Agile Learning Centers Network Spring 2020 Webinar Series
“How and Why to Co-Create A Schedule”
with Antonio Buehler of Abrome
[00:00:01] – Antonio
Hello, everyone. Good to see you all for the third episode of the Agile Learning Centers (ALC) webinars. This week, we’re going to talk about how and why to create a schedule at Agile Learning Centers: Set the week, Set the day.
Here’s the agenda. As you might have seen on the actual evite, at Agile Learning Centers we co-create the schedule that helps orient us through the day. In this webinar, we’ll discuss why we have this practice, some of the tools we use and how we facilitate schedule building in age-mixed groups.
My name is Antonio Buehler, he/him. I am at Abrome, which is an Agile Learning Center in Austin, Texas. I want to challenge, undermine and create alternatives to oppressive systems, so we can move towards a freer, healthier world. That’s why I’m at Abrome, although my prior experiences may not lead one to actually believe that that’s where I’m heading in life. But we live long lives, and fortunately for many of us, there’s lots of opportunity to grow in spite of our past backgrounds.
This is part of the ALC webinars. The first week we discussed the ALC roots. Last week we discussed 21st century learning. And this week we’re talking about co-creating a schedule.
So, definitions and key terms. I’m just going to repeat some of the stuff that was actually brought up in the first webinar that Abby threw out, because I think that they’re good to revisit. “Education is a process by which one learns, and that is everything in our lives. Experiencing, exploring, applying and changing“. Great quote there from Robin Wall Kimmerer. Self directed education is what we do, it’s where the learner steers their journey. Doesn’t mean that it’s individual or solitary, but it means that they ultimately get to make the decisions that are relevant to their lives. And we are facilitators, we help hold the space and support the flow within these communities.
The Agile Learning Center network is a global network of 72 or so communities that are either ALCs or are using ALC tools. And this is the ALC education model. This is an old graphic, this is from 2016. But this has…this is what many ALCs really use to guide themselves in terms of what their model is, what the education model is. And there’s four parts of it. There’s the soil, the roots, the branches and the leaves.
[00:03:12] – Antonio
Abby focused on what the roots were, two weeks ago. But there’s the soil, branches and leaves that we haven’t talked about yet. I’ll just say a little bit more. The soil is the trust, right? We trust kids, we trust each other. The roots, Abby discussed what the roots were. The branches are those guiding principles that we use to translate theory into practice. And you can see on this slide, there’s things such as being agile, support, relationships, facilitate.
And then there are the leaves, which are sort of the tools that we use. So now let’s see the breakout, [for] seven minutes. How do the different parts of the Agile Tree support self-education, learners and your community? What matters most to you?
[00:04:07] – [slide]
What matters most to you?
[00:04:11] – Antonio
I mean, for me, we started in 2016, so this is our fourth year, and we didn’t start as an ALC. We just started out as an independent, self directed education community. Part of my challenge was, which is where I’m going with the next slide (it’s the same as the previous slide), but, you know, I was concerned that ALCs were all about the tools. Because everyone wants to know, what’s the deal with the ALC tools – what are the tools, what are the tools? I’m like, I don’t actually care about the tools. The tools are nice to have. I care about the underlying values that really drive what we’re doing. And if we don’t have those underlying values, then the tools are just things that can be used to manipulate kids.
And so I was actually really slow to really commit to becoming part of the ALC community, until I went to my first ALF [Agile Learning Facilitator] training, and I saw firsthand how a lot of people who are there, who were dipping their toes into it, are there to ask very specific questions about the ALC tools. How does this work? And I was asking those questions as well, because I want to know what different people are doing. But what made me so thrilled about this community was that people kept going back to the roots, people kept going back to trusting kids. And the tools were just there to support them along the way. And so that’s what got me really excited about the ALC network, and that’s ultimately what led us to really commit to be more involved in this community.
That’s where I was going with this sort of question, because I think that a lot of people may be tuning into this webinar, either those of us who are here right now or those who are going to want to come back and look at the webinar in the future, and they’re going to be here to see how the tools work and how do I apply this to my community. But ultimately, the tools, they’re just tools. They’re not what really matters at the end of the day.
So going back to this, we are back at the ALC education model. The soil is trust and I think that’s extraordinarily valuable, just trusting kids, right. Trusting kids to be able to make decisions with regards to their lives. I’m going to go back to the Agile roots, and this is directly from the slide that Abby shared two weeks ago: ‘Learning is natural and happening all the time’, ‘People discover their purpose and passions through making their own choices and children are people’. ‘We learn from what we experience – so the medium is the message’. ‘We experience growth in cycles, through intention, exploration, reflection and sharing’. And what’s interesting, as I was thinking about this webinar and the Set the week meeting in particular, was how so much of what makes Set the week actually valuable keeps coming back to the roots. I’ll explain that as we go forward.
