Tag: webinar

2020 Webinar Transcript: SDE and Disability

Agile Learning Center Network Spring 2020 Webinar Series

SDE and Disability

hosted by Crystal Byrd Farmer of Gastonia Freedom School


This presentation has a lot of information and it has a lot of information to capture kind of a broad range of disability and what that means. And I throw in a lot of suggestions and tips and things that we’ve done at our school. But there’s plenty more. There’s a lot of different dimensions to how you support kids with disabilities, and a lot of it is tailored to the individual child and all of that. So I may not cover everything, but you can always reach out to me for questions and anything else that you want to talk about as it relates to this topic.


So we’re going to talk about — we’re going to go through a list of specific disabilities and how I’ve encountered them and what they mean. And I’ll talk about some of the tools that we use at ALCs and how those can be modified to support children with disabilities. About me, I work at Gastonia Freedom School, and we’re an ALC specifically for kids with learning disabilities. So I’m going to say all of our kids have some type of disability. The majority of them have ADHD and or autism. So those are the two things that we work with the most. I myself have autism. So I was diagnosed about two years ago and that has helped me to kind of be aware of how I move through the world and also to help the kids as they’re growing up to help them understand what it looks like in the future — what it might look like.


Some of this stuff is going to come up. So just putting out there that I am pro screens and pro vaccine, pro medication, pro eating whatever food kids want to eat. So in the community, in progressive circles and types of communities that ALCs are in there’s a lot of different opinions about treatments, about diet and things like that, and how it impacts disability. So I’m coming at it from this kind of — I guess it’s the moderate stance about, about disability. And that we can support kids without restricting their intake or their screen time, and that medication and therapy are helpful ways to help kids with disabilities.


So we’ve been doing these webinars that have been great and on lots of different topics. There’s a couple more that are coming up. So those are going to be fun to look at.


And then when we talk about disability, one thing that’s important is that you try not to use a lot of euphemisms for disability. So it’s OK to say “child with disability.” You know, “special needs” is one of those. euphamisms. “Handi-capable.” “Differently abled.” Those kinds of things are just ways to cover up the fact that you’re talking about disabilities, but especially when you’re working with children it’s important to say, you know, to know what you’re talking about and to be really clear and honest about the fact that you’re talking about a disability. You don’t have to try and twist it to make it sound nice, because disabilities are disabling. So that means that there are going to be downsides to kids having disabilities.


All right, I try not to do a lot of pictures of our kids just because — I am going to talk about it later, but — there’s this thing called inspiration porn, where you always try to show the good side of your kids. Like on our social media, I usually use pictures of my daughter or Alex because his mom is pretty OK with using his image. And of course, I can ask my daughter for permission to use her images. But I do have a few pictures of our kids.


And then this is just kind of an idea of what Gastonia Freedom School looks like on random days. So it’s messy a lot of times. There’s a lot of kids walking around doing random things. It’s a lot of screens, especially now that we’ve been doing Zoom. There is a lot of that. It’s a lot of negotiating spaces and boundaries for kids helping them with that. But it’s a lot of fun. It’s kids using their agency and, you know, being themselves and learning through playing.


All right, so this is what I thought would be helpful to start out with, is that a child with disabilities is not going to surprise you or be like a magnificent miracle. You know? That’s not the path of normal people with disabilities.


Sometimes they do have to have support through their entire life. They may not ever learn all of the skills they need to be independent adults. So that means they may not be able to go and drive somewhere. They may not be able to go shopping on their own. They may not be able to handle money, and they may not be able to live, you know, as an independent person. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have things that they can learn and be happy with.


A child with disbilities may not master academic subjects, so there are going to be some things that are just going to be unattainable. And if you talk to kids, sometimes they don’t want to attain it. So that’s fine with them. You know, they don’t all want to go to Harvard, so that’s fine. One thing that a lot of people expect is that children with disabilities have some kind of savant skill, like something that they’re really good at. Like photographic memory or being able to do math in their head really well.


Most kids with disabilities don’t have this unique savant skill. They just, you know, have things that they’re good at and have things they’re bad at. They don’t have something that they can just like wow you with when they’re living their lives. A child with disabilities would rather play than perform. So a lot of times we want to see progress or we want to know what the kid knows. And I found that in our school it’s much better just to let them play, let them be themselves, instead of constantly assessing them or figuring out what they do and what they don’t know.


Our job as facilitators and parents is to meet children where they are, and that includes with whatever disabilities they have, whatever support that they need. Makes sense? All right, so there are a couple of different ways of looking at kids with disabilities: the medical model, or kind of like this deficit model, is where you’re seeing a child and you’re seeing their potential. So a battery measure has potential in it. So you’re saying, “Oh, well, this child knows how to do this and this. They know how to tie their shoes and they know how to clean up their table, but they don’t know how to do division.” And so you’re measuring them against this imaginary kid who can do “normal things,” so-called “normal” things for their age. So when you are looking at a child like that, you’re thinking, “OK, they lack some ability. So we need to give them supports and accommodation so that they can look more like a typical child.”


And that’s called the medical model of disability, because when you have a diagnosis, you’re mostly talking about their deficits. You’re talking about the things that they can’t do or things that they have difficulty with. And when you’re looking at a child that way, you think, “OK, well, they have these sort of disabilities, so we need to help them overcome it. We need to help them achieve typical functioning.” And so you’re kind of putting some some guidelines in place.


And this is how an IEP is written: “By their 5th grade year, this child will be able to do multiplication and division with one or two errors.” OK? So that’s the medical model of disability. What has been changing is that now there are different ways to look at disability, and the social model of disability says, “OK, we have children and they have disabilities. They have cognitive deficits or they have things that are ‘wrong’ with their body — not wrong but that are, you know, atypical for other children.”


When you know that they have these things that they need help with, you can say, “OK, this is what I can help you with.” You know, a child can’t do multiplication and division? We can give them a calculator. You know, a child can’t tie his shoes? He can wear shoes that don’t have laces on them. When you get out into the world, you know, these children, these people who have disabilities are coming up against perceived ideas about what their disability means. So, you know, you may have children who are in wheelchairs, users of wheelchairs, and you think, “Oh, well, they’re not capable of navigating through the world.” You know, that’s why we have wheelchair ramps. That’s why we have automatic opening doors. Those are ways that we support those people. And there’s a whole thing about wheelchair ramps that I might get into later. But there is a lot of things that society puts on people with disabilities that says, “Oh, well, they can’t do this” and they can’t do it because society is not set up for them to do it.


And there’s some… Well, anyway, so this is a way that we look at people with disabilities. And if we remove some of these barriers so people with disabilities can live full and healthy lives, they still need support and accommodations. They need things that will help them achieve what they want to achieve or do what they want to do in everyday life. But if we can remove a lot of the stigma and the shame, a lot of attitudes around how we view disability, then that makes their lives a lot easier.


Like I said, most of our kids have autism and/or ADHD, so that’s what I loaded the presentation with, with a lot of that stuff in it.


So autism. So autism is a disorder where children have difficulty in three areas: communication, sensory and repetitive restrictive interest. So communication is going to be any kind of talking, social skills, how to get along with other people. So that communication covers more than just words, using words. Some kids will be what’s called ‘nonverbal,’ which means that they don’t communicate effectively with speaking.


So there’s a lot of different ways we can be nonverbal. And I’ll talk about that when we get down to the communication side, but non-verbal children typically can only say a few words or they say words over and over. They may be able to use sign language or gestures. They may make sounds that are sometimes intelligible, sometimes not. But they may not speak at all. But they’re going to have some type of way that they communicate.


When it comes to sensory, that’s anything that involves touch, taste, sight, sound. And so people with autism are far less able to tolerate different types of inputs. So they may either really like loud noise or really hate loud noise. And if it’s a sudden loud noise, they may cover their ears. They may have a meltdown. They may run. The same thing with light. If they see a really bright light, they may not be able to tolerate it. They may get upset if they — if somebody touches them, they may have a strong reaction to that. My daughter has autism and she hated getting anything wet on her hand. So, you know, she gets — she gets wet and she just freezes and just starts crying. And so that really interrupts how she can get through the day if that happens.


Taste, a lot of kids with autism and adults are picky eaters. They just have very strict ideas of what tastes good, what feels good in their mouth, what they want to eat. Even if it’s like… Some kids are very focused on shapes, like they can only eat food that’s a certain shape. So that sensory kind of stuff.


And then repetitive, restrictive interest means that there are some things that they’re really captivated by and some things they just don’t care about. And also, there are some things that they like doing over and over. So you may see some behaviors that may look like OCD, which means like they’re washing their hands or doing some type of ritual. Like maybe they’re opening their computer up and down a couple of times. They may say things, they may repeat lines from movies or TV shows. And we have a lot of kids do that. And then they also have restricted interest. So they may like really like Legos or really like dolls or really like to talk about colors. And, you know, they just kind of kind of talk about that ad nauseum, if you’re a typical person trying to have a conversation with them.


So that repetitive and restricted interest is what goes into routines. So autistic kids really like their routines. They like things to be the same. They may get upset if something changes in the environment. So if they walk into your space and a desk has been moved, they may get really upset with that. If you always do spawn with a certain song and then you go into shares or something like that, if that changes, they may get really thrown off. They may get upset or they just may like freeze up and not be able to participate. They really like knowing what’s going to happen. So if you — because there’s some pictures here on the right that show a “first, then” board. So it says “first” and then it has a picture of people cleaning up. And then it says “then” and then it has a picture of kids outside. So knowing what’s going to happen by showing them “first, this is going to happen, then this is going to happen,” that really helps them to feel like they’re more in control of their environment. The other picture is of some different things: circle time, work, snack time, recess, walk, computer, library, and AP — which I don’t…I think that’s PE class. So having pictures of different tasks or different activities and putting them in an order that says, “OK, this is what we’re going to do during our day,” that can be really reassuring to kids with autism, because they know what’s going to happen and they’re not going to feel surprised that something is happening.


So visual supports are effective. I’m going to talk more about the visual supports that we have used once I get to ADHD. So visual support is a whole category of things that have been shown to help children with autism get through a day. So you have social stories which tells them what’s going to happen and what kind of behavior is expected. You have something called “picture exchange communication system,” which is a type of communication tool for kids with autism. So they’ll either have a tablet or have pieces of paper with pictures on them. And they can give you, like, the milk picture. And then you say, “OK.” So, you know, so that’s how they’re communicating. I already talked about “first, then,” and then these choice boards. And when it comes to kids with autism, you just have to kind of see what works as far as visual supports. Some of them like kind of these graphics. I just have, like, art on them. Some of them like real pictures of their actual objects in their home so that they can understand what you’re talking about. Some of them can just read words and be like, “OK, I’m fine. You have the word ‘spawn,’ you have the word ‘clean up.’ So I know that’s what’s going to happen.”


And then the other big thing about kids with autism is that social skills have to be communicated clearly, your expectations for how someone reacts in a situation is not going to come to them naturally. The way that typical kids learn is that they observe others in their environment. And so, you know, if a kid sneezes, they see someone say “bless you,” and then they see the kid say “thank you.” And so the typical kid looks at that and says, “OK, when somebody sneezes, I’m supposed to say bless you.” Well, an autistic kid may observe that interaction, but they may not attach any significance, significance to it. They may not realize, oh, this is kind of a ritual that’s expected. But for an autistic kid, sometimes you have to say, “OK, this person sneezed. It’s expected that someone says ‘bless you,’ and that’s a polite thing to do and that’s a good thing to do. And when you do that, the person knows that you care about them.” That’s how you kind of explain what social skills are to kids. Another thing is like personal space, so maybe you have a typical and an autistic kid, and the autistic kid is standing too close to a typical kid, but a typical kid may, like, scoot over. They may make a look. They make cross their arms. They’re giving these nonverbal signals. But you may have to tell the autistic kid, “Hey, this kid beside you is, like, frowning. He doesn’t look happy. He’s trying to move away from you. I think you should give him some space.” And the kid would be like, “OK.” You know, usually they’re not — they have, they don’t have any malice or malintent when they’re breaking a social rule. They just don’t know. And the more you can clue them into these things, the more that they will feel like they’re a part of typical society and they can function, because autistic kids often notice that they’re being excluded or that they’re not getting something. And helping them to get it is really what helps them feel comfortable in the world.


All right, so the next thing about autism is emotional processing. So we talked about kind of the sensory things? So those sensory issues can interrupt emotional processing. So on the one hand, you’ll have kids who get upset really, really quickly because something outside, something in their environment is is upsetting them. And they may not know, they may not have the tools to handle it. So you see a lot of meltdowns. You see a lot of crying. You see a lot of reactions that you think are kind of over the top. But that’s because they’re they don’t have the tools. They don’t — they’re reacting to something that is really sending a lot of signals in their body, but they don’t know how to how to express those, how to, how to come down. How to regulate themselves, how to deal with that interaction. And a lot of times, many kids will learn that if they scream really loud, you know, their mom is going to take away the food or their mom is going to turn off the lights or they’re going to turn off the TV. So sometimes kids will have a learned reaction that “if I do this thing…” and they think the input is going to go away. So that’s one way that emotional processing is different. The other thing is that autistic kids do have emotions and feelings, but sometimes they are not able to recognize those emotions and feelings in other people and in themselves. So autistic kids often have issues with seeing someone who is frowning, who is crying, who is yelling, and understanding the connection between what just happened and why that person is reacting that way. And then autistic — a lot of autistic people have something called Dysthymia, and that’s where you — you may be crying. You may feel really sad. But you don’t know what that emotion is. You’re like, “OK, I feel like crying. I don’t know why.” You know? “I don’t know how to explain this feeling. I don’t know how to communicate about it.” So they have trouble recognizing those feelings and what the next step is to to to manage those emotions.


On the right hand side in the picture, I have these two different ideas of what an autistic spectrum looks like. So the most common idea is that people are either a little bit autistic or really autistic. So that’s kind of just like a linear thing from a lot of autism to no autism. And that’s not what’s true for most people. The official diagnosis criteria for autism has what’s called “levels of support.” That’s the level one, level two, level three, and it just tells you how much support they need in the outside world. But that doesn’t encompass, like, all the ways that people with autism can have different issues. So the more complete idea of a spectrum is a circle. And you’re at different points going from the inside of the circle to the outside of the circle, and then the circle has different areas of functioning. So you have language. Some kids can speak full sentences and communicate clearly. Some kids don’t, you know, don’t use words at all. Some kids need support with their language skills. You have motor skills, which is something that’s often not recognized with autistic kids. But some kids may be able to hold the pencil very well. Some kids may have trouble holding a pencil. Some kids may start having pain if they’re writing. Some kids may not be able to run like a typical child or they may have trouble navigating obstacles, so there’s a range of motor skills. And then there’s a range of perceptions, so talking about how we perceive the outside environment. So some people can be really aware of what’s going on outside of them. And some people are not aware and just kind of what they call ‘live in their own world.’ So that’s kind of — The root word of autism is auto, is this idea that the first people who were diagnosed with autism were in their own world and were not, you know, checked in with the other world.


This other range is executive function. And we’re going to talk about that when we get to ADHD. And executive function is your ability to do the things that you need to do on a regular basis to get your life done. And so washing dishes, writing emails, communicating about your needs and wants, scheduling things. So executive function, or all these skills that — Some, some autistic people are really good at managing their lives. Some autistic people need others’ help to manage their lives.


And then there is the other range that some people are really sensitive to: tastes, smells, whatever. Some people are not so sensitive to them. So when we talk about a spectrum, you’re really talking about a whole group of skills and abilities that people are going to be at different levels on all of them. So it’s hard to say that somebody is more autistic or less autistic. What you’re really saying is that they have trouble in these areas and not so much in these areas.


When it comes to autism, there’s a lot of research and a lot of work around the therapies that autistic people get. So I said before, I’m kind of a proponent of of treating people. My daughter has had all of these therapies that I listed, and there are pros and cons to each one. It’s going to be a very personal, difficult decision for the caretaker, whoever the parent is of a child, to decide what therapies to give them. But I’m just going to kind of do a quick run through of the type of therapies available and some pros and cons and caveats about different therapies.


So the gold standard, so so-called, like, ‘best’ treatment for autism is called Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA. ABA is a therapy that works on external behavior. So ABA is focused on “maybe we don’t want the child’s stim…” So stimming is when they’re like waving their hands or making a sound over and over or tapping their legs. So that’s where the stim is. So a lot of autistic people stim to kind of regulate their own bodies. ABA may have a goal of saying “this child will only stim when they’re at home and not stim in public.” Or they may have a goal of “whenever we go inside the child or take off her shoes” or “when presented with a worksheet, the child will complete seven out of ten worksheet problems.” So ABA works on behaviors and the use of a variety of methods to prompt these behaviors. And that’s where you get into behaviorism, Skinner and this idea of internal and external motivation. So ABA uses external motivation, external reinforcement to get the ‘right’ behaviors that they want. So that getting the child take off their shoes, they will they will go in and out of the house. And every time they come in the house, the person might say, that therapist may say ‘shoes,’ and then the child will know that they’re supposed to take off their shoes. If the child doesn’t take off the shoes, they may stop them at the door. They may prompt them again, or they may actually reach down and take the shoes off their feet. So those are the different ways that they prompt somebody into doing the expected behavior. So I hope you can see kind of the downside of this is that it takes away the child’s agency when you’re physically handling them and physically making them do things. So that’s why it can be problematic, because you don’t always know why the child is doing the behavior, and ABA is specifically not about why the child is doing the behavior. So if you are just trying to get them to do the ‘right’ behavior, you’re removing some of the context around that behavior. ABA has been in use for 30, 40 years, and there are adult autistics now who say, you know, “ABA was abusive. It didn’t teach me anything useful. It made me feel traumatized, because people were handling me and making me do these things that I didn’t want to do.” So ABA has a very bad reputation in the autistic community. That said, there are a lot of parents and a lot of practitioners now who understand those concerns, who have talked to adult autistics, who maybe have autism selves and may be therapists. So there’s a lot going on in the field about how do we do this in a, in a, in a better way. And a lot of people who work with autistic people have have used the word ABA-like in their companies’ titles or something about behavior. So you may see ABA applied in different ways. And you just have to kind of see you have to see it for yourself. I think whenever you’re working with a kid or parent and you’re considering ABA, you kind of have to figure out what the practitioner is doing and and what the child is responding to.


