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LEGO Idea 2018: Day 2

So the second day started like this:

I could have watched Arvind Gupta for hours. His presence was gift enough. But then he mentioned that his project is open-source so 100s of his and others’ designs are available for free on his website. When I got to http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/, I discovered he also has work on there about John Holt. Kindred spirits and teachers everywhere I look these days…

The next lecture was Rebecca Winthrop sharing her work on Leapfrogging. From the sounds of it, Brookings is naming something that individuals have done for ages–learn from others’ processes and opt to skip steps of development where possible–to help organizations and systems intentionally look for opportunities to do the same, accelerating their development. Examples of leapfrogging would be countries opting not to lay cables for landline phones and organizations opting not to build brick-and-mortar bank buildings (presuming they haven’t already done these things), focusing their resources instead on cell phone service and mobile banking. The question I wrote down was “What have we assumed is necessary but we’re actually just emotionally attached to and can release to accelerate positive change?” Our industrial model schools, perhaps? Then Rebecca went on to show a rubric for gauging where an alternative education practice/system’s teaching and learning are in relationship to our conventional models versus the “breadth of skills” (aka 21st century skills) model the research says we should be reaching for. We did an exercise where we got into groups and discussed where each of our projects would be on the rubric. I laughed…ALC was so clearly it that my group was urging me to share if Rebecca called for volunteers to talk about their group’s conversation. “Leapfrogging,” a gentleman phrased it to me later, “would be a country going straight to building centers like yours and training facilitators instead of developing a school system.” Usually I’m not into men I just met telling me about my work, but in this case it was affirming and exciting. I’ll be reading the Brookings research before the summer season of trainings starts, for sure.

Next I went to a session on BRAC’s practices. I learned that they involve community members in setting up their centers from the start, asking them to help find a location they feel safe sending their children to and asking them for suggestions of which local young women to train as staff. I made a note to share that practice with some of the start-up groups in Mexico who had been asking about parent safety concerns…It makes a lot of sense to me. I learned that their training for the young women playworkers (they intentionally pick girls and young women from the community, to develop their skills, empower them, and offer them work experience) typically includes about 5 days of theory, practice, and monthly check-ins with other playworker/facilitators. Sounds familiar 🙂 Finally, I learned that they include parents and other family members by offering workshops, encouraging volunteering, and organizing space-work days where they provide materials for parents to come in and make toys together. Clearly the approach was carefully designed to empower and enrich whole communities, and I was delighted to learn how successful it’s been. It’s the kind of approach to change-making that I’d love to see way more of in the world…something I thought about when at one point I turned around to start an activity and saw that Sir Fazle Abed and his wife were both in the session with us, participating.

The afternoon kicked off with a panel discussion about global scaling. Sharath Jeevan of Stir offered an illustration of nonprofits working to influence governments as ants biting an elephant, powerful only if they’re strategic, that I’m going to save for when we get into the work of advocating for SDE-friendly policy changes as a network. My notes on this conversation are a bit fragmented, but I highlighted ’embracing complexity while seeking simplicity’ and ‘build platforms so people can do the work of applying your idea on the ground where they are’ as themes. Saku Tuominen of HundrED said near closing that one of the reason innovations don’t catch on and spread is that those doing the work don’t take time to broadcast. He’s right…It’s something that’s been on my mind in relation to ALC for a few months now. We have to share generously, and that means valuing sharing enough to intentionally protect time for doing so.

My last workshop of the conference was one I sort-of ended up at by accident. My brain was too full, and I got the numbers of the sessions I’d signed up for all mixed up. It worked out though; I ended up at the South Africa Cares session on “6 Bricks” exercises for kids and teachers. I hadn’t been looking for a session on classroom exercises, but I’m really glad I ended up at this one. First, it sounds like their organization does some really cool work, and I’m excited to now know about them so I can read more once I’m settled back home. Second, I recognized that their exercises incorporate Brain Gym movements, so I got to have some really interesting conversations about that and am back to wondering if I should find someone to teach me more about their therapy model. So cool.

We went back downstairs to hear from a panel of observers sharing harvests from the sessions they’d been in that day. Then Kiran Bir Sethi shared a framework her schools use that sounded so much like the ALC 4th root that I sent a photo to the facilitators who have been working on re-wording that root (it’s the principle about learning being a process that includes intention, exploration, iteration, reflection, and sharing). She also shared an adorable video of her kids doing their project-based-learning stuff and being awesome, remarking that once a kid experiences being a catalyst for change, the way they relate to their world changes. It’s so good to know there are people all over the world raising empowered kids. Gives me hope.


And just like that, we were at the closing session. I committed to record a video reflection, but I’m writing two blog posts instead (I’m recording a video on something else tomorrow…). Made some music with everyone to close the event out, video-called the NYC kids (just like I did from Mexico! Gotta love tech…), took a silly selfie with Liam under the giant LEGO tree, said good-bye to new friends I’ll hopefully cross paths with again someday, and prepared for the long journey home.