[00:07:31] – Antonio
Now we’re going to talk about the actual blocking and tackling of Set the week. In most communities that I know of, Set the week is a mandatory meeting or there’s an expectation that one attends and there’s community agreements around that. And the reason [for that] is that we’re trying to build community with each other. ALCs are different than radical unschoolers because we have a very defined focus on building community with each other. I’m a big fan of unschooling. I encourage people to do it all the time. But one thing that is nice about ALCs is that we are committed to co-creating a community together and we recognize that all of us are better off when we’re in community with each other. And in order for us to be in community, we each have our own community agreements and almost everyone has an expectation that they attend the mandatory community meetings. And that includes the Set the week.
We co-create a schedule together and in the process, we’re co-creating culture. One of the benefits of self directed education is that children actually have autonomy and they get to choose how they’re spending their time, with the exception of them opting into our agreements to be a part of that community. But in most settings children are being told what to do all day, every day, and even the most empathic, well intentioned, caring, progressive schooling communities, who develop the most amazing sort of lessons or experiences for their kids, ultimately, those are very rarely something that they can opt in or out of. It’s almost always something that is expected or mandated. And it’s almost always driven by the adult. Most progressive education advocates, they really believe that the school is centered on the adult. The school is centered on an amazing progressive educator who is going to help create the educational experience for the child. It’s not about the child creating something for themselves. And so by co-creating the schedule, they have the opportunity to help define what that’s going to look like on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.
There is a sense of intentionality behind it. If we go back to the roots, there’s the cycles of intention, exploration, reflection and sharing. Set-the-week, co-creating a schedule, helps to set a little sense of intentionality right at the beginning of everything that we do. It’s not something that everyone is going to fully buy into at the beginning. A lot of people are going to decide to spend their days just doing what they want to do and just flowing, going with the flow. In one community, I believe [it was] Free to Learn, in Sacramento, they developed the term ‘freetopia’, meaning they’re just going to see how the day unfolds. But over time, with Set the week, there is a sense of intentionality. How am I going to approach the week? How am I going to approach the day? And of course, the Set the week can incorporate much longer timelines as well. It doesn’t just have to be a week-to-week basis.
Now, I’m going to talk about the components of the Set the week board. The Set the week board typically has different days – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – and the different times of the day. A lot of schools will start out at 9:00am and end at 3:00pm, and so they’ll break the day down according to that. I’m going to skip straight to this one as an example. This is out of ALC-NYC. I took a picture that I don’t think was meant for a slide – I just took a picture when I was there. But you can see it has different days and different hour blocks. That’s a great way to just sort of throw stuff up there. People can throw up their post-it notes for things that they’re going to have for that specific time slot, and then they can always include things that are kind of set week-to-week, such as Kickball or Cook Newb with Nancy, et cetera.
And then a lot of communities will have a Possibilities section of the Set the week board, and this is where they have ideas of things that they want to do. They can be really big things, like we want to do an overnight trip to a state park and go camping. Or it can be, we want to go on a big field trip that’s going to require lots of planning, so it’s not something that we can do this coming week, but let’s have it up there as a possibility, so we can do some planning around it, so that we can put it in there. We also sometimes have learners who say that they want to do something and it’s just sort of spur of the moment, “Can we do this?” And we’ll say, “No, not right now, but let’s throw it up as a possibility and maybe we can add it to the schedule for next week”.
[00:13:23] – Antonio
So those are the components of the Set the week board. There is a focus to Set the week boards. I wrote down four of what I think are good foci – I guess, is that the plural for ‘focus’? We can have activities that we wish to participate in or complete during the coming week. We can have reminders of recurring events or offerings. In most communities, there are going to be scheduled events based on the needs and interests of the individual learners, but in every community that I’ve been to, there are standing offerings. Every Monday at 2 o’clock, we do this, every Wednesday at 10 o’clock, we do this. Almost all of them are completely optional. Only when there is some sort of commitment required is there any expectation that people go. And then, of course, people can put their weekly community meetings up there as well.
There is a scheduling of group projects or trips, and so this is sort of combined with the last focus, which is resource planning. When it comes to logistics, when it comes to trying to figure out what resources are needed for offerings, the Set the week board is super, super helpful. It’s really helpful with dealing with learners, as you may know, who have really grand ideas as to what they would like to work on or do, but there are limitations on your community as to what you can do. Oftentimes those limitations include money and supplies. So there’s some things that just are beyond what’s possible. Sometimes the learners like to go to… in our community, they like to go to trampoline parks or ice skating, which are really fun, but those are things that cost money. They require a dedicated facilitator who is leaving the space for the day. It requires transportation. It requires taking learners away from other opportunities that other learners want to have more of the community be a part of. And so those are examples of the value of the Set the week, and the focus of the Set the week, so that we can go ahead and allocate necessary resources and take care of the logistics around those.