The next type of therapy is speech therapy. Speech not only works on articulation and actual talking, it works on social skills and communication skills. So speech therapy is generally recommended for all kids with autism because it helps them if they do have dyspraxia, which means they can’t form words properly. Speech therapy helps them to form words and to use whatever language skills that they have. It also goes onto the other side where it’s helping children to understand different situations and to communicate their needs. In those situations, the speech therapy overall can be very helpful for kids.


Physical therapy is again for kids with dyspraxia, who have issues with motor planning, which means they can’t hold a pen or they can’t walk up stairs. They need help chewing their food. Things like that. So that’s what physical therapy helps with. And again, it can be very helpful for kids who are young and who haven’t been able to figure things out because of sensory issues or whatever. Their brains have not figured out how to coordinate all these, all these skills into doing some kind of physical activity. That’s physical therapy.


Occupational therapy… The word ‘occupation’ is really meant to be, like, life skills. So when you do occupational therapy, you’re talking about being able to write letters and words. Knowing how to cook something. You know? And all the skills that lead up to being able to cook something, you know, reading a recipe, being able to pour water into a bucket or into a pot…It’s just things like that. So occupational therapy can be very useful for kids with autism, and it can also be useful for adults and older, older people who don’t have certain skills that are expected of a typical person their age.


And then cognitive behavioral therapy is talk therapy. So that’s, um, that’s when, that’s the typical image of when you go to a therapist, you sit down and talk about whatever and they give you some suggestions. And so cognitive behavioral therapy is, is a very involved back and forth type of therapy. And that’s useful for older kids and adults who are able to communicate well and understand how their actions are impacting other people. So you don’t use cognitive behavioral therapy on autistic kids who are three or six or seven, because at that age most of the kids, that I’ve seen, are still figuring out how to act, how to be in the world. They’re still dealing with sensory issues. They’re still trying to learn how to communicate. They still have motor issues to work on. So talk therapy is not something you do when you’re still working on those basic skills. When somebody is old enough to say, “OK, I can ask for help. I kind of know things that I want to do, but I’m having issues with this, with this certain thing.” That’s when you can go to a cognitive behavioral therapist and say, “OK, so I want to do this better.” And that therapist can help you do that thing better.


ADHD. Initially, what I do want to say about it is that it really exists. It’s something that adds difficulty and it is something that can be managed with medication. It doesn’t have to be managed with medication, but medication is effective in helping the symptoms of ADHD. The other thing that helps with ADHD is what I — I try not to say ‘behavior modification,’ but that’s what it is. It is helping the child understand how to act differently so that they can manage their symptoms. So with ADHD, you have issues with attention and hyperactivity. So ‘attention’ means that they can either really focus on something that they really like doing and lose track of time, or that they find it really hard to focus on something that they don’t like doing. So this is not them deciding that they don’t want to focus on it. This is their brain saying, “Yeah, I’m not interested in this, I’m going to tune out.” So they really have trouble controlling that part of their self that says, “OK, I need to focus on this. I need to attend to whatever activity is going on.” Another thing that happens with kids that have ADHD is time blindness. So they can be watching a video, they can be drawing, and it may be one o’clock. And they look at the clock and say, “OK, it’s one o’clock.” It may keep going. They may look up again and it’s three o’clock. They — some of them don’t have any concept of time passing. They don’t have this internal clock that says, “Oh, I’ve been sitting here for 30 minutes, maybe I should get up and take a break or find a snack.” Time just passes. And then they look up and they have all these different needs and they’re trying to figure out how — how did this happen? How am I in this place where I didn’t get my needs met? So that can be something that’s really frustrating for kids with ADHD. Because they want to go to the bathroom and eat and go to whatever offering was at such time, but they may not be aware of time and they may not have the tools to figure out what time it is and when they need to go. So that’s what kids with ADHD often need support with. So a lot of people who have ADHD have parents who say, “Oh, well, sugar makes them hyperactive” or “this makes them lose focus.” Food doesn’t have a huge impact on ADHD. You can choose whatever you want for your kids, but it’s not a one to one correlation that they eat the sugary cereal and now they’re going to be hyperactive in an hour. There’s lots of things to consider like sensory needs, what time of day it is, whether they have people who are getting on their nerves, or if something stimulating is going on as to how they’re interacting in that environment. So I wouldn’t always jump to food or screens. If you think, “OK, this person’s being hyperactive,” you kind of have to think, “What is going on in their brain that this external thing may be making worse?” The other thing is that kids with ADHD understand that their hyperactivity or the loss of attention is causing issues, so they know that it’s a problem and they know that you don’t like it. So that’s — it really doesn’t help for you to remind them, like, “Oh, I already told you the offering’s at whatever time.” You have to kind of be patient with them, because they know that this is something that’s hard for them and they know that other people are not happy about it.


So when you have ADHD, kids with ADHD, it’s helpful to have the other kids know and understand kind of these regulating tools. So on the right here I have a picture of the zones of regulation. The zones of regulation uses a color code system to kind of talk about feelings and emotions. So you have blue, which is sad, upset, hurt or tired. You have green, which is happy, excited, calm, proud. You have yellow, which is nervous, surprised, confused, or silly. And you have red, which is angry, yelling, aggressive, mad. So when you have a community that recognizes the zones of regulation, you can see somebody who is like acting really silly and you’re maybe having your spawn meeting, and you can say, “OK, I see that you’re kindof in the yellow zone. We need everybody to be in the Green Zone. Is there something you can do to calm down? Can you go somewhere else with that energy? Or can you get like a fidget toy?” So you can when you have this kind of language, you can help everybody kind of help regulate their emotions.


The other thing is that you do need space for loudness and messiness. So if somebody is being just really loud and active, have a place where you can say, “Hey, go down there.” You know? “These kids are reading or these kids want to draw quietly. You can use this room for yelling and running around.”


The older the kids get, the more important it is to teach them these behavior-management things, and as adults, we know what behavior management looks like because we have these tools for ourselves. You know, we have calendars on our phone. We have to-do lists. We have little reminder apps. So all of those things are helpful for kids with ADHD, because you can’t change their brain, but you can change the actions that they take. You can help them get into the habit of doing things so that they can manage their symptoms. So. Yeah, the older kids get the more of these type of management skills you can teach them. And having them know how to ask for help and where their deficits are is the best skill, because the more they can ask for help themselves the more they feel like they’re in control of their disability.


And then when it comes to kids with ADHD, you should pick your battles. Some of our kids will forget every single day to take off their shoes. Or they will lose track of time. Or they will lose their glasses or their jacket somewhere in the building. Try not to get upset when those things happen. Just use whatever reminders that you use. It just you may have to remind them every single time, and that’s OK. Like I said before, don’t don’t don’t make them feel bad for what’s going on in their brains. Because they know that it’s a problem and they know that you probably don’t like it. And then when it comes to making agreements or making rules, is it really important for you to enforce that rule? So maybe you have a rule of taking off your shoes. If every day you’re getting into an argument about taking off shoes and the kid is like, I don’t want to take off my shoes, is it really important that you emphasize that part of life, of your ritual at the school? Is it really that important that you have to say you’re going to make a big deal out of it? So pick your battles. That happens a lot with kids with disabilities. Sometimes there are going to be things that they do that just frustrate you and you just have to kind of go with it. Because it’s not worth the struggle.


So these next two slides are visual supports. And these are what we actually use in our school. So because we have a lot of kids with ADHD and autism, we have a lot of things that show what we expect. And this can go from the really mundane like this, this image of a hand over a hot plate and there’s an X that’s like, “Here’s a hot surface. Don’t touch.” So that’s on ovens and the 3D printer and the heater. So that’s a really simple signal: don’t touch. And we have this poster: ways to calm my worry. So it talks about things that you can do when you’re worried. You know, that’s something that’s really simple. A kid can look at it and say, “OK, I can take a deep breath, I can talk to somebody, I can exercise.” And that’s just a reminder for kids who may be in a stressed state, and they see that and they’re like, “OK, I don’t have to think of things. I don’t have to reach for tools. I can just see those tools.” The one on the bottom is my favorite, because that was made especially for my daughter. So my daughter has a tendency, when she’s in a different room from me, to just yell. “Mom!” Just yell throughout the whole building looking for me. And so I made her a visual support that said, “Don’t yell for mom. Go find her.” You know, Courtney is eight. She can read fine, but I have words and pictures that kind of reinforce the point. “Just go in there.” And this is helpful for her, because it just reminds her what to do. So if she’s sitting in a certain room and she’s about to yell, if she sees that, she can think, “Oh, yeah. Let me go and find her.” The picture on the right is, “Can I use my phone?” So we have an — we had to make an agreement about using devices during school hours. So this was made for a kid who didn’t know how to tell time. So what I did is I printed this paper. It has the times in numbers and then it has the times. And I drew the clock hands on it. And then I have the green saying, “Yes, during these hours you can use it. No, during these hours.” So even if she didn’t know how to tell time, she could look at the clock and then look at this piece of paper and say, “OK, now is not a time when I can use my phone.”


Now the one on the left is a social story. So this is talking about preparing kids for when kids do not want to play with them or they want to play something different. And this social story uses random pictures of kids. You know, I have another one that uses pictures of Mario and Luigi, because that’s one of the special interests that one of our kids has. So just things that they can kind of relate to is good for social stories. So social stories: “I can play with others or by myself.” That says: “I have lots of friends at school. I like playing with my friends. When I play, I’m sharing. Everyone needs to share. Sometimes I want to do one thing and my friend wants to do another, and that’s OK. We could do different things for a while, then we can play together again. If my friend does not want to do what I’m doing, they can find another friend to play with. If I don’t have friends to play with, I will play by myself.” And this is just a really simple thing. You can read it to the kids and they get it. So now you’re explaining what happens in everyday life and what you can do in response to that. And that helps kids to kind of get an idea of, “OK, this is how I should manage a situation.” This next page… So here I have how to make popcorn. One of Courtney’s favorite things is making popcorn. This just has instructions for making popcorn. It has, you know, has words on one side and it has pictures on the other side. And the pictures include pictures of our microwave, so that it’s not a generic thing. It’s like, this is exactly what our microwave looks like and what you should press. And, you know, even though making popcorn is something that you can do over and over, maybe a lot of kids with autism and ADHD don’t get that kind of rhythm into their head. So just having something they can reference and say, “OK, well, this is how I do it,” that makes her a lot more comfortable. And it also helps me, because she doesn’t have to come to me and say, “Well, what do I do?”


We have pictures of stop signs on all of the doors: the door to the preschool room and then the doors outside. And that’s just a simple visual support saying, “Before you go out this door, you should ask somebody or tell somebody that you’re going out the door.”


We have our little choice boards. So this is just if somebody is like, “I’m bored,” you know, “What do I do?” We just have simple pictures. You can play, read, draw, go outside, make something, eat something, sleep, or watch videos. And these are little icons that kind of just like can can can bring up in their image, “Ok, maybe I can go get a tablet. Or maybe I can go find a book.” And that’s something that gives kids more agency. So instead of coming to a facilitator saying, “Well, what do I do?” they can look at that and say, “Ok, here are some things I can do.”


The middle picture — “Are you ready?” — that’s a morning routine. So we had a whole week of, like, hygiene. And so this is a simple picture that I found on the internet somewhere talking about what you do in your morning routine. And some kids find it really helpful to see pictures of what you do, step-by-step. And that reminds them like, “Ok, once this is done, I know I have completed my morning routine.” One thing that’s really hard for me is routines. I have very specific things that I have to do in the morning. And if I don’t do one thing, then I forget the other things in that routine. So when I get up and wash my face, brush my teeth, take my medicine and feed the fish, if I don’t take my medicine, I will forget to feed the fish. So that’s something else that is part of my autism is that if I don’t remember, if I don’t do something in a certain order, it’s not going to get done.


The other choice board we have here is our snacks. So we just have pictures of different types of snack foods that we usually have at the school. If we don’t have that snack, we cover that picture up with a Post-it note. So somebody says, “I’m hungry, can I have a snack?” We can show them that board and they can pick at it. That helps. That takes out a lot of the back and forth, the like, “Well, what do you want?” “I don’t know what I want. What do we have?” Going back and forth on that.


And then all of our tablets are color coded with the fish. So each tablet has its own fish and it’s a certain color and that’s just helpful. I don’t know what it helps with, but I’ve noticed the kids really like to say, “I want the blue fish” or “I want the yellow fish.” You know, they have most of the same things, but you know that that’s another support that we use.


All right, questions about visual symbols? I tell you, this is a really big topic, and so this is, this is one of the most effective things that we’ve used at our school is all of these supports. All right, now I’m going to jump back into going through these different types of disability.


So I can share the next one, and the next one to talk about is giftedness. And I consider giftedness with disability because it’s often comorbid with other disabilities, which means that a gifted kid may have ADHD or may have autism. Giftedness itself is something that takes the child out of the typical world. So when they have skills that are not expected for a child their age, they’re looked at differently. They may have some challenges with how they get around in the world. So that’s why I put this on here. When it comes to giftedness, it’s really good to teach self-help tools. So it’s good to help kids know how to ask for help, how to organize their day, how to do certain things, so that they can help themselves to get through, get through their day. Self-esteem maybe an issue with kids with giftedness. So a lot of times kids’ self-esteem is tied to their ability to pass a test or to know certain facts. And if that gets taken away or if that gets challenged, that means their self-worth is challenged. So it’s important to have conversations about what is value, what makes you a person, what makes you a good person, what makes you someone who’s worth being a friend to. And having those conversations to help the kid think, “OK, my self-worth is not tied to a grade. My self-worth is tied to who I am as a person and how I act in the world.”


It’s really helpful at our centers to talk about, you know, reflection. So I set this intention and then I did this or I didn’t do this. And why did I do it or why didn’t I do it? And, you know, kids who are gifted are usually really good at thinking out through those kind of steps. Why did I do this? Why did I not do this? And the more they can think about, “Well, I didn’t do this because…” the more they can say, “OK, well, next time I will do this differently. Next time I’ll ask for help.” Or “Next time I’ll…,” you know, whatever. So that helps kids, too. Helping them think through that process is helping them to help themselves later. Another thing with giftedness, kids may be afraid of the things that they’re not good at. That… You may see kids who are really excited to do something because they know that they’re good at it, but they may kind of avoid things that they’re not good at. So it’s helpful to help kids fail. And that means to give them a challenge, not — not in a testing way, but to encourage them to go through things or to try things that they may not be good at. Because they may realize, “Even though I’m not good at it, I had fun doing it.” Or, you know, “I’m not good at it, but at least I tried.” And so those are really helpful things for kids to get into their heads when they’re thinking about what they’re good at and what they’re not good at.


To encourage collaboration instead of competition…So we really want at our center…We really talk about helping each other and getting things done instead of finding out who’s good at this, who is good at that. You know? Who’s better or worse. We let kids be kids.


So another thing that gifted kids may encounter is that they may be expected to be more mature than they are. They may be expected to make decisions that are above their age level, that are inappropriate for their age. So make sure that even though the child is gifted, they may be able to understand things or talk through things better, but that doesn’t mean that they’re ready to be an adult. They will still have the same kind of developmental things going on in their head, the things that other kids their age will have. But if they, if they are interacting with the adult world, they are doing things that require them to interact with other adults, be their support. Help them to be seen as legitimate or as worthy, I guess, to other adults. That’s a big thing that you can do for kids, with kids with high IQ, is that you can help other adults recognize their talents.


And then just to throw this in here is that giftedness is something that was developed in the 20s and throughout American history has been used as a way to segregate different races. IQ tests were initially developed as a way to prove that Black people were not able to do certain jobs in the military. So we can’t talk about giftedness in IQ without talking about racial disparities. And that’s a whole nother conversation. But I did want to throw that in there.


The other side of giftedness is intellectual disability. So intellectual disabilities means somebody has a low IQ — and IQ is not useful for us at our center, but we do use Adaptive Ability. So there are assessments that measure what are these people’s skills in certain areas. And those measures have been helpful for us to know what exactly a child is capable of doing.


Um…Some kids with low IQ have difficulty with impulse control. So you may see that, also in ADHD, where they’re acting without thinking about the consequences of it or they’re reacting emotionally and they need help regulating their emotions. A lot of these kids have black and white thinking, either good or bad. And you have to support them with saying, “Ok…” Support them with the gray areas, understanding what the grey areas are. They may have — they may not be aware of personal boundaries. So you may have to reinforce what people’s boundaries are. And again, you can use social stories, visual supports. You can talk to them about these things and help them understand. When you interact with kids with intellectual disabilities, it’s important to speak clearly, but you don’t have to speak really, really slowly. You don’t have to, like, draw out your words and pause after every word. You can speak at a normal pace. Just be very, very clear and sometimes repeat things. You can wait. You know, when you’ve asked and you’re waiting for a response? You can wait a little bit longer, because they have to process and then they have to think of what to say and then they have to figure out how to say it. So it’s helpful to give them time to process and respond. But you don’t have to dumb down your language or start speaking really slowly.


