Home » alf

Tag: alf

Educambiando Visit ’17

I was invited to the Agile Learning Facilitation training that Educambiando hosted in December of 2017 in Veracruz, Mexico. After months of tending my language-barrier worries with serious study sessions and my leaving-school-for-over-a-week worries by getting ahead on paperwork while my spawn practiced running things without me, I headed off on my first international trip since 2012. The ALC I landed at looked a little different than my East Harlem homebase…

Ever since falling deep into Godel, Escher, Bach as a teenager, I’ve delighted in moments when it’s clear the world around me is presenting variations on a theme. Across ALCs, there’s rich diversity of people, settings, and languages informing each community’s culture. At the same time, sharing principles and frameworks means some elements feel familiar across all kinds of distances. Even though my Spanish was really basic, I recognized tools, the flow of the training, and the delightful vibrance of the local facilitator team.

The training facilitators offered classic sessions on communication, the science of learning, finite and infinite games, ALC principles, conflict, parent worries, and culture shifting. We played group coherence games, some I recognized and some I was excited to learn.

Then once the kids showed up there were also offerings like Chiquita beadwork, theater, chorus, dance, recycling tricks, shadow work, animal communication, soccer, acro-balance, and jungle walks:
















I facilitated and co-facilitated a few sessions, with a lot of help from bilingual community members. I had to bow out of facilitating Change-Up, because my understanding of Spanish was too limited for me to listen as deeply to the nuances of and feelings under the group’s conversation than I needed to in order to effectively facilitate. There were also moments where the group drew tools illustrating time differently than how I’m used to illustrating it, work-shopped how to overcome a fear of direct communication that they recognized as part of navigating a legacy of colonialism, strategized applying what they were learning to make relief efforts after environmental disasters more effective, and explored how cultural norms and power dynamics impacted their attempts to build ALC communities…moments where I just listened, wondering about how our worlds are so similar and so different at the same time. 

Noticeably different from our ALC-NYC trainings [other than the presence of green space] was how the amount of space available meant adults often ended up congregating separate from the kids unless they intentionally moved to do otherwise I was having a lot of feelings after news of a bomb back in NYC, so I dosed myself with ample baby + toddler time.

Much of the flow of the program, facilitator team planning sessions, and participant styles of participating were similar to what I’ve seen at other trainings, which was cool. Having a different facilitator team meant folks offering different expertise, which I learned a lot and felt a lot of joy from experiencing. The gut sense I’ve had for a while that there’s a lot of value in facilitator exchanges was just affirmed again and again on this trip.

Heading home, I was really grateful for my earlier adventures in travelling and language-learning, which were full of lessons I find helpful now but didn’t even realize at the time I was learning. I felt grateful for the invitation to visit, for the kindness of everyone I’d met, for the beauty of Veracruz, and for being gifted questions I hadn’t sat with before. Moving forward, I am excited about about the possibility in some of the new relationships I nurtured with facilitators and families who were at the training. I also had a blast co-facilitating with Rubén, and I can’t wait to do that again soon.

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

ALF Resource: Intergenerational Trauma

After reflecting a bit on how I’ve been voraciously consuming nonfiction without pausing to share out my learning–waiting, I think, to see the whole tapestry it’ll become once I weave the pieces together–I’ve decided to push myself to share my draft-y notes. Here’s the first attempt:

The other night, I got home and decided to Google around for a resource or two on working with Intergenerational Trauma. Sometimes I relate to facilitation as a mix of midwifery and healing work…and then I end up looking for frameworks that can inform my practice and help me better serve my relationships.

After a few *eh* articles, this video came up in my results. I saw how long it was and almost didn’t click. Then I decided to just listen to the intro while I did some dishes. Over an hour later, the talk ended and I discovered myself with two pages of doodled notes and a cup of cold tea. My head was buzzing with how affirmed my sense that ALF work is healing work was, with the impact of pausing to really look at the evolution of violences across time, and with curiosity about the learning journey of the speaker, Nene Kwasi Kafele.