[00:16:09] – Antonio
I’m just plowing through that, but the good stuff’s coming up. There’s lots of examples of Set the week boards that we can look at. This is ALC-NYC. All of these are taken without explicit permission [laughs]. Here’s one from Heartwood ALC, when I was down there for the Racial Justice Summit. And then this one is from a startup ALC that was transitioning from a progressive model, Makarios, in Dallas/Fort Worth. And then this one is actually for pictures, because I could step back far enough to actually get the whole thing in, this is from Rivers and Roads, in Oklahoma City.
What you might notice with all of these is everyone looks a little bit different. They all have dates, they all have times, but they each have adapted the board to fit their needs as a community. And that’s a big part of the ALC education model – the leaves, they’re just tools. What I like about the tools is, in the ALC world, there’s a very explicit belief that the tools should be adapted to meet your needs. And if it doesn’t meet your needs, you should just get rid of it. The Kanban boards, for our learners, that’s just something that didn’t work for us. It was a big part of the ALC starter kit, but it was just something that was stressing out our kids and it wasn’t working for us and it was creating a lot of frustration for our learners. So we just dropped it. We didn’t see the need to do it just because it was in the starter kit. People should use this as they see fit. I do think that Set the week has immense value. I have not yet seen an ALC that doesn’t use it, but adapt it as you see fit.
[00:18:26] – Antonio
So, there are some considerations that I think should be addressed when it comes to Set the week. The first is, what day of the week are we going to have the meeting? Does anyone have any feelings about this?
[00:18:53] – Abby
I mean, that’s come up for us as we’ve moved to online, because when we are in the space all together, it works for us to have it first thing on Monday, as the start of that five day cycle. And we know that, from doing trainings, when you have a shorter kind of cycle, it’s helpful to do it each day, each morning, sometimes each morning and afternoon you check-in. But moving to online, we’re trying to fold in parents who aren’t necessarily at the meetings. And so we’ve kept doing the ritual of having a Set the week meeting with the kids in the usual time on Mondays, but we’ve changed our email, kind of broader community communications about it, to Sunday afternoons/evenings, so that families can look at the whole week, starting and including Monday morning. Which has been working for people.
[00:20:02] – Antonio
For us, we started off with Mondays because everyone was doing Mondays and we’re just like, that’s when you do it. And we actually found it really difficult to respond to people wanting to do a bunch of things on Mondays that require resources. We’re a little bit different than, say, New York, where you can take the subway, or some other communities where there’s a lot of walkable community options. We’re kind of out, away from the city and there’s really nothing that’s walkable other than trails and a convenience store that’s over a mile away. And so if we want to leave the space and go do something, that often requires us to get in the car and drive, and it was getting difficult trying to figure out on Monday morning what different outings they were going to have that day.
So we ended up shifting our Set the week to Friday morning. And for us, this worked out really, really well, because it allowed us to have a full day on Monday in which we could have things already set. It allowed us to send out the weekly emails to guardians, so that they knew what was coming up, so that they could check in with their learners – especially the guardians of younger learners – so that they could check in with their learners maybe Monday morning to remind them, “Hey, did you know that you all had this offering today?”. That’s been working well for us. But everyone should definitely toy with that to see what works best for them. Oh, also by having it on Friday, it really forces some of the learners to make plans for the next week. Of course, you want to be there to support the learners who may not be at that place where they can see out that far, but you can really support them and help them when they say, “I want to do this” and you can say, “Great, let’s go ahead and put that up on the possibility section of the Set the week and let’s touch base with that on Friday, so we can plan it for Monday”. And so it helps them sort of develop those skills of being able to commit to something in the future, to get other people to join on, etc.
One part of the Set the week that I neglected to say, I think in the last slides, was commitments. Most offerings that I’ve seen in various communities, they’re thrown out there and people can join in if they like. There are some offerings in which we explicitly ask for commitments. If Johnny wants to go to the lumber store and buy stuff to build something next Wednesday, that is going to require resources, going to require transportation, it’s going to require a facilitator to step out of space, and it’s going to require a dedicated pool of people to actually work on something that’s going to cost the community money. So that’s an opportunity where we say, OK, this sounds like something that we need commitments for. We need to actually have at least three people who are going to commit to participating in this and doing this, so that the facilitators don’t get too stretched driving one learner around town while the other facilitator is at the space dealing with many more learners.
[00:24:03] – Antonio
Or maybe there’s some sort of game and the game just requires four learners to play. And it’s really depressing, if you have an offering and you show up for it and you don’t have enough learners to play. Oftentimes people will ask for commitments when they’re putting things up on the Set the week board, so that they can actually make sure that offering happens. The interesting thing about commitments is, we’re a non-coercive space. It’s a community space where you have the autonomy to decide where you’re going to put your time and effort. But if you make a commitment to someone, it’s an expectation now that you’re actually going to show up. And we’ve had situations where people commit to participating and then it’s time for it to happen and they change their mind and say, actually, I don’t want to do it. And then it becomes sort of a dance, where we say, “But you committed to it”, and they say “But I don’t want to do it”. Then that’s often an opportunity, that’s often a way for them to learn the value of commitment. We typically, unless it’s something where there was a big plan to go drive and do something and there’s five other learners sitting there waiting for this one person to follow through, the usual answer is “OK. But in the future, when you make a commitment, people may not be eager to make space for you, especially if there’s limited slots”. And so that’s always an interesting thing that can play out of the commitments. All right, that was a little bit of a tangent.
