancy Tilton (ALC Mosaic founder and director) is on before her baby arrives. Want to hear about community building with parents, the house and magical play-yard they’ve been building, adapting meetings/offerings for different age groups, or how to take kids on backpacking road trips? Sign on Monday at 7:30 pm est. 

**The following Monday’s call will be a recorded open conversation about morning and afternoon meetings. We’ll be sharing what they look like in our different communities, what we’ve found works/doesn’t work, and what challenges we’d like support troubleshooting. Topic pulled from #startup-support Slack channel**
Puerto Rico Support…
Nancy Tilton and Lacy Manship have been working hard to share ExAlt’s Amazon Wishlist for those who want to support our ALC family in Puerto Rico. Lacy’s most recent email reads: “I just wanted to update that the Amazon wishlist items include an embedded shipping address directly to Alex.  When I went through the checkout I was able to easily select ‘Ship to wishlist recipient, Alex [Aldarondo]’ or something like that.   We have confirmation that Amazon is shipping to Puerto Rico.”
An Opportunity (actually two)…
Tomis Parker shared in Slack that the new owner of this camp is open to someone from ALC taking the director…: https://www.longacre.com/
Also news from Tomis, ASDE is launching local meet-up groups. If you’re with a new program looking for local collaborators or an established program with enthusiastic parents needing a place to channel movement-growing energy, check out self-directed.org. (And then let Scott Noelle know how pretty the website is…)
 
Events…
Our network coherence holders for Latin America–Alex Aldarondo and Rebecka Koritz–are hosting a training in San Luís Potosí, Mexico in November. Info at http://exaltpr.org/capacitacion-alfs-slp/. Their bios are on the page 😉
Liliana Carrillo, a new member who attended several trainings this summer and is looking to start an ALC in Belgium, is hosting a local event in Dutch to seed an ALCcommunity in Ghent, Belgium.Her program is this month, with Ryan Shollenberger and Melody Compo of ALC-NYC offering remote support/participation. Lili can be reached at —
Rubén Alvarado, an experienced program facilitator who was present for the inception of ALCs at Emerging Leader Labs and has recently been practicing as an ALCfacilitator in Florida and Mexico, is hosting a local event in Xalapa, Mexico in December, with plans for Alex Aldarondo and I to participate as seasoned ALFs. Rubén can be reached at —
TL;DR Gushy-ness, survey, call info, PR support, opportunities, events, viola.
Whew! That’s it for this month!
 
Love, logistics, and small humans spelling,
Abby Oulton

Co-Director & administrator, ALC-NYC

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11.13

Hi everyone!

Last month I decided I’m going to send monthly update emails across the network until we get a Newsletter working group up and running. Here’s your November note! 
 
It’s Scorpio season and I’ve been reading adrienne maree brown’s latest book, which means November here in Washington Heights has been full of boldness. Boldly dreaming about what’s possible for us to be and build. Boldly moving to engage with the invitations to grow tucked in the daily challenges I face. Boldly rejoicing over the work of far-away folks I’ve never met (your social media game is so good!) There’s more, but you probably get the point.
If you’re also feeling eager to move the world more than you already [fantastically, just by being a force in it] do, I’ve got some requests/project ideas in this email, near the bottom. Announcements first, though 🙂
…..

Survey…
At this point, I’m assuming those who haven’t clicked through this won’t. The survey is still live though… just in case 🙂 We got some really amazing and helpful responses, and I really appreciated the follow-up direct emails I got from some of you. I didn’t get back to some of the offers for support–it’s been a little busy tending my local ALC recently–but I have them all saved! I’ll be sending out requests for these in the coming months as the Network Upgrade we’re in month 3 of continues. That said, here’s a friendly reminder that you don’t have to wait for anyone’s approval/permission to start doing cool things in support of our mission! And you can always ask Mercer, Tomis, and I if you need data/docs/codes to do what you’re doing.

Calls…

You can find our call schedule on our InterALC Calendar. Our call room is —…which redirects to a Zoom room that Tomis set up for us.

***Next Monday’s call will be a recorded open conversation about supporting a diverse community of learners. We’ll be sharing what this looks like in our different communities, what we’ve found works/doesn’t work, and what challenges we’d like support troubleshooting. Topic pulled from #startup-support Slack channel, where neurodiversity and different folks’ different holidays were the specific subtopics mentioned**

Puerto Rico Support…
Puerto Rico is still reeling from Irma+Maria in September. This Amazon wishlist has items requested by Alex and Yineza, who have been both organizing ALC ExAlt and relief efforts in the area around San Juan. Select the Mans de Alejandrino address for shipping. One of Alex’s photos is attached to this email.

 
An Opportunity…

Heartwood ALC in Atlanta, Georgia is hiring! Google their amazingness, then email —– if you have someone to send their way.


Events…
The San Luís Potosí, Mexico training in November is coming up in a week! Info at http://exaltpr.org/capacitacion-alfs-slp/.

Rubén Alvarado, an experienced program facilitator who was present for the inception of ALCs at Emerging Leader Labs and has recently been practicing as an ALC facilitator in Florida and Mexico, is hosting a local event in Xalapa, Mexico in December.
ALC-NYC will be hosting a mini web-conference on December 1st! We’ll be live-streaming a mix of daily happenings and special offerings/interviews from our East Harlem school starting at 9:15 am est. Link will be on our FB page.
Comings and Goings
 
As of mid-October, Eric Bear is no longer affiliated with the ALC Network.
As of 11/13 Arthur Brock is no longer affiliated with the ALC Network.
We appreciate the work they did for this project and wish them all the best in their future endeavors. On a related note, through February 2018, the board will be looking for individuals literate in open-source culture to include among the candidates for board membership come the already-planned transition of the board in spring.
In October we welcomed The FreedomHill Project, Free Range Education Learning Center, Denver Agile Learning Center, Anna Julia Cooper Learning & Liberation Center, Bethany Lopez, and Pathfinder Community School to the ALC Network! There is also a plan in the works to offer individual membership by January of 2018, supported by the pro bono work Will Harris-Braun is doing designing two new logos for use by individuals, folks using our tools, and others inspired by our work who aren’t running ALCs.
InterALC Sharing
Super appreciative of all Loren and Dan have been doing to try to fix our website, which you’ve probably noticed has been struggling to handle all the attention it’s getting these days. Someday it’ll have a place for sharing our social media feeds (or be a more robust sharing platform itself!) but in the meantime I highly recommend checking out the social media feeds of other ALCs. I wouldn’t have any idea about bouldering at ALC Cluj, bow-making at a parent-inclusive day-of-play hosted by Heartwood ALC, or the Star Wars marathon at Mont-Libre ALC if I didn’t do my best to be following your projects on FB and Instagram.
Slack chatter has been doing what it does–ebbing and flowing as the school year constantly rearranges our schedules. My last use report says we’re mostly using it for private communications, which is nifty. I’m also really excited to see new people jumping in on #announcements and #startup-support. More voices! Yay!
Finally, I hear there have been some InterALC offerings–Minecraft, writing, more Minecraft–springing up. Sooooo excited about this. And so are the NYC teens 🙂
***Requests***
In an ALC? Email me 1-3 photos to be included in an end-of-year publication! Please include ALC name, location, and names of any staff pictured.
While you’re at it, I’m collecting 10-15 sec. video clips to edit together into a year-end montage for us. Please put them here, with your ALC name in the file name. Even better, email me if you actually know how to make a video and want to take that off my plate 😉
Got translation skills or community members who do? Let me know! I’d like to get a working group together, with the intention of getting the network home page, faq page, facilitation SK, and full SK translated into at least 3 other languages (but could we do 5?!?) by the end of 2018.
Want to host an event for folks in your area? I’m going to start reaching out to starter-kit downloaders in January (email me if you want in on that fun), and I’d love to have some spring events to send them to. Interested in hosting an info session or other event for them in your region? Let me know so I can send them your way!
Worked an ALC event? Interested in contributing to a doc of lessons and reflections for those interested in planning/organizing/hosting/running ALC events in the future? That’s one of my big January-to-April projects, and I’d love to collaborate with you. Email/Slack me!
TL;DR 🦂🔋🗓✨📸📚
 
That’s all, folks!
Love, mint tea, and a dance party for two,
Abby Oulton

Co-Director & Facilitator, ALC-NYC
 ——————————————————————————————————

12.17

Hi everyone!

As one of our kids likes to say these days, happy smiley-dog-in-the-sheep season! (He got it here, if you’re curious.) It’s December! Eeeep we’re almost done 2017!
 