One thing that I think is important for kids is that you don’t call them “a 14 year old with a developmental age of a 4 year old,” because the truth is, is they’re 14 years old. So their body has all of these things, like puberty and whatever it is, happening. At 14 years old, they have already been a 4 year old. So their IQ may be lower than a typical 14 year old, but that doesn’t mean that they’re operating with the same skillset of a 4 year old. They’re operating with the skill set of a 14 year old with certain deficits. The biggest thing that I’ve learned with kids with intellectual disabilities is that math and reading are something that isn’t easy. You know? It’s helpful to know the developmental stages that kids go through when it comes to reading. And it’s helpful to know how kids learn numeracy, so how they learn to recognize numbers, to add, to subtract, to multiply and divide. So it’s OK if you’re in your self-directed space and other kids are picking it up, but some kids are not picking it up. They may need direct instruction. They may need a book. We use a lot of different books when it comes to phonics and to math. So we just kind of try and see what happens. But the biggest thing I’ve learned is that, yeah, there are people who have studied this. They know how to educate kids and it’s OK to go to those resources and figure out how people educate other people.


The last thing is that children of color, for whatever reason, are more likely to be diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It’s not clear to me why. I do know that in the public school system, those kids are more likely to be put into separate, segregated classes and more likely to be disciplined. And they’re more likely to lose out on opportunities like field trips and whatever. So I think it’s important to know that if you’re, if you’re going to have kids with intellectual disabilities, that they may be coming from an environment where they were already seen as less than. And then you have to work really hard to incorporate them and to help to be a part of the community.


This is depression and anxiety, so you have kids or you may have kids who are diagnosed with depression, anxiety, PTSD, things like that. For these kids, it’s really important to help to communicate their needs, because if they get into an episode and — I don’t want to call it an episode… If they, if they’re really in a low place, they might, they may need help communicating their needs. And giving them shortcuts, tools, easy ways to show that they need help is is really important. So self-help tools, just like with ADHD. You want to teach them what they can do to help themselves. So thinking about calming strategies, places they can go, things they can do, like writing or journaling or drawing, you know, that helps them. It’s important to introduce those, introduce those when they’re not in a bad place. Introduce them when they’re happy, healthy, you know, when everything’s going normally, so that when they get into a place where they’re anxious or feeling really depressed, they can think about those tools and use those tools.


We had a discussion on the Slack channel about like what I call learned helplessness. It’s a child is is being really ambitious and doing a project. And then at the end of the project, like, well, “I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to present it. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to be involved in it.” That may be their anxiety talking. It may be that they don’t think they’re capable of it. Maybe that they’re really not capable of it…that you don’t know. You can’t really get inside a kid’s head. And are they doing this because they’re really nervous about it, or are they doing it because they know they don’t have the skills to do it? So that’s when you kind of figure out what, what the kid’s track record is or what you know about them. If you can help them get professional help to understand where their capability is versus where their ambitions are that’s helpful. But you won’t always be able to tell just looking at a situation why they’re not doing something.


When it comes to depression and anxiety, I think a lot of facilitators have dealt with depression, anxiety. It’s important to, for me to maintain the boundary of an adult and a child, or someone who’s not a relative, and kind of keep the personal things in my life personal. That’s not to say that the kids don’t know who you are and that you have disabilities or that you are taking medicine. But it’s not always appropriate to talk about things that you’ve been through with kids. If some somebody is really anxious and worried or they have, like, a fear of swimming, you know, you’re not going to sit beside them and talk about all the times you’ve been swimming and that one time you felt the manta ray or the shark at the beach. That — that’s just not appropriate, because you’re not helping the situation. So have boundaries. Kind of understand where your role as a parent or as a facilitator is. And that goes into when you’re talking about issues like suicide or harming others. If you are part of an organization, if you’re a private company or a non-profit organization, you do have some responsibilities as far as reporting goes. And so it’s important to know what your responsibilities are so that you can act on that. And that’s just really from a legal perspective and from, from a legal perspective, and a, I would think, from a wanting to help that person perspective. Relationships are really important, but there are times when you have to be somebody who is employed by an organization and to do what the law expects you to do. And while we haven’t had any of those situations where somebody threatened suicide, we have had a student threaten one of our facilitators, and that was really stressful time.


Now, physical disabilities. And this is like the catch-all category, because I have cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness, dyspraxia, epilepsy, etc. So these are disabilities that are not brain-based. I mean, cerebral palsy is brain-based…These are disabilities that affect how people interact with the physical world. They’re not necessarily neurological disabilities. All right? So when it comes to these disabilities, I think it’s important to know what your space is capable of and what your facilitators are capable of. And the biggest thing that’s helped me is hearing from adults with disabilities and what their school experience has been like. So, for instance, deaf people don’t all lip read. And it’s not effective to expect them to lip read for the entire day. If somebody is deaf then they need to know, they have things, you know — They’re going to be able to communicate, with sign language or some other method, and you need to be able to understand them and communicate back to them. So if you’re going to have somebody who’s deaf or hard-of-hearing, then you should consider learning sign language.


Wheelchair ramps are not always accessible. So, wheelchair ramps are often used to kind of make a building look kind of cool or interesting, and sometimes those wheelchair ramps, in actual practice aren’t actually actually practical for wheelchair users. So if you are setting up a space or you’re evaluating a space for your center, I would have somebody who’s an actual wheelchair user navigate that space and give you feedback on whether it works for them or not. Same thing with people who use canes or walkers or other type of mobility devices. And another important thing with wheelchair users and people who use devices that…Don’t don’t “help” them. You know, you can hold the door open for them, but don’t touch their wheelchair. Don’t start pushing them. Don’t. Don’t grab things or try and… You know? Always ask before you do something like that, because you have to recognize them as a person who has their own capabilities and knows when they need help. To recognize that they are going to ask if they need help. You know? Never touch somebody’s wheelchair thinking that you’re helping them.


A lot of our buildings are going to be governed by ADA. Americans with Disabilities Act. Guidelines for…Those guidelines are the bare minimum. Those guidelines are not going to actually tell you how people with different disabilities are going to be able to access that space. The biggest thing with our building is that it’s — First of all, it doesn’t meet ADA guidelines anyway, but it’s not accessible to wheelchair users. So that’s something that we have to be kind of honest about, saying that this space is too small for a wheelchair, to navigate, and we’re not going to be able to accommodate children with them, wheelchair users. It’s important to know just because somebody has a disability in one area…Unlike autism or ADHD, you know, blindness or deafness is not going to affect their intellectual capability, is not going to affect their social skills. So don’t assume just because they have one disability that they have other disabilities.


And then when you have kids who are typical versus kids with disabilities, you want to make sure those typical kids are not making fun of that kid. And this is something I talk about later when it is really important, even though we’re in a space where the kids are being themselves and we’re focusing on relationships, there are times when you have to step in and say, this is not right. This is not a good way to treat people and I don’t want you to do that.


All right, that’s physical disabilities. The last one is trauma. So these are kids who have PTSD, who have been in traumatic situations, who are dealing with the effects of what they call Adverse Childhood Experiences. First of all, children who have other disabilities are more likely to be mistreated. They’re more likely to be abused, to have have been in situations like homelessness or situations where there is, like, emotional trauma, where they have anxiety and depression. So children with disabilities may already have symptoms of trauma suffering. The spaces are not the cure all for trauma. And this is something that we learned the hard way, is that even though you’re giving a child a space to be free and to use their agency and to help themselves, you may have all the tools in the world but you’re not a professional. You’re not able to to fix things for them. You’re not able to help them work through their trauma. And you may actually hurt them more by trying to “help” them through their trauma. So it’s important to understand when it’s something that is really, really, really needs professional intervention. And it’s important to have those resources available, or at least to be able to recognize when you need to go to a different, a different step with that kid. If you do have children with trauma, it’s important to help them feel safe. So you’re trying to avoid triggers to their trauma. So this does need — where you need to know a little bit more about the specific trauma that they’ve been in, but that’s not something you’re going to force out of them. If you can talk to their parents… If you can give them a space where they can be quiet and calm and happy, just give them that space. And if they want to talk about it, then you can be a listening ear just like with the other kids. You can teach self-management self-regulation tools. So you can teach them how to recognize when they’re upset, when they’re sad, and that, and what they can do about those feelings. And then you can just be a consistent presence to show that the adult world does have some people who are trustworthy. There are kids with trauma who do act out and do hurt others, either through bullying or by abusing other kids or kind of reenacting a trauma in a way that hurts other kids. And so that’s something where you have to be really aware of what that child is going through, what that child is doing, and then what professional resources they’re getting. And you have to evaluate if, if their actions are going to be a good fit for your center. So we’ve had kids that ended up where it’s like we have to monitor them, because they’re going to steal something, they’re going to destroy something, they’re going to hurt another child. And our space is not set up for us to be supervising every single kid, every single space. And that’s when you have to draw a line and say, OK, we can’t have this child. This child is not a good fit for our space. And then when it comes to reporting about neglected and abused kids, you do have to note the legal obligations. Yeah, I’m not going to say more about my opinion about how the reporting goes, but there are some guidelines, depending on what type of organization you are, where you have to report if you are aware of or suspect abuse or mistreatment of a child.


All right, so the last part of this is to talk about treatments in general. And what I say here is it’s OK that parents feel a sense of loss when a child is diagnosed. The parents are going to go through, like, a grieving period when they figure out that their child has some type of disability. And that’s OK. It’s OK to believe that some symptoms are exacerbated by the environment, by food, by screens. It’s OK. The parents believe that or think that something is making their child’s symptoms worse. It’s OK for parents to seek ways to manage their child’s symptoms. So parents are going to probably be looking at every website in the world about their disability and just trying to figure out ways to help their child. It’s OK to disagree with another parent about treatment. I guess I have a strong view against ABA, but they’re are going to be some parents who are sort of like “I just need something that’ll help.” And I would never tell a parent, “Don’t do this because I read on the Internet that it was harmful.” So I’m going to tell a parent, try what you think is best and then listen to the kid and see what they see, how they feel about it. It’s not OK to use treatments that cause harm. And so we know that there are some treatments that cause harm. If you go into some mommy groups on Facebook, there are parents who are giving their kids bleach and then there’s people who are starving their kids based on this idea that they need certain vitamins to “overcome” their autism. And so those treatments are not OK. And so the best way to understand if a treatment really works for people with that category of disability is to listen to adults with those disabilities and to to hear what their experiences have been. And to look at what practitioners are doing to incorporate views of adults with disabilities.


The last thing that I really want to talk about is like this performance, this idea of kids with disabilities have to show that they’re special or something like that. So a lot of times we expect kids with disabilities to have like this really cool skill. You know? Or to… Despite their disabilities, they went to college and blah, blah, blah. You know, some kids are just not going to do that. They’re not going to go to college. They’re not going to wow you with anything. They’re going to be kids. And it’s not fair to put that expectation on them that they have to be something super special. So in the slideshow, I have this picture of this kid. He has a little brother who has some type of dyspraxia where he can’t walk, he can’t use his own limbs. And so this kid has trained for a triathlon. And so he does triathlons and he’s like 13, 14 years old. But what he does is he takes his brother along on all the triathlons. So he swims, he bikes, he runs with the kid, with his brother, in tow. And I think that’s an example of like this inspiration porn. Like, this kid is not allowed to be a regular 14 year old boy. He has to be something super special because he has a disabled brother, you know? And who knows what the brother’s opinions are of all this running and swimming and stuff like that. Maybe he enjoys it. But why are we putting that expectation on his brother to do all of these things and help his brother be super special just because he has a disability? I think that’s unhealthy for both of the kids. So that’s, that’s the really important thing at this time.


But yeah, so that’s — we’re at three o’clock, so thank you for attending.



First audience question: so is R.P.M. ABA? And can you talk more about letterboards and potential interpretor bias?



R.P.M. , or prompted — rapid prompting method, uses the same foundation as ABA. So the idea of rapid prompting is that you’re telling them to do this thing, and they’re doing that action over and over. And they’re getting a reward whenever they do that action. So it’s still dealing with this external behavior or something that you do to please somebody else. So something typically you might do for rapid prompting is you might want them to say the word “bird” whenever they see a picture of a bird. So you hold up the bird and you wait a second. And then if they don’t say it, you say, “Say ‘bird.” And then if they don’t say anything, you say, “Say bird,” and you might move their finger to point to the bird. And then, okay they say “bird.” So you put it away and you bring it right back up. “A bird.” And so that’s rapid prompting, and it’s meant to kind of drill that pathway into their mind’s eye. Picture, “She wants me to say ‘bird.'” You know. “I sneeze, so…”  “Somebody wants me to say ‘thank you.'” Or “I’m supposed to say ‘good bye’ at this moment.” So for me, what it does is it it takes away some agency, because here you’re drilling them on things that are not important to them, but on things that are important to other people. And that’s really the biggest problem I have with ABA-type methods, is that you’re not listening to the child about what they need help with, what they want to do. And you’re not — by doing these behaviourist techniques, you’re just teaching them to respond to a stimulus. And it’s not using, like, higher order thinking skills.


The letter board is different because it’s a method of communication and you do have to use prompting to teach a letter board. So a letter board is you might have a piece of paper that has all the alphabet and some numbers on it. And then you ask them a question and they start spelling a word. Or there’s, there…They might also have pictures. I say I want this. So sometimes people use rapid prompting or ABA to teach how to use a letter board. And I think that’s OK, because it’s — the end goal is not to have them point to letters. The end goal is communication, which is very important. I read about this thing called facilitated communication, which is where you have somebody who is interpreting for the child and it may be based on letters or based on pictures or whatever. From what I’ve seen, with adult autistics who who are nonverbal or non speaking, you know, those are effective ways to communicate. Sometimes somebody’s helping them is just helping them. You know, as you go down in age, you know, it may be that the facilitator wants certain things to be said. But when you have a kid who can point to letters, you know, there’s a lot more of their individuality going on in that. So if you switch facilitators and you can probably tell if it’s the child who’s communicating or if it’s a facilitator communicating. So I think for the most part, any kind of forms of visual communication are actually very effective for kids.



How do you support kids who like routine when plans change?



So a lot of autistic kids have trouble with flexibility and that’s just something you have to work on. Step by step. So if you’re doing your Set the Week meeting, or Set the day, and you say, “OK, well, we’re going to do this, this and this,” I would always caveat it, especially if I know the kids who are doing the offering, I’d be like, “OK, well, this child may not want to do it at two o’clock and something else may happen.” Just kind of preparing them for a change. If I haven’t prepared them and something happens, all you can do really in that moment is just kind of soothe them and kind of say, “OK, I know it feels bad. This is not happening. I know you really wanted that to happen. Let’s go find something else to do.” So distraction can sometimes work very well, because really it’s just the expectation and it’s just the feelings from that expectation being broken. That’s bad. And that’s what they’re feeling. So if you can get them to redirect or go to a different activity without them getting upset, and that’s great. If they’re upset, then you have to go into all these tools about helping them not be upset and talk about that a little bit later. Yeah, so and then after that, and in general, what I like to do is this, is one of the things that you can use a social story for is I say, “All right, we’re in a self-directed space. This is our school. Kids can make offerings. So kids choose activities. Sometimes when that time comes for them to do an activity, they don’t want to do that activity. Sometimes they find something else that they want to do or they’re stuck doing this. And when that happens, it’s OK because we can still have fun doing this activity.” And that’s a social story. And all you have to do is say that and explain to them and they get it. And they’re like, “OK, that makes sense to me.” And so when something like that happens, you can remind them to remember sometimes kids get stuck in something and they don’t want to do that activity. And that is really effective for kids with autism because they’re like, “OK, you explained that to me. Now I understand. So maybe I could do something else now.”



Have you ever had kids who you didn’t have the resources to support?



So we’ve had two kids who were having what we called behavioral issues. So whatever their disability was, it was related to how they interacted with the world. And, you know, it was it was hard because they wanted to be a part of the group and be friends with people. But they also had things that triggered them and made it very difficult for them to be with other kids. If they got together and they started yelling, they would get really aggressive. So things like that were really hard to deal with. And what we tried to do was to start this — like supervising them. Just like, I would be there, wherever they were, and if they moved to a different place, I would follow them to that place. And you can imagine what effect that has on a scenario when I have to be where this one person is and I can’t attend to all the other kids and what ever else I want to do. So that was really stressful, just following those kids around. And so what we had to do, it was kind of a multi-step process with the parents of saying, “OK, this is what’s going on. This is what we think they need help with and this is what we’re going to do going forward.” And one of the kids, her parents were not receptive at all to the idea that she had trauma and that she had a behavioral issue. It was more like, “Oh, well, y’all aren’t doing this. And the other schools didn’t do this either. And, you know, you’re not — you should treat her better.” Or something like that. And that’s a situation where, if the parent isn’t on board with helping the child improve then there’s nothing you can do. I mean, yeah, we have them for six hours. I can maybe throw some tools that I know at them. But really, it has to be the whole environment, their whole community helping them to be a better kid. And so if the parents are not on board, you know, that was when the mom came to me and said, well, y’all are the ones who are bullying her. For me, that was like, OK, this child is not going to be a good fit. We just have to let her go. And that was a really difficult conversation. The other parent was was really clearly aware of what was going on with her and she was mouthing “I’m sorry” and all of this stuff. Like it was — it was a really violent situation and it just was not going to be fixed by more conversations. And so… Yeah.



So you would confirm that all kids have interests and curiosity?