All right, the role of the facilitator in leading offerings. This is a big one and this one is going to lead to a breakout. So, what is the role of a facilitator in leading offerings at an Agile Learning Center? This is a question that I think should be asked by everyone, particularly startups, but even the ones who aren’t startups, that have been working for a while. What is the role of the facilitator in leading the offerings that are ultimately put up on the Set the week board? And so the breakout is: What is the benefit of facilitator-led offerings?
[00:26:25] – [slide]
What is the benefit of facilitator-led (or adult-led) offerings?
[00:26:32] – Crystal
So I’ll say in our space, we have a lot of kids from public school, kids who haven’t had a lot of agency in their education, so having the facilitator-led offerings up there for them to participate in is kind of giving them some comfort to say, “OK, I’m not just here by myself. Here’s something that I can do that’s fun”. Now, you know, as soon as we get three or four of them together and they find something in the makerspace or something to play with, they just go off and do that. But at the beginning, especially when they’re bored, it’s good for me to be around to say, “Hey, here’s something that I think is fun, maybe you’ll think it’s fun too”.
[00:27:29] – Abby
So if my role as facilitator is to kind of remove obstacles, sometimes the obstacle is the kid’s fear that no one’s going to show up to their offering. So my job is to show up enthusiastically. Sometimes the obstacle is, they want to go on a field trip but can’t navigate the subways by themselves. And so then my job is to lead…not lead their offering like it’s my offering, but I am there. Sometimes, though, it’s that they don’t…Like, I don’t usually get asked for content offerings anymore. I did in the early years where people would be like, “Oh, you studied this thing and I’m interested in it”, or “I see you reading that book and it’s a topic I’m interested in. Can I join you?” This year it’s been a lot of like, I’m interested in taxidermy, but I don’t know where to get specimens or I’m interested in doing this kind of metal work, but I’m afraid of the chemicals. The facilitator-ledness of those offerings this year has been a lot more about, you know, managing people’s exposure to potentially hazardous tools and materials. And procuring those things that, you know, a 12 year old can’t necessarily, like go out and buy spray paint by themselves here.
[00:28:56] – Antonio
So under the considerations for the role of facilitator, I also ask, what is the role of the facilitator in an ALC community and what value are we providing to families? And I think that your questions really strike at that first one. I think that most unschoolers and most ALC facilitators fundamentally agree with the notion that we should be paying attention to what the kids’ interests are and supporting them in that regard, and that that could be something as simple as they’re really interested in dance, and you found out that there’s a dance troupe that’s coming through town and they’re going to be performing for two nights. And so you’re just letting them know that that’s available. Or you strew books that are on their topic out in the space, that they can stumble across and find, right. Or, if you’re interested or you want to support them, saying, “Hey, would you like to do this together?”
So there’s definitely all those opportunities to support them in that way. And I think that’s absolutely appropriate for facilitators at a self directed education space. I think that there is a line between being a facilitator who’s supporting their learning and becoming a teacher, who is trying to force certain lessons on them. One thing that we recognize is, we recognize that numeracy and literacy are extremely important. It’s hard to get by in this world without numeracy and literacy. Although fortunately, because of technology and a greater acceptance of diversity, we’re recognizing that there’s multiple forms of literacy and numeracy. But we’re a space that values numeracy and literacy. And so the learners will often see the facilitators reading in the space, for example, or offering a reading, sort of a reading circle type thing. Or they might see us playing with numbers or talking to each other about budgets. And they’re welcome to join in on that if they like. I think that no one on this call is sort of in the other SDE-type affiliated community worlds that are out there. But I do think that this is a great question that can highlight some of the differences between ALCs and democratic schools and the Liberated learning network. In the ALC world, it’s sort of, the facilitators are learners right alongside with the learners. We’re adult learners, we sometimes use that saying and we’re here to support them and help them. Whereas some of the Sudbury schools and democratic schools have a very hard line that the adults get in the way of learning, which is very often true. But the adults get in the way of learning, and so the adults should not interfere with what the learners are doing unless they’re specifically asked. So I can know this one learner loves dance. But if I were in one of those democratic communities that had like a hard line that says you are not to interfere, I wouldn’t be able to go tell them about the dance troupe that’s coming to town or I wouldn’t be able to suggest that we do some sort of choreography offering, because that would be me interfering, right.
[00:32:51] – Antonio
But in the ALC world, we’re just like, no, of course you want to support that. And you don’t have to sit back and wait for someone to tell you that they’re interested or that they want you to do something in order to offer something. You’re just being a good community member by being able to do that.