Notes below the video. For tl;dr folks, here’s a quote:

“Nurture, cultivate, support the genius of young people…in ways that are safe, respectful, and healthy. Be with them on this journey in a way that respects their lived experiences and sees their cultures as legitimate…”

Noted that an environment for survivor youth should be safe, reassuring, supportive, effective, providing stabilization, helping them see the paths forward in terms of addressing the problem and building their own resilience

Youth agency is crucial

Opportunities to express, process, and name needed supports in groups and individually are helpful

…so to this point describing much of what our school feels like…

Notes to be aware of coping tendencies like psychic numbing, of the repeated mention of CBT as helpful in trauma response management/breathing/visualizations

Notes on how “trauma” as a term/concept is highly Western, with introduced terms Mengamaazi: Willful, organized, coordinated, prolonged destruction and suffering and Maafa: Disaster, overwhelmingly terrible catastrophe. (Kiswahili)

*just* discovered all the resources at http://youthrex.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Intergenerational-Trauma-Healing-September-27-Resources.pdf while checking my spelling

Thinking of looking more into which traumas our institutions reinforce as well as how to reckon with the dance between survivors of survivors and survivors of perpetrators generations on

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…;)

“I’m Bored” Toolbox

@catmooy and I opened this old draft blog post and asked people to help us finish it. We asked what people do when they’re






and they (@kirkorovfan @thewitchqueen908 @serenagermany @simoneboss @theanchor @heartabby @aidenstarwars) helped us come up with this list:

Read a book. Play with stuff that’s here. Look at a plant up close and explore it. Watch out the window (for mommy?) Try a new game. Search stuff up. Listen to music. Watch Mario Maker play-through videos on YouTube. Think about mom. I play games. Talk to people. Draw. Scroll through Instagram. Look up things on Wikipedia. Play piano. Look at animals. Sit around. Think about stuff. Think about stuff. Stretch. Write. Practice Duolingo. Dance. Go outside.

Guess we have one more to add…Interview people!

Hope that helps 🙂


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


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


  • 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!

Naming the Silence

Margins of planners. Notebooks. Arms. Chairs. Bookshelves. Trees. Rocks. Napkins.

Any blank space as an invitation for my pen. I scratched out song lyrics and lecture highlights, webbed thought-explorations, inked out feelings I wanted to examine, captured quotes from all my favorite authors, promised friends that I loved them, tested forms and the boundaries of letter-making. Apparently, active minds trapped in not-quite-stimulating-enough places frequently free themselves through ink on a page…though usually the context is an imprisoned visionary rather than an ordinary teenager in some extra-ordinary suburbs.

What I’m getting at is that I used to be A Writer. It’s the most recent awareness on my [metaphorical] personal-growth CMB: I used to be a writer, and I have stopped writing.

As a newbie ALC, I used to journal and blog and doodle-meditate. As a full-time facilitator, co-director and administrator, parent resource, regional coordinator, training organizer, event planner, network schemer, finance juggler, partnership builder, field trip guru, and pragmatic visionary, I…write meeting notes and emails.

Not to knock it…My notes are clear and precise; my emails occasionally become exquisitely crafted masterpieces. Writing is–still, somehow–one of my superpowers.

And I still doodle my meditations, but only when I really need to pull my thoughts out so I can see them clearly or at milestones (I’ll probably do some to open and close spring break this year). Is that a kind of writing that ‘counts’ as ‘sharable value’? IDK.

As I’ve learned and practiced more and more that would be useful to document and share, I’ve been immersing myself in the ‘doing’ and keeping the ‘reflecting’ mostly to myself.

This struck me last week while thinking about an enrollment puzzle and simultaneously reworking an Annual Report draft: I can’t calm anxieties or reassuringly cite accounts if the words are sitting in my drafts folder or in the back of my head.

It struck me again while reading @drew’s blog post last week, when I realized he couldn’t know how I identify (to be clear: not as an overworked volunteer, but increasingly as a leader) and couldn’t know that in November I took on some of the work he’s presently calling for. I didn’t broadcast beyond the people I regularly speak to, so we missed months of potential collaboration.

Finally, it struck me on the phone with my parents last night, when they asked point blank how anyone outside ALC-NYC is supposed to track, weigh, attribute, apply, and learn from my work if I’m not writing. And they follow me on social media enough to get all the snapshots I do think to post!