And woah. What a year it’s been. My intention is to send an end-of-the-month note about that…so keep a look out. In the meantime, I’m a touch late with this update. Sorry!
End-of-year in Nonprofit land has me reviewing books/budgets, and I’d like to share some of my notes with you. Currently, we offer the world our philosophy and Starter Kit for free. Membership to the ALC Network costs organizations $95. That price gets staff/community-builders use of our branding, a pin on our map, a website and support with it, access to the community through Slack, access to community documentation on Google Drive, invitations to weekly Zoom calls, and notice of events.  Almost all the work to upkeep and generate sharable value through these resources/platforms is volunteered by ALC community members. This means sometimes it’s messy (like when a school emergency eats up all the time I’d allocated to drafting this email two weeks ago, so here I am behind on my self-imposed deadlines…), and it also means there’s lots of space to jump in and shape our growth with your work to whatever extend you feel moved to.
What kind of work have we been up to? Running schools, planning events, running events, building webpages, answering contact forms, hosting calls, offering coaching calls, answering questions on Slack, publishing photos/videos online, creating logos/branding, connecting with other schools, researching models, conferring with legal counsel, giving legal counsel, accounting, publishing emails, meeting with mentors/investors, cleaning up documentation, producing documentation, translating documentation, working on the Starter Kit, working on the Facilitation Guide, drafting the Events Guide, translating, local community organizing, meetings and meetings and meetings, meditating in prep and for processing of meetings…and so much more. Derrick Jensen has a definition of education that puts it in terms of midwifing–drawing forth and bearing witness to the birth [emergence] of–that resonates with me as a description of facilitation, both in terms of individuals and of broader social change. I hope you all see and appreciate yourselves and each other. You’re the heartbeat of a movement, and I’m so grateful for each of you. Thanks for doing the work.
In the first years of the ALC Network, there were [this is my personal perspective…others may disagree..] a handful of us scrambling to educate ourselves, sprout our local communities, define our broader ecosystem, generate open-source documentation of the work we were doing, and seed communities of collaborators around the world. At some point, those holding schools and those focused on consulting/documenting got out of alignment. It sort-of works for there to be a team focused on grassroots work and a team focused on supporting the spread of ideas, especially with really amazing individuals having set solid bones–in terms of personal relationships and shared resources–for newcomers to build on. We could have decided to just name that dynamic, could have accepted that we’d lose grassroots folks who burnt out and newcomers who needed more supportive onboarding until we grew to a point where the work of harbor-piloting the many wasn’t falling on the shoulders of an already-courting-burnout few. My human-nurturing server and efficiency-minded warrior selves would have been frustrated, but things would have overall been ok. Instead though, a few of us who had been tending this project since the beginning decided in the fall of 2016 to take a pause. Mercer and I specifically committed to do some intentional listening, particularly to the ALFs and community-builders on the ground, whose energy facilitated the continued growth of our ecosystem. If you’ve been in conversation with us over the past year, you’ve probably noticed the refining and resetting we’ve been working on (a ‘we’ that includes everyone growing facilitators, communities, self-directed beings, and richness in communication channels). There’s been some going-back-to-the-roots and working to break from unhelpful patterns, and it finally feels (to me at least) like we’re on a path towards more sustainable growth.
With most of its expenses related to the upkeep of infrastructure (websites, Slack, Zoom, and 501c3 status), the Network’s operations are expected to have cost $12,849 by the end of this year. With the majority of its revenue from membership payments (around 36) and unsolicited donations (2), its projected to end the year having brought in about $10,325. In previous years, that difference would have been made up by consultants’ fees and Network-hosted training events. This year, that energy went towards deepening connections between schools, supporting facilitators, visioning responsible growth, and figuring out how to support schools/facilitators in hosting events that nourish their local communities. It’s been a year where we’ve collectively generated lots of value…we just haven’t converted it to bill-paying dollars yet. But it’s cool…we’ve got enough saved from previous years to cover our expenses, plans for more financially balanced operations//fundraising in 2018, and a reaffirmed dedication to prioritize accessibility and growing well over chasing profits and growing fast. From here things feel…really good. I might even take some time over New Years to make pretty charts to illustrate all the reasons why I feel like things are looking so good. Maybe. If not, I’ll get to it by the end of February, for sure 😉
Below are this month’s announcements, followed by updates on Network conversations and requests for your input. Ready?
…..
Events…
There’s a Teespring campaign live for a few more days at https://teespring.com/stores/agile-learning-centers to support the Network work. The folks on #website are working on a tech upgrade, and I’ve been dreaming of facilitating retreats//exchanges for the generous harbor-piloting ALFs to level up each other. And who doesn’t want ALC socks…
From the two events in Mexico that just finished, Rubén, Rebecka Koritz, and Alex Aldarando have channeled lots of energy to gathering resources for Spanish-speaking communities. They’re hosting monthly calls, a Slack channel, a Whatsapp group, and have folks working on translating the Starter Kit. Reach out if you want to support them in keeping this momentum going. ((Not a Spanish-speaker but looking to help break the everything-is-in-English pattern? Rebecka also writes/podcasts in Swedish, and Nariman Moustafa translated lots of our web content into Arabic for her community’s website! You can find projects/collaborators on Slack, and share your work on #announcements!))
Rubén Alvarado is hosting a local event in Guadalajara, Mexico in January. And possibly one in Colombia after that, I think… And weekend calls (in Spanish) with amazing collaborators from Educambiando.
Julia Cordero and Anthony Galloway of Heartwood are offering a regional gathering in February! Reach out to them if you’re around Atlanta, GA and want more info!
Liliana Carrillo has plans for a spring event in Belgium. Stay tuned for details…
Facilitators Anthony Galloway and Mikala Streeter (of Heartwood and The LIFE School, respectively) are offering a summer program for teens! Check it out.
Comings and Goings…
Since last newsletter, we’ve welcomed CroCreo in Spain and The LIFE School of Atlanta to the network!
Puerto Rico Support…
Thanks for all the generous support you’ve sent to Alex and Yineza. Their Amazon wishlist is still live, if you want to help them continue relief and rebuilding efforts. Select the Mans de Alejandrino address for shipping.

 
Celebrations…
Hope Wilder has a gorgeous new space for Pathfinder Community School!
Tom and Bex are *almost* ready to launch their project in Mullumbimby!
Nancy and Tomis welcomed Huxley to the world on Halloween (photo attached to this email)!
Nariman has the Mesahat ALC up and running!
ASDE put out this awesome video that features students from [at least] 2 ALCs!
Loren’s been keeping the map updated. I haven’t broken it again. ✨ THANK YOU, LOREN!

Calls…

You can find our call schedule on our InterALC Calendar. Our call room is —–…which redirects to a Zoom room that Tomis set up for us.

Calls happen [nearly] every Monday evening, at 7:30 pm est. ***Holiday schedule: 12/18 call is an End of Year reflection at normal time, 12/25 moved to 12/28 in the morning and intended to be an ALF Check-In//Change Up, 1/1 cancelled and 1/8 hosted by ALC-NYC crew***
***Requests***
I got 2 responses to last month’s request for photos/videos. Too much work, huh? It’s cool. Here’s a ⏏Upload a photo or video tagged #AgileLearning2017 to your project’s social media page. I’ll share them to the ALC Network facebook page (or you can post directly there…It would save me so much work 😉 and you’d have all my gratitude…and doing it from your school account would be smart marketing…). The immediate intention is to paint a picture of who and how we are that’s updated from the one our website photos (mostly from 2014-2015) paint. A bonus is that we’ll accumulate a cache of photos to use when we get around to updating the website photos (‘cuz we’re still heavily concentrated in the US, but that’s changing and I’d love our public pages to reflect that reality).
If you translate the network home page, faq page, Facilitation Guide, or Starter Kit, throw a link on Slack at #announcements! Bonus twinkles if you can build/share a page of resources in not-English OR Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy (which I already contacted her and her publisher about because I *so* want copies available in Spanish).
Tech guru? Got community members who are and would gift us some of their energy? Loren Norman and Mercer are CHing a team at #website to plan an upgrade to our web-tech offerings. Let them know if you’re down to help out!
 
Want to host a call that’s not on EST or in English or generally that’s different from what I’m offering? Anyone can edit the InterALC Calendar, use the Zoom room (though only Tomis’ account can record), and post announcements in Slack! What are you waiting for?
Help me make sure this email gets to everyone! I’m pulling email addresses from the membership forms that come in through the ALC Network site, but they don’t always have staff//community stake-holder names beyond that of the main contact. Got community members who should be getting these emails and aren’t? Let me know!
Got your hands full? That’s cool…keep being a rockstar. We’ve got a bunch of projects in the works for January-March 2018: a Network membership option for individuals, a new format for populating our “Events” listing on the website, conversations about diversifying leadership and amplifying the work of local leaders as we expand, brainstorming about how to offer retreats, aaannnndddd more.
TL;DR #AllTheThings #EndOfYearFeels #RadicalGenerosity #ShapeChange
 
That’s all, folks!
Love, Parable of the Sower preoccupations, and snowy streets,
Abby Oulton

Co-Director & Facilitator, ALC-NYC
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1.11

Hi everyone!