LEGO Idea 2018: Day 1

A few months ago, I was invited to the LEGO Idea conference. At first, I wasn’t sure if my schedule and finances would work out in a way that would let me go, but…suddenly it was April and I was off to Denmark. #WorthIt

Before I even got to the LEGO House for the conference, I’d noticed how the nearby hotel, restaurant, and park spaces were clearly designed to be accessible for children. The reception desk where I was staying had steps leading to it, which I watched a 6 or 7 year old confidently climb when he came in alone to ask directions to a specific playground, and these sculpture garden picnic tables made me smile:

Sometimes, other adults talk about “learning through play” the same way they talk about hiding broccoli in macaroni and cheese. I’ll show up to conversations excited to discuss empowering kids (and adults) to make choices in a context where we’re all learning from our experiences of being alive. I’ll show up excited, playful, intentional, eager to collaborate, clear that learning is interdisciplinary and that ‘student’ is a verb and…then someone will start talking about hiding multiplication drills in a video game. Let’s just say it’s disappointing.

Leading up to the conference, hearing the pop phrase “learning through play” coupled with the theme “Empowering Children to Shape Tomorrow” had me hopeful the LEGO Foundation folks *actually* got it. But I wasn’t sure.

As John Goodwin told the stories of the women in his family, reflecting on the relationships between their schooling paths and their career paths, my hesitation started to fall away. Then he put up this slide:

I grinned. The CEO of LEGO was speaking my language. And it got better from there.


My notes from the rest of the opening plenary are brief and enthusiastic scribbles about how Goodwin and then Jaime Saavedra were explaining to this room of 400 people–in much the same language I’ve used with much smaller groups–that our schools are expressions of education systems with outdated priorities, why that needs to change, and how the current research supports the new systems prioritizing nurturing creative and self-expressed humans. By the time they turned us loose to play for a few hours, the certainty that this was a crowd I’d find collaborators and friends in had me nearly dizzy with excitement.

I came back to earth pretty quickly. My first stop when exploring the LEGO House was an experiment group where half of us were instructed to be playful, half were told not to play, and we were all charged with making “ducks or creatures like ducks.” Being in the “playful” group, I made a well-eyebrowed hydra duck. When time was up, I was surprised to hear others in my group comment that they felt insecure about being less creative than me. When the facilitator of the experiment asked to interview someone from each side, my group nominated me “as the resident artist.” All in all, the experiment was interesting and fun. That said, rather than walking away reflecting on the difference in experience when an activity is framed as as a work assignment versus as play, I found myself reflecting on what impacts the amount of permission we give ourselves to be silly, how to re-teach adults to play, what alienates people from their creativity, and how my reaction to hearing someone else experience my play as devaluing theirs was an impulse to shrink that hasn’t felt that strong since junior high. It was fascinating…

Playing a few other games, finding adults who did want to play together, and talking to the “Play Guides” (the facilitator, play-worker staff) about their experiences pulled me out of my head, and I was re-centered pretty quickly. When I rounded a corner and saw a group of kids in the car-building space, the part of me that always protests after too many hours of adult-only sessions at ALC events and relaxes when the kids show up sent appreciation and thanks to whatever conference-planner thought to invite them.

The afternoon started with Sir Fazle Abed receiving an award and sharing about his journey growing BRAC. Hearing him cite Freire as inspiration and discuss how intentional he’d been about keeping BRAC’s operations community-based, I was reminded that ALC is part of a movement with a very long, rich, and encouraging history. I made a mental note to sign up for the session on BRAC’s parent and playworker education approach for the next day.

Chernor Bah spoke next. He shared about how his school teachers had complained about his playfulness, how his mom had encouraged him to keep playing, and how his ability to connect with others through play served him through war, displacements, and language barriers. He also talked about becoming aware that he’d been encouraged and able to develop his playfulness more than his sisters, which motivated him to think about and then found an organization to address gender inequality. Chernor didn’t really speak about his experiences as a youth activist, advocate, and organizer–which makes sense, I guess, since the topic was ‘play’ and learning journeys–but I’d read a little bit about his work before. Pretty awe-inspiring…

After the talks, we dispersed back through the LEGO House to hear other speakers’ stories of how they came to be who they are and do what they do. I ended up with my shoes off, in a giant pool of Duplo bricks, discussing the MIT Media Lab and how to keep misogyny from discouraging our teen girl gamer-maker-creators or convincing them to shrink themselves.

My last ‘formal’ session of the day was one recommended for first time conference attendees: “What do we mean by Learning Through Play?” One of the presenters has a hand in training most of the playworker/facilitator staff in the LEGO House, so I was curious to experience his facilitation.

The LEGO foundation has pretty illustrations of their 5 characteristics of play and 5 holistic development skills developed through play on their website, but it was fun to hear a bit about their research process. *And* I learned through that session that their whitepaper is available online. Excited to read that and share it with the SDE community.

Between all this, I’d gotten to chat with a bunch of rad and inspiring people who set up libraries and children’s museums, who worldschool and free school, who run maker-spaces and national education systems, who play and who parent. AND I walked around outside a bunch. Got back to my hotel tired, grateful, and curious about what I’d learn processing all my notes.


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.

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!

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.

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: