ALC Tools & Practices
The structure of an Agile Learning Center is designed to nourish a productive, vibrant, and healthy culture – allowing participants to engage authentically in a learning process that cultivates confidence, dynamic skill sets, mental agility, self-awareness, and group skills.
Scrum & Standup Meeting (Morning Intentions)
The daily stand-up meetings happen in the morning and are conducted, not surprisingly, while participants stand. Standing keeps the energy up at the beginning of the day and gets everyone in the mode to do. In this meeting, each group member states their intentions for the day and makes any requests for support they may need. This simple process takes only about ten minutes, but serves an important purpose of starting each day with intention and accountability. By continually engaging in this practice, students are cultivating high useful skills in time-management, teamwork, self-awareness and self-assessment.
- Spawn Points / Small Groups
- After a year of an expanding standup circle, we decided to break into groups of 7 (+/-2) to begin the day. One facilitator and a small group of age-mixed students gather in the morning to update personal (kanban) boards, declare intentions, and make requests. The meeting lasts 5-10 minutes.
- GameShifting allows us to choose our body posture and physical arrangement. Example: If standing with focused body posture begins to create patterns of automatic thought, then we can shift to sitting down and a relaxed posture to create a more mindful space.
Further Reading: Tools & Practices Forum
Closing Meeting (Afternoon Reflections)
The feedback loop that begins with Morning Intentions comes full circle at the end of the day with a sit-down meeting. We take this time to ask, “Did we accomplish what we intended to?” If so, how? If not, why not? This is an important bookend to the morning Stand-up meeting, allowing for daily reflection on individual and group productivity. This feedback cycle that provides each learner with the awareness they need to constantly improve. The Afternoon Reflection takes about 20 minutes and gives everyone an opportunity to share what they did that day, gratitudes, and any other reflections. A listening stick is often utilized.
- Candle Ritual
- Some ALCs have added a group ritual to end the day. The agreements and process around the ritual are iterated through the Change-UP meeting. Each student and facilitator has their own candle. A different candle is selected each day and placed in the center of the circle. The student who’s candle is chosen gets to “hold the meeting”, which may mean they get to choose certain aspects of the process, structure, and desired outcome. The ritual typically involves some period of silence, followed by sharing of gratitudes, acknowledgements, or general reflections. The ritual is designed to bring the whole group together and to give ourselves the power to write a positive record of the day.
Further Reading: Daily Rituals: The Heartbeat of Intentional Culture Creation
Agile Learners use Kanban boards for making their intentions visible and tracking their learning projects. A basic Kanban is divided into Backlog, Ready, Doing, and Done columns and utilizes sticky notes to populate the board with ideas, intentions, work in progress (WIP), and items that have been done. The Backlog consists of things students want to do, explore, or create. On a daily basis, each person’s list of possibilities are evaluated, prioritized, visualized, and eventually pulled into the “Doing” column. The kanban board is a flexible tool that can be adjusted according to what works best for its user.
Two guidelines of Kanban are Visualize Your Work and Limit Your Work In Progress (WIP). When we visualize our work, it creates a path for actually completing what we intend. It helps us to stay focused and creates accountability for ourselves. We limit our work in progress in order to deeply engage in what we are doing. Using the Kanban teaches us how to effectively prioritize and honor our time by making conscious choices about what we are engaging in.
Further Reading: Personal Kanban at NYC’s first Agile Learning Center
The Offerings Board lists available class offerings, opportunities, and resources. Agile Learning Facilitators (ALFs), resource people in the community, and the children themselves can contribute offerings. A resource person in the community may offer to teach their craft or host a field trip to allow children to experience it. The offerings board is discussed at the weekly set-up meeting.
Set-the-week is the first stand-up meeting of the week, which includes introducing and creating the schedule for any opportunities that week. If resource people are coming in to the school at a particular time to hold a class, it is important that this make it onto the schedule so other more flexible activities can be planned around the special offerings.
This is also the time when we identify projects that are going to take multiple days to accomplish, and set weekly intentions. We might set time aside each day to work toward that goal. This is sometimes referred to as a “weekly sprint.” For example, the students may want to perform a play at the end of the week. At the set-the-week meeting, they might decide that every day at 10am, they will hold rehearsal until lunchtime. Milestones can be set so we can track progress toward the goal, ie. on Tuesday we will do blocking, by Thursday everyone must know their lines. At the end of the week, we assess the progress that was made and document it.
Change-up meetings are attended by the whole community at a frequency determined by the individual community. They are characterized by the use of the Community Mastery Board to initiate, implement, and evaluate issues or problems that affect the community. Issues (called “awarenesses”) are brought up, solutions are brainstormed, and an action is decided upon (using “sense of the meeting”). This isn’t a time to flesh out all the reasons why a solution may be a good idea or not, just a quick brainstorm and a decision to try something for a week. It is suggested that any change-up meeting cover only a manageable number of awarenesses – three is a good rule of thumb.
Community Mastery Board (CMB)
A CMB is a tool by which culture is created. It is divided into 4 columns: Awareness (community-wide problems that need resolution), Implementation (the decided-upon action for each awareness), Practicing (the changes we are currently practicing), and Skilled or Mastery, which means the change has then become the new established norm, and a bit of culture has been created.
- Group Kanban: ALC Everett devised a group board that incorporates kanban, offerings, set-the-week, and change-up for the whole group.
