Sharing Our Learning

Once a week we set aside some time for students to share something from the week – with themselves, or with the community or with whatever audience they choose.  Sharing what you have learned is part of learning in community, but is not something we get to practice very much in traditional school.

This is the area that I think is the most under development at ALC.  Part of it is that the tools available are rapidly shifting.  I am excited to write again after our first year and reflect on our practices that have formed during the year.

Students might blog, draw, journal, write letters, write plays, write songs.  What is key is that their experience and analysis is at the center, and that they are developing a portfolio of material to share with themselves or other people at a later date as a way of reflecting on their own learning.

What are some of the ways you share what you have learned with other people?

 

Meetings! (Quick, useful meetings)

Another kind of tool we use in Agile Learning are meetings.  Face to face meetings are a very efficient way to share information.  They are brief and focused, so that we can get back to whatever people are choosing to do with their day.

DAILY MEETINGS – INTENTION, REFLECTION, GRATITUDE

We have two or three meetings that frame the day.

The first is a Morning Meeting where the community breaks into small groups, and each member checks in with their group and states their intentions for the day.  It’s a powerful efficient tool that accomplishes several things at once.  First, it grounds each individual in the community, where they are both heard and hold space for others to speak.  Second, it transitions them from whatever was happening before school to their day, and allows them to bring their attention to the day ahead.  Third, it gives everyone a chance to say out loud what they are intending to do.  As we all know, not all the intentions are going to happen, but moving into the day with intention helps us to not move through the day in reaction to other people’s agendas.   A group of 10 people might meet ten minutes.

Mirroring the Morning Meeting is the Afternoon Meeting, where group members return to their group and reflect to themselves and to the group how the day went and what they did, how they did or did not meet their intentions, and whatever else they want to mention. Again, a quick and powerful meeting that brings additional awareness to each individuals capacity to shape their day, and what the results are.

The entire group might come back together and share Gratitudes.  A chance to be grateful, and recognize the abundance around you, contributes to each individual’s well being, and to the well being of the group.  It’s also a great chance to check in with the entire community.

CHECK IN/CHANGE UP

I spoke about Check In/Change Up in a previous post.  That meeting happens once a week at a time that is good for the school, and is where we make new agreements to reinforce community norms.  We will alternate weekly between Thursdays and Fridays to be able to incorporate every part time member of our group.

SET THE WEEK

Usually, Morning Meeting starts the day, but on Monday or the first day of the week, we start with Set the Week.  At this meeting, everyone figures out times for activities that multiple people might participate in, so that key activities don’t overlap.  We draw a calendar of Monday to Friday, broken into 1 hour blocks, and decide what activities might happen when.  Anybody in the group might make an offering about a particular activity at a particular time – anything from a game of kickball to a math class.  Some of the offerings require a firm commitment from the people participating to account for supplies, etc.  Most offerings people can choose in the moment whether or not to participate.  All offerings are optional – nobody is required to attend anything, except these regular meetings.

In the next post, I’ll take about some ways we share our learning.

Agile Learning Tools

In this post, I’ll describe some of the tools we are currently using to facilitate community and learning.  First a little bit about why these tools.

If you are in software development, or know anybody who is, you might have guessed that the term “Agile” means a lot of things, and also references the software development process of the same name.  I encourage you to look into what Agile is, but in the briefest summary it is about developing software quickly in rapidly released small parts, rather than trying to get a huge piece of software planned, developed and released in one chunk.  The reason agile is better is that with small releases and the feedback that comes with it, you can constantly make small course correction so that the finished product is closer to what the user actually needs, instead of what the planners thought the user needed.

At Philly ALC, we are not developing software.  We are also not developing children.  Like a good Agile process, we are developing a team (or in our case, a community), and facilitating collaboration.  The tools used in Agile take what individuals are thinking and make those internal thoughts external.  Everyone’s brain is shared into one large thinking organism but writing things out where everyone can see them.  The tools also take what is implicitly happening, and makes it explicit, so everyone can see and agree specifically what is happening, instead of guessing, which significantly improves collaboration and the strength of community agreements.  Making the internal external.  Making the implicit explicit.  Making in invisible visible.