Awareness, that’s three times in a week. I hear you. ALFs, [after a anti-colonialist pause to assert that non-written histories and un-recordable expressions have as much weight and power as those that are written/recordable] I owe you. The analogy of a Reddit lurker doesn’t quite fit here, but rather than search for an accurate analogy I’m going to skip ahead and just declare an intention to change. I have check-lists and templates and spreadsheets and anecdotes and research and rituals and counsel. I have meeting notes and meditations that you may be interested in excerpts from. I have wild ideas and more reasonable ideas–as the local folks I’m constantly in communication with are well aware–and so. much. experience. And none of it moves the world unless I share.

When I was A Writer, I read that with every word read a reader gifts an author an irreplaceable instant of their life. Many lifetimes later, I still worry before hitting publish about whether I could ever write anything worthy of such a gift. I mean…really. That said, oh anonymous internet reader of the future, here’s my pledge to trust your generosity, to trust you to walk away from what hasn’t earned your headspace, and to start broadcasting more widely by giving at least two days this April to making offerings of blog posts to cyber ALC-land. Small steps for now, but I need a light way to start.

Slowly reclaiming all those literacies I was schooled out of…

Meanwhile, here’s to blank pages, creative punctuation, and ever changing seasons.

The Talk I Never Gave

Last Tuesday, a friend reached out and asked about giving a TEDx talk at the United Nations International School. It’s been a draining couple of weeks, and I was intrigued but not feeling quite on top of my game. I asked what he wanted me to talk about, ready to say ‘no.’ Agile, he said. The future of education, he said. You’d have to be mad not to, my other friends said. So I got to thinking.

Public speaking has never been a problem for me. I have some trouble with scripts, so never really got into acting, but over the years I’ve read, sung, done Q&A’s, been interviewed, lead trainings and sessions and classes and…it’s really nothing new at this point.

That said, I have my own style of preparing. It always works, but it used to get me into trouble as a kid. My teachers wanted notecards to grade; my parents wanted mirror-rehearsals to time. I wanted to learn the material, think it over, bullet a couple main points, then get up and improvise.

Maybe it was “TED” or “UNIS” or just fatigue, but I got really anxious as soon as I agreed to do this talk. I knew I had all the information and skills I needed, but the old, well-schooled self-doubt took hold anyway. In spite of the best efforts of friends to reassure me, I gave hours to writing an essay, making detailed notes to get all the words exact, and practicing late each of the three nights before the event.

I got to UNIS at 8:30 am on Saturday, chatted with kids and staff, had some coffee. The lights dimmed, and I listened to the well-rehearsed speeches of some 7 to 9 year olds and waited. The girl next to me grinned as a mic was clipped onto my dress. Things went quiet and the background slide changed. I smiled reassuringly at the boy who announced my name. Walked out to the middle of the red square, as directed, and…choked.

My notes looked blurry. The audience waited, their faces kind and blurry, too. I flushed. Stumbled through a sentence or two, trying to coax what I’d prepared back into my mind. And then I took a breath and let go.


Narrated reality to the audience as I tucked my notes into my boot and switched my brain from ‘giving a talk’ to ‘talking to the humans in front of me.’ There weren’t so many of them. They were kids there to present, parents there for their kids, and staff there to run things. I breathed and talked and don’t really remember what I said, but I think it was mostly on-topic. They smiled.



Maybe the responses I got were sincere; maybe they were just polite. Regardless, I was reminded that–no matter how much progress I make–I’m still de-schooling, and my self-doubt shadow is always most dangerous when I’m fooled into thinking I’ve escaped it.

Next time, I’ll do it my way from the start. This is me writing a note to my future self, for when I need the reminder.


And just for kicks, here’s the speech that only my mirror got to hear in full:

In 2006 Sir Ken Robinson gave a Ted talk that would go on to become one of the most viewed Ted talks of all time. It was called “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” But he doesn’t start by talking about either creativity or schools. Rather he starts with the question that you’re asking today: the question “What next?” And his answer is that we have no idea. He goes on to explain that this is why everyone has a stake in education. It’s education, he says, that’s meant to take us into this future we can’t grasp. From there he goes on to discuss schooling, as if education and schooling were the same thing. But this is the problem. They’re not. And if they were, he wouldn’t have had much to talk about.