GameShifting is a tool that allows a community to better facilitate meetings. Part of its purpose is to make the implicit social rules explicit, and thus give permission to change them. It can help the group alter its dynamic so it can function more efficiently to accomplish different sorts of tasks. The fancy word for this is “polymorphism”: taking many forms. Groups often get stuck in singular patterns: the teacher is in charge, the boss must be pleased, tip toe around the executive secretary, some people talk and others listen. When groups get stuck in those patterns, creativity and the ability to adapt are impaired. While a singular existing pattern might be usable for one type of outcome, it limits the group to that one kind of outcome. Being able to intentionally change the patterns helps groups engage polymorphically: they can take many forms, and achieve many kinds of outcomes. The GameShifting process takes the individual cycle of intention, creation, reflection, and applies it to group dynamics. Students learn how groups can rapidly change forms to accomplish different things, and can apply these skills to resolve conflicts and create and explore together.
The GameShifting Board is a visual aid to assist in GameShifting. They are adaptable to many different kinds of groups and meetings. A sample whiteboard is divided into categories like Mode, Interaction style, Body arrangement, Body energy, Roles, and Start/End. A good example of what each category might mean is the Start/End section, which says Start: on time, threshold, attendance. A marker (a small magnet works well) is placed beside the convention we decide to follow, whether the meeting will start on time at 9am, or when we feel we have enough people to start, or when the required attendees show up. If we decide to follow a different convention, we can move the marker. This helps make intentional culture, makes group dynamics smarter, and helps us alter the dynamics as needed. For example, are we jumping in, or are we raising our hands? The GameShifting Board both asks and answers that question as we make use of it, and helps us be intentional about the dynamics we are working in.
Student Portfolio (Creative/Reflective Blog)
A Creative/Reflection Post is blog-type documentation that students contribute to on a regular basis (weekly or bi-weekly suggested). This fulfills the cycle of learning by creating sharable value. Documentation is a blank slate and allows for words, audio, video, or images; prompts or ideas are available if desired. It can be visible only to the staff, student, and parents, or it can be made public to varying degrees.
The Creative/Reflection Posts serve as our upgrade to the report card. This record becomes a digital portfolio of work that is student-generated. This compendium of interests and accomplishments serves as a feedback loop so students can see what they keep returning to, and recognize patterns in their own learning. It can serve to provide parents with a sense of security and safety, because colleges and employers will look at an online portfolio. The President of Harvard recently addressed parents on the topic of how to get their children into Ivy League schools: “Encourage children to follow their passions as a way to develop an interesting personality.” The portfolio is an innovative way for our students to demonstrate how interesting they are.
Culture Committee (CC)
Culture Committee serves to bolster open communication and intentional culture creation and is comprised of both ALFs and students. Its role is two-fold: to help solve conflicts and to brainstorm ways to improve the culture of the learning community. In engaging in this process, the culture becomes stronger and more cohesive.
Conflict Resolution: When a person finds themselves in a conflict, the first step is to stop, take a breath, and think about how to handle it. Then they can talk through the problem with the other party and/or ask for help in talking with the person. When a problem cannot be solved with these basic steps, a person can fill out a Request to Meet form to be sent to the Culture Committee. The Culture Committee meets on a regular basis and will talk through the conflict with the requester in order to come up with an action plan. If necessary, the other party may be brought in to the meeting to facilitate the resolution.
Improving the Culture: The “preventative care” of the Culture Committee is to create conditions that minimize conflict, finding the root cause and underlying cultural conditions that need change. The committee might find issues that they think need to be addressed within the community, which they can then bring to the Change-up meeting that is attended by all of the learning community members.
Certifications help us keep children safe by ensuring they master a level of skill before moving on to a higher skill level activity. An ALC might have certifications for bike safety with level-ups for higher difficulty rides. In order to go on a certain type of bike ride, the student must achieve certification to that level of bike safety mastery.
Some learning goals require extended persistence, such as learning a language or mastering an instrument. Level-ups are a concept that help children identify and reach incremental objectives along the way to achieving a larger goal. Level-ups provide checkpoints along the way as well as visible feedback of having accomplished past objectives. The child can be facilitated in designing a motivating level-up scheme to support their longer-term goals. This process helps make the necessary persistence into a kind of game and foster focus. Level-ups are individualized to the student by the student and awarded as they see fit for the goals they identified.
It is the role of everyone in the community to keep one another safe and make sure that all community members are respected. To this end, we have the “Stop Rule.” Any adult or child can say, “Stop” (or, as it happens in practice, “Stop Rule”) as a kind of “safe word” to anyone invading their experience or space with noise, teasing, or other unwanted interaction. That person is expected to immediately stop their behavior. We find that respecting the Stop Rule prevents a lot of conflicts from escalating; however, it is best used as more of a last resort and not an immediate reaction.
Coaches are non-ALF, non-staff support persons selected by each student for their personal mentorship. This person takes on a life coaching type role, listens and reflects with the child, supports, clarifies goals, helps the child see the longer arc of their learning, and helps provide direction. Children typically choose a relative or family friend that they are comfortable with and admire. They meet about twice a month for an hour each time, at a time and place that works for the coach and student. The coach fills out a feedback form that goes to the school. It is sometimes mutually beneficial for teens at the school to be coaches for young children.