An Agile space is filled with visual cues, collections of intentions and processes, and agreements spelled out and shared.

A quick word about tools – these are not the heart of an ALC, they are an expression.  These tools I will describe are the tools being used right now, common in ALC’s around the world.  These tools are all works in progress, and a community might choose to use them or not as helpful.  You yourself might incorporate these practices wherever you collaborate.  Your work.  Your family.

CONSENSUS SEEKING

Instead of voting and majority rule, we use consensus seeking as our primary tool fro group decision making.  The group seeks to find a solution we all agree to, even if some people have small reservations, and as long as nobody has any deep, blocking concerns where they cannot move forward if this decision is made.  This eliminates an either/or, us/them dynamic in the group, and instead puts the focus on seeking a solution that works for everyone, and also releasing some of your own tightly held convictions for the good of the group.

KANBAN

Imagine a white board, where everyone can see it, with three columns.  The columns are labeled To Do, Doing and Done.  In the To Do column are a number of cards, each with a task.  We can easily see everything that needs to happen.  When someone decides to take on a task, they move it to the Doing column. At any time we can see how many things are going on right now.  When a task is complete, we move it to the Done column.  We can see what already has been completed.

This is a powerful, flexible tool for personal or group task management.  Students can use it to lay out a plan for the day, to capture all kinds of things they hope to do today or in the future, and have a record of things they have done.  Meeting participants can use it to set an agenda, and to run the meeting and focus the topic on what we are talking about, and mark what we have completed.  The school can use it to keep track of tasks, or community agreements (the Community Master Board mentioned in my last post).

You can use Kanban for any process that has steps.

GAMESHIFTING

Gameshifting is a technique used to facilitate a meeting so that everyone stays on the same page in terms of how the meeting is being run.  It involves a person whose job it is to decide on useful meeting parameters, which are shared with the group, and then are also changed during the meeting to reflect what is happening, or to change up what is going on to something more useful to the group.

I invite you to follow the Gameshifting link above to learn more about it, and see some examples of a game shifting board.

In the next post, I’ll describe some of the key meetings that make up a week at an ALC.

 

 

 

 

Are there any rules?

How do we intentionally create community? What are the tools we use?

I am going to discuss four tools that together, comprise our guides for being in community together:  Agreements, the Check In/Change Up Meeting, the Community Mastery Board, and Conflict Resolution Process.

AGREEMENTS

There is not a higher authority that hands down rules at this school.  We live by a set of community agreements, that the community itself has the power to change when it sees fit.  When I say agreement here and in the remainder of this post, I mean an agreement that the community has made together to guide our actions and behavior in a specific way to allow us to all be in the same space peacefully and beneficially.

Right now, there are six base agreements at our school.  These are agreements the entire community agrees to in order to join, and while that gives them a certain constitutional power, even these are subject to change by the community.  Those six agreements are:

  • Be kind to yourself, and to each other.
  • Use community resources mindfully.
  • Clean up.
  • Participate in meetings.
  • Honor agreements.
  • Share learning.

In addition, the community can create new agreements as it sees fit.  This is done principally at a weekly meeting:

CHECK IN / CHANGE UP MEETING

Once a week, the entire school community of students and facilitators gather to Check In about how things are going.  At this meeting, any community member can raise an Awareness.  An awareness is anything that you notice that you think requires the attention of the community.  Maybe it is something like “When everybody is playing loudly in the big room, it’s hard for me to read.”  Some awarenesses don’t require anything more than to be heard.  Some awarenesses require further attention or action, and will become part of the Change Up meeting.