I think all children love to play. And as ALCs, you recognize that play is learning. And so if you have a child who, you know, may be an older child but they have a disability, their play will look different. They’re learning. They may not be interested in learning things that a typical kid their age is learning, but they’re still wanting to explore the world. Know they’re still enjoying what’s being offered. Kids with autism can be very direct about what they want to learn and what they don’t want to learn. My daughter is really famous for like, I’m offering something? She just gets up and walks out of the room. And that’s that’s fine. That’s just how she’s expressing herself. She’s not even expressing; she’s just being clear about what she wants and doesn’t want to learn. As long as you can kind of get over the idea that these kids would always say “please” or “thank you” or phrase it in a nice way, you know…They still want to learn. The biggest thing with kids with autism is that if you have, like, restricted interest, some — something may not be interesting to them unless it comes through, like, an avenue that they’re already interested in. So, like, we have one kid who really loves, like, Mario. The Super Smash Bros. characters. And so if you introduce something in that kind of aspect , then yes, it’s interesting to him. But if it’s not introduced that way, then, you know, he may not be as interested in it. Most of our kids are not, like, super interested in politics, you know? Kind of big, big deals that go on in the outside world. And I think that’s just because, as kids with disabilities, they’re still navigating their own personal worlds and their family and stuff like that. So we don’t have a lot of offerings that are like really big topics or big cultural things. But they definitely find things that they want to do. They will look to me for things like activities. And so I’m constantly trying to find something that they might be interested in. But then once you find something and if you’re making an offering, you do have to think about the accommodations that a kid might need. So if they have intellectual disabilities, you may need to write out the directions. You may need to — the word is differentiation is — it’s a way you kind of aim it at their capability so that they can do the activity and still feel like they’re part of it. But you’re not putting out these expectations that they’re going to do the same thing as a typical child. So you have to have a little bit of planning when you’re making offerings. And if another kid is making an offering, you may want to jump in and say, “OK, this kid might be able to participate if you do this.” So you can kind of do things like that. But they’re still — they still want to play and they still learn a lot. The biggest thing I think is negotiating with parents and their expectations. You know, they may still think that it’s going to be like “the miracle” that helps them to learn everything. And it’s just good to be honest about certain disabilities and that that does mean that they’re not going to be capable of learning certain things. But they’re still capable of learning.


So I run into this desire that I feel from the parents to show growth, to show that they learned something. So I kind of try and make that a buffer between the parents and the kids, by giving the kids space to, like, explore and do their thing and then have the parents — help the parents understand, yes, these kids are learning things or they are improving on certain things without me putting that expectation onto the kids that they’re doing that. I don’t have to name those things for the kids. I can name it for the parents, but I don’t have to deal with that when it comes to kids.



It seems like accessible design benefits all of us.



I listened to this podcast about curb cuts like that, like how they’ll day, take a curb and like, cut it. So it’s like more of like a ramp for, like, wheelchairs. And they talked about how when, when that was first done, they thought it was just, you know, only going to benefit wheelchairs. But then they started to, you know, study how it was used and they really realized, oh, yeah, there’s like people with all kinds of mobile needs, whether it’s a wheelchair or it’s, you know, a skateboard or a mom with a stroller or a delivery person. And so, like, even though I think a lot of these things that you’re talking about are for specific individuals with certain needs, it actually starts to have a ripple effect of like helping many individuals in maybe unseen ways, because we all have different ways of like accessing information.



Yeah, definitely. And that kind of goes back to the social model of disability. Is that we’re, as a society, we think, “Oh, the child or the adult can’t do this because they’re not able to.” But really, if we look at some of the things that we do in the, in the world, and if we change some of those things a little bit, then it can actually help people just being people.



Are the hygiene and other social lessons you offer mandatory?



Yeah, so I typically will use morning spawn to kind of like throw in like my life lesson of the day. So I will plan things for each group of kids as far as academics or whatever offerings I plan to offer, but spawn is really the time when we say, OK, this is something I think is important and required and whatever. And so everybody comes in to spawn and I say, “OK, well, this is what we’re going to do.” So when we did hygiene each morning, it’s fun. I was like, OK, we’re going to practice washing your hands. We’re going to talk about brushing your teeth. We talk about morning routine. So that’s something that I usually throw in spawn, because that’s the only time when all the kids are together and that’s really the only required thing, social skills. And then academic skills… Those can be like, offerings that I’ll offer to a smaller group of kids. And those are, those are still optional, where they can decide they want to do that or they don’t want to do that.


What was I going to say…Yeah, the one thing that we do kind of require, we do still require reading and math lessons. And one is because most of our kids are still under age 10. So, you know, most of them are still working on reading and math. And the other is that we recognize that part of being independent or part of having agency is being able to have those basic numeracy and literacy skills. So I do work with each individual kid. In a little time that we call like, what does she call it…She calls it “learning time.” You know, that’s a learning time where we work on math skills and reading skills. And it’s still going to be like, “OK, you can choose how this goes, you can choose what method. You’re not feeling it. We don’t have to do it.” You know, still kind of an SDE kind of feel. But it is something that’s kind of required is that we work with each kid, wherever they are, on their reading and math skills.



How much do kids know about each other’s diagnosis?



You could have you know, we have had several opportunities where we talk about disabilities. And when that comes up, I give the children the opportunity to self identify, to say, “Oh, yeah, I have autism.” Or “I know I have ADHD.” And for the other kids, that’s helpful for them to be able to own that because, of course, they’re aware that they have difficulties in areas. So when they can, if they have… You know, it’s never required for them to say something like that. But if they if they do want to say it then they feel a lot more in control and, you know. My daughter likes talking about some of the things that she deals with in her life. But in general, I don’t disclose diagnoses of other kids to other kids. So as facilitators, we do a lot of talking with the parents and we have a lot of documentation about what specifically they need. But we don’t have any of those conversations in front of the kids. We don’t talk to that kid about their specific needs. Like I wouldn’t talk to a kid about the medicine that they’re taking in front of other kids. You know, they see me using different tools with kids. They see me adjusting my approach with kids. And so they may ask about that. And that’s when I can explain, “OK, well, her brain works differently. And so sometimes I need to help her with this or sometimes she needs help with that.” So that’s the only kind of time when we actually talk specifically about a disability is when we’re saying this kid needs this type of tool or this tool is helpful for that kid. And we don’t really go into why. It’s just like, I know this kid and they trust me to, you know, to know why I’m adjusting my approach with the kid.



How do you manage cleanup?



So we have failed at having like a regular chore day, but when we do ask people to participate in cleanup, we generally ask kids to clean up their own mess. And if we’re giving out jobs, we say, “OK, I know you can do this. So you wipe the table, you go sweep the floor.” You know, if I know my kid has motor issues where they can’t sweep, I’m like, “OK, can you wipe down the toilets?” And those are just, it’s just, it’s part of our regular conversation, of being aware of what kids can and can’t do. So, you know, they know, “OK, so she’s asking him to wipe the toilet,” so to speak, “because maybe she knows that he can.” So, you know, we’re not going to tell a kid, “Go do this” and then watch them fail at it. You know, we’re kind of building in that accommodation, I guess it is. So… We prompt. So, a strategy, I guess, for me is reminding kids what we’ve taught them. So if it’s like taking off your shoes when they come in, they run into another room, we’re like, “Take off your shoes.” You know, those kind of reminders are just a daily part of our life. So, cleaning up is the same way. So if somebody eats lunch and then they run down to the makerspace, it’s like, “OK, clean up your lunch.” “We clean up our lunches.” Stuff like that. So. Yeah, that’s what we do. We also have pictures for cleaning and sweeping and stuff like that, so.



A final note on parents…



The only other thing I want, I want to emphasize is that parents will be at different stages of awareness or disability acceptance when it comes to their kids. And so that’s another kind of relationship thing that you have to walk through, because some kids, some parents do not want to help. They don’t want help. They don’t want to acknowledge that their kid needs certain accommodations. So you kind of have to be in a relationship with saying, “OK, I know this is what you expected them, but they’re not capable of doing it. And so this is what we do at school to help them do that.” You know, we have some parents who expect them to sit down and do worksheets all day. And we’re just like, that’s not what we’re doing. That’s not how they learn. That’s not what they want to do. And, you know, maybe they don’t have the motor skills to use a pencil. So we really try and help parents understand and then send them resources about disabilities and what they can do. And then we just have a list of professionals who can explain different disabilities to them and help them and their kids get into therapies.

2020 Webinar Transcript: What About College?

Agile Learning Centers Network Spring 2020 Webinar Series 

“What About College?” 

with Antonio Buehler of Abrome


[00:00:00.480] – Title Card

What About College? Discussing some of the realities for young people in Self-Directed Education with Antonio Buehler from Abrome


[00:00:00.840] – Antonio

This webinar – second to last one – is: What about college? We’re going to discuss it just in general. We’re going to cover a lot of what needs to be covered when talking about what is college. But we’re also going to focus in on specifically self-directed-education-related aspects to it. So.


All right, so about us, this is the Agile Learning Centers webinar series, this is our second the last one. I believe the next one will also be next week at 1:00 pm on Sunday.


And as that web site right there, which allows you to see all the webinars that you’ve done. All right, about us. Me, I’m Antonio, I’m a facilitator at Abrome, which is an Agile Learning Center in Austin, Texas. I have come to this work because I want to undermine oppressive institutions within our society. And one of the most oppressive institutions that I believe upholds much of the other oppressive institutions of society is conventional schooling and just the schooled mindset.


[00:01:31.300] – Antonio

I have experience as a teacher, investment banker, military officer. I have degrees from West Point, Stanford, and Harvard, which has value when we’re talking about college options, especially when I’m talking to people who don’t want to listen to the notions of giving children autonomy and freedom in schooling.


More specifically, when it comes to this topic, I have done a fair amount of college admissions work. I’ve always done it on the side. I started out doing it for friends and family after I had some unpredictable success within college and graduate school admissions based on some of my numbers. And then people wanted me to help them game the system to get into the schools of their choice. And so I just started helping people and that resulted in a lot of success early on. So more and more people started coming to me through word of mouth. I had particular success with Harvard and Stanford Universities; MIT as well. And by the last year that I was doing college admissions consulting on the side, it was my only source of revenue and I was actually charging twenty two thousand dollars a year to help kids apply to college. I didn’t have a lot of clients at a time, because I was very engaged with various activist efforts, so I never have more than three or four kids at a time, but it did help me fund my lifestyle for the few years before I actually launched Abrome.


[00:03:22.700] – Antonio

What even is college? So what does college provide to young people in your view? Are some colleges better than others? Which colleges are the best? And is self directed education worth it if it makes it harder to get into Harvard or Stanford or the other sort of prestigious colleges?


[00:03:51.060] – Crystal

So I really enjoyed college. It was the first time I was away from my home town and away from my parents and I just got to be like, very free. I don’t use any of my degrees right now, but I still feel like it was worth it to go and have the experience and kind of grow.


[00:04:19.750] – Antonio

Crystal, do you think some colleges are better than others?


[00:04:23.340] – Crystal

I mean, if you’re working in the corporate world then some colleges are better than others. You know, the experience I got at a state school versus a private school probably did mean that I got less opportunities in the field that I was in, but for me, didn’t make a big difference.


[00:04:40.510] – Nicole

My thoughts, I mean, for me, like Crystal, a chance to get away from– from home and just make connections with people from all over and hear different perspectives. I just– I think in my college classes, I had the first experience of like, learning how much I don’t know, and just the vastness that was out there. And I went to a small liberal arts college. And so there was a lot of– at least in a lot of classes, time for discussion and so that exchange of ideas. I think there’s a lot of– I mean, it seems like there’s a lot of networking that I don’t know that led to connections later and– and just friendships.


But also, I mean, looking back, this was– yeah, I mean, there’s also systems of oppression that were reinforced in this college and lot of ways of thinking that weren’t, you know, that were reinforced. That were– reinforced stereotypes and things, though, and just due to inaction against oppression and things like that, so it was kind of a mixed bag, I guess.


[00:06:10.850] – Abby

Yes, I picked the– I went to NYU’s Gallatin School, which is a design your own major program. And so I knew I wanted more choice than I’d had in high school and I knew that I didn’t want to be stuck doing like Gen Eds or a really kind of strict major program, but I was from a place in a class background where I didn’t really know how the system worked. So it was disorienting sometimes being in part of a cohort at NYU because there was class stuff going on that I felt but didn’t– hadn’t been expecting and was too busy trying to just keep my head above water to be able to really reflect on. And senior year I took Anthropology of Ed class and my professor had written a book about college and how admissions work and why people go. And he opened the class talking about how elite schools are essentially where families send their kids to find spouses who are from the same social class and to replicate their class status. And it felt so good to hear someone say the thing that I had been kind of quietly wondering about.


Yeah, and in terms of are some colleges better than others, you know, it depends on what you want. And so self directed education does feel worth it to me if it makes it harder, because at least the kids know why they’re doing what they’re doing. More than they would otherwise, I guess.


[00:08:13.000] – Antonio

Yeah, it’s interesting, when I started Abrome I wanted to leverage my understanding of the admissions process and my ability to game it effectively because– because it’s not a meritocracy. That’s what I always tell people, it’s a game as sort of like a selling point.


It’s like, hey, you can [do] self-directed education. And, oh, by the way, you can still get into these top colleges. And I actually moved away from that because I found that that messaging drew in people who only wanted to consider self directed education as an end around the traditional system to get into school easier and it tended to push away people who were just like you talk about this too much. And so we’re interested in allowing our kids to be free, not getting into Ivy League schools. And so it was actually backfiring on me. It was drawing in the wrong people and pushing away the right people. So I recognize the ability to be able to talk about this with prospective families, to talk about this with adolescents who are really starting to stress out over it and to be able to give supportive guidance and feedback along the way. But I definitely don’t think that we should be leading with this is the way to game the system that is ultimately harmful and, oh, by the way, your kids get to be a little bit more free in the process.


I actually have one family who, after sitting through one of my presentations, they said, OK, so explain to me exactly how if I send my kids to Abrome, they will get into Harvard. And that wasn’t the point. But nonetheless, we still have to be prepared to answer these questions and it does help to understand how the process works. So that’s why I’ll try to– that’s what I’ll try to do.


[00:10:25.050] – Title Card

College Options


[00:10:25.050] – Antonio

I’m going to break– I’m going to go through this section relatively quickly. I assume that most of y’all understand it. If you don’t feel free to just jump in and ask for clarification.


So there are – and these are very arbitrary distinctions and cutoffs that are being made – I am saying that there is a group of elite research universities in the country. And I’m just going to say that’s the top-10 US News Research Universities, so that’s Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, M.I.T.; the top-10. Here they are. And so amongst– amongst this top-10, you know, six of them are always up there and maybe those bottom three rotate out with some others in the top 12, on occasion.


If you look into the numbers a little bit more closely, five of the eight are Ivy League schools and two more of those are what some people call the “Ivy plus”: the Ivy League schools, plus Stanford and MIT. One of the big reasons why these are considered the elite research universities is because everyone thinks that they’re elite and so everyone applies to them. And so their admissions rates are– tend to be among the lowest in the country and that builds the brand. And every year these schools become more exclusive and their brand gets stronger and stronger. And it’s a cycle that reinforces itself. And the reality is, is that there’s very little difference between an education from a top 10 school and a top fifty school or top two hundred school in terms of the education itself. But these are the elite ones that parents are dying to have as bumper stickers.


[00:12:16.360] – Antonio

All right. Then there’s the highly selective research universities. These are – I’m just going to cut it off at the top 25, right – and so these are the top 10 plus very prestigious and selective schools like Caltech, the other three Ivy League schools – Dartmouth, Brown and Cornell – schools that are in other parts of the country, like Notre Dame, Bryce, Washington University at St. Louis, USC, Carnegie Mellon. So schools like that.


Then there are the top tier public universities. Here, we have the Cal schools, such as Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, UCSD. You also have UVA, Michigan, University North Carolina, University of Texas. And everyone’s perception of what a top tier public university is– it changes based on, oftentimes, who– what high school you might go to, or where your parents went to school, or what the people in your neighborhood think. There’s also schools like Georgia Tech and William and Mary that are considered top tier public universities.


And then there’s the elite liberal arts colleges, and so, again, if we’re just working with the top 10 schools, you might recognize some of these names Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore, Wellesley, Pomona, etc. These are smaller schools. They’re very affluent. And generally, they also have high admissions standards, low admissions rates.


And then there are– there is the huge universe of the lower ranked universities and college colleges. So if you the first the first four groups that I highlighted, that might cover a total of maybe one hundred universities and colleges, but there is over three thousand four-year colleges and universities in the US, although that number is decreasing. [laughs]


[00:14:35.510] – Antonio

And and you don’t actually need to go to one of those top colleges to get into, say, really selective graduate schools or into selective career fields, but the more affluent, the neighborhood that you live in, the more schooled the neighborhood that you live in, and the circles that you run in, the more likely it will be, you know, within the water there that if you don’t go to one of those schools in the top four, that you’re kind of a failure or that you’re wasting your money and time on a degree that’s not worth it. But, it’s not true, you can get into Harvard Medical School or Yale Law School from any one of those other three thousand colleges.


And then lastly, there are the community colleges, such as– California has amazing community colleges, but other states have a great community college systems that are often feeders into the top tier public universities. So the state of Washington, for example, the state of Texas, I know Pennsylvania has some good community colleges that can provide that pathway, I believe New York does, as well. But in most parts of the country, community colleges are a great way to access higher education, particularly for people who don’t have the resources or the knowledge of how college admissions works straight out of what would be their high school years.


[00:16:22.740] – Antonio

All right, so do you need college? I think that most people on this call would say no – right? And one thing that we can sort of recognize, at least at least in our current economy, even before the pandemic, was that college actually didn’t guarantee much of anything.


So this one article from Forbes from seven years ago said that half of college grads are working jobs that don’t require a degree. So people are going to college and then taking jobs that don’t require a degree. That’s why a lot of people like to joke about baristas and  bartenders like people who are getting college degrees and then they don’t actually need those degrees for the jobs that they have.