How lovely to greet you from this side of the new year ✨ My ALC Network goals for 2018 include:
  • strengthen our existing community by updating the GDrive/webpages of resources we provide for orienting new folks and amplifying the 2nd/3rd gen. ALFs stepping up to lead community-building projects
  • putting out an ALC Events Guide as a resource for local organizers by mid-February
  • activating Starter Kit downloaders, starting by organizing the information we have, sharing that information with schools, and seeding conversations where 3+ downloaders are in a similar location
  • personally learning ways to better grow community across distance and language barriers, reaching out to 3 organizations who have a history of doing that work and are explicitly committed to grass-roots and anti-colonialist methods of doing so
  • continue working to increase the accessibility of our resources by sharing news of translation projects, regularly calling for the sharing of non-English resources, shining-up and regularly appreciating all the volunteers contributing to our ecosystem, and supporting the WebTech WG keeping our communication platforms available for us all in whatever ways they ask of me
  • take clear steps to improve the financial sustainability of the ALC Network, separate from increasing transparency about our finances and embarking on event-planning // fundraising efforts, so we end 2018 in the black
  • continue our practice of empowering each other to share organizing // leadership, and also invite into roles with legal leadership titles individuals whose work shows the world what kind of future we’re building together
…and then a teenager reading over my shoulder interrupts to ask about abstract vs “s.m.a.r.t.” goals 😅
Conversations tend to have seasons in our NYC space. They show up across relationships for a few weeks, and then they rest. This season’s conversations so far, depending where folks are in their processes, have either been about how we can always start making different choices when we want to start changing our worlds or about how changing our worlds demands we at some point step out of our theorizing and into our experimenting. Clearly the community is itching to do some work…to make some moves. What’s coolest is hearing kids realize that being in community helps them find the resources and courage to grow. We’ve intentionally nurtured a culture of generosity, and this is one of those seasons when I see our success in everything from a kid bringing in doughnut gifts to a group of teens daring to discuss the big dreams they’re dreaming.
Of course, we also have conversations about lizard-squirrels, the nature of time, and squid-gods. You know, the usual.
I’m not near enough to everyone to hear if conversations echo each other across the network the way they do at school, but what I have been seeing feels…pretty similar. It feels like our community is itching to choose, to move, to work, to grow. For the past few months, I’d heard a lot about individual ideas or projects. Suddenly I’m getting word about all kinds of collaborations–podcasts, conferences, trips, exchanges, trainings, translations, camps, moves, working groups–and it feels like many of us have recently gotten brave, gotten generous, and gotten moving.
Fewer lizard-squirrels with you all, but aspiring to the level of improv skills that our 8-year-olds model feels pretty ok to me. Especially considering many of us have only met online…for now. My 2020 goals include doing something about that. Accomplices are always welcome!
Lots of announcements and updates this month. Here we go…
***Events***
Rubén Alvarado and Rebecka Koritz are hosting a local event in Guadalajara, Mexico right now!
ALC Mosaic is hosting a talk with Akilah Richards this weekend!
I mentioned last month that Rubén, Rebecka, and Alex Aldarando have channeled lots of energy to gathering resources for Spanish-speaking communities. (For a refresher, they’re hosting monthly calls, a Slack channel, a Whatsapp group, and have folks working on translating the Starter Kit. Reach out if you want to support them in keeping this momentum going.) This month Liliana Carillo created several Spanish-language Slack channels. Woot woot! Always liked that “the limits of our language are the limits of our world” quote 😉
Julia Cordero and Anthony Galloway of Heartwood are offering a Conference in February in Atlanta, GA. Tickets available at heartwoodalc.org/summit…and it sounds like there will be a few ALCs represented in the audience.
Anthony and Mikala Streeter (of Heartwood and The LIFE School, respectively) are offering a summer program for teens! Check it out.
December’s Teespring campaign brought in $138. Last email I mentioned that the Network focused on a reset rather than events in 2017 so had to dip into our savings by just over $2000 to cover our [super basic, mostly web infrastructure] expenses through the end of the year. Definitely looking for creative fundraising ideas and donations so I get to write from January 2019 that we ended the year with income…In the meantime, though, the store will be up at https://teespring.com/stores/agile-learning-centers in case you want to rally your local community to help support our work that way.
***Comings and Goings***
Since last newsletter, we’ve welcomed Windsong Learning Community, Render ALC, Harmony, Inc., Karina Rodríguez, and Ding The Universe Canadian Learning System to the network!

***Calls***

You can find our call schedule on our InterALC Calendar. Our call room is —–..which redirects to a Zoom room that Tomis set up for us.

Calls happen [nearly] every Monday evening, at 7:30 pm est. I currently CH from New York, but you’re welcome to host calls in your language/timezone if you feel inspired to! Anyone can edit the InterALC Calendar, use the Zoom room (though only Tomis’ account can record), and post announcements in Slack. We’ve been having some really interesting chats. Thanks for all the enthusiastic participation!
***Announcements***
We now offer individual membership to the ALC Network! Here’s what I wrote about it.
The new logos–“Using ALC Tools” and “ALC Inspired”–are now available in the “Branding” folder of our Google Drive (link on Newbie page below)! Thanks to Will HB for his work on those so we could offer them to Network members who aren’t running ALCs but still want a way to let people know they’re part of our community.
Speak of the Google Drive, I updated the Newbie page that had gotten lost in our piles of documentation-from-the-early-years. It’s got some useful links.
Tomis proposed we upgrade our use of Slack by asking folks to step up as coherence holders for specific channels, and he and Mercer proposed we start archiving dormant channels at the end of the month to clear up the clutter. Let us know on #general if you have opinions on either proposal. My proposal was to start silly games and open questions (they’re coming…) on #random (and maybe a roll-call somewhere) to start community-building for the new year with all the new folks. You can weigh in on that, too, if you like 😉
The WebTech Working Group is planning to remove plugins from the website to help it run faster. They’re going to send out a list, and they’re asking for information about which plugins you do/don’t use. Chat with Loren Norman or Liliana Carillo (or #website) about this if you have info/can help.
Tis the season when summer programs and trainings start getting planned. My vision of an updated alf.agilelearningcenters.org webpage that lets active ALFs use a form to auto-update a map (or calendar or something) with event notices is still somewhere in the future, so you still have to post announcements on Slack or email Loren/me so we know to manually update the page with your info. But…um…please do Slack/email so we can let everyone know what options are available! (NYC will probably post dates by mid-February.)
***Requests***
Get sharing! Thanks to everyone who has been posting their projects and celebrations in Slack! (Did you know there’s a #gratitudes channel?) Please share the amazing work you’re doing there…and/or on the ALC Network Facebook page. Easier to build each other up if we know what folks are working on 😉
Let me know if you want to start reaching out to Starter Kit downloaders! There’s over 1500 of them…and if you watch #z-feed-sk-downloads in Slack you’ll see they’re all over the world. We have their regions and contact info; we just don’t have anyone connecting them to local ALCs, connecting them to each other and offering to cohort-coach, or sending them newsletters/updates at the moment. This would be a great way for someone newer to the network who wants to really impact how we grow to get involved. Or we directors can reach out to the potential volunteers and facilitators among the downloaders-near-us.
If you translate the network home page, faq page, Facilitation Guide, or Starter Kit, throw a link on Slack at #announcements! Bonus twinkles if you can build/share a page of resources in not-English.
Help me make sure this email gets to everyone! I’m pulling email addresses from the membership forms that come in through the ALC Network site, but they don’t always have staff//community stake-holder names beyond that of the main contact. Got community members who should be getting these emails and aren’t? Let me know!
TL;DR There’s all kinds of movement rippling through the network. Because you’re creating the worlds you want to live in. Yay!
*also* don’t you want to share your 2018 ALC Goals? I want to hear them…
 
That’s all, folks!
City snow, being enough, and hallway dances,
Abby Oulton

Co-Director & Facilitator, ALC-NYC

————————————————————————-

2.23

Hi everyone!

I’m a little late this month…and the updates I have are big! ✨ Big enough we’ll jump right in…
***Announcements***
The WebTech Working Group has migrated our website to CloudWays and removed a bunch of plugins! They’re still working out the bugs, but the hope is that this will allow our [massive] cluster of sites to run smoother, faster, and more reliably. Shout out to Javair Ratliff and Dan Ports for pulling off the migration! We’re super grateful to the whole working group for all they’ve been doing to keep us online through our growth spurts over the past few years. You can find them at #website if you have questions or have skills and want to help them out.
The website being all fresh and shiny means we’re ready to start sharing our summer facilitator trainings! Listed at alf.agilelearningcenters.org we’ve got:
  • Rubén Alvarado and Rebecka Kortiz’s programs in Mexico, Sweden, and Finland (where Liam Nilsen will join them!) Among them, this ALF team has extensive experience facilitating, starting/running ALC programs, training facilitators, and practicing self-direction/unschooling. Combined, the 3 of them also speak at least 5 languages. 
  • Heartwood ALC‘s first facilitator training program, run by lead facilitators and co-directors Anthony Galloway and Julia Cordero
  • ALC Mosaic’s FIFTH facilitator training program, with their rockstar team of Nancy Tilton, Lacy Arnold Manship, Akilah Richards, Tomis Parker, and Dr. Scott Speed
  • Flagship ALC-NYC’s program with our #superALFteam of Ryan Shollenberger, Mel Compo, Chuck Savoy, and myself
If you have an event to add, email me the details! I know the NYC crew is co-planning a West Coast workshop tour, and I’ll post those details as they get clearer (by which I mean, as soon as I know who other than FTL would want to host them). Please note that we’re currently only posting as “trainings” programs hosted or co-hosted by experienced ALFs (every team above is majority ALFs with 2+ years experience). I’m glad to amplify word of any workshops, camps, or gatherings network members organize, but we don’t have a website page for such events at the moment.
On the topic of who-does-what-and-how, earlier this month I took on the projects of updating both our ALC Network bylaws (we’d inherited the previous set) and the Ecosystem Charter that Tomis Parker created in 2015 and worked on with other facilitators through 2016, pulling agreements//practices from our ALF Community Mastery Board, mixing them with notes from ALF Summer conversations on definitions, and putting it all into handbook form. Since I’ve been hearing requests for clarity on community agreements and definitions, I put both texts together and offer the updated [and intentionally open to continued updates] doc here. It includes links to the Starter Kit and Facilitation Guide as well.
 
While we’re talking links, the Newbie page

has got some useful links.