The Liberated learning model is interesting because they are self directed education, but their sort of business model is really centered around providing offerings for learners, almost providing classes for learners, that are still optional. But it becomes more schoolish in a way. They have history offerings, they have math offerings, they have writing offerings. And it’s up to everyone to decide what type of environment they’d like to be in, and I think that all these different models have value to the world, to children in the world. But. In that sort of… that gets to the second bullet there, what value are we providing families? I think that the communities that are really focused on providing a ton of offerings to the kids, they’re often doing it out of a fear that resides within the guardians of those families. The fear that they’re not getting enough schoolish-type learning and the fear that the kids are just going to sit there and waste their days away instead of doing something that’s productive in some manner. And so when they see a huge buffet of classes or offerings, it often makes the families feel really, really good to know that there’s a bunch of offerings that are out there.
This is a tension that I found personally since this pandemic started, because when the kids are with us at Abrome, there’s lots of downtime, there’s lots of time that they’re just playing games with each other or watching goofy YouTube videos or, you know, just doing stuff that normal society is like, “Oh, my God, they’re wasting our time”. But we know that there’s tremendous value in what they’re doing.
Now all of a sudden, they’re home and their parents are watching them the whole time, and their parents are like, wow, we’re paying tuition and what are my kids doing with all their time? And if they’re spending most of their time engaged in ways that the parents think, you know, is it really worth paying for this, having a ton of offerings available is a way to provide some sense of value to tuition paying parents. That may not necessarily be what’s best for the children.
[00:35:46] – Antonio
I think that second question is super valuable. I think that that is a reason why a lot of SDE communities and homeschool co-ops and etc are really all about providing as many offerings as possible, so that the parents feel that their kids are going to be engaged and doing stuff. Because a lot of people fear that if they’re just sitting around talking to each other, that’s wasteful. I disagree with that, but I’m feeling that tension in this remote type of experience right now.
Does anyone have any comments on that? I just said a lot.
[00:36:37] – Abby
We kind of regularly come up with this question in ALC conversations where someone will say, like, “I have an awareness that I’m feeling fear that the kids aren’t, you know… our space isn’t providing engagement with environmental activism enough or the kids aren’t doing enough seemingly academic things to soothe their parents concerns”. Which piece, like where people choose to move things, is always really interesting to me. Because you’ve got the like, the very surface level of “We should make a bunch of offerings on that topic then”, right? And there’s the version of that that I experienced at a free school when I was doing, like, facilitator training stuff, that was like “We will make an offering, but it’s not really an offering. lt’s mandatory that everyone does this writing class”, right. And then you’ve got the, “We’ll make this offering and make sure it’s regularly there so that the kids at least know it’s available in the space and are reminded”. And then there’s the, “OK, well, what can we, as the adults, do and change that we then trust will help change the environment and the culture of the space, like modeling reading”.
Or instead of trying to fill the Set the week board with offerings, there have been seasons where we’ve in New York upped our education of parents, like specifically started texting and emailing them celebrations of the informal kind of embodied learning that they might not have been taught to recognize by the meta culture and the over culture. But we can help them learn to recognize and learn to celebrate, so that when we get to these moments and they see an open schedule, they can learn to see a day of no offerings as an opportunity. Usually these days that’s our approach, is if we have an awareness that something is missing or feeling off, we look first for what we can adjust in ourselves or in our communications with guardians and families, and then watch and see what happens.
[00:38:54] – Antonio
We have our online Google calendar with all of our offerings, and we have, of course, the Inter-ALC offerings as well. At the beginning, when this all started, we actually started two weeks later than most of the other ALCs did because we were actually on Spring break at the time when it kicked off. So we started two weeks later. But when we started that, the third week that the Inter-ALC offerings were happening, we thought that we should definitely put on all the Inter-ALC offerings, so we had our offerings and we had the Inter-ALC offerings and what that resulted in was a calendar that was just completely full.
There was just no time and space in there where nothing was happening and the question was, what message are we sending to the parents and to the learners? We’re kind of sending a message that unless they’re actively doing something, it’s not really learning. So what we did was we started taking things off from the Inter-ALC offerings, so when we do our Set the week meetings now on Fridays, we go through and we say what we want to do each day, and then we’ll pop over to the ALC offerings calendar and say, is there anything on this calendar that you see that you really want to have on our calendar as well? And if the answer is yes, then we add that to our calendar, but no longer do we have every Inter-ALC offering on our calendar.
I’ll go back to… I’m going to risk doing this, I know it’s a faux pas, but the facilitator is the one whose role is to hold the space and support the flow, so it doesn’t actually say anything about providing offerings, right. And, you know, it’s interesting because, talking to Abby about how her role has changed and shifted this past year, you think of a facilitator who’s not providing offerings, regular offerings, would you think that that facilitator isn’t doing their job? And I think that anyone who’s ever been to New York knows that that’s absurd. Abby is fully present and always working, but not necessarily providing offerings. And so I think the question is, are these offerings actually offerings led by facilitators or are they actually that important in the grand scheme of things? I think that they are at times and we still provide offerings for sure for many of the different reasons that have been brought up, you know.