And then, of course, there are degrees that are necessary for certain jobs, like if you want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a civil engineer, a degree is necessary on that path, most of the time. Then again, not everyone wants to be in one of those professions.


All right, so there are many alternatives to college that don’t require degrees. One is the military, one that I highly discourage people from doing. But that is a pathway that certainly does not require a college degree. You can work in your community and there’s many non-profit jobs, there’s many community-service-oriented jobs that don’t require college. You can go to a trade school, or you could become an apprentice, and work to develop a very specific skill set and a trade. And those often are much better, from a financial perspective, in terms of return on investment, and avoiding debt, and building financial security, than going to colleges.


There is also sales, if you’re– if you are focused on money, going into sales is a great way to have a very high paying career and you typically don’t need a college degree in most sales jobs. Although for technical sales you might, such as a medical device sales, etc. Arts and entertainment has a long history of definitely not needing college degrees. And there’s an example of an article. And then technology is probably the one that people like to highlight the most these days for not requiring college degrees. One one thing that was that caught a lot of people’s attention was when Google decided to stop requiring college degrees for their teams. And there was one one report that said 14 percent Google teams don’t have college degrees. Granted, the percentage of people in the US who have not graduated from college is greater than 14 percent. But still, you know, it highlights that there’s a real path to working in tech without a degree.


[00:19:52.250] – Antonio

There’s also those who went to college or the– and then dropped out – right? And those who went to college and got their degrees and found that their degrees weren’t necessary or helpful for what they were trying to do. And then they went back to a programming boot camp, just so that they can become programmers within the tech industry. So technology has been interesting in that it has opened up access in many ways to people who don’t want to go to college, although there’s definitely still barriers in technology, in other ways other than just education.


And then lastly, entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship has never required a college degree. Most of the people, I feel like most– the plurality of the people who are on the Forbes 400 who did not inherit their wealth were people who didn’t get college degrees.


So anyways, this is just some example of different articles that have come out that highlight how unnecessary a college degree is. And so the question is, is: do you need to go to college? And the answer is often no, because there’s many different ways. If you’re just talking about a return on investment. If you’re just talking about career options. That’s a very narrow view of what education is.


[00:21:20.800] – Antonio

But do kids need to go to college in order to be successful? And the answer is not really. Not usually. And if they do, it certainly doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to go to a top college – right?


So there’s this great book, Excellent Sheep, that I actually recommend to every kid that I interview in the college admissions process, because now I’m an alumni interviewer, and I recommend this book to everyone because it does a pretty good job of arguing against the necessity of focusing on going to the so-called elite colleges.


It talks– it does a really good job of arguing that if you do go to college, you’re probably better off going to a liberal arts school, a place where you can actually focus on education, as opposed to just meeting sort of curricular demands, as some of some of you talked about, the opportunity to really engage with ideas and talk to each other. I know that, I believe Rebecca and Jessica, both of you talked about that opportunity and just have back and forth give and take discussions in a liberal arts setting.


And the author, William Deresiewicz, also argues that these so-called elite colleges, they provide the most resources and the best opportunities to the people who need it the least. Particularly people who are already affluent, already have connections, don’t really care about education as much as they care about winning the game. And it’s kind of a backward– it has a backward effect on society where it gives the– it gives the most resources to the people who need the least and deny it to those who who actually need it most. And I– and I tend to agree with that. That’s why I recommend that book to everyone that I do an alumni interview with.


So, I think that the answer is no, that you don’t need to go to a top college. But there are certain fields and degrees and opportunities where it does certainly help. Again, feel free to jump in at any point, because I’m just going to keep punching through these slides, OK?


[00:23:57.340] – Antonio

So the next question is, is is it easy to get into college? And the answer to that is it’s very easy to get into college.


Over seventy five percent of applicants get into their first choice college. 80% of private schools and 90% of public schools accept more than 50% percent of the people who apply there. Demographic changes and visa restrictions are going to make it even easier in the coming years, so there’s– there’s a population drop off that is hitting the United States in particular. (And everyone on this call is in the United States currently.) And so there’s going to be fewer and fewer people that are applying from the United States to schools within the United States.


And given what’s happened, particularly within this presidential administration, the Trump administration, but quite frankly, ever since the war on terror started, there have been more and more restrictions on people coming to the US and studying in the US. And this has led to fewer and fewer people wanting to come to the US for college. And so that’s going to decrease the numbers even more. And so it’s actually going to become significantly easier, I believe, to get into the college of one’s choice. And it’s going to make it easier, even amongst the Ivy League schools of the world to get into college in the coming years than it has been in the recent past.


And then finally, community colleges are open enrollment, anyone can get into college, it doesn’t matter if you were the worst student in your high school class, if you’re a high school dropout, or if you are unschooled kid who spent your four years doing nothing but playing video games; once you’re ready to, at any age really, past the minimum age, you can just go ahead and go and enroll and community college. And once you have that foot in the door, every college becomes a potential option for you as a transfer or as a graduate student.


So, for example, Cal Berkeley and UCLA, they have a huge percentage of their class are community college transfers. And one of my– one of the people that I studied with at Harvard was a Ph.D. in Physics at Harvard. And I was talking to her about her experience getting into Harvard and if it was worth it and all that. And she was first generation. She graduated from UCLA, but she told me that she started off in community college. And I was like, “oh, wow, that’s amazing. That, that must not happen very often.” She was like, “actually it happens all the time.” There’s lots of people who started off in community college and navigate the system. So it’s just an entry point. And it’s, and the point is, is that it’s really easy to get into college, especially if you’re not focused on a very tiny, select handful at the top.


[00:27:15.780] – Antonio

But because we all deal with families who are asking questions about how do I get into that small number at the top, let’s go over some numbers.


So it’s not so easy, at least from a numbers perspective, to get into the so-called elite colleges. And I just listed some of those top 10 schools right there with regard to the number of people that they reject. So a lot of people look at acceptance rate and a lot of people have a hard time really seeing what a 8% acceptance rate means. So I flipped it. And so Stanford rejects twenty two of every twenty three applicants and Harvard rejects twenty one of every twenty two applicants. This was as of the class of 2022, so that the freshman class that was accepted two years ago, because Stanford stopped releasing this information. So if you go back the year before, you’ll see for all of these schools, it actually became harder, at least from a percentage perspective, harder to get into these schools than the year before.


And if you go to the year before, again, for all but one of them, it actually became harder to get in than the year before. And this has been a trend. It’s been getting harder to get into these schools from an admissions rate– acceptance rate perspective. But it actually hasn’t been getting harder. What’s really been happening is just a lot more people have been applying. And I’ll explain that a little bit more as we get further into the presentation.


[00:29:05.670] – Antonio

So for those families that are looking to do self directed education in your community, or for those parents who are trying to help their children navigate the system, or for the facilitators who are trying to be supportive of their learners who are trying to get into these elite colleges, it’s worth asking: what are they looking for? Because what these schools are looking for is very different than what the state schools are looking for, or the many schools that are outside the top one hundred or two hundred, which are really relatively easy to get into.


Texas A&M: I know that, Jessica, you were talking about the admissions process for Texas A&M. You’re absolutely correct. They are very numbers oriented. All large public education systems are very numbers oriented because they just need an efficient way to accept and reject people. They don’t have the time to invest in the admissions process like a smaller liberal arts school would. But even the even the selective schools don’t spend much time actually reviewing applications. Someone in one of the admissions departments said once that they spend an average of eight minutes per application, which is pretty depressing if you consider how much time kids spend on their applications.


But most schools have pretty simple SAT, ACT, and GPA cutoffs that they use in their admissions process. And it’s not until you get to the really selective universities where they start looking at other factors.


But, for those other schools, the question might be, what are they actually looking for? And so they’re typically looking for a few things. And this is what most guidance counselors will tell you. This is what most admissions consultants will tell you, and this is what the schools tell you. It’s not necessarily the truth, but this is what they’re going to tell you. They’re going to tell you that they’re looking for academic excellence.


[00:31:27.260] – Antonio

Right. And academic academic excellence, it means different things depending on the school that you’re applying to. But, I will just say that for the Harvard class of 2019, they had eight thousand one hundred people who applied, who had perfect grade point averages and thirty five hundred who applied, who had perfect SAT math scores, and twenty seven hundred who applied who had perfect SAT verbal scores. So even if they were focused solely on academic excellence in terms of perfect scores, they would not have been able to accept all of any one of those categories because they didn’t have enough seats in their class to accept all of any one of those categories, much less all three of those categories.


But they’ll tell you, they’re looking for academic excellence, particularly in a rigorous curriculum, at a school that provides those opportunities: so lots of AP courses, advanced courses, et cetera. GPA, SAT, and SAT II: fortunately, a lot of schools are moving away from the SATs, the University of Washington just announced that they’re not going to require them moving forward. The University of California has already indicated that they’re going to phase them out as well. University of Chicago was the first top five school who said that they were no longer requiring the SATs. So these are generally good trends. But when it comes to academic excellence, they are looking at GPAs, the transcripts, and standardized test scores in general. Rigorous makes AP courses and honors more important.


They’re also looking for extra-curricular activities and engagement. They say they’re looking for quality, quantity and not quality. A lot of people are really focused on getting their kids involved in lots of different activities they want them to be on– in the Spanish club, student government, they want them to be involved in three sports. They want them to be involved on the debate team. They want them doing community service hours. And so a lot of parents really drive their kids to be involved in a ton of extra-curriculars.


In general, the schools say that that’s not what they’re interested in. They’re interested in quality. So they would rather see kids involved in maybe just one or two sports but being team captains or all-state; maybe not as many school clubs, but being president, vice president, treasurer of those clubs. You know, just doing– maybe not doing one hundred hours of community service, but doing really quality community service where you’re having a big impact and it’s clear that you really care about it. So they’re definitely looking for extra extra-curricular activity.


They also say they’re looking for personal qualities and character. You can take that with a grain of salt. And then they’re also looking– so that’s that’s generally what they say that they’re looking for and that’s what schools, school counselors, admissions consultants, et cetera, will try to emphasize.


[00:34:58.840] – Antonio

Now, I’m going to I’m going to try to explain hooks. And again, we’re only talking about the selective colleges and universities, where they actually have to sort through a bunch of applications to decide who gets in – right? And so there are hooks in the admissions process. Hooks are things that allow you to gain some sort of admissions edge.


So all things being equal, if you have a hook, you know– if your extracurriculars and your academics are the same as someone else’s, what is that hook that would allow you to get in over them?


What a lot of people do in the US is they jump straight to underrepresented minority. They think that being Black makes it way easier to get in than being white. That’s the sort of source of contention. It is, certainly, there’s–there’s certainly a lot of racism involved in a lot of the arguments against underrepresented minorities in the admissions process, and there’s been lawsuits. To include a very famous one that– that has been happening at Harvard University, wherein a group supposedly representing Asian-Americans has sued Harvard to claim that they are discriminated against in the admissions process because of preferences given to underrepresented minorities. And underrepresented minorities in most contexts are considered Black or Latino/Latina, and Indigenous Peoples, and sometimes Pacific Islanders as well.


There’s also recruited athletes– Oh, I will say about the under-represented minority hook is that there’s certainly there’s certainly merit to people who say that underrepresented minorities have an advantage in the admissions process because it’s been shown that for Black or Hispanic applicant that the sort of cutoffs that allow them to be seriously considered are lower than it is for a white or an Asian applicant.


[00:37:35.160] – Antonio

What they don’t point out is that, well, one is there is no context behind that. Where do people go to school? What other conditions in the neighborhoods or the households that they come from, et cetera? But they also conveniently ignore, for example, at Harvard, the number of Black students relative to other Ivy League schools is quite high. They’re like 12 percent or something, which is reflective of the US, the Black population within the US.


But when you actually look at who the Black students are who are getting in at Harvard, it is disproportionately rich Black applicants. So wealthy applicants, it is those who are the sons and daughters of senators, governors, and presidents, such as Obama’s daughter. And it is disproportionately, you know, immigrants from West Africa or the West Indies in particular. And so, so Harvard does accept a higher percentage of Black students relative to white students. But it’s certainly not– it’s very rarely what people would consider American Black because it’s certainly not representative of the Black population within the United States.


And it technically is the standard for Asian-Americans at these selective schools – if you’re looking only at SAT scores and GPA – the standard is higher. But in spite of that, Asians are still overrepresented at these schools. This hook is not the one that carries the most weight, though. This is just the one that people focus on, in large part because it’s it’s easy to make this a political argument, I think.


[00:39:46.560] – Antonio

A much better advantage is if you’re a recruited athlete. So it’s way easier to get into these schools if you’re a recruited athlete, with perhaps the exception of MIT and Caltech. For example, 13 percent of the class at an Ivy League school consists of recruited athletes.


Harvard, which is a small school, they have 42 varsity sports, the most of any college in the country. So even though they have a very small class size, less than two thousand students, they have more varsity sports than the University of Michigan or Ohio State University with many, many more students. So they need to fill those sports with recruited athletes and — with already a tinier, a much smaller class — that’s going to make up a significant proportion of the class. At Harvard, in particular, recruited athletes receive about two hundred likely letters a year. And a likely letter is if you apply, you’re probably going to get a spot. And so they get to circumvent, basically, the entire admissions process at Ivy League schools and the like.


[00:41:10.550] – Antonio

Then legacy, as Abby pointed out, legacy is –some people say it’s the most influential hook. In terms of numbers, it certainly is. Legacies are particularly pernicious because they give an admissions– an admissions advantage to those who should need it the least, given the fact that their parents have previously navigated the same system that they’re– that they’re competing with other people in. And a legacy means that your father, your mother, typically has gone to that school. In some schools, they include grandparents as well.


Then there’s faculty children. This is perhaps the most advantageous hook that exists, but it’s it’s it’s in relatively small numbers, but it’s but it’s a tremendous hook. So schools are– they often compete for professors, particularly the superstar professors, and they want to keep those professors. This is definitely outside of the adjunct world, which is a problematic situation in higher education. But for– for tenure-based faculty, for the ones who they are really going to invest lots of money into, they want to make sure those people stick around at the university. They don’t want them to jump ship and go to Princeton. And so if your child is applying to that college, then the chances of admission spike exponentially.


[00:43:02.830] – Antonio

And then there is development cases. These are people who are children of rich or famous people, typically, or rich people in particular. So if you come from a billionaire family or even a family that only has hundreds of millions of dollars, you know, you become a development case in the admissions department, and you typically work with the development office, or the fundraising office, to coordinate who are the kids that we need to be giving giving additional attention to. And your chances of getting in, if you’re a development case, are much, much higher than if you’re just a superstar student.


Jared Kushner is one of the most famous development cases because in the Price of Admission – right here [Antonio holds up a book] – Daniel Golden talked about him in particular and about how his dad gave a million dollars – I believe was a million dollars – to Harvard University the year that he was applying. And he got in, and everyone was shocked and offended that he got in because he was such a mediocre student in high school. And so that might be like the more– one of the more egregious cases. But every year, rich, wealthy families are getting their kids into these schools in spite of the stated standards that these schools have, because these schools are very interested in getting additional donations, which will add to their endowment. Duke University and Brown University in particular, have done a very good job of using development cases in their missions to really increase the financial position of the college over the years.


[00:45:10.690] – Antonio

And then lastly, there is the VIP cases. And these are the children of very famous people. So I guess you could include you know,– you can include Obama in this one as well, right? Everyone wants to have the child of the president go to their school. And I’m not taking anything away from Obama’s daughter or Clinton’s daughter or George W. Bush’s daughter, who: Harvard, Yale and Stanford. They may have all been really great applicants on their- in their own right but, you know, them being the children of the president, and it certainly made them a VIP. And that really boosted their profile within the admissions department. But, you know, if you’re Steven Spielberg’s child or any famous person, they want people who are going to add to the– the luster of the college. So those people have a huge advantage.


There’s also people who, you know, the people in these sort of buckets, minus the first three, can also be z-listed in colleges. And so there’s different terms that different colleges have, but Harvard uses the z-list. These are people who probably would not necessarily be competitive in any given year, so they tell them to take a year off and then come back the following year, and that allows them to not include them in the freshman statistics. And it’s a huge end around for development cases and VIP cases in particular. So if anything, that should tell you that the admissions process is not necessarily fair.


[00:47:14.360] – Antonio

I will try to go through this portion relatively quickly. I can really get down in the numbers but I’ll try not to. OK, so let’s use Harvard as an example. Why are we using Harvard as an example? Because it’s Harvard. Most people know what Harvard is and families tend to get really excited over that name. So let’s just use that name.


Also, Harvard has a lot of publicly available data with regards to their admissions process, both published by the students at Harvard. For years they would do freshman surveys and make that public on their– in their newspaper. And also, there’s been lawsuits against Harvard, which has allowed a lot of information to come out.


I will make a lot of assumptions because not all of the information is available or transparent, although it has become a lot more transparent just in the past year with the release of a lot of the information from a recent lawsuit. And that lawsuit is Students for Fair Admission vs. Harvard that has given them access to over two hundred thousand undergraduate admissions files. They were really questioning the nature of the race impact on the admissions process. And it gave– it gave a really good insight into some of the other factors in Harvard admissions. The focus is on race, as you can see from that last bullet. It doesn’t question the wealth, legacy or power.


[00:48:54.040] – Antonio

All right, so how selective is Harvard? OK, let’s get started. So I’m just– I’m just using numbers, all right, so. So if you look at this right here, URM is underrepresented minorities. At Harvard, the class makeup is about 30 percent of the class.


So if we assume that they receive about 43,000 applications per year for a class of about 1650 per year that matriculate, right? Then – and that means that they have to accept about 2000 people per year – that gives you an acceptance rate around five percent. So we’re going to we’re going to dive into the 2,000 people accepted in the 43,000 applied.


