Reflections from ALF Summer 2016 (Week 2)

The second week of ALF Summer was so much fun! I got to meet some new facilitators who were not there the first week, and we got a whole bunch of kids for the camp. I was looking forward to week two for two main reasons: to see how facilitators interact with the kids, and to see how my own kids would be in an ALC environment.

Outside of my kids just being at home with me (ages seven, five, and three years), they have only known Sudbury. My oldest, Elena, was at Sudbury for two years. Jack, my middle child, was there for one year. Elena was pretty well versed in how Sudbury operated and I believe she attended School Meeting fairly consistently. The culture at this Sudbury school was one where most of the time the kids spent on electronics, because not much else was going on. Staff were supposed to be present and willing to help or engage the kids, but not initiate such interactions. Since we were lacking older kids, the environment was lacking.

This was actually one of the first things that interested me in ALCs – the energy, variety of activity, and relationships between the facilitators and kids. We visited Mosaic in February and were only there for one day, but I immediately knew this was something completely different than we had back home. Many of the fundamental elements were similar, but the results were starkly different – something not easily articulated, but something easily felt. I had subbed at Sudbury a few times, and it was enough for me to realize that something was off. The way the model was in practice, at least for Atlanta, did not quite work. Seeing Mosaic, and watching Nancy (I didn’t have much time with Jess or Charlotte that trip) was eye-opening. I realized the importance of having a facilitator/staff who was awesome in that role and who chose that position because it is what they want to do. One of the problems Sudbury seemed to have was that some staff were in that role by default, because others did not want to do it, or would not do it for free/low wages. So with the lack of engaged staff, the emphasis on keeping parents out, and with the lack of older children, the kids at Sudbury would just default into their habit of playing on electronics for a great amount of time.

We also saw how that governance structure quickly made kids, even at the young ages of seven and eight, into us adults – they devolved, just as us adults did, into arguing the legalities of bylaws and policies and procedures, and the validity of meetings – rather than focusing on what the other person was trying to say or express. The focus was much more on the adherence to the structures, and practically none on the people or relationships. For me, ALCs were well formed and defined, something we could move towards. I had spent a lot of time defending Sudbury, mostly because I felt like people were trying to chip away at it, without a clear picture of what we were moving towards. Doing that felt uncomfortable, because I had no idea of what we might end up with. After reading the starter kit, ALCs seemed like something we could build towards and we would all know what it was we wanted to achieve.

So for my own kids, I was really looking forward to week two of camp, because it was serving as sort of a test run to see how my kids would adapt. For Elena, she adapted quite well. She is a very social, energetic, outgoing person, so she loved all of the people and activities going on. She even commented one night after dinner, about all of things we would need to start doing at our new school – she said we would need spawn points, small boards, sharing, and a big board for set-the-week. She did talk about needing a rule for something she encountered at Mosaic, so the language is probably something that will take a little longer to change. For Jack, I was really wondering how he would do. We have had some unique challenges with him, so I really was curious to see how he would do with meetings. I have to say that I was actually pleasantly surprised – by mid-week he knew where his spawn point was and could go there on his own without me needing to walk him there to make sure he went in and stayed in the room. As far as I know, he sat through the morning and afternoon spawn points and participated in them by sharing his daily intentions and reflections. He also was fairly vocal about getting freeze tag up on the board at the daily set-the-day meeting. Jack even walked up to show what time he wanted to play tag during a set-the-day meeting. Even Peanut, at the age of three, did pretty well for attending meetings. I was curious how the younger ones would do during the meetings, but they actually participated for the most part, or would be crawling all over a facilitator (in a somewhat quiet manner). It was actually really great to see a mix of ages in the spawn points, since our location will have mixed ages from the start. I was able to see that it can work, and the kids adapt pretty quickly to a new environment and new rhythm to their day.

I also tried to back away from my kids, to allow them the space to experience things without me constantly being there. This was especially an exercise for Jack and Peanut. Peanut did well finding things to do without me being there making suggestions for her. Jack did ok I suppose, but his default still seems to be playing on his tablet. He seems to need or want someone to show him what he can be doing, which is challenging. I still have minimal concerns about his ability to transition into other activities once he is on an electronic device, and I would love to hear more from others on this topic. I know he wants to do other things, and is sad or upset when he misses certain activities, but he cannot seem to pull himself away from an electronic long enough to actually think for a moment and make an informed decision. So I am not sure what to do about that … or if there is anything I could or should do, or if I should just do nothing.