AND! We’ve got a copy of the Starter Kit in Spanish thanks in large part to Alicia Castillo (and her mom?!? <3) Rubén Alvarado is translating the Facilitation Guide; I’ll share that when I can. Que chido 😉
 
Fiiinnnalllyyy
 
Shout out to Bethany Mikitish for putting the Starter Kit Downloaders export I send out last month into a CRM on Hubspot so we can coordinate as we play with it! Find her on Slack if you want to be added 🙂
 
Whew. That’s all I got for Announcements. Well…that and awe and gratitude. Now on to other fun stuff…
***Events***
Anthony and Mikala Streeter (of Heartwood and The LIFE School, respectively) are offering a summer program for teens! Check it out.
Sara Casey Taleff (of Cottonwood ALC) is also offering a summer program for kids! Check it out.
***Comings and Goings***
Since last newsletter, we’ve welcomed Sara Becker, Arrowleaf, ALC Philly, and Fernas to the network!

***Calls***

You can find our call schedule on our InterALC Calendar. Our call room is —–..which redirects to a Zoom room that Tomis set up for us.

Calls happen [nearly] every Monday evening, at 7:30 pm est. I currently CH from New York, but you’re welcome to host calls in your language/timezone if you feel inspired to! Anyone can edit the InterALC Calendar, use the Zoom room (though only Tomis’ account can record), and post announcements in Slack. We’ve been having some really interesting chats. Thanks for all the enthusiastic participation!
***Requests***
Keep sharing! Thanks to everyone who has been posting their projects and celebrations in Slack! (Did you know there’s a #gratitudes channel?) Please share the amazing work you’re doing there…and/or on the ALC Network Facebook page. Easier to build each other up if we know what folks are working on 😉
If you translate any of our resources, throw a link on Slack at #announcements and/or share in the Member Resources drive folder! Bonus twinkles if you can build/share a page of resources in not-English.
Help me make sure this email gets to everyone! I’m pulling email addresses from the membership forms that come in through the ALC Network site, but they don’t always have staff//community stake-holder names beyond that of the main contact. Got community members who should be getting these emails and aren’t? Let me know!
TL;DR Websites, Summer, Resources!
It’s Black-Panther-Week-part-2//Year-Of-The-Dog//Kids-Getting-Organized season here in NYC. I’m reflecting on what work blocks harm, what work lets me and my relationships be the change, and what work builds new futures. Anything I can do to nurture this network feels like powerfully contributing to that building work…and it feel goooood. Filled with awe and appreciation for you all. Ready for spring?
 
That’s all, folks!
Starlings, Snowdrops, and Steadiness,
Abby Oulton

Co-Director & Facilitator, ALC-NYC

3.21.2018

Hi everyone!

Equinox updates! August 2017 me scribbled ideas of *spring* 2018  into a sketchbook so my winter self would know what kinds of seeds to work on planting and tending. With the kind of gardening I prefer to practice–not crafting measured rows of topiaries but watering as needed, finding ways to invite helpful insects, and pulling weeds for compost–taking time to imagine the feeling I’m working towards is as important an aspect of intention-setting as mapping out my next few steps. They’re infinite games of course, both the imagining and the ecosystem tending, and they’ve brought me joy for years.
The spring ALC Network imagining I did included bringing back regular weekly calls, bringing more folks into conversations about the inspiring InterALC happenings, updating our guiding documents, more clearly communicating and honoring community agreements and boundaries, getting an option set up for individuals not connected to a member organization to become//remain members, starting to call in funding to compensate some of folks’ web-tech and administrative hours, changing the website photos and ALF page to more accurately reflect what our current community looks like, ensuring more regular support is available to both new folks and emerging regional coherence holders, increasing the accessibility of our resources and trainings, reconnecting with Starter Kit downloaders, laying groundwork for ALF retreats to happen more often, increasing exchange between projects, and moving into inspired preparation for spring and summer collaboration. WE’VE DONE SO MUCH! Like…we managed alllll of that. And that’s just during the sleepy fall//winter seasons.
Still trying to nudge a few more happenings along before summer takes off, but I’m feeling pretty good about where we’ll be by mid-May. Grateful to have such wonderful collaborators in movement-making <3
Here’s what’s up:
***Announcements***
Rubén Alvarado translated the Facilitation Guide! Ahora tenemos ambas este y pues Alicia Castillo’s Starter Kit in Spanish! #DuolingoForDays
Tomis Parker updated the Starter Kit version that’s available for download at https://starterkit.agilelearningcenters.org/ then emailed all our previous downloaders with that link, information on our summer programs, and…
…an announcement that an anonymous donor has offered to match up to $10,000 in donations to the network between now and June. The link to share to support that campaign is https://donorbox.org/grow-the-alc-ecosystem!
The website host migration led to some security certificate errors–thanks to everyone who’s been making sure the WebTech team is aware of the issue! They’ve got a temporary fix in place in place. Super grateful for their work and everyone’s patience.
***Events***
Check out the summer training programs listed at alf.agilelearningcenters.org! We’ve got details for nine so far! (*some*dates*and*hosts*have*changed*since*I*last*emailed*)
Tomis and Nancy will be presenting at the AERO conference in New York this June! The local ALFs are organizing a gathering and look forward to seeing some of you 🙂
Sara Casey Taleff (of Cottonwood ALC) is offering a summer program for kids in Montana! Check it out.
Anthony and Mikala have changed summer plans and are no longer offering their teen program.
Rebecka Koritz has plans in the works for a 2 day workshop in Finland in July. Reach out to her for details 🙂
The Adventure Play:Ground in NYC is not *technically* an ALC project, but they were co-founded in part by two of ALC-NYC’s community members… They’re currently hiring playworkers for May through September. Maybe an opportunity more than an event…
***Comings and Goings***
 
Since last newsletter, we’ve welcomed Matthew Abarbanel, Ana Marcos, Flow ALC, The History Tree, and Inspire Educamps to the network!
Can I post exchanges here, too? Shouting out ALC Mosaic for hosting folks from Wildwood and from Heartwood in the past month! Shouting out Heartwood for hosting me, Mullumbimby commons for hosting an ALC-NYC ALF *right*now,* and ALC Mosaic for hosting a whole pack of our NYC kids next month! Makes me want to do a happy dance…

***Resources***

You can find our call schedule on our InterALC Calendar. Our call room is —….which redirects to a Zoom room that Tomis set up for us.

Calls happen [nearly] every Monday evening, at 7:30 pm est. I currently CH from New York, but you’re welcome to host calls in your language/timezone if you feel inspired to! Anyone can edit the InterALC Calendar, use the Zoom room (though only Tomis’ account can record), and post announcements in Slack. We’ve been having all kinds of fun conversations 🙂 Thanks for all the enthusiastic participation!
While we’re talking links, the Newbie page

has [still] got some useful links and the updated//updating Ecosystem Charter is available here!

 
Shout out to Bethany Mikitish for putting the Starter Kit Downloaders export into a CRM on Hubspot so we can coordinate as we play with it! Find her on Slack if you want to be added 🙂
***Requests***
Keep sharing! Thanks to everyone who has been posting their projects and celebrations in Slack! (Did you know there’s a #gratitudes channel?) Please share the amazing work you’re doing there…and/or on the ALC Network Facebook page. Easier to build each other up if we know what folks are working on 😉
If you translate any of our resources, throw a link on Slack at #announcements and/or share in the Member Resources drive folder! Bonus twinkles if you can build/share a page of resources in not-English.
Help me make sure this email gets to everyone! I’m pulling email addresses from the membership forms that come in through the ALC Network site, but they don’t always have staff//community stake-holder names beyond that of the main contact. Got community members who should be getting these emails and aren’t? Let me know!
TL;DR more plant metaphors and trying to celebrate the futures we’re designing while celebrating the moment we’re in (ad infinitum)
That’s all, folks!
Another East Harlem snow day and teenager interjections,
Abby Oulton