At the Change Up part of the meeting, the community addresses some awarenesses by making an agreement to try something for a week.  “From 10-11 daily, we agree to play quietly in the big room so people can focus.”  This agreement goes onto the

COMMUNITY MASTERY BOARD

The Community Mastery Board, or CMB, is a tool for capturing and tracking community agreements.  A CMB is a whiteboard with a number of stickies on it.  It has four columns:

  • Awareness
  • Testing
  • Practicing
  • Mastered

Over the week, whenever anyone has an awareness, they can write it down and put it on the CMB in the Awareness column.  This forms the agenda for the Check In part of the meeting.  During the Change Up part of the meeting, some awarenesses are addressed with community agreements, and are placed in the testing column, where it will sit for a week, and be evaluated at the next Change Up meeting.  If the agreement needs to be adjusted, changes can be made and tested for another week, or perhaps the agreement isn’t necessary and gets thrown out.  If the agreement is working for everyone, it gets moved into practicing.  Agreements in practicing are followed by the community, until it is so second nature to the community, and has become part of the regular culture, that it is moved into the mastery column.

CONFLICT RESOLUTION PROCESS

When everyone honors the community agreements, for the most part the community can work together peacefully.  Sometimes, conflicts will still arise.  We provide everyone in the community with a process they can use to help address these conflicts.

The first step is to stop and breathe, to help notice how you are feeling, and decide what, if anything, you want to do about it.

The second step is to talk to the person with whom you are having the conflict and try to work it out.

The third step is to get help.  Ask someone else in the community to support a discussion about the conflict.

If those steps do not resolve the conflict, you can file a request to the Culture Committee.  This a group of people in the school who have agreed to make themselves available to help resolve conflicts within the community, made up of facilitators and students.  Culture Committee has some authority to require action from community members to keep the space safe and compatible with learning in community.  The goal is to seek resolution to the conflict by having all parties express the conflict and what they need to move forward.

These tools create the structure of the community we build intentionally to support learning together.

What are we doing?

I’m working with a group of families in Philadelphia to start an Agile Learning Community.  This blog is a place for me to capture that journey so other people who are interested in something similar can learn about what we did.  My first few posts will be to describe what starting an ALC means.  I’ll start with that the school looks like.

The most visible result will be a school where kids aged 5-18 gather each day, in a community with other kids and a few adult facilitators, to choose what they want to do, do what they want to do, reflect on what they did, and share some of their learning with each other.

Breaking that down with as little jargon as possible:

Students and Facilitators are in a community together.  Everyone knows everyone else.  The community makes a number of agreements with each other to create a space where everyone feels safe to be themselves.  Everyone shares their needs, hopes and interests, and supports each other.

Each day, students and facilitators will gather and state out loud what they are intending to do that day.  Nobody chooses for them, or even recommends what they should do.  How anyone spends their time is up to them, to accomplish the goals they want to accomplish.  (I’ll get more into the why of this in later posts, but for now feel free to check out information from the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.)  There is not a whole lot of structure to the school day, but one of the important structures is a time for setting intentions.

Then, kids and facilitators do what they want to do all day.  Facilitators do have a job of maintaining a safe space, and supporting students, but they also model following their interests, passions and intentions.  Kids do what they choose.  All day, every day.  Sometimes they will do things together.  Sometimes groups will organize around a particular subject or interest or intention.  Sometimes a student will dig into something on their own for days or weeks.  Sometimes a student will just read, or take a nap, or go visit another spot in the city.  Sometimes the students will follow their intentions, sometimes they will just make it up as they go.  The students will do what they want during the day.

Then, at the end of they day, everyone gathers together to reflect on what they did.  They might share how their day went.  They might share what intentions they followed and what intentions they did not do, and why or how.  They might share gratitudes.  At the beginning of the day, we provide space for intention, and at the end we provide space for reflection.

And every once in a while, students share what they have been up to.  They might blog, or podcast.  They might journal, or write a play.  They might draw some pictures, or scrap book.  In some form, they transform something they have learned into something shareable.

That’s it.  That’s the school we are making.  Our journey so far has been deciding that this is the kind of school we want to make, and then bringing together the families and resources to make it happen.  Next post, I’ll go just a little deeper into some of the tools we will use at the school.