Addressing needs of specific learners, introducing them to things that they may be interested in. I think a great one is sharing our interests with them. We are unique, individual, dynamic people. We’re self directed learners as well. And we shouldn’t have to be these blank, uninteresting people who are only there to do what they’re interested in. We should be able to bring our interest into the space as well. And if they want to join in on that, that’s great. If not, that’s OK, too.
All right, another consideration which we’ve already been talking about to some extent: how many offerings should we have?
[00:42:38] – [slide]
Breakout:7 minutes. How many offerings should be available to Learners at one time, during a day?
[00:42:38] – Crystal
I had this conversation with parents a lot, where because we don’t have a board that says – you know, we have a lot of kids who are younger, we have a lot of kids, you know, come in knowing what they want to do. We don’t have anything that says this is the schedule for the day. And when I’m talking to parents that they really do get to choose what they’re doing, and just because you don’t see, you know, nine o’clock is math time, ten o’clock is reading, just because you don’t see it, it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. It may not be happening because they don’t want to do math, but it’s all about emphasizing their choice. And so I try and point that out, that the down time, like you talked about, is a part of the experience, is a part of learning, is a part of being in relationship with each other.
[00:43:36] – Abby
We’ve got kind of the opposite thing going, where our Set the week board is further in the space. So when you first walk in, the board you see is a Set the day board, where we take whatever is on the weekly schedule and we put it up there with the times, and then across the top, it’s each of the seven rooms that we’ve got. There are some kids who come in and they breeze right past it and there’s other kids who stop and they’ll check. You know, “I want to make sure that I go to the Pokémon offering, which room is that in”, or, “Oh, I wanted to do a thing in the office, but DnD has it for the first two hours of the day”. So that’s really funny because every Thursday is our field trip day, and often the only offering on the board that day will be the field trip, but maybe only two kids go on the field trip and the whole rest of it is open. Or sometimes you’ll come in and the field trip will have been canceled because it was to Central Park and it’s pouring rain. So now the whole board is open, and it’s the first thing you see when you walk in. And I really enjoy the experience of having people encounter that and noticing who sees it and is like, “Oh gosh”, versus who sees it and is like, “Wow, what are we going to get into today? Maybe we can play a werewolves tournament”. But it’s definitely like. big, bold first thing when you walk in.
[00:45:12] – Antonio
Too many offerings really break up the day and can really take people out of something that they’re into, you know, take them out of the conversation that they’re in, take them out of a book that they’re reading, take them away from a project that they’re in a state of flow in. And so I’m actually struggling with this myself, because during this remote period, I really want to let our families know that there’s offerings available and to their learner who says that they’re bored, there’s things that you can do. You get on Zoom or get on discord and join me. But at the same time, especially in the physical space, there often is a situation where more offerings, there’s a point of diminishing returns and that point happens pretty quickly. That’s what I’m trying to say.
So what if they opt out of all offerings? What if they’re bored? How do we as facilitators deal with that? We have this Set the week board, it’s great, we’re there co-creating a schedule, but there’s three learners who simply opt out of all offerings. So what do we do in that situation? Anyone on this call not have that situation, where you have a learner who simply opts out of everything, shows no interest in anything, and says that they’re bored?
[00:46:53] – Crystal
We’ve had students who were less able to entertain themselves, and so it was like, “I don’t want to do that, don’t want to do this, I’m bored”. And there was a point last year, I was like, OK, well, I really need to think of things for them to do. I need to come up with some list, bookmark some pages, so I can say, “Oh, OK, you’re bored, do this.” And I’ve gotten away from that because, maybe I’m trying to meet a need that they’re not communicating well, like the need is to understand or to know what they’re really interested in, what they really want to do. The need is not for me to occupy their time. So I’ve started leaning back a little bit. I still strew things, I have different activities that… you know, I made a little notebook that has suggestions, but I don’t feel so much pressure to get those kids doing something.
[00:47:53] – Antonio
I’ve had this experience before, where a learner just isn’t engaging with other learners. They’re not participating in the offerings. They’re telling me that they’re bored or worse, they’re telling their parents that they’re bored. And then I, as someone who wants to make sure that they stay in the community, get nervous and I try to throw out offerings, right. And I’m throwing out more offerings, but it doesn’t matter because they’re not coming to any offerings. I put a star…you might have noticed I’ve put a star throughout this presentation on bullets that go right back to the Agile roots and really reinforce the importance of the Agile roots. And I think that this one hits three of the roots really, really well.