co-director & facilitator, ALC-NYC
vice president, Agile Learning Centers

Questions on Repeat

One of the practices from my time in conventional classrooms that still serves me is that of listening for signs that I wasn’t clear enough in communicating. One such sign is when I’m getting the same questions repeatedly; sometimes it means our group isn’t practicing listening very well yet, but 98% of the time it means I need to pause, rewind, and get us all on the same page.
The same questions have been popping up in my email for a bit over a week now, regarding agreements and definitions across the ALC Network. This makes sense: part of the reason I got involved in the Network reset over the past year was that we’d developed processes and patterns that were out of sync. We’d also worked hard to anticipate what our growth would look like and create processes that would serve it, but the reality that emerged was (of course) slightly different than we imagined. 2017 brought an invitation to breathe, assess, sort through our clutter, and start readjusting. What I’m hearing in 2018 is that the mixed messages–some of our tools had gotten outdated and some hadn’t–and lack of guidance where tools had gone offline altogether have been disorienting for folks who are newer to these conversations.  We–the first and second generation ALFs who have been looking beyond our individual projects for the past few years–didn’t communicate clearly. So this blog post is my pause-rewind-realign offering. It’s intended as a conversation [re]starter for our current ALF community, a reflection of where we have been, and currently are, rather than a proclamation of any carved-in-stone Truths. I copied these wordings of the questions from @liliana.
1.  What is the agreement and procedure to break the agreement and deal with challenges (conflicts or so…) for new ALCs?
Organizations that identify as ALCs are expected to sign up for membership in the ALC Network via our website. We ask for an annual contribution of $95 per project, and we put their ALFs in conversation with ALFs from across the network upon receiving their sign-up form. There isn’t a specific set of agreements listed on the membership sign-up page yet, but the hope is that anyone who reads our website and pays for a membership is doing their best to root their project in our philosophy. When we were small enough that all new projects were in conversation with other projects (and how-do-we-run-this-network conversations) during the year then gathering together in North Carolina over the summer, our relationships were strong enough to orient each other. Having evolved into a more decentralized, linguistically diverse, and far-flung coalition, we clearly need to re-imagine our onboarding process. I’m hoping those folks invested in these questions can channel some inspiration and insight into making that happen in the next few months.
In terms of dealing with challenges and conflicts, new (and all) projects are encouraged to ask the community for support as needed, either on Slack or by emailing someone they trust or joining a call…whatever works for them. When someone has a concern about an ALC operating in a way that’s out of integrity with our principles, they have tended to first check-in with the community in question and then to talk to folks at more established ALCs (so ALC-NYC and Mosiac usually, so far). We haven’t needed to create a more formal process yet, but I love that the process that seems to be emerging echoes our conflict resolution process that we use at ALC-NYC and among ALFs. I imagine a more formal process would just make that echoing intentional and explicit.
Since there is no formal contract, there is no formal ‘here’s how to get out of your contract,’ but organizations that have opted not to be/become ALCs just let us know. They are taken off the map, have their access to our docs and internal communication channels changed, and are expected to stop using our branding.
2.  What is the agreement and procedure to break the agreement and deal with challenges (conflicts or so…) for new ALFs?
Same as above.
3.  What is the agreement and procedure to break the agreement and deal with challenges (conflicts or so…) to setup ALCs?
Same as above…We’re really into processes and agreements that are both light and effective enough to work across contexts 😉
4.  What is the agreement and procedure to break the agreement and deal with challenges (conflicts or so…) to organize ALFs?
The network reflects ALCs in relationship. An ALC’s existence and relationships reflect the work of that community’s ALFs. We are responsible for supporting each other, self-organizing, and holding each other accountable. This community is ours to care for.
Agreements for ALFs, beyond the implicit work-to-facilitate-in-ways-informed-by-our-philosophy, used to get listed on our ALF Community Mastery Board (and likely will once again, someday soon). The main agreements are to be respectful of people, mindful of their time, and intentional about how you engage. We have lots of notes about what ALFing from ALC principles looks like, and individual ALCs will have their own agreements for facilitators in their spaces.
When there is a challenge or conflict with an ALF, we follow our conflict resolution process. It’s outlined on the Newbie page and matches the process we use at ALC-NYC with our school community. First, whoever is having the problem talks to the person they’re having the problem with (after taking some breaths and deciding what it is they want to communicate). If the problem persists, they ask another ALF for help talking to the person. If the problem still says a problem, the ALF having the problem convenes a Culture Committee. The parallel practice in other settings is calling for a Circle. In ALC settings, a CC is a gathering of trusted community members committed to supporting conflict resolution efforts and tending the well-being of the community. With kids at school, this usually looks like a group spending some time in a literal circle to talk through the situation; with adults across the network, there is more often an initial group call and then a series of follow-up calls. Similarly to how we practice honoring the decisions of those who attend meetings we miss, we practice honoring the decisions of those attending to CCs we’ve missed.
When an ALF no longer identifies as an ALF, they just have to say so.
5.  What is the agreement about photos? videos? 
Under the agreement to respect each other is the expectation that where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy they will be asked for consent before being recorded. Since by definition consent is specific, informed, and reversible, they need to know what plans there are for sharing the recordings and they need to be able to withdraw consent. Remember there may be additional legal considerations for recordings including minors.
6.  What is the agreement about contacts?
We established communication agreements for the ALF community in 2015 during a change-up meeting. These are recorded on our ALF Community Trello (a tool that fell out of use when people stopped attending the calls it held the notes from) as: “Keep posting relevant to the charter of the tool, no spam (irrelevant or inappropriate messages); Respect each other; Email directly to individuals when reply all is not relevant; During calls, default = mute mic unless you are the person speaking.” So essentially, communications should honor our principles of respecting each other and each other’s time.
Through aligning with the ALC philosophical roots, ALFs commit to trust-building, caring without controlling, and contributing to a culture of generosity…practices that shape how we show up in our relationships. Since how we communicate also impacts the nature and health of our relationships, many ALF trainings include sessions about how we talk and how we listen. ALFs will have different favorite resources and guiding reflective questions. Some of mine are on the Favorite Resources page of this blog.
7.  What is the agreement about money?
Money! It’s not the only form of wealth or the form we necessarily care most about. It’s also necessary so our ALFs can eat, pay rent, and keep sharing support with folks whose doors are too far away for us to go knock on.
ALC members are expected to contribute funds annually to keep the shared resources we use to cohere the network online and updated. Most of our resources are open-source under the Creative Commons license that asks folks not to use our work for personal profit, to share as we share, and to give attribution where due.
When we find ourselves with enough money to cover our expenses reliably, we’ll need to convene a work group to decide how to manage what’s left. It’ll be fun…but we’re not there yet.
At the moment, Tomis and I are the people watching our finances, which are managed through our 501c3 nonprofit. You can ask us for information and updates at any time.
8.  What is the agreement about the decision taken by the board?
Since ALFs are the network, we make decisions about our agreements, processes, and culture. We used to tackle big questions all together at retreat weekends, summer gatherings, and monthly calls. We also have encouraged those feeling inspired to take on the role of coherence holder for whatever project they care about and invite others to join them in forming a ‘work group.’ We’ve had work groups form to create reports, survey ALFs, and plan retreats. Our last working group ran through spring 2017, and it was open to those invested in defining-the-network kinds of questions. It fizzled out when folks schedules changed over the summer, though I host a monthly network-themed call to make sure there’s still an opening for folks who want to try to bring that work group back.
Aside from the network that is and acts, there is an organization–the ALC Network–that’s a nonprofit registered in North Carolina. Between its inception in 2014 and the start of its reset in 2017, the board of this nonprofit met a few times a year to check in on the health of the organization, make sure paperwork//roles were in order, and review finances.
The current board continues to honor the legal responsibilities of a nonprofit board, and we also have decided to give as generously as we can in the role of what I hear Quakers refer to as an ‘Oversight Committee.’ When the ALFs previously tending the network ecosystem flagged in the fall of 2016 that our culture was in need of a reset and our practices needed to be realigned with our principles, Mercer and I committed to join whoever from that original crew was ready to work on this project with us and start what would clearly be a rather involved and challenging process. By the end of 2017, the folks coherence holding for the reset were also the folks remaining on the Network board: Tomis, Mercer, and me.
The role and composition of the board is set to change through the next few months, but legally a board is responsible for ensuring the actions of an organization are aligned with its mission and making decisions that prioritize the well being of the organization. So while we practice–and are committed to practicing–decisions being made by and for ALFs, technically the board has the power (and responsibility) to block decisions that would endanger the organization or put us out of integrity with our mission.
9.  What is the agreement about drive documents?
Drive is one of our communication tools! Follow the communication agreements outlined above (or updated ones, as those become available).
Access to drive is granted to member ALCs, with the expectation that they will be responsible about who they add/remove from their communities. Most work is licensed through Creative Commons. Please use shared resources mindfully and contribute to them generously.
10.  Who can be called ALF?
Who indeed…At the first ALF Summer gathering, we came up with a system of levels, the requirements of which were outlined in rubrics, which aspiring and practicing ALFs moved through using a series of forms and peer reviews. We were trying to accomplish many goals with one tool: give people guides for self reflection, set a norm of groups entitling each other based on their experiences of each other, clarify the expectations attached to different roles, protect the meaning of the title ALF through some kind of check system, and generate documentation so we could check who our ALFs were.
The rubric we made for basic “Am I an ALF?” peer reviews is still relevant as a tool for supporting ALF self-reflection and for communities or workshop groups practicing Peer Reviews. It’s here: ALF Personal & Peer Review – PeerReviewForm
But, to borrow Ryan’s words, there was never going to be just one path to becoming an ALF. Not if we were truly dedicated to open-source sharing and empowering communities to grow ALCs adapted to their contexts. At our East Harlem flagship, we relate to facilitation as a practice. You know you’re a facilitator when you catch yourself facilitating and others relating to you as an ALF. More interesting for me than locating the moment one “becomes” a facilitator (or an artist or equestrian or a reader or or or) is the journey that unfolds from that point on. When we talk about our past and future selves, we sometimes talk about my “baby ALF” days or about Mel “levelling up.” We were just joking last week about the “next level” NYC ALF skills of knowing where there are restrooms along a field trip route and what to have in your bag when taking groups of kids on the subway…which probably are not ALF skills at all for folks most other places 😉 We give regular attention to our personal and team facilitator-ing, checking our well-being and looking for ways to better support each other’s growth. We can all confidently identify as ALFs at this point, trusting our depth of experience and knowing our community would gladly vouch for us, and we’re on to that fun game of “Oh! You’re an ALF, too? What kind? Where are you at in your journey?” from a place of sincere curiosity and commitment to replicating in network relationships the care and support we practice here with each other.
Checking in about this blog post (I loop our crew here in on almost all of my network business, and I’m so grateful to trust their thoughtful feedback and suggestions even when our here-at-home business is already a lot), we talked about how our practice, sharing, and helping grow new ALFs gives the world modeling that we hope will both help people answer this question and develop folks’ ability to sense when someone calling themself an ALF is out of integrity in doing so. Rather than stress about what a few million strangers may choose to call themselves and how to control that, we’re focused on offering illustrations of the role that set root/principle-aligned expectations and inspire desire to come play at our level. Which you should; it’s a delightful, infinite game.
Feeling inspired to organize an ALF call to update the CMB? To craft our ALF agreements into a mini manifesto of sorts to put at the top of our ALF webpage? To gather a work group to upgrade our new-member-onboarding-process?
Do it! Message me if there’s any way I can support you <3
 

Note on ALC Logos

With new variations on our logos coming out (and start-up groups showcasing their creativity all the time), I remembered this email exchange where @tomis explained a bit about what the deal is with our branding guidelines and @spence suggested he put something together to share on the topic.