If underrepresented minorities make up 30 percent of the class, that means– and that the acceptance rate is eight percent, which is substantially higher than the five percent that’s accepted overall. That would mean you need about almost 7000 applications received from underrepresented minorities to get five hundred fifty to get accepted if you assume a 90 percent yield rate, OK?


The next one is recruited athletes. So we’re here- recruited athletes, you need to make up 14 percent of the class with recruited athletes. The admissions rate here is– the acceptance rate– is super high because they they tell the students beforehand whether or not they’re going to be accepted. And that influences greatly which athletes actually apply. So you’re going to fill 14 percent of your class with recruited athletes, but you’re going to accept an overwhelming majority of the recruited athletes who apply. And so for 231 athletes in the class of 1650, you may only need to have about 413 apply.


Again, I’m using rough numbers because we don’t know the actual numbers, but these are generally, I believe, pretty accurate. Right. So you’re using 230 spots in the class on four-hundred-some applications, perhaps. You also have walk-ons. Walk-ons, even though they’re not recruited, may have some sort of admissions preference. So schools are– they need to fill out their sports teams even if someone is not recruited, right? And so the football team, for example, has a lot of a lot of people in it and they’re only going to get so many recruited athletes. But, you know, the admissions department may still give a preference to certain walk-ons and the schools may make it very clear that some people are preferred walk-ons. So that certainly helps shape the class. But just for the sake of this exercise, this numbers exercise. We’re not going to include them in this calculation.


[00:52:17.750] – Antonio

OK, so legacies. As Abby said, legacies are a particularly privileged class. The children of students– the children of parents who have gone to Harvard College and graduated have a significant advantage. The children of parents who have attended Harvard College, for example, based on one study, have a 45 percent increase in probability of admission at Harvard relative to someone who applies, who doesn’t– with the same scores, who doesn’t have a parent at the school. So it’s pretty substantial. We do know that legacies make up about 18 percent of the class.


If you assume a 20 percent acceptance rate amongst those based on  the increased chances of acceptance, you may be getting 1680 applicants applications received every year from legacies. So you take up another 302 spots in the class. And this is what the Harvard Crimson says, it’s “in the simplest terms, it’s just wrong” and I agree. I think most people tend to agree that the people who are most advantaged shouldn’t be the ones who have the easiest access to these universities.


[00:53:48.120] – Antonio

All right. Dean’s and Director’s list. This is development cases and VIP’s, really. So these are the children of very powerful, influential, rich and famous people, right? Now just the way our society is structured is there’s not that many people who are at the very top of society, but they do make up a disproportionate number of percentage of the people who get into these schools. So if you assume maybe a 40 percent acceptance rate, 90 percent yield, they’re going to make up nine percent of the class. That’s 450 applicants to make up 170 spots in the class total.


All right, and then lastly, the z-list, these are the people who are just so far outside of the range of what’s acceptable in the admissions process, even when they give all these preferences, that they just can’t get in, but they really want them to be at the school because of who their parents are. Just tack on another three percent of the class. We know that the z-list makes up about three percent of the class. So that’s another 55 slots for 373 applications received. It just goes into the following year.


So if you look at all that, and then you add the faculty children – it’s a small number, but it has a huge admissions preference, right? So that might be another 33 people within the class, but the super high acceptance rate for that group and the super high yield means that you’re– you’re not taking very much from the applications received.


[00:55:35.850] – Antonio

Right. And so if you look at this, if you make– you play with all this math for Harvard, which is one of the statistically hardest schools to get into. For the rest of the class, right, there’s only 22 percent of the class left. But out of that initial 43,000, you still have 33,000 plus applicants. And so the admissions rate for this half of the class has dropped to 1.3 percent. And for the self-directed education world- the kids who are homeschooled, the kids who go to ALCs, et cetera-  this makes up the majority of the kids that we’re that we’re working with.


I mean, almost exclusively the kids that we’re working with because billionaires who can navigate the system are navigating the system, right? But, of course, there’s going to be overlap because sometimes a faculty child will also be a legacy. And so if we just adjust it and we just add 300 to the number accepted, that still leads to a much lower acceptance rate for people who don’t have hooks, right? So 2.4 percent acceptance rate for people without hooks just to fill 40 percent of the class.


And the majority of students at some of these colleges and universities are students with hooks. Meaning less than half of the students who apply don’t have a hook of any sort.


Does anyone have any questions at this point? I know I pounded through a lot there, but the next thing I’m going to talk about is what the schools are really looking for for the rest of that class.


All right, drink some coffee if you’re starting to get tired, because I just threw out so many numbers and I just went through that so quickly.


[00:57:36.390] – Antonio

So what are the schools looking for for the rest of the class? Because clearly we know that perfect test scores and a great GPA is not sufficient, right? They reject the overwhelming majority of valedictorians who apply to school– to those schools. They reject the majority of people who apply with perfect SAT or ACT scores.


And so what does it mean for someone in the self-directed education world or even in traditional schools? What does it take for them to get accepted? What are the schools really looking for? And the answer is: they’re looking for– yes, they are looking for academic excellence. So they still want bright and smart students. And Harvard scores applicants on a scale of one to six – with one being the best – on academics as something that they care about tremendously.


And there are only limited ways in which that can be measured. And that includes GPAs and that includes standardized test scores. For self directed education – children, students, learners – that does provide somewhat of a challenge because they don’t go to a conventional school with a standard curriculum, then they’re not being compared to other students by way of a GPA and class rank. So for self-directed education students to be able to demonstrate that academic excellence, oftentimes they may take some community college courses just so they can get something on their — their transcript that they write themselves so that they have some examples of, in a conventional setting, I can perform and I can do extraordinarily well.


For self-directed education students it’s also usually beneficial for them to take standardized tests and to do really well in them. So without the standard transcript and and class rank to use, it’s helpful to have an SAT score and ACT score, or SAT subject tests that show that you’re clearly able to perform along the measures that the rest of society is using in the high school years. But that’s not actually what’s most important. That’s a screen. They certainly want academic excellence, but that’s not the thing that they’re looking for the most.


[01:00:35.530] – Antonio

They are also looking for diversity. And when they say diversity, they mean it in terms of a personal context. And they consider many things in diversity. So most people think of race and gender, which are certainly aspects of diversity, but they’re also considering ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, family background, educational differences within families and within applicants, any employment history, and just general life experiences. Right. They’re also looking at geographic diversity.


And so this is from Harvard as well. And I just showed the Southwest region, which includes Texas, which is where– where Abrome located. And as you can see, the– the Southwest is underrepresented at Harvard College relative to the rest of the country. And so if someone were to apply to Harvard College from Texas, you know, they would probably receive some sort of academic benefit or– admissions preference based on the fact that they’re from Texas relative to from Massachusetts, considering how many people apply to Harvard, from Massachusetts. However, if they’re from Austin, they would probably receive some sort of discount because there’s so many people who apply to Harvard from Austin relative to other parts of the state. So geographic diversity is a big part of the college admissions process.


And then another example of diversity would be the stated interest of the field of study that they’re interested in. So many people – and these are older numbers right now – the computer science has gone through the roof, right? So if you’re a student who’s applying to one of these colleges and you say that you want to major in computer science – or economics as well, that’s another one that has a huge percentage or political science – there’s certain degrees where there’s just a ton, a ton of people who study that. That actually isn’t something that’s beneficial in the admissions process because they have tenured faculty, and a whole range of disciplines, and they need those faculty members to actually teach classes to justify, oftentimes, having the position. And so one of the great advantages in the admissions process is if someone wants to major in some sort of dying language, right?


[01:03:35.120] – Antonio

And like at Harvard, there’s a Sanskrit sort of– I’m not sure if it’s a degree or focus, but they have a faculty member focused on Sanskrit. And if you want to go to Harvard, if you’re applying to Harvard and you make it very clear that that is your area of interest, and you’ve already demonstrated that that’s– you’re not just saying it in the application, all of a sudden that gives you a huge preference in the admissions process. Just another example of what they’re looking for with regards to diversity.


And then, as Dave said, because he cheated and looked at the notes, intellectual vitality, and this is vitally important to the schools. Because when you look at the number of students who have a hook at these different colleges and universities – from legacy students to development cases to recruit athletes – they’re still going to – depending on the school, and depending on how many people apply – they’re still going to be able to apply some of their standards to those groups. They still reject, in most cases, the majority of students who are applying even with hooks. But they have a lot less ability– they have a lot less ability to shape the class with the students with hooks than than the students without hooks. Right? And so intellectual vitality becomes far more important in the admissions process than even numbers such as SAT scores or GPA for all the people without hooks.


And intellectual vitality is just a term that Stanford uses. But the various different schools all have their own measure of intellectual vitality, and it’s just the notion that you are eager to learn and understand things. You want to play with ideas. You want to figure out how things work. You want to figure out how to make things better, how to create new things in their place. It’s the idea that if you weren’t in school, what would you decide to learn because you loved it that much anyway? And what would you decide to pour yourself into? Those are some of the ways that they think about intellectual vitality.


Stanford specifically says to their applicants, quote, “We want to see your commitment, dedication and genuine interest in expanding your intellectual horizons, both in what you write about yourself and what others write on your behalf. We want to see the kind of curiosity and enthusiasm that will allow you to spark a lively discussion in a freshman seminar and continue the conversation at the dinner table. We want to see the energy and depth of commitment you will bring to your endeavors, whether that means in a research lab, or being part of a community organization, during a performance, or on an athletic field. We want to see the initiative with which you seek out opportunities to expand your perspective, and that will allow you to participate in creating new knowledge.”


[01:06:49.130] – Antonio

So that’s what intellectual vitality is, on paper, to Stanford. If you think about it in terms of shaping a class, if you were the Admissions Director or you’re on the admissions committee, what is it that colleges and universities are? They are many things. They are oftentimes endowments with a school attached, right? Which a lot of people argue. But they’re also places where people are pushing the boundaries of knowledge, right, they’re research centers; they’re sometimes semi-professional sports teams.


But what the schools ultimately want is they want to be seen as sort of an intellectual center, a place where people come together to exchange ideas and to learn. And so they want to admit people, not just who are going to do really good in class, but they want people who are going to really challenge each other, and challenge ideas, and play with ideas, and make the place a really vibrant intellectual and academic community.


And so they’re looking for this intellectual vitality. And it’s something that  I used to tell people when I was doing admissions consulting. It’s the one thing that they– that there’s not enough of in the admissions department. They have enough people who are perfect GPA. They have enough people who have perfect SATs, they have enough class presidents and all-state football players. The one thing that they don’t have enough of in the admissions process are people who actually have high degrees of intellectual vitality. And as you all know, because we’re all in the self-directed education world, that’s because so many kids are just jumping through the hoops that they’re told to jump through, and they’re performing, and they don’t have time to actually engage deeply with things that they care about. But that’s what the schools are looking for the most.


[01:08:52.070] – Antonio

So the next section I’m going to talk about is how to actually get this influx of vitality in particular, and how to show it. But so– does anyone have any questions about intellectual vitality or the admissions process before I move on? OK, I’m just going to keep pushing ahead, unless I hear anything from people as far as questions. All right, here we go. Let me get some more coffee. All right.


So how to get it, and how to show it. As I’ve said before, admissions is a game. It’s certainly not a meritocracy. And there’s nothing about the admissions process which is about the best and the brightest rising to the top. It’s the people with the most connections, the people with the most money. The– hands down, the number one factor in getting into any of these colleges and universities is who your parents are. So if you want to get into Harvard or Stanford, the saying is pick your parents, right?


[01:10:02.540] – Antonio

All right, so as I as I suggested previously, consultants make a lot of money because they help people play the game really well. You have people like me who would really hammer people who are applying to get the essays perfect, to make sure that all their administrative data is right, to manage their recommendations really well. But you also have people like the recent Varsity Blue scandal, which you may have paid some some attention to, in which this admissions consultant was paying people to take SAT’s for his clients and paying off coaches at various schools to claim that they were recruited athletes to give them an admissions edge.


And what was happening in a lot of schools — like Yale soccer, Stanford sailing, multiple USC sports, Texas tennis. You had these coaches that were getting paid under the table by this admissions consultant. Well, actually, he was facilitating it – they’re getting paid through parents – anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars to say that this applicant was a recruited athlete, even though those kids never actually ended up playing the sports once they got in because they weren’t good enough. But consultants get paid a lot of money because they know how the game is played, especially the good ones. They know how to play the game and they help applicants play that game.


[01:11:46.760] – Antonio

Parents know that admissions is a game as well, so not only do they pay for admissions consultants in high school, right, but they’re also grooming their kids in middle school through sports camps, for example, or STEM camps and getting them into the right high schools and whatnot. But in places like New York City, they– the process starts at birth when they’re trying to get them into the right preschool so they can get into the right follow-on schools. So a lot of these kids are getting are are being groomed to play the game right from birth, particularly in New York City, but also other wealthy enclaves in the United States, and overseas.


And because admissions is a game, students are spending a lot of time padding their resumes. Often this means that their parents are creating opportunities for them- at cost to them- so that they can position themselves better in the game. So the trip to China, the service trip to Haiti, the starting a nonprofit. A lot of times those are parent-initiated, parent-led type of activities that are meant to do nothing more than to make the student look more desirable as an applicant.


So is this a game that we want to play? Most self-directed-education-focused people are not, because the reason for education isn’t just to to play the game well, it’s to– to actually lead meaningful lives. But I’m going to talk now about the pyramid structure of society, so.


[01:13:37.310] – Antonio

Does anyone know what this is, by the way? Illuminati. Yeah, it’s the great seal. Yes. I don’t want to get into a conversation about the Illuminati, but this is on the back of the dollar bill. And I just needed a pyramid to be able to show in the presentation. And so this is the one that I found when I did a Google search for pyramids. And I like this pyramid the best because the top is sort of separated from the rest of the base.


So I argue – and I’m probably not the first person to come up with this, I just don’t know what the original source is – that we live in a society is built like a pyramid. There is some– there are people at the top who disproportionately benefit from the way society is structured, at the expense of everyone else who’s at the base. There’s different levels of the base, but everyone else makes up the base of society. And that’s how you play the game. Tn order to play the game, you got to get to the top of that pyramid, and there’s many different ways to do that.


In the high school and college admissions process there’s GPA, there’s standardized test scores, there’s extracurriculars, and there’s service sort-of engagement projects, right? So you want to rise to the top. You got to be number one in your class.


SAT– perfect, SAT score, maybe 1580, if you– if you’re not quite ambitious enough to get a perfect score, extracurriculars, lots of leadership. You want to be number one; class president is always good. You maybe state or national recognition, and with service projects, right? You want to have a ton of hours, lots of impact. You know, oftentimes you’re the one who’s starting a really impactful service project. Right? That’s what many people consider is necessary to get into these top– so-called top colleges.


[01:15:50.570] – Antonio

Or you can just lead a remarkable life. And this is what I– when I used to talk to parents and try to convince them to consider alternatives to forcing their kids to go down a really miserable path and say, “you can you can let them go down this really miserable path or you can just let them lead a remarkable life. And by doing so, you’re kind of not playing the game. You’re- you’re not playing that game. You’re just allowing them to lead remarkable life. And then in a roundabout way, that allows them to demonstrate exactly what the schools are looking for, what matters most to them, which is intellectual vitality, diversity, and a level of academic excellence which is not easily captured by GPAs, transcripts, and class ranks.”


All right, so. I’d also argue that – and I think most of you would agree – that leading a remarkable life is something that is desirable for all of us, whether or not college is an option, right? And leading a remarkable life is something that we want to do today, not necessarily 10 years down the road. And when it comes to our children, or young people that we work with, we certainly want them to have that.


So, what is it that makes for a remarkable life? A lot of my opinions are going to come out from here. At least with the others– the other parts of the admissions process, we were really leaning on what the colleges want. A lot of what’s coming now is my opinion, and feel free to adapt it for your needs.


[01:17:36.510] – Antonio

So what are the components of leading your remarkable life? Because we don’t want our kids to compete in order to be able to get in college, or to do anything else that they want to in life. We want them just to be able to lead a remarkable life, whether or not it’s in a competitive context. Right. So so what are the components?


I would argue that the components are– there’s three of them. Happiness is the first one. And so what makes people happy? A lot of people say money makes people happy. And it’s certainly a necessary component in a capitalist society that makes you spend money in order to survive, right? So money helps people move away from the misery of poverty in a society that makes you spend money to survive. Right. So it’s hard to have happiness if you can’t feed yourself, if you can’t get health care when you need it, for example. If you can’t afford to have shelter, for example. So money certainly helps with regard to happiness.


One Princeton study that was done in 2010 said that $75,000 is sort of that point at which money no longer matters. Every additional dollar doesn’t bring in any additional happiness, but underneath seventy five thousand, every additional dollar contributes directly to an increase in general happiness. Which is difficult for a lot of self directed education educators to hear because very few people make seventy five thousand dollars in self-directed education. But and seventy five thousand dollars is also greater than the– than the average American makes. And so I’m not I’m not dismissing the importance of money within the system. Money certainly helps, but it’s not everything.


[01:19:50.600] – Antonio

OK, when it comes to happiness, beyond just the notion of money, you know, there are different things that impact the differences between me and you in terms of happiness. And so and so this is like the variance, right? This is not the– the the the raw degree. This is not the raw amount of happiness that someone has. This this is talking about the differences between people. And so what makes for the differences between people in happiness?


Fifty percent is genetic, 10 percent is circumstance and 40 percent is mindset. You can’t really control the genetic piece. You sort of can, but you can’t. You can to some degree control the circumstance (not entirely, but a little bit) and mindset you can control. You generally have control over mindset. There’s just a graphic of the same.