For myself, this second week has barely any notes (unlike my first week). I went to just two discussions: one on marketing and one on a student exchange program among the ALCs. Instead I spent my time joining in on games, which was awesome. I already like playing all kinds of games, so I loved having the opportunity to play games with so many people of all ages. I had not played capture the flag since I was a kid, so it was great to start off the camp week with that as the opener. We had a lot of people playing, and it was great to see kids and facilitators organize it at the start, and then realize that we needed to alter the rules a bit to make things work better for everyone and to enable the game to actually have an end. At the end of that first day I watched Werewolves played for the first time, and it looked like lots of fun. Elena also watched, since she did not know how to play. We both looked forward to joining the game the next time we could.

On Wednesday both Elena and I played Werewolves for the first time, and it was great! We had over twenty people join that game, and we had to cut it short because it could not be finished within the hour slot. We plan to introduce games like this to everyone at our school, so that they can have fun with us too. Resistance was another game we played later in the week, and it is awesome too.

I played tag outside a few times – freeze and perpetual. Jack was very fixated on playing freeze tag every day, and was sad when it did not happen, mostly due to not enough people to play. But he did enjoy learning how to play perpetual tag from Liam, so now we can mix it up a bit. Peanut finally got to play hide and seek, which we combined with tag at the park. Elena’s other favorite activity of the week was learning to skateboard. She has talked about wanting to try it for a while, and this was her first opportunity to even try getting on a board. And so now she wants to buy one, so we will be looking into that for her.

I only attended two adult talks during this second week, because I wanted to watch and learn as much as I could from the experienced facilitators. This is what I needed, to help me see how things are in practice. And there are several scenarios that stand out for me:

  • Nari doing very well talking with the kids during a pillow fight session when some smaller kids were being hurt – she focused on explaining the consent aspect to them;
  • Lacey’s awesome respect for children of all ages, and ensuring they have space to talk about what is going on or what is upsetting them – particularly seeing her ask Peanut if she wanted to say anything about the situation when she was hurt during the pillow fight – she really allows the kids to have their own voice, so that adults do not talk for them or just take over the situation;
  • hearing facilitators like Bear and Jess (just the ones that stand out at the moment) talking very honestly with kids and clearly expressing how they are feeling;
  • seeing Amber with the kids, and being very patient walking Peanut back and forth one day when Peanut was wanting me – Amber reminded me again, that adults can be honest with kids;
  • seeing Jess handle some real conflict between two of the campers when I had no idea what to do about what I had just seen;
  • seeing Ryan and Heath playing so much with the little ones, like Peanut and Elle especially – it was great to see them being so playful and patient with the small kids, and it was also to see the small kids get comfortable so quickly with brand new people while being in a brand new environment, in a brand new routine;
  • seeing Rebekah facilitate with the younger kids in a variety of activities – I know they must have had a blast;
  • Liam’s calmness – this actually more related to the first week, but carried into the second week – his relaxed nature was often very comforting when a lot of other things going on seemed chaotic and loud, so I really appreciated him;
  • Abby, during the first week – she very naturally could listen to the adults in the room, seemed to really think and process what they were saying, and then respond in a thoughtful manner – she really facilitated the adult discussions in some great, awesome ways that are somewhat hard to put into words, and her presence and personality had a comforting and calming effect for me (I would love to see her with kids!);
  • Drew, during the first week, telling us that we do not have to do something just because someone tells us to, that it is ok to be introverted and uncomfortable.

What stands out for me from all these moments (and the ones I cannot think of at this moment) are these qualities: honesty, trust, respect, patience, self-awareness, reflection, individuality, diversity, collaboration, coordination, empowerment, expression, understanding, energy, enthusiasm, confidence, security, flexibility, adaptability, agility, compassion, challenge, growth, learning, community, listening, hearing, watching, seeing, connecting, playing, fun, encouraging, intentionality, thinking.

As I said and put on a sticky note at the end of my last day – I had to see it to understand it. I had to see ALC soil, roots, branches, and leaves in practice to truly get it. Just reading about it all in the starter kit, and seeing it for just one day at Mosaic, is nothing compared to experiencing it, being immersed in it, and seeing people actually living it. I still feel like there is so much more to learn and experience, so I hate not being there for the third and final week. It seems like we have only been introduced to all of these things, and now we will begin to implement them at our own school. Which seems somewhat scary, crazy, and exciting all at the same time. I just look forward to getting to know everyone more as our group here in Atlanta continues our adventure!