In case it takes Tomis a while to get around to writing such a thing with all his being-a-new-dad happenings, I’m just going to share a snippet of that email. He wrote:

“The brand guidelines were created by Eric Friedensohn [who designed and donated our logos, is mad talented on top of being so generous, and who is definitely worth following on social media]. You can see more about his process for this project here.

He gave us four colors as a starting point so we wouldn’t have to jump into picking coherent color pallets, but was clear that his design sensibilities (embedded into the guidelines) would not be disrupted by choosing different colors. You can see that the forty-ish icons he made for us a little later involve all kinds of colors.
So, the thing is that we, collectively as the ALC Network who use this logo/brand, have the right to change any part of it we want or disregard the guidelines — he’s given us this as a gift. That said, it’s my opinion that Eric is good at what he does and that the guidelines serve an important purpose…”
There. Shucks, Tomis. Couldn’t have said it better (or, frankly, that well in the first place).

 

 

ALF Page Jan. 2018 Update

How does someone even end up at alf.agilelearningcenters.org? I honestly am not quite sure.

What I know is that the page used to essentially be a flyer for the ALF Summer super-programs in Charlotte, NC. As we started to see other ALCs hosting various retreats, trainings, and workshops starting in 2016, the page morphed into a listing of those programs. On the one hand, this was lovely. It was helpful to have a place where all our events were listed, and folks like me who have been around for a bit enjoyed seeing signs of our growth.

For some time, though, a few things about the page had been bothering me. First, focusing the “agile learning facilitator” page on marketing events felt way too narrow. Maybe I’m too in the work to see clearly, but for me a facilitator page should be about sharing the vibrance and brilliance of our community. It should certainly have some resources for aspiring facilitators, including events, but I also wanted it to share more of a story. Like…who are we? Especially as we’ve grown past the small cohort in NYC that we once were, I wanted the page to illustrate that we’re many different people from many different backgrounds all doing this work.

The January 2018 revision of the page was a first step towards what I’m hoping will be a richer ALF page. It’s got some portraits from various ALCs’ staff pages, a link to the Facilitation Guide that Mel put out for us last spring, and it’s now got a promise that links to ALF-generated content will come soon…alongside the much anticipated links to events that the page has become somewhat known for.

Almost certainly, my next edit will simply be posting those links and dates.

Eventually, though, I’d like to get snippets of ALF stories incorporated, in their own words. I asked our web-tech team about the possibility of building some kind of form+map that would let ALFs post their own events (and maybe blogs or social media accounts) rather than submitting them to me for manual posting…though they have to convince the website to stay up and running before they get to focus on optimizations and upgrades. Finally, I *think* some kind of a resource page for aspiring facilitators might be a useful thing to create and link to.

All things in time, though…;)

Network Membership Update

“What does it mean to be a member of the ALC Network?”*

This question has been following me a lot for the past few years. In the past 13 months, I’ve given it a bunch of intentional thought–often aloud and in dialogue with others similarly exploring it–and I’ve reached enough clarity that I finally edited the “membership” pages and form on the ALC Network website this week. Here’s where I’m at (and notes on the edits):

We become members of communities when we show up and contribute. I grew up in a steel town watching “moms’ clubs,” church consortiums, local farmers, and neighbors on various streets practicing community…all of which convinced me that “community” is something one practices–like love or facilitation–and that takes a combination of time and care to grow. People join our local ALC community this way, but paying $95 for access to an online community feels slightly different.

Growing up in community also taught me that sharing resources, including information, empowers us to hold and grow each other better. I felt this spending summers at the local library as a kid, and it showed up again in college when I studied museum politics (like…who got access when, and to what, decided by whom?) All this feels particularly important in this “knowledge economy” age…so it’s important to me that we’re not relating to ALC Membership as giving fees to some invisible gatekeepers for access to the wealth of knowledge they control.

This invites a separate inquiry about how to be responsible while being transparent: sharing generously, protecting folks’ privacy, and giving credit where it’s due…all at once.

Membership, though. Right now, it’s whatever we make of it. The ALC Network’s main functions are currently to facilitate connection between ALCs and the dissemination of resources about our work. I see that changing in the next few years–what we needed in our first five years will not be what we need in the next ten. Presently, though, the Network’s main source of revenue is membership fees and its main expenses are related to running our online communication platforms. So “membership” currently involves a pretty tidy exchange (that isn’t *quite* sufficient to fund Network endeavors yet, but we’re working on that).

“Members” contribute a fee annually to enable the Network to keep communication channels up and open. With those channels, they get access to resources–documents, other facilitators, call invitations, chances to collaborate on projects that shape how this movement grows–though the extent to which they use this access (and contribute back to the community’s wealth) is up to them. Lots of our resources are open-source, and most of us are Google-able, so a non-member *could* find most of the information that members get tidily packaged on their own. There’s nothing keeping someone from looking through the 40+ ALC websites and social media accounts for photos of our whiteboard notes or contact info for different facilitators. Knowing that, for me, shifts the dynamic from paying a gatekeeper to see hoarded treasures to chipping in to keep the local library (which we co-steward and staff) open.

***There’s politics of language, translation, and internet access to dance with in that metaphor, but knowing we’re already working on those topics as a five-year-old organization gives me hope we’ll make reasonable progress in this next season of our growth.***

I said “community” in the parentheses above, after just starting this whole thing by saying signing up for ALC Membership feels different than becoming a community member. There’s certainly a community of the folks who make up the ALC network…it’s more that, in my experience, “joining” a community doesn’t immediately confer recognition of membership. That takes people getting to know you…it takes relationship. So those just signing up for Membership–like those enrolling or volunteering at an ALC–get an introduction, and then the more organic process of relationship-building and getting engaged with the community begins. You follow?

All that to talk about some quick website updates…

Our Membership process online wasn’t super clear before, but it was oriented towards organizations, specifically schools and start-up groups. Once an organization signed up for membership, they’re trusted to decide which team members to pull into the network conversation. They may add all staff and a founding parent to Slack. They may add one facilitator to Slack and another to Drive. Whatever…we trust them to determine who their community caretakers are and what will be most supportive to them. There’s conduct agreements, for sure, but essentially if a community says ‘yes, this person’ then those of us in the wider community start by trusting that.

We’re keeping most of this process unchanged, though planning to replace the “we request an additional $10 for every 10 kids over 20 you enroll” thing with transparent data about Network revenue-expenses and a “donate to our 501c3 here” button. The major difference is a response to requests for individuals who want to get involved with the ALC Network but don’t want to do so as representatives of their projects or schools. New to the membership page is a separate rate and benefits list that lets individuals join us…and a bonus is that while planning this we gratefully received a donation from one of our earliest ALC students of two logos for use by members who aren’t ALCs.

Long hours of conversation have gone into the question of ALC Membership, and I’m sure they’ll continue to do so as our growth challenges us to keep growing our processes and procedures. In the meantime, I’m really excited about this step and eager to see what new dimensions to the question it brings up.

*Are you a total newbie to ALC-land? That’s cool. Know that we–all of us active community members across the world–ARE the ALC network. We’re the ecosystem, the organism, the movement…whatever you want to call it. What I’m mostly talking about here is the US-based 501c3 nonprofit that’s behind agilelearningcenters.org and many of the communication channels facilitators depend heavily on to connect with staff at other schools when they want to seek or offer support. I tend to write “ALC Network” when talking about this entity as something distinct from our more organic network. Cool? Cool.