All right, so with the variance and happiness, 50 percent of it is genetics, right? So – and there are some terms there that highlight that there are to some degree ways in which we can impact that genetic variance, particularly through epigenetics. So, things like the food that we eat, potentially, the way that we construct our environments, if we have that ability, can have some degree of impact on that. But that’s what we can control the least. So I’m not going to spend time on that.


[01:21:35.020] – Antonio

The next is circumstances. Where are you born? Race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality. Those things have a huge impact on happiness in a society where those things are often weaponized against people. Financial conditions in the years that you graduate college or high school; like that is something that actually you can’t control. You don’t control what the economy is in the year that you happen to step into it, for example. And family as a financial security blanket, that should say. So family as financial security, or as a security blanket. You know, that just that provides you a lot of freedom if you have a family who’s willing to underwrite your life, your living experiences, and setbacks that you might have.


And the reason I say sort of, that you can control this, is a lot of people, not everyone, a lot of people — you can’t control your place of birth. You can’t control the area that it is. You certainly can’t control your race or gender or ethnicity. But you can control, you know, oftentimes the fact that you live in a town that might  be toxic for one reason or another to you as a person, you know, you could potentially pick up and move and takes privilege to be able to change your context. But for many people, they can change their context.


[01:23:06.690] – Antonio

For me, I couldn’t change my context when I was when I was in school. But for two years, I lived in a small farming town in eastern Pennsylvania and I was doing really bad there. I was one of the very few non-white people. I was getting in fights every day. I got suspended four times over two years from school for fights and once for setting a fire at the bus stop. And it was just like a really bad environment for me. I had lots of poor grades. My brother would joke that I had a three dimensional report card because I always had three Ds on it. And we lived out there because my dad was dating a woman who lived out there. That relationship fell apart. And so we moved back to my hometown of Pottsville, which is not a big town, but it’s certainly much bigger than the town that we were in. And all of a sudden, the challenges that I had in that other environment disappeared overnight.


And I went from a troublemaker to a good kid, and I went from a bad student to a good student. And so overnight my context changed. And with that I was bullied less. I got in less fights. I got higher grades. People validated me more. My happiness certainly skyrocketed just by virtue of the change in context. And so that’s what I mean by we can to some degree control circumstances. We can’t control all of them, but we can change them and thereby control them to some degree.


[01:24:44.510] – Antonio

And then lastly, mindset, mindset is the thing that we can control the most. And from the resources I pulled from, there’s three areas of which we can control mindset best. One is thankfulness or gratitude, just being grateful for what we have, thankful for what’s available. Another aspect of it is being part of a community. Are we a part of a community or do we feel like we’re out on an island by ourselves in an oftentimes really difficult world?


And then the third one is, are we doing things for others? It’s kind of the opposite of selfishness, which a lot of people believe you need to have in order to be happiness. In order to be successful, you’ve got to get yours right? You got to– you got to take care of number one instead of helping others. But when it comes to our mindset with regards to happiness, it’s actually doing things for others is a huge positive player in that.


[01:25:52.590] – Antonio

The second part of a remarkable life is accomplishment, and this is something that most people focus on when it comes to education for their children, when it comes to measuring success in their own lives.


So what is accomplishment? For most people, it’s academic, professional and financial. For children, it’s really focused on academic and that’s because they believe that the academic will lead to the professional, which will lead to the financial right? And that’s why so many families are afraid to step away from conventional schooling, because without the academic piece that you can play by the rules with, if your kid can get to the top of that, they think that they’re ready to navigate the other ones. It gives them a head start in the professional, in the financial world. And so that’s where a lot of parents really focus in terms of developing accomplishment for their children.


And then lastly, I would say contributing to the world is a way of viewing accomplishment that ignores academic, professional and financial successes. And I think that if we were to focus on that, that would allow us to have higher, higher degrees of happiness. It would allow us to redefine what accomplishment is, letting go of the way that society defines it, and creating a measure for ourselves.


When I give this– a similar talk, I often talk about my own personal experiences of going through academic– trying to navigate academic success and professional success and financial success and how within the systems of society I was able to navigate some of those pretty well. But it wasn’t until I refocused my attention on measuring, sort of, my own success or accomplishment through the way that I contribute to the world, that I really was able to improve my life substantially in terms of happiness. But I’m not going to do that because I have way too much to cover.


[01:28:22.920] – Antonio

All right, so let’s go back to the pyramid structure of society. The argument is, especially when we are talking about helping kids navigate the academic system and then into adulthood, is if one works really, really hard and competes their way to the top of the pyramid, then they can get into a top college. Once they get into that top college, they have to navigate their way to the very top of their class to get into a top graduate school, or to get into their dream job. And then once they’re in there, they again have to rise to the top so that they can do the same once they get into their careers. So it’s just– it’s a process of always trying to get into the next higher, you know; you want to rise to the top of one pyramid to get into the pool of another that you have to rise to the top of.


So one pathway that a lot of people like in New York City or San Francisco might consider as a way to success is you get to the top of your high school class and then you get into an Ivy Plus college. You rise to the top of your class there, you go in McKinsey or Goldman Sachs, which are a management consulting and investment banking firm, the two most considered prestigious firms. Then you rise to the top of those firms and then you can get into Harvard Business School, or the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and then you rise to the top of that and then you get into Bain or KKR private equity, right? Like that’s one example of rising to the top. And if you get to the top of those firms, then you’re extraordinarily wealthy.


[01:30:14.590] – Antonio

Another example is going the law school route. You still have to get to the top of your class in high school to get into a top college, and you have to get to the top of your college class in order to get into Yale Law, preferably, but if you’re a slacker, maybe Harvard or Stanford Law, and then if you climb to the top of that class and you get a clerkship and then you navigate your legal career, and maybe one day you become one of nine justices on the Supreme Court.


Another example is maybe getting to the top of your class at high school, going to a top college, then you get a job at a tech firm like Google or Facebook, you work that system really well and then you go ahead and you go start your own technology company. You make it really big in that, you IPO and then you jump over to KKR, or or some other gigantic venture capital firm, and then you just live a life of relative leisure and you become extraordinarily wealthy.


Those are examples of rising to the top. The problem with this approach to life, to success, to our entire society is that you do get some people who rise to the very top, but you can’t have that unless you have a ton of losers. You have to have lots of losers. By definition, in order for you to get to the top, you need a bunch of other people to be at the bottom. And so you’re going to create a society full of losers if this is the approach that we take to– to building a society.


And even the winners, oftentimes they’re burned out, dumbed down, and they lost their dreams in the process. So I encourage anyone who doesn’t know corporate lawyers to go talk to some corporate lawyers who’ve spent their careers there and are at the top of their firms and– and ask them sort of what they wanted out of their life. And– and you’ll probably hear a lot of sad stories about everything that they gave up to get there.


[01:32:25.390] – Antonio

All right, so going back to school. I’m preaching to the choir here. This is a slide that I often use when I’m dealing with parents, but the pyramid structure of schooling leads children to believe they’re losers.


I did have this graph, I took it off for this presentation, but it had the likelihood, the belief of the likelihood of success in school and it was a survey of kids entering into preschool. And every two years it was just asking them, like, “do you believe you’re going to be successful at school?”


At the preschool level, 90 percent of kids thought that they were going to be successful at school. Four years later, it was down to, I believe, 60 percent. It was just a continual decrease. The kids– fewer and fewer kids thought that they were going to be successful in their school over a span of four years. And if you take that all the way out through high school, it just keeps decreasing. And so the way that we structure academics, or schooling, for kids in our society is we convince most of them that they’re going to be failures, or that they’re losers because they haven’t risen to the top. There’s only so much room at the top, and schooling allows for that– that notion of success to be very narrow. So there are very few people are able to consider themselves successes in that regard. Fifteen thousand hours of children’s lives are spent in school.


[01:34:11.820] – Antonio

So we obviously opted out of conventional schooling because we’re in the self-directed education world, so we opted out of that, which is great.


I already talked about financial, but, you know, if you think about it, the way that our society is set up financially, right, it’s the people at the top of the pyramid, they don’t just make the most because they create the most value. What they’re doing is they’re just capturing the value that’s created by everyone lower than the in the pyramid. Right? And that’s the way our economy is set up. The higher you are on that pyramid, the more power that you have, the more of the economic surplus that you get to take. And so even though the people at the bottom create most of the wealth in society, it’s the people at the top who take most of the wealth. And people talk about how the people at the top took all the risk and invested the capital. And I’m sure there are certainly risks in starting companies, and there’s certainly investment that is made within companies. But the great thing about this recent economic downturn – a depression – that has been shown, is that without the workers, without the essential workers, or without the workers, there is no value in these companies. Yet we as a society have made it very clear that we don’t value the workers in most cases. All right.


[01:35:53.850] – Antonio

So. I said that instead of measuring accomplishment through academics, career, professional success ,and financial success, we could focus on redefining accomplishment as contribution to the world. So how do we contribute to the world? Here are just four examples. We can improve lives by addressing social ills. We can serve others through market function; so this means, basically, starting a company that is able to meet the needs of people. Create knowledge for the sake of humanity – like you just want to add to human knowledge. Or you can make the world a more beautiful place through art. These are just examples of how we can contribute to the world.


One thing that we as facilitators that ALCs are all doing is we’re contributing through the world, through the creation of community, and valuing children for who they are in the moment, not for who they could become someday. So I would argue that in many ways, many of us already feel high degrees of accomplishment because we are living our lives through contribution to the world. But the question is, how do we allow young people to also have that sort of perspective of accomplishment?


So when we focus on contributing to the world, there’s no need to get to the top of the pyramid, right? Because when you’re contributing to the world generally, it’s not about outperforming other people. You don’t have to be number one in creating knowledge. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s still competition in the world of academia and there’s still competition in the world of creating art, getting into galleries, etc. There’s no question there’s that there’s still, in many ways, competition in those areas. But when your focus is on contributing to the world, your focus is on making other people’s lives better, improving communities, improving sustainability, etc. There’s less of a focus to rise to the top. The measure of success isn’t based on who you beat out. Typically, it’s usually based on being able to contribute.


[01:38:24.200] – Antonio

And that leads us to the third component of leading a remarkable life. And that’s meaning.


So meaning is the third component and meaning – I pulled this from Victor Frankl, who you may have already, he was someone who survived the Holocaust in a concentration camp, and then he became a renowned psychologist – and he said that we can discover meaning in life in three ways. We can create a work or do a deed. We can discover meaning by experiencing something or encountering someone. Specifically he says, “When we experience something such as goodness, truth or beauty, we bring ourselves into relationship with that thing, the goodness, truth and beauty that we see around us enter into us and become a part of us. We are engaged with them and they are engaged with us in their own way. When we experience another human being, we enter into a relationship with him or her.” So that’s a second way of discovering meaning in life, according to Victor Frankl.


And the third is by the attitude that we take to unavoidable suffering. And so someone who survived a concentration camp, this obviously has a lot of meaning to him, right? He could not avoid the suffering that was a part of being in that environment. But he tried to he tried to take the best that he could away from it. And he said everything that can be taken from a man– “everything can be taken from a man but one thing” is what he said, “the last of the human freedoms, the freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”


[01:40:23.570] – Antonio

Therefore, we create meaning by deliberately doing all the above, by creating work or deed, by experiencing something or encountering someone, and our attitude to the way that we react to a given set of circumstances. And each of you ideally have been able to find meaning in your life. Me personally, I’ve found meaning in creating alternatives to oppressive systems, at least that’s what I’m trying to do, and to be in relationship to those that I work with within those alternatives and by responding to oppression and undermining, that’s like my way of creating meaning within my life.


And ideally, everyone gets that opportunity. Contributing to the world  gives life meaning. So what– meaning is about contributing to something greater than oneself. Giving. And meaning is enduring, right?


[01:41:25.080] – Antonio

So I spoke previously of happiness. The difference between happiness and meaning is that happiness is something that is temporal. It’s a moment in time. It feels good because we’re eating ice cream, or we finally get to go to sleep after not sleeping in a long time, or we make a great connection with someone that we’ve been missing. Happiness is by definition fleeting, right? Because after happiness comes moments of less happiness, right? And without the down moments, we can’t necessarily have the higher moments. We want more happiness than not, in our lives. But the one thing that we can have, even when happiness is not necessarily there, is meaning because that’s enduring that just– that can last even through the unhappy times. In terms of meaning I pulled this quote from a book that we read through the ALC book group Braiding Sweetgrass, and this also reflects on contribution as well.


“Isn’t the purpose of education to learn the nature of your own gifts and how to use them for good in the world?” So this is a great example of, you know, looking at education through a lens of how we can contribute, how we can find meaning in the world.


All right, so how do we how do we help young people lead remarkable lives? Happiness, accomplishment and meaning. They can lead remarkable lives to get into Harvard or Stanford or any other top school, right? Because this is a webinar about college. And so they can lead a remarkable life as sort of the end around, in a positive way, to the strictly competitive space of playing the game the best that it can be played way to getting to the top. And they can lead a remarkable life through happiness, accomplishment and meaning.


[01:43:30.210] – Antonio

With regards to happiness for young people, there are things that we can do as facilitators or parents, we can eliminate oppression within their lives. That doesn’t mean that we eliminate challenges. Challenges are good, generally, if they can be overcome. We want to eliminate oppression, though, we want to take away oppressive environments. We want to take away people who are going to oppress them. We want them generally to be liberated and free.


Unlimited free play is a great way to promote happiness for young people. Something we all believe in self-directed education is giving them agency over their lives. The more agency they have, the more likely it is that they’re going to be happy. And then this one is– this is actually for parents and facilitators– is spending time with them. So don’t outsource spending time with kids, don’t hand them off to other people, necessarily. Don’t just hand them some entertainment, but be available for them to be in conversation with them, to play games with them, to listen to them, etc.


[01:44:40.600] – Antonio

Accomplishment, the second one, in order to help them lead remarkable lives. We take the focus off of the other measures of accomplishment. So don’t weigh them down with academic career, or financial concerns about what it means to be successful in life. Ignore GPAs, SATs, college admissions and the first job. When we talk to kids, make it very clear to them that they’re not valued based on where they’re going in life. They’re valued just for who they are in the moment, because every human being is valuable. Allow them to define accomplishment according to their own terms. And if they can define accomplishment according to their own terms, they’re much less likely to be drawn in to wanting to be in competitive rank-based hierarchies.


And then give them the space and time to dive deep into things that they care about so they can have those you know, they can experience accomplishment in different ways, particularly when it comes to contributing to others, to the world, to their communities.


[01:46:07.020] – Antonio

And then lastly, meaning. And meaning has to come from them, right? It’s not something that’s going to be that they’re subjected to. So forcing them to do some sort of volunteer project doesn’t give them the same type of meaning as them deciding that they want to participate in a cause that helps other people. So allow them to create and find opportunities that contribute to society, in ways that are relevant to them. Allow them to own their own education and be in relationship with others, and again, motivation must be intrinsic.


So three things, happiness, accomplishment and meaning, right? Those are three things that we’re focused on. Happiness, the variability of happiness that we most control is mindset, circumstances, yes, but mindset in particular. Right? Circumstances – ou can change the context sometimes, not always, but change the context. One thing I always tell parents who come in and visit with me and they say that their kids are miserable; I say “you don’t have to send your kids to Abrome, but for God’s sake, get them out of that situation. You can homeschool starting today. Don’t ever send them back to the school that they’re miserable in. Whether it’s for bullying, whether it’s for for academic reasons, whether it’s the unhealthy relationship with the adults, just change the context. That alone can make all the difference for the for that child.” And, of course, self-directed education is drastically changing in context.


But mindset: that is the thing that we can control the most. And if the kid– if the young people can implement some of these things into their mindset, that’s going to be huge in terms of their happiness.


Contribution as an accomplishment. If we can get young people to consider contribution as a much better measure for themselves of accomplishment than academic career, and financial success, then they’re much more likely to lead remarkable lives.


[01:48:19.880] – Antonio

And then lastly, meaning, right? So a meaningful life requires them to be able– all the things I talked about, like with Victor Frankl, right? Giving to a cause greater than yourself, increasing your– I’m actually forgetting them off my head because it’s so late in the presentation. But  the things that Viktor Frankl talked about, like meaningful life, allowing kids to lead a meaningful life, will allow them to lead a remarkable life.


And so when we look at all these things together – happiness, accomplishment, meaning – what’s interesting is, is how they reinforce each other. And for people who choose self-directed education, they are often able to see how beautifully this happens. But I drew some arrows in here. Right. You know, being able to focus on mindset, for example. One of those is like being a part of a community, and being a part of a community directly feeds into leading a meaningful life, and meaningful life allows you to focus on doing things for others, right? The opposite of selfishness. That leads into contribution as accomplishment, right? And they all feed into each other and they all reinforce each other. And that’s just one of those really healthy, virtuous cycles that that can come about. And when that happens, more good things than bad are going to happen. And that allows young people to lead remarkable lives.


[01:50:04.310] – Antonio

And that’s their end around into getting into a school like Harvard or Stanford. They’re able to because, again, the great majority of colleges they can get into without any academic prep and without having to ever compete against anyone else, at least until they get into college, right? And so when you’re dealing with parents who are concerned about what the college options are, just you can always tell them that it’s super easy to get into college. If you’re worried about them getting into college. It’s easy. Opt out of that silly game that you’re playing. Take away all that stress. Let them enjoy their lives now because they don’t need it, to get into college. But if they’re really focused on getting into these, like very few selective colleges and universities, then, sure, the end around is leading a remarkable life because that way they can demonstrate intellectual vitality. That way they’re adding to the diversity of that class that the college is trying to build.