Reflections from ALF Summer 2016 (Week 1)

I am doing this after I typed my reflections on week two, so it is somewhat backwards. Right after week one I typed all of my notes from the whole week so that I could share them with our whole Atlanta group. Doing actual reflections of the week seemed hard for me though, so I did not add many of my own thoughts or experiences. After doing the second week reflections though, I felt I could now go back and try to share some of the things that stood out most to me.

Heading up to Charlotte I really did not have many thoughts on what the training would be like. For me, information is very important, and since we had not really gotten many details on what would be going on, we really did not know what to expect. I had heard a little bit about the New York training from Julia and Victoria, but a lot of what they experienced seemed hard for them to explain to me. Julia described a lot of what she felt, while Victoria was able to give me some information on things they discussed, what they did, and the impact it had on her.

So walking into Mosaic the first day I really did not have many preconceived ideas of what may be going on. The only thing I knew is that I would probably be fairly uncomfortable – Julia knows me well, and knew I would find some of the activities very challenging. And she was right. My first thoughts when I walked into the kitchen and seeing so many people gathered in there and talking with one another was that there is an apparent lack of diversity (a challenge at the school level too). My second thought was how it was a lot of people I did not know much about (besides a brief introduction form we all filled out), and that it was going to be a lot of work to get to know them (my own personal challenge). I also wondered how many people were new and how many people already knew each other and had been working together.

We got started at 9am in the big room, and were quickly thrown into some very awkward and uncomfortable exercises. Walking around the room (milling) and having to look people in the eyes was very difficult for me, because I had never even seen these people before and I did not even know their names. After doing some iterations of that for a bit, we ended up with a random partner to do an even longer eye staring exercise, which was even more uncomfortable for me because I was paired with Nancy. I had not seen or spoken to Nancy since we visited Mosaic in February, and there had been a lot that had gone on at Sudbury in Atlanta so I did not know what she thought of me and our group. These exercises felt like a very formal, forced way of getting to know someone, or connecting with them. I am sure that some people respond well to these types of things, so I hope I do not come across as super critical or negative. For me personally, I just prefer smaller groups or even one on one interaction, so the large group of forty plus people was somewhat overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. I am much more likely to connect with someone by having more organic, authentic one-on-one or small group conversations. But I also realize that I am new to this, so maybe there are things that I just do not know, and maybe there are good reasons for doing things in this way.

I felt relieved when Bear said we were going to go outside and move a giant tree limb from across the street onto the church property. Physical activity was much easier than the two hours of uncomfortableness I had just experienced. Moving the tree was little chaotic due to lack of planning, but that really did not matter to me. I just patiently waited while others debated on how to get it across the street, and then I pushed when they decided we should push. We left it on the sidewalk, because it was a greater challenge to move than some had anticipated. They decided we would figure out what to do with later. After another day or so we went back out and moved it up onto the hill and off the sidewalk once someone came up with a better, easier way to move it.

I had heard about Acroyoga from Julia and Victoria when they were in New York, and did not like the sound of it. But again, I found it much easier to participate in than starting into other people’s eyes. So thanks for Abby for providing me with another break!

Later in the week, on maybe Tuesday or Wednesday, we played Allies. For me, Allies was a much better game to play in order to get to know one another and connect with people. As an introvert, I was able to participate in the game without having to be the one stepping into the center of the room and saying something to the group.

Early in the week we tried to have a discussion on the structure of all the ALCs, so that we could try to get information on how they are running, how they are communicating with one another, and how committees and workgroups are functioning. It seemed challenging to get at the information we were seeking, so Tomis recommended that he meet with just our group to discuss some of these issues. One of the things I found helpful during that discussion is something Bear said. He said something along the lines of, “trust in oneself and others, to decide whether something should go to the larger group for decision, or whether I can make this decision myself.” I liked this because this is rooted in trust, at many levels – instead of voting/getting consent from everyone to give permission to a group or individual to make a decision, we are trusting that Coherence Holder to decide what he/she can do, or if something should come back to a larger group for decision-making. We are trusting the individual to know what is best as Coherence Holder, because the CH trusts him/herself. I felt like this would an important shift for our group to make.