One is ‘Learning is natural and happens all the time’. Set the week is great, setting the week is a great way to organize our time as a community. It’s a great way to allocate resources and to deal with logistics. But if we acknowledge that learning happens all the time, it clearly happens when there is not an offering that’s currently available or when a learner is bored and not participating in an offering. The second one is ‘People discover their purpose and passions by making their own decisions’, right, and ‘Children are people’, too. And one of the great ways to get people to start making decisions as to how they’re going to spend their time is to give them the opportunity to be bored. I think that there’s immense – I keep saying [this], I actually should stop saying “I think that there’s immense value”, but I do! – in learners being so bored that now they decide that they’re going to do something with their time that has more meaning to them, that can get them into a state of engagement, because they found something that they’re really, really passionate about or really focused on. And it’s hard to get there if you have a ton of options that you can just sort of drop into all the time. Or, you know, maybe I’m not going to do anything right now. I’m really interested in reading this book, but in 45 minutes there’s an offering, and so I’ll just not start this book right now, because there’s going to be this offering coming up. So I think that there’s a lot of benefit to boredom in that regard. And the third one is ‘We learn from what we experience. The medium is the message’, right. The curriculum, a lot of people would look at a board with a bunch of offerings and see that as potentially the curriculum. Oh, well, there’s this math offering at this time. And, oh, there’s a writing offering here and they’re doing the science of explosions over here or really cool stuff that guardians get really excited over. But that’s not the curriculum, in a ALC. The community is the curriculum. The way that we deal with each other, the way that we approach self directed education and through boredom, through not being engaged in those offerings, that really gives them the opportunity to recognize that the medium is the message and it’s a way for us to live it for them as well.
What do we do when we’re bored or what do we do when we’re tired? What do we do when there’s nothing slotted for a certain time? They can see how we approach that and how our community approaches it. So I think it’s a good thing when learners opt out of all offerings and they say they’re bored.
Anyone have anything to say about the considerations before I move on?
[00:51:49] – Abby
Can I just say that sometimes that will happen for much longer than we adults are comfortable with? It’s one of those things where, like, you wait until you feel like you can’t possibly wait anymore and then you wait more, non-judgmentally. I have a parent who twice a year for the past three years, you know, we’ve had these delightful conferences where she comes in and she’s like my kids telling me, you know, he’s bored, he’s not accomplishing what he wants. Blah, blah, blah. I laugh. We talk about what we both see in this kid. And then I and the rest of the facilitators reassure her for the two hundredth time that we will continue reflecting to him that he can always choose a new story. He can make a new decision whenever he’s ready, and we’re here to support him. But that’s been ongoing and I won’t be surprised if that’s also our pattern through next year.
[00:52:52] – Antonio
There is such a huge emphasis on kids and adults being productive, on producing, creating something or doing something. And it’s real hard to let that go, it’s hard for me to let that go. But we want people to be able to entertain themselves and we want people to be able to figure out what’s important to them. But we so rarely give kids the time to figure that out for themselves. Kids are so scheduled, everything is directed for them in so many ways, that they rarely get the opportunity to just sit there and make adults uncomfortable without adults stepping in and trying to get them to do something. There’s just so many people that I’ve seen get burnt out. They go to college and they’ve been performing, performing, performing. And they get into a job or they go to grad school and they keep performing. They might get a PhD and they keep performing, but at some point, they sort of stop. And they question, what am I doing, who am I performing for, what really matters to me? And that can be a really difficult situation, right. It’s called mid-life crisis, for many people. What is it that I’m doing with my life and what really matters to me, as opposed to just performing for other people. When people have the opportunity to get bored and to do nothing, it’s a lot easier for them to figure that out. It just requires adults who are willing to deal with that uncomfortable feeling.
Some advice that I’ll leave with. One, leave space in the schedule for emergent learning opportunities, down time, hanging out, napping, watching the same YouTube video 50 times in a row, without judgment. Don’t try to force in academics or schoolish offerings, because all learning is valid. Give kids an opportunity to opt in, don’t require them to opt out of offerings. Facilitators’ offerings to share what they care about with the learners – that’s totally cool. And then there’s some learners who just need some support in being able to propose or lead their own offerings, so they might need facilitators to help them through that process. They want to organize some sort of game, but they don’t have the tools or the confidence or the social skills necessary to rally people to do something, so we can support them in that regard and we can support them in leading their own offerings, like Abby said, by being an enthusiastic participant in someone’s learning. That’s great.
All right, questions, conversation.
[00:56:18] – [slide]
Bonus! Q&A Session Clips
[00:56:18] – [slide]
Q: Do people see the tools as implying ALCs are productivity-focused?
[00:56:30] – Antonio
I think that’s part of the reason why people are so attracted to ALC at the beginning, because the tools are so visible. Those are things that I can do. Those are things that I can share, right. And then you get into it…at least for me, I shouldn’t speak for everyone, but for me once I got into it, I recognized that “Oh, no. What really matters and the things that I care about the most are the values that uphold it all”. But yeah, at the beginning, we are looking for ways to signal to parents how we’re supporting them.
[00:57:14] – [slide]
Q: Is there a tension when you need enrollment to stay open but also want families that are on board with the philosophy of SDE?