ALC-NYC Summer Planning (list)

When it’s time:

  • Explore why you’re interested in organizing a facilitator training.
  • Re-read some anti-colonialism/anti-oppression texts.
  • Reflect on your experiences facilitating and then as someone holding an ALC community. What roles and topics can you rock? Which ones do you need to find partners to take up?
  • Set personal intentions and goals

ASAP:

  • Gather a team
  • Align team intentions/goals
  • Pick a location and a format

ASAP-after-that:

  • Set a date for a team check-in, with each person’s deliverables clearly requested
  • Research rates for similar programming in your area
  • Research rates for providing food so folks can stay in flow
  • Research rates for (and availability of) the space you’ll use
  • Brainstorm other possible needed/wanted accommodations
  • Figure out rates charged by guest teachers and facilitators
  • Determine accounts/deadlines for managing money
  • Determine where you’ll build your website/application forms
  • Get familiar with relevant local legalities/insurance
  • Write up offerings/content ideas for the program

At your team check-in:

  • Decide scaffolding for the program (daily rituals, openings and closings, etc)
  • Commit to any offerings/content which require advance planning + designate CH to plan
  • Do some math to set rates (for a reasonable target # of participants) that will let you cover your costs
  • Create a finances/budgeting spreadsheet and establish a CH to handle money things
  • Decide whether people will register or go through an application process, and what that entails (in NYC, so far, people register…elsewhere they apply and do interviews before being accepted)
  • Take on planning tasks
  • Determine how you’ll update each other until your next check-in

Planning Tasks (sort-of in order):

  • Arrange a space
  • Build a webpage (with a registration deadline and who to contact with questions clearly listed)
  • Create a registration form, linked to your webpage
  • Share the webpage
  • Arrange catering (+other provisioning)
  • Arrange childcare, if offering it
  • Tell parents at hosting school that there’s bonus school (or start a summer camp) and do whatever paperwork your state/entity requires to make that happen
  • Coordinate with any guest teachers/facilitators
  • Keep sharing the webpage

As people fill out your form:

  • Keep track of who is signing up, their contact info, their intentions, their program interests, their fee commitments, their support requests, and other helpful information on a spreadsheet shared across your team
  • Reply to inquiries
  • Keep sharing your webpage (especially 1 month, 1 week, 3 days before registration closes)

 

*****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:

  • ASSESS. Do you want to extend your deadline or let late applicants email you to be considered? Are you content or totally full? Keep in mind a handful of people will likely bail or not show.
  • Update your website
  • Send a confirmation/greeting email to everyone already on board, with notes about what to expect in the coming weeks

*****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:

  • Send an email confirming program dates, asking for dietary restrictions/allergies, and letting people know how to pay you
  • Contact the caterer (and any guest teachers) with a preliminary count and any other information that would be useful to them. For food, I usually do participants+staff+2, just in case.
  • Send out invoices for program fees
  • If you have kids coming, send whatever communications you need to so their parents are reminded of the times/dates/program type

Two Weeks Before:

  • Email the details from the website (address, dates, times), newer details (childcare rates, what to bring), and suggested pre-program reading (really just the Network website…). Invite questions. Get people thinking about how they’ll introduce themselves.
  • Update spreadsheets
  • Follow up with any parties necessary. Likely catering numbers have changed or someone misplaced their invoice or two people need to be connected to figure out housing or or or…
  • Figure out with your team which offerings are going to be scheduled and which are optional. Determine CHs for each, and plan to procure any supplies needed.
  • If you have kids coming…email to remind parents of the times/dates/expectations

One Week Before:

  • Send a welcome email asking recipients to reply with an introduction. Start them off by introducing yourself or selves. Remind them what time you’re excited to see them on the first day of the training 😉
  • Send confirmations and payments.
  • Update and review spreadsheets
  • Set the space
  • If you have kids coming…email to remind parents times/dates/expectations/what-to-pack

The First Day:

  • You know best what you need to set yourself up…Do that…
  • Go!

ALC-NYC Summer Planning (narrative)

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!

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

 

Visions

There was a lot of talk at ALF Weekend about visioning. What is the ALC project? What kind of growth do we want? Where? How fast? Why? Who wants to be doing what? What would our mission statement for the network sound like (if it’s different from those of schools…but what are those)?

The questions came from an underlying wondering: with so many ALFs in so many places, do we share a vision?

@sarataleff started a group document to track various people’s responses to these questions and try to tease out the common thread. @abram asked me, after a conversation with Sara, about visioning ALC as in the business of offering alternative schooling, which leads to questions about what our relationships to other kinds of schools. Valid, since ALC-NYC is a school and we often talk about our philosophy in terms of comparison to other approaches to schooling. But I cringed, because a schooling-focused vision of ALC potential isn’t what I’m ultimately working to achieve.

Shortly after, a parent emailed the ALC-NYC finances group, unknowingly laying out points of a conversation staff had been playing with to varying degrees since ALF Summer. He was pointing to the need to develop a plan to grow and grow sustainably. What, he wondered, was our vision for ALC-NYC?

Both conversations–the network level one and ALC-NYC level one–will definitely be fascinating, ongoing, and significant in determining the future of both entities. Where I have time and energy, I plan to weigh in on both. That said, after talking with Abe and Bear last week, I realized that it may be worthwhile to write out my present ideas, if only to practice articulating them so I can do so more concisely in the [increasingly frequent] discussions.

Network Vision, aka: What is it and what is it for?

In ALC-NYC, the philosophy behind Agile Learning Centers is expressed through an entity that is, as Abe said, an alternative school. We run a school. We take attendance, serve young people of an age where the law requires that they be enrolled in some program of “schooling,” track immunization data, talk about graduation around the age of 17-18, and file lots of paperwork with the DOE.

But the ideas we make our decisions from–trusting each other and the power of relationships, that learning is natural and constant, that self-directed and experiential learning is most powerful, etc.–the “roots and branches” we publish on our website, don’t only apply to humans between the ages of six and eighteen. And building communities based on these principles doesn’t only serve school-aged humans or lead to the establishment of schools.

Right now, people are making ALC schools because…that’s where the need is. I, as a legal adult, can choose to pursue education at home, through work, at school, in meet-ups, or in any of a huge number of possible settings. Or not. A fourteen-year-old, on the other hand, can only choose between kinds of schools. And they can only choose in as much as their parents are supportive of their choosing anything other than the public school or private school that they want.

And I’m glad we’re convening schools. I’m so glad that ALC is an option so that kids have a place to self-direct their days in community. I don’t need to go into detail about why playing with kids is one of the most assured ways to change the future. It’s cool, what we do. I love it. It’s just not where my network vision begins or ends.

In looking for the source of my vision, I poked at definitions. School, for example. What is it and what is it for? It’s that place the government requires adults send family members between ages five and eighteen (approximately). It’s purpose has changed over the years, but it includes providing a non-work, non-street (ie trouble-making) place for young people to be supervised while their parents work, acculturating cohorts of young people so they identify with a particular mythology (nationalistic, STEM, here’s-how-you-relate-to-authority, religious, etc.), exposing students to each topic on the common core checklist, and administering tests/labels to help sort society. I won’t get into class replication or Ilych’s theory about disempowering dissidents; suffice it to say that people have other theories about what school is and what it’s for, beyond what is useful to us here.

ALC isn’t about schooling. We think more about mentoring and guiding than supervising, and we reject the mandatory teaching of isolated subjects or the call to reduce children to piles of statistics. However alternative our schools may be, they don’t set out to be schools so they can perform schooling. They are schools, almost as a disguise, to give kids a place to escape schooling into a richer, more supportive setting, in spite of legalities restricting what kinds of places they can spend their days in.

We get away with it, because Schooling-y schools have for a long time tended to a myth which is now nearly unquestioned in our culture: schools are for learning. A place of learning and education (for kids between ages x and y, where there are intentionally selected adults in loco parentis) is a school. Thanks to this fantastic definition, ALCs can have nothing to do with schooling and yet be schools. Which is really convenient, but also means that the vision for ALCs can’t be elicited solely from our definition of “school.”

So let’s play with other definitions, like “learning” and “education.” We use those words a lot. “Learning” is a dynamic word pointing to the process by which we modify our knowledge and skills. We learn new things. Learn things we knew better. Learn that everything we read in that last article was fictitious, so we should negate it and practice discrimination in choosing our sources. But I’m getting ahead of myself…”Learning” is one of the ways we modify our brain structures, which is happening in response to everything and everyone we experience, according to that sweet CrashCourse video InterALC Psychology watched last week. And our brains are plastic for much of our lifespan (depending on how we care for them). So “learning,” to quote an Agile Root, is natural and happening all the time. The process of learning is tied to education. Education is very similar to learning: it’s what we focus our attention on, what experiences we expose ourselves to, what we pick up from the models around us. Sometimes “education” is the sum of our learning (to this point). Other times, it’s the pursuit of learning. We use the word a few different ways. You can google the etymology, but more interesting to me is that “education” started out as a midwife’s term meaning “to be present at the birth of.” So while the words are mostly similar, “learning” focuses on the personal process, while “education” focuses on the engagement with an other that leads to learning, intentionally or not. And I…I get to be the educator…the one who is present at the birth of the learner to their possibility. I get to be the witness (and sometimes the dula…?).

Connecting the potential of Agile Learning Centers to “learning” and “education” feels much more authentic to me than connecting it to “school.” The idea that we are about creating places of learning, where the education structures support self-direction and autonomy in community, sounds really right, and like an idea that has enormous potential–whether or not mandatory school-attendance gets abolished any time soon.

I see Agile Learning Centers as just that: community centers, designed to support human learning, and based on an approach to learning/community-organizing that emphasizes trust and support and…agility. Which means we should keep making schools. And preschools. And coworking spaces. And cafes. And libraries/research centers. And book clubs. And senior centers. And art centers. And collective houses. And eco-villages containing all the other kinds of ALCs. The possibilities seem limited only by our imaginations, and the potential of such places to change the world for the better simply by existing in it seems enormous. I envision organisms of communities networked to form an ecosystem that empowers people and shifts cultures. Much bigger than a handful of schools.

ALC-NYC Vision: Growing anything in NYC is like gardening in a terrarium.

When I showed up as a curious not-yet-volunteer at “The Agile Learning Center at Manhattan Free School,” I saw four white men in a room and I almost wrote the project off. I was already uncertain about any project mixing technology industry and education pop-phrases (high reactivity to STEM obsession) and was a little wary of Free Schools based on the lack of community and staff burnout I had noticed while interning at one.