So academic options for your child. Not everyone can be at the top of the pyramid. That’s just something we have to accept. Most parents when their kids are born, they’re like “my kid’s going to be president. My kid is going to be this. My kid’s going to be that. My kid’s going to go to Harvard.” Right? And then as time passes, parents are hit by life, and the kids are hit by life, and they realize that not everyone can rise to the top. And typically, based on power and privilege, you know, society just sort of falls into place. The people with the most resources and the most power tend to take their spot at the top of that pyramid. It’s not fair, but that’s the way that it works.


And so when we think about where our children, or the children that we work with, fall inn and we need to recognize that not everyone can be at the top of the pyramid.


[01:52:05.800] – Antonio

Obviously, not everyone can get into Harvard or Stanford. One because not everyone can be at the top of the pyramid and there are more valedictorians per year than there are seats in all of the freshman classes of the Ivy League combined, right? Because– I forget the number now, I think it’s thirty seven or forty three thousand high schools alone in the country. And that doesn’t include all of the home schoolers who are number one in their class of one, right? So there’s just there’s not enough room for all of the valedictorians in the Ivy League alone.


So obviously not everyone can get into Harvard and Stanford. But that being said, the easiest way to gain admission into these top colleges, with or without hooks, is to lead a remarkable life because that allows you to demonstrate the stuff that they’re really looking for. Of course, the easiest way to get in is to be the daughter or son of a billionaire or president.


One can excel academically and professionally from any college or without college at all. Right? And so we need to always remember that. The people who tend to excel the best long-term are actually the ones who have the most resources, and the most privilege, and power. But those who can navigate and get beyond that are the ones who learn how to leverage those resources and maximize whatever opportunities that they may have available to them. And that doesn’t require college.


[01:53:41.730] – Antonio

And then lastly, as opposed to an end in itself, college can be a tool that’s used in the service of a remarkable life.


So we in the self-directed education world where we don’t believe college is necessary, we believe for many people, college is just a distraction or a waste of time or money. In many ways, people go off to college, as some of you, including me– some of us have experienced college was the way for us, using Crystal’s words, as like, “I got to be free.” Right? That was your chance to to actually have freedom.


As Abby said, it was the first time that she had a choice getting to decide what what to study. Right? Like these were these were the opportunities for people. Rebecca, the opportunity to get away from home. Right? But if we’re focused on leading a remarkable life today and allowing young people to do the same, many of those things don’t require college.


[01:54:42.220] – Antonio

You don’t have to go to college to have autonomy in your choices in education, if you’ve had that from the get go. And Abby was choosing obviously a very specific school that would allow that when most schools don’t necessarily allow that. You don’t have to go to college to be free when you’ve been free your entire life because your family and your community focused on that. But that’s how we can help young people lead remarkable lives with regards to academics.


And the– and the wild thing about this is that this allows them to be positioned to get into these top colleges if they so choose, and to have a much easier pathway to getting into them. But the– the sort of hook to that is, or the caveat to that is, is that when people are allowed to be free and people are allowed to lead remarkable lives in ways that aren’t dependent upon ranking, or brand, or how we measure up to other people, all of a sudden those learners are much less likely to be drawn into trying to compete to get into Harvard or Stanford because they don’t value their self-worth on their ability to navigate to the top of these various pyramids.


And to the extent that they may go to one of these colleges, they’re much more likely than other people who go to those colleges to be going there specifically for the opportunities that that might afford them. Like the opportunity to participate in a very particular program, or to work with a very specific professor or in a certain department, for example. So can we be sure that this will work?


[01:56:37.140] – Antonio

So if we actually allow children to be free or when we’re talking to families who are debating this, like, can we be sure that this pathway will work for those families who are intent on their kids going to an Ivy plus type college?


Well, the first thing is, is that there’s no guarantees in life, right? Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. The one thing that we’re certain of is that the college admissions process does not guarantee that hard work results in success, because if you’re– if you’re poor and you come from a family who doesn’t have anything, you’re already put a huge disadvantage. Even if you outwork and outperform people with a lot more privilege. No guarantees in life.


[01:57:26.350] – Antonio

I do like to point people to the five regrets of dying. It was a blog post that an Australian nurse named Bronnie Ware wrote up, you can look it up. I believe that she also wrote a book about it, but the five regrets of the dying and here they are: I wish I’d had the courage in my life to live a life truer to myself, not the life others expected of me. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends and I wish that I had let myself be happier.


And when we think about this, when people are dying after leading a wide array of possible lifes, lives, some that were very successful financially and professionally and some that weren’t, right? And it’s interesting that– that these consistently came up amongst the people who are dying. People didn’t talk about – they wish that they had gotten into Harvard, MIT. They– they typically didn’t regret not becoming the CEO or a billionaire. It was the other things in life that mattered the most when they were dying. And this is something that’s really unique in the way that we in the self-directed education world approach living life, and approach supporting young people. We give them the opportunity to value these things because we’re not focused on rising to the top of the pyramid and we give them an opportunity to enjoy life now as opposed to believing that life is– is lived in order to position yourself for future success.


[01:59:19.900] – Antonio

So can we be sure that allowing children to lead remarkable lives now will work in terms of getting into a top college, or the other forms of success that this society measures? Well, of course not. We can’t be sure anything will work, but we can be sure of is that we can drastically improve the quality of our lives. We can improve their chances of getting in, but when we focus on what really matters in life, and what it really means to lead a remarkable life, ultimately what college they go in– get into, or whether or not they go to college at all really becomes a minor concern in the grand scheme of things.


So that’s me. Getting off my soapbox, does anyone have any questions? You know, I’ve been talking for a very long time.


[02:00:29.320] – Crystal

OK, my question that I thought about is that when I’m marketing, I say, “OK, these kids are free, they’re going to explore their interests and their passions. They may or may not– may or may not go to college.” But I think I kind of picked up on the idea that as a teenager, as a young person, they get these ideas, and they have all these passions, and that leads them to what their career is – with or without college.


And I don’t have a question, but I’m wondering how does that fit in when we’re talking about, you know, where we’re helping these kids, you know, lead a life that’s worth living ,to appreciate, to be happy where they are?


[02:01:14.350] – Antonio

Right. You know, the one thing that I used to try to give people very clear examples of, of how if you let kids follow their passions, everything else falls into place.


But the reality is, a lot of kids at the age of 18 have no idea what they want to do with their lives. I didn’t have an idea what I wanted to do with my life until I was in my late 30s. People change careers often, and it’s more of an expectation now than ever that people are going to be changing careers.


And I think that we do a great disservice by telling parents – and I had to work hard to stop doing this – that, “Oh if you let kids follow their passions and they want to play video games all day, eventually they’ll want to code, and then they’ll become engineers, and then they’ll be successful.” Or “Oh yeah, the kid loves playing around in the dirt. If you let him keep doing that, eventually he becomes a geologist.” And yeah, like sometimes– sometimes they end up getting an office job. Right? And that’s the way they pay to pursue their other interests in life. Right. It doesn’t necessarily it doesn’t always work out that their passions end up being their careers. There’s a lot of people who are passionate about music who can’t make a career out of it. Right? But they love playing in the band with their friends and brings immense value to their lives. And that’s great. They don’t have to make a career out of everything.


[02:02:42.340] – Antonio

But when you give children freedom and autonomy and you’re there to support them, what they do learn how to do is they learn how to learn. They learn how to set goals. They learn how to recognize what resources are available to them and what resources are not available to them. And they can learn how to navigate the world based on their access to various resources.


And sometimes they have to– they have to alter their plans. I want to become a professional pilot, but you can’t become a professional pilot unless you join some sort of military program, which means you have to fly for the military, or you go to a college that costs a lot of money because there’s very few options that aren’t private schools, right? You know that costs a lot of money and you have to get a pilot’s license. So for a lot of people, that might actually be not possible. Right? And they might have to fulfill their their interest and love for aviation in different ways.


But that’s not that’s not a strike against allowing children to be free. It’s just a recognition of constraints that we have in a society doesn’t afford opportunities to everyone equally.


[02:04:05.460] – Abby

Well, and a society that’s changing, so as somebody who went into college before my current career existed, right, because this didn’t– the school I’m at now didn’t exist. And part of why I stayed in New York was because this is one of the few places where I could do this work seven years ago. And like seven years is not a long time but already the landscape has changed so much that there are options that there weren’t before. So making decisions that are going to cost a kid – or any of us – years of our lives, solely based on the moment we’re in, isn’t isn’t necessarily the best strategy because it all keeps moving.


[02:04:52.470] – Antonio

Yeah. And. And another point is that– you know, if you’re– if you’re focused on making sure your kid finds a certain career field that’s going to allow them to live out financially comfortable life, you know, like you’re probably not looking for self-directed education. You’re probably more focused on forcing your kid to go to some sort of academically competitive school or some sort of STEM-based school or something, or some like career track field school. All the things that we care about in the ALC world is being in community with each other, being in relationship with each other, being able to appreciate what we have, and being able to build collaboratively, collaboratively with each other.


And those things sometimes can lead to career options, but sometimes it’s just about us being able to lead a meaningful life, even if it doesn’t necessarily mean financial security. And even if even if they don’t going– they don’t become animators in their future lives, right – because a lot of young people want to be animators these days, right? We have one of the learners at Abrome wants to be an animator for, for Pixar in particular. Well, a lot of young people do. And the reality is, is that there’s only so many jobs that are going to be available in that field. And quite frankly, if– if too many people go into it, then the wages are depressed and they’re not going to make much anyway.


But if they have the opportunity to dive in deeply and engage in something they care about and love, they’re going to get that experience of being able to do that. And that’s just something that a lot of young people never get the opportunity to do. If you’re focused on performing according to the standards of school, and to the standards of adults, you spend most of your time just meeting their expectations and excelling on their expectations, but avoiding the opportunity to to dive deeply into things that you really care about. And being able to do that when you’re young allows you to do that later, perhaps when you’re doing a career change, for example.


[02:07:16.580] – Antonio

The other thing that you brought up was people asking either you if she thought about art school, or if that’s a path, or asking her specifically like, “Do you want to become– what do you want to do this when– What do you want to do when you grow up?”


And I’d be interested in hearing what y’all do when you hear questions like this, how you can support young people. Like one question is, “what grade are you in?” Right. And just like do you all have a response to be like, “no, we don’t do that.” Like, don’t don’t waste our time with questions that are schoolish in nature.


Or “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Do you have ways that you respond in which you say, “well, what’s wrong with what they want to be right now? Like what’s wrong with their current?” So I’d be interested if any of you have sort of ways to respond to adults who are constantly trying to frame things in terms of school or career when when you– when you don’t necessarily need that in a child’s life.


[02:08:18.740] – Participant

I think sometimes people, especially I find like grandparent type of older boomers, end up kind of are saying that just because they don’t really know what else to say, they are trying to connect in some way. But they can’t. They you know, it’s just that’s kind of– it just comes out kind of they’re not really trying to imply anything about how you’re raising the child or how, you know, whatever else that we kind of to it because we’re in this world and this work, you know. So sometimes I just– I just segue into a topic about what they’re interested in now, I just don’t even, like, really acknowledge the content of their question and more acknowledge the intent of their question. And usually that works for me, but I’m very non-confrontational as well. So that would be a method I would go with.


[02:09:17.880] – Abby

As the opposite of non-confrontational, sometimes I make a joke about how much the world has changed in the past 10, 20 years and be like, “really, you expect them to be future like, you know, fortunetellers, Like, eh.” You know, and then do the segue.


I think Rebecca had asked about higher ed, that’s an option for– like that’s more aligned with SDE and I know that you and I have been– and Catherine have been tracking what’s happening with the higher ed landscape right now. So I just want to acknowledge, like there are programs out there. We’ve got a list of them. The question right now is who’s going to be open in the fall? And even if they’re open in the fall, are they going to make it until the spring? Because like, you know, the program I went to is unusual and that is tied to a big university with an endowment. A lot of these schools are smaller. And so the financial hit from the pandemic is pretty serious.


[02:10:27.260] – Antonio

And the point Abby brings up is, is really something to consider, though. A lot of those schools might fold. Right? Like there was, I think, Bennington College in Vermont or in Burlington. Whatever college was in Burlington folded that was, you know, was considered more, you know– that invited more self directed type folks, unschoolers, et cetera. Hampshire College almost folded. And then they, may I say, come up with a really good plan. And they only accept the ten kids last year. And this year was going to be their big leap back into the world of being sustainable. And then Covid hit. You know, there’s Wayfinder Academy, which I don’t know much about out in the West Coast, the northwest, you know. But all of those schools are potentially at risk of a failing, which is really unfortunate.


But then there’s and– but there are like create-your-own type major programs within bigger universities such as NYU. Brown has carved out itself a somewhat nice little niche within the Ivy League world as being more more free and being able to craft your own major type thing.


[02:11:48.350] – Abby

Take a leap year. I’m telling all the children to take a leap year. Just, just– you can, if you’re crystal clear, college is what you want. That’s rad. Don’t waste your money on their grand experiment, so all just take a leap year.


[02:12:02.180] – Antonio

The exception to that potentially is people who can get into schools that otherwise couldn’t and they have a very specific reason for wanting to. So there’s maybe not Harvard and Stanford, but like maybe maybe the Cornells of the world, they– they’re going to have a hard time filling their class. And maybe someone who otherwise would not be able to get in could take advantage of that and get in. And one, you know– for the overwhelming majority of people, going to Harvard doesn’t provide you much of an advantage over going to the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


However, for underrepresented minorities and for people who come from the lowest rung of the economic ladder, there’s marked advantages of going to such schools because all of a sudden it provides you access to resources and networks that you simply would not have had anywhere else. And so there have been studies that show that the people who disproportionately benefit from those schools are underrepresented minorities and people from the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. And, and for the ones who are from the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, it just so happens that those schools are often the cheapest to go to. It’s actually cheaper to go to Harvard than it is to go to your local state school, because Harvard will cover everything to include room and board.


[02:13:35.850] – Antonio

Every life is unique and people need to make choices that make sense for them. I’ve avoided Praxis just because of the politics of people involved with that, but I mean, it sounds in general like a good idea to be able to do something that is an alternative, and particularly for people who want to develop, you know, get internships and whatnot.


But I’ve never liked the idea of internships that are designed by programs anyways. I feel like the internships that people create on their own are going to be much more valuable. Me as someone– first, people love helping young people, right? People don’t like helping old people. Like, I go to someone and say, “Oh, I really like what you’re doing can learn from you?” They’re like, “how old are you? No, get out of here!” But if you’re a 20 year old kid and you want to learn and you go to someone, chances are like, yeah, you know, I would be interested in helping you.


But, you know, it’s very different if they say– if I as someone go to someone says, “Hey, I have a kid who’s really interested in what you do, would you mind working with them?” Versus that kid going to that person and saying, “Hey, I really like what you do. Can I work with you?”


I mean, it’s just Praxis and any type of program that designs or sets you up with internships I think really undermines the opportunity for people to get practice at accessing opportunities and creating their own experiences. So, yeah, I don’t necessarily have anything against structured programs if that’s what works best for people. But I really do feel that people who create their own opportunities tend to get the most out of them.


[02:15:18.310] – Antonio

So thanks, everyone, for coming. Really appreciate it.

2020 Webinar: SDE at Home

[00:00:05] – Bria 


My name is Bria Bloom. I live in Portland, Oregon.


I run a Flying Squad here, when we’re not quarantined, which is basically a group that doesn’t have a space, so we use the city as our space and we only meet about once a week. So it’s more the homeschoolers on unschoolers to get a chance to build community with a group. It’s a little bit difficult to use the city like five days a week. It can get exhausting because when you’re in that kind of group, you can’t separate out when you want to do different things. Everything has to be kind of agreed upon and done together, and you have no real home base to go back to. So it’s an interesting adventure. It’s not something you want to do every day, typically. But that might change depending on what this next year looks like. And then I’ve also worked at a free school here, which is a little bit like an ALC, but they use democratic practices. I don’t anymore, but I worked there for about a year. And I have a nine year old who attended and still attends that school.


And my background, like way back when, is in early childhood, so I’ve also worked with the youngest ones. So full range and a lot of different ways. And I love all aspects of this, but I really like talking to parents and supporting parents. And I think a lot of times when you’re sending your kid to a center, they help parents, but a lot of times people need even more help, translating those practices and how it works at home. So that’s me.


Because of what’s going on right now, I think it’s really important to start with an acknowledgement of what’s going on. I know that there is this notion in the world and kind of image that a lot of people have, that self directed education, unschooling, is very white and only can be accessible by white people, or that is mostly white people doing it. And while it is very true that there are very real financial and socioeconomic barriers to SDE and I know the ALC network and other people are trying really hard to break those down, they’re also very real.


[00:02:33] – Bria


It’s also true that there’s thousands and thousands, especially of Black and BIPOC and POC homeschoolers, and there’s a huge community of people of color doing this. I just want to acknowledge that, yes, there is an issue and a tension here, but to paint SDE or unschooling or ALCs as predominantly white, that’s really harmful. And one thing that really helped me think about this was Dr. Kelly Limes-Taylor Henderson’s article that she shared, “Ours  First”.


So I’m just going to read an excerpt from it. See if I can share my screen here. And then there’s a place where you can read more about this. But she talks about kind of the history of SDE and how it’s actually innate in indigenous culture and not something that was created by white people in an academic kind of way. So, yeah, I’m just going to read this.


[00:03:49] – Bria


“Of course, centering Whiteness and wealth is common practice in the settler-colonial, imperialist context that is the United States, which requires enslavement and genocide in order to maintain itself. However, in the name of resisting this practice, it is important for those of us interested in Self-Directed Education to take issue with the assumption that it falls under the purview of White wealth, as that assumption more accurately reflects the normalized and dominant identities of a Western-dominated global system, rather than the groups that historically practiced Self-Directed Education, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.


Indeed, a consideration of historic education Indigenous practices in