[00:57:14] – Antonio
Definitely a tension. When we started, for us, it was all about “We’ll take anyone, we don’t care whether or not you believe in what we’re doing, we’ll take you and we’ll try to convert you”. And it was really bad, because we brought on some people who did not believe in what we’re doing. It was a set up for failure. What we do now is we tell parents that there’s four things that we look for. We look for one, does the learner actually want to be there? Because if this is about you wanting your kid to be there, it’s not going to work. You can’t force a kid to do this. Two is, will the learner benefit from the community in some way? And the answer for almost all learners is yes. Self-directed education is fabulous, them being around other self directed learners is going to introduce them to many different things. Almost everyone benefits from more autonomy. That should be everyone. The third one is, will the community benefit from the learner? And for the same reasons that most people benefit from our community, the community benefits from more diversity as well. Everyone comes in with their own interests and life experiences, etc. The exception to that rule for us is, does this person have some other situation that needs to be addressed through therapy of some sort for them to be able to be in this community so that everyone is safe? And if the answer is yes, then we won’t accept them until they’ve met that. But the last one is the one that’s always caused the greatest challenge for us. And that’s, do the families fundamentally agree with the philosophy of education that we have?
I tell every family that visits with us that this doesn’t mean you’re not anxious. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have anxiety. This doesn’t mean that you’re not scared. Because we live in a schooled society, where we all have fears that are born of this society. But do you fundamentally believe that you can trust your kids? Do you fundamentally believe that your kid cares about their life, cares about what they do with their time? And are you comfortable sitting back and allowing that to be? Are you OK with them not reading until they’re ten, if they choose to, or are you OK with them never learning algebra if they choose to? I think that it was Anthony down at Heartwood who said that he spends lots of time doing anti marketing. So not only marketing to get the right people to join, but also anti marketing, to push away the families that just aren’t going to work and are actually going to end up hurting the community more than they help. So I do think that there’s a tension there and over time, we’ve got a lot better at letting people go.
[01:00:24] – Crystal
Antonio, I wish you had told me that list a year and a half ago, because we’ve learned the hard way of making sure the parents [inaudible]… to be clear with them on what our space is and how it works for our kids. Because we are young, we are only two years in, and we want to, you know, have as many people as possible. At the same time, if they’re not part of it, they don’t understand the culture, it’s not going to be a good fit. And, you know, where we are, we’re close to Charlotte, but there’s a lot of families that just haven’t seen like progressive schools, don’t know anything about self directed education. So it’s like educating them from the ground up. And some of them are OK with it, you know, just to try it out. That’s when a couple of months in we’ll get the push back and we’ll have to have these conversations over again. So I’ve learned to, at the very beginning, say these things like the anti marketing. Like, OK, they will have free time, lots of free time. They will have access to YouTube. No, we won’t make them do math, you know, things like that. So they understand what we’re about. Oh, and the behavior things, like needing counseling or therapy, working through issues. That’s something we had to learn too.
[01:01:56] – Abby
Yeah, I mean, there’s also… we joke, you know, in the beginning of bringing people in, they need reminders that children are people. And then a little later, we usually get to the like, oh, also facilitators are people. Also, parents are people. And so if deschooling is a learning process, you know, it is super important for us to filter out people who not just don’t get it, but have no desire to, right. They’re not trying to be learning and dynamic. They just want us to be the same as like a fancy progressive school, you know. We need to be, as facilitators, very honest about our boundaries. Like, how many parents can I be taking every-other-day phone calls from, as they go through their own learning and deschooling? And there are some communities, where because they don’t have the facilitators or [because of] the nature of their space or their kids or whatnot, they say they can’t do that for any parents. And that’s just, you know, their personal limits at this moment, and that’s totally cool.
For us, it’s pretty normal to have two or three families where the parents are like “I don’t all the way get this, but I want to, will you accompany me on this journey, the same way you’re accompanying my kid?” And for me personally, that’s really gratifying work. Again, obviously, there’s limits to how many people you can do that with at a time, but we’ve had families who over the course of several years will develop that kind of relationship where they know they can call me and be like, “Hey, I’m feeling anxiety about, what if my kid wants to go to college or how much she’s Minecrafting or this friendship she’s got. But I know it’s my schooling, can you help me work through this?” And as long as they want to have that non-linear, messy adventure, I’m down to do it with them. And it supports the kid best if multiple adults in their support network are engaging in that process also. The other thing that comes up for us a lot is having a lot of family constellations where you’ve got a variety of parents and guardians and other… you know, kids with five parents, with six parents, and they’ve got different education philosophies. One is totally on board with this, another is really struggling. So trying to figure out how to support each of those people as people within this context where we are a community.
[01:04:58] – Antonio
One thing that Abby said to me a while ago, when I was actually struggling with a family that was really challenging and I was spending a ton of time on – Abby, I don’t know if you remember this conversation. You said sometimes when that family is released, all of a sudden you find out that you have a lot more time for other families and other kids. And all of a sudden, the family that wasn’t getting any of your attention is now getting your attention, which is great. And if it’s a situation where the family does not want what you have to offer, what your community has to offer, you know, oftentimes it’s best to part ways early as opposed to late.