In spite of my hesitation and skepticism, by the end of the information session I was signing up to volunteer at the school three mornings a week. Within months, it was clear that I had a shared vision with Ryan and Tomis: to grow the six-student, two-staff, financially desperate school into a thriving community with double the students, the ability to hire me, and financial stability.

A lot has happened since then, but here’s the present situation: We’re 15 students and growing. Ryan and I are full-time facilitators and full-time co-administrators/conductors (rather than “directors”) with Tomis, who still does bunches for ALC-NYC but is around less and less as he settles into married life in Charlotte. And now there are other ALFs in the city: @sarataleff has a littles program in far away Greenpoint, Drew is in and out with network/web stuff, Abe is running extended day, and Bear is testing the viability of being an ALC admissions ninja. Things are happening.

Space-wise, we’re present to our lack of gym/outdoor space, the distance between East Harlem and Greenpoint being a deterrent to increased age-mixing and a challenge for parents wanting to enroll kids at each ALC, and our inability to provide an adult co-working space for parents to hang in and students to find more role models in. If I’m being picky, I’d love that space to have room for a cafe and be open to neighborhood people.

And I want to upgrade our makerspace so it’s more accessible and versatile.

And I want to upgrade our library so it’s full of books kids want to read.

And I want to make sure certain Occupational Therapy toys are available, because sometimes you just need a weighted blanket to feel better.

Staff-wise, we need to do some reorganizing. Tomis wants to fully hand his role and duties over to someone New York based. Sara wants to be an administrator but needs gifted and trusted facilitators to take over her Cottonwood program first. With Ryan and I facili-admin-conducting, we’re feeling the need for another facilitator soon. ASAP if we keep wearing all the hats we’re wearing. Less urgently if we get to offload non-facilitation work to a new director or administrator first. Either way, we’re already aware that we can’t take on starting crowdfunding campaigns, running monthly potlucks, or upgrading our collaborative documentation of kids’ learning without support. And these are things we’d really like to do. We have some potential plans and some promising prospects, but finding the money to pay everyone a livable salary and lining up the people we have so all the shifts in work go smoothly…that’s more challenging. And some of our prospects aren’t quite ready. And some, we’re not sure where’s the best place for them. It’s a really fun, really challenging game, and the stakes aren’t too high yet…but it feels like they will be soon.

So my vision for ALC-NYC is for it to move into one building or a few neighboring spaces, so that the age-mixing can be expanded to include early learners and adults while making logistics easier for parents. I’d like the space to be well equipped and integrated into the neighborhood. I want a facilitator for Cottonwood so Sara can focus on running things there (or at both programs). And I want another facilitator for ALC-NYC, either so Ryan and I can be more supported in wearing our many hats, so the school can continue to grow, or so I can support facilitation while holding coherence for admin-ing/conducting/relationship-tending to take that off Ryan and x’s plates and let them focus on being kick-ass facilitators (until we can get people in directing/administrating, when I’d like to go back to facilitating…though with more support I could facilitate and community-build).

That’s a messy vision, blurred by wonderings about money and logistics (will anyone else be crazy enough to accept a job that’s constant–though wonderful–work, ok pay, and no healthcare?).

The clearer vision is simpler: I want a space big enough to integrate programs for different age groups. I want a supportive, diverse, thriving community (and tending it to be part of my workload). I want all staff in the positions they are reaching for now, and for new, talented ALFs to join us as we grow, so that everyone’s workload is reasonable. I want the school to be financially solvent, with the ability to add new staff as needed, pay existing staff fairly, and offer healthcare so we can attract more diverse adults (since it’s really only us young, childless, healthy, or covered-by-someone-else’s-plan people who will consider the jobs otherwise). I don’t really worry about the school growing; I trust that will happen…I’m more interested in how to make sure our growth is managed so that kids, families, and staff have the resources and support they need to keep building incredible, interconnected lives.

 

 

 

ALF Summer 2015: Week 1

 

I started this week super excited to be in Charlotte, North Carolina to meet new ALFs! I right away got a couple pieces of bad news about some friends, and I was worried about being able to hold a group’s energy while working through my sadness. But both because the group this year was slightly more mature than last year and because I set time aside for myself early in the week, it wasn’t a problem at all. Of course, it also helps to be surrounded by people I love, busy with work that makes my heart sing 🙂

Here were some of the conversations and my take-aways!

Finite and Infinite Games: There are games you play to win and there are games you play to play. If life is a game you play to play, the rules are plastic, playmates are everywhere, and finite games can be incorporated lightly. I love this conversation…10430827_10153521726849540_4925285706532333561_n

Five Rhythms Inspired Ecstatic Dance: There is something about body play that has always made me feel really awkward and self-conscious. I used to attribute it to years of [dressage] horseback riding, piano playing, and Catholic school…where the body is held precisely and the preference is for it to move minimally. I started working through this with swing dance classes in high school, and since then I’ve taken every opportunity possible to play at changing my relationship with expressive movement. So when Art and Karine offered a Five Rhythms Dance on the second day of ALF Summer, I laughed and said ‘yes.’ Apparently, Karine cued up the wrong playlist, but no one else noticed…we were all too busy enjoying the dance 🙂

Slackline: On the theme of body play…I’m so glad Alex brought his slackline and has been setting it up daily! Really grateful for the chance to practice balancing, relaxing into instability, and breathing 🙂

Tools and Practices: Kanbans! CMBs (community mastery boards)! Language that moves things! Authenticity and trust and love! Ohhh yeahhh…

Summer Camp Facilitation: Honestly, I cut out of this one early. After two years of running a summer camp in Brooklyn, I have learned to plan/tool-create only to the extent that doing so makes running the camp less work. Kids will show up to have fun, and everything will be okay so long as we get clear on day one about expectations, daily rhythms, and parent communications (no med forms = no summer camp for ya). The amount of space and number of adults at Mosaic camp seems luxurious compared to what I had to work with in Brooklyn, too, so I hung out for the basic logistics conversation and tapped out when the planning got more intricate than I was interested in. I left thinking that this would be best: to let people who were anxious plan hypotheticals to answer their anxieties, so they could enter camp feeling prepared and relaxed…and then let camp happen and learn for next year that the stress isn’t necessary. I learned by the end of the week that it would have been more work for me but would have served the group better for me to stay in the meeting and gently insist we work through the anxiety and mistrust that my friends were struggling under. Lesson learned for next year.

Live Empowered Workshop: Kristen Oliver came in to do a workshop and guided meditation with us. Her focus in the workshop was on the process of exploring where patterns in our lives come from and on how to change the stories we tell ourselves in order to open space for those patterns to change. I was already familiar generally with the process she described, but it’s always nice to have a useful process articulated in a new way. Going through the clearing meditation was really nice…I find in life that these opportunities always show up just when whatever I’m carrying becomes too heavy to leave unaddressed. Monday I detached, Tuesday I mourned, and Wednesday I released.

Challenging Questions: The alternative title of this session was “How to make radical/controversial offerings.”

Blueprint of WE: Kate led a workshop on using the Blueprint of We, a scaffolding for co-creating a living document to facilitate communication and partnership. It’s awesome. I practiced with Tomis and Sara–two people who I communicate well with and similarly to–so I didn’t have any major revelations during the practice session. However, I’m REALLY REALLY EXCITED to try this with some of the other people in my life to see if we can level up our communication skills 🙂

Student-Facilitator Relationship Cultivation: Javair pretty much ran this…I was just there for support 😉 I’d like to do a doodle from the recording I took; maybe in August. The intention was to explore the differences between student-facilitator relationships at ALCs and student-teacher relationships in conventional schools. What actually happened was probably more valuable: parents and facilitators-in-training with worries about how to ‘do it right’ asked for advice. What qualities should a facilitator have? How can a facilitator show trust and respect for a student? What should a facilitator do with discomfort or judgments that they feel coming up in themself? Javair did an excellent job fielding their questions. <3 I love not being needed!

Collaboration with Sara and Tomis: I had a meeting. Big things are coming. Yes.

Movie Night: We watched Schooling the World (for free online!) and had a discussion about how setting up US-style schools around the world–typically seen as a generous and charitable endeavor to improve the living standards of children in developing countries–is a form of colonialism that often destroys families, disrupts the transmission of skills/culture to youth, and doesn’t actually help kids get jobs that sustain them. It’s a tough film…Fortunately, I studied a bunch of this in college, so it was disheartening but not surprising. Others in the room weren’t so lucky, so we processed together after and talked about how to make sure what we do stays different (and if we can offer our model to diverse communities in good conscience).

Archetypes: Oh the archetypes wheel. So everyone now understands how to support our servers, appreciate our scholars, and talk to our artisans 🙂 Here’s a video of Bear running the workshop last year. If you’d rather read than watch, this website explains things pretty well. What are your types?

How to Make Radical Offerings: We talked about woodworking, knife throwing, and blacksmithing, specifically, which made the conversation pretty simple. If I’m offering one of these things, I should be expert enough with the skills myself to teach them to others, clearly and firmly communicate expectations [clamp wood and point drills away from people, stand behind this line while waiting your turn to throw the knife, wear close-toe shoes while smithing, etc.], and be ready to remind parents that learning how to properly handle tools is proactive, empowering safety education. No one asked about screening R-rated movies or inviting kids to protests or brewing beer or answering kids questions about sex/drugs/MauriceSendak. So I’m looking forward to a Part II of this discussion.

How to Activate Parents:

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