Mid-week we had our group discussion with Tomis. It gave Shelby, Kathryn, Anthony and I an opportunity to hear about many of the shifts in thinking we would need to make. The main point was changing our view to see the facilitators as the nucleus, with everything emanating from them. Our group already knew this to some degree, but hearing Tomis reiterate that over and over, and showing us some fancy diagrams, really drilled it into my head even more. Hearing it too, is more helpful than just reading about it. Especially since I was hearing it again and again, from different people we were around, in many different versions.

Nancy joined our conversation with Tomis, and it gave us an opportunity to talk with them both to let them know how we were feeling. Speaking for myself, I felt awkward around Tomis and Nancy due to all the history that had gotten us to this point. I definitely felt better after having that conversation, and did not feel uncomfortable anymore around either of them. Going to game night on Thursday was really great too, since we were able to just all play together. Kathryn, Shelby and I played several games with Nancy, and it was really a lot of fun. Jason and Jen hosted that awesome game night, and I really appreciate their fantastic game hosting skills! It was great to just simply hang out with everyone for a couple hours.

Ultimately the thing that had the most impact for me were these random conversations with one person or a small group. There were some really great conversations that happened between offerings that really allowed me to get to know people better or just connect with them.

  • Anthony and I had a great lunch conversation with Jason and Jen – and I appreciate Jason coming over and sitting at our table with us (because I am also not likely to initiate conversations with people I do not know). Jen joined us too, and we all talked about so many things. I appreciate having that opportunity to get to know them better, and to hear their story of how they got there.
  • Arthur sat down at the table with us too one day, and we had a great conversation with him. I definitely feel more comfortable with people once I am able to have those direct conversations with people, so I can feel out who they are a little more.
  • We had dinner with Tomis and Nancy on Friday, which was a lot of fun and gave us all an opportunity to get to know each other more.

The sessions were really beneficial too, in a more informative kind of way. Many of these things will help our group, I just hope we will be able to describe these things clearly, and then be able to implement them effectively. I am sure some of it will be a bit messy at first, but I know we can figure it out!

  • I gained a clearer understanding of Coherence Holder after hearing many people talk about it and describe it; but seeing it used over and over was even more helpful. I think using Coherence Holder in our group will help to simplify some things for us, versus what we had been using.
  • Arthur lead a discussion on Language that Moves, which will also be great for our group to use. The point is so we can be clear in what we are saying. If we all agree to communicate in this manner, then it will not be seen as abrasive or assertive (which is not the norm for our culture right now, to talk in this direct way). A request includes the following: to whom, for what, and by when. The person receiving the request can: accept, decline, or counter offer.
  • During a discussion on Group Dynamics, Jess hit on the importance of building culture, and how they focused on it at Mosaic for a year. She used the example of spawn points being more than just intentions/reflections/sharing – it is like a family with great relationships, playing games and talking things out, really get to know each other. I would love to hear more of her thoughts on this.
  • Facilitator check-ins with each other – this is something Abby mentioned during the Group Dynamics talk, and I would like to hear more about.
  • Arthur – minimal structure for maximum impact. I felt that this reiterated what Tomis was explaining to our group.
  • From the Parent Interest Night discussion with Tomis, there were several key ideas that came out of that:
    • The key when talking to parents is to understand what their fear is. Listen to their question, and then try to get to the root of that question, in order to be able to address it correctly.
    • There is a relationship between the child and facilitator – this is the key to everything. Always reminds me of when Julia said, “learning happens through relationships.”
    • ALC is preparing kids to create a different world (I liked this Tomis quote).
    • We want to provide them with a different experience.
    • When talking with unschoolers – it is just a different expression of that; community is the focal point for ALCs.
    • A benefit for a child attending an ALC is that they learn how to find their own teachers. Information is out there, but when a child needs help, they know when they need to ask for help, and so they learn how to find that help.

I also process slower and need time to think and reflect. The daily reflections that we did as a large group were challenging for me because I often just need more time to think about everything, so writing this is giving me that opportunity. I also do not like speaking in such a large group like we had, and the anxiety of feeling forced to speak would cloud my ability to actually just think and reflect on my day. So thank you to Drew for telling us to do this! And thanks to Shelby for giving me some helpful tips during the car ride home so that I could believe I could actually write this, by helping me get over my fear of thinking I cannot possibly write anything other people may be interested in reading. Once Shelby identified that feeling as a fear, I figured I might as well challenge myself!