Why? Well. When I say ‘education’ I’m referring to all the experiences that shape your brain and your sense of self. These are the experiences through which you learn what you care about, what your strengths are, how to make choices, and what kind of impact you want to have on the world. This is…very different from schooling. Schooling is what most people think of when they hear ‘education’ but it’s a word with a much narrower definition. Schooling refers to a process designed in the 19th century to prepare young people for the factory jobs that it seemed most of them were headed for. And at the time this made sense, but that’s not the world we’re sharing today. They had printing presses and steam engines; we have WhatsApp, Minecraft, and Uber. And even though we don’t know what the world you’ll graduate into will look like–though I’m rooting for the solar roofs and self-driving cars–we’re pretty sure it’ll look different than the world of today.

Which brings us back to Sir Ken Robinson. Ten years ago, when he gave that talk, he asked that we stretch our definitions. That we have the courage to question the very assumptions about ‘what’s next’ that schools were designed around, so we could create schools which nurture creativity and value a variety of intelligences…the ideas danced and drawn as well as those calculated and spellchecked. He challenged us to stretch schooling until it looks more like education, so it helps young people develop the skills we’ll need to face the unknown.

And that’s the work I do. Currently, I serve as co-director at one of these schools for the future, called the Agile Learning Center. Since we know learning is happening all the time, that really all living is potentially education, we focus on the skills of deciding what to learn, figuring out how to learn it, applying what we learn across contexts, and practicing all this self-direction while building community together. It’s work. It’s fun. It replaces grades and tests with conversations and explorations, so each day brings new surprises for us to adapt to.

Now you probably aren’t in a position to radically redesign your school at the moment, and that’s ok. You still have the power to bring more education into your schooling…and to nurture those skills you need for the future in your out-of-classroom life. Find your art. Feed your creativity. You can learn improvisation games to practice meeting the unknown with confidence. Pay attention to communication styles around you–spoken and unspoken–and how they work. Try to understand those who are different from you.

When your schooling is finished, your education continues. I’m excited to co-create the future with you–that’s the mission, should you choose to accept it–but we’ll have to learn to collaborate and you’ll have to stay curious whether the Scantron values your efforts or not. If you’re in, let’s start practicing now. Thank you.

External Brain

This summer I worked some days at an adventure playground. I was there Saturdays, with two other adults and sometimes volunteers. It was work I really enjoyed, and I have lots of thoughts about it, but the biggest impact it’s had on my ALC-NYC school year life is that it’s where I started keeping a day log.

Because we were so busy during the day, staff didn’t get much check-in time until after we’d closed the site and sent the kids off for the day. We’d spend hours immersed in our work as the activity on the playground ebbed, flowed, and whirled. There were children in tires, children on forts, children with hammers, waivers upon waivers, and adults with questions. I always felt like I’d lived several days between when we opened in the morning and closed in the evening, so it was a relief at the end of the day to have intentional time set aside for reflection and sharing.

Asher, the lead playworker on Saturdays, would pull out a book, and we’d sit together to talk about our days. In the book, he’d log big happenings and observations from the day. I found the practice really helpful; sometimes my brain gets busy with all its ideas, and I lose details from the day that I’d like to remember. Sitting down with a blank page (a pensive, Harry Potter fans…) lets me hold and examine different pieces of the day. As a collaborative practice, it helps me hear what my partners are experiencing. As a personal practice, it helps me check that I’m giving equal notice and attention to multiple things.

The reason I’ve started keeping a daily log book this year at staff check-ins is something that I felt the potential for this summer but didn’t really get to experience with the ever-changing cast of kids at the playground. My external brain of a notebook at school provides all the benefits of my playground log book, with the added bonus of allowing me to look back over days, weeks, and months at individual kids’ development. Two months into the school year, it’s already starting to get interesting to read back and notice how people and dynamics have changed. Not to mention that it’s sometimes helpful during parent conferences, since specific notes let me share stories with much more detail than I otherwise could.

So grateful for transferable tools!