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!

5 thoughts on “Reflections from ALF Summer 2016 (Week 1)”

  1. Wow, Rachel, thank you so much for writing this. This was really engaging to read and I am really thankful you decided to put your experience in writing!
    I also prefer smaller groups and organic and natural connections…and I see the value of the big group games and activities. It was interesting to read your reflection because I can see a little bit of myself in there 😉 I feel so much happier and at ease when people to come to me and initiate a conversation, when I try to do it I always feel a little awkward.
    Again, thanks for sharing this. I relieved week one as a read it – you captured so many details!

    1. Thanks for reading it, Nancy. I was nervous to share these, so I really appreciate you commenting on it.

      I also look forward to getting to know you better 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing, Rachel! This felt very fresh to read – I felt like we were sitting chatting on the lawn and I was really gottimh to see the week through your eyes.

  3. Love it, thanks for sharing! There is so much good information in here that will help us craft better experiences in the future. I often find groups of new people overwhelming and hard to approach, I’ve just gotten better at faking it over the years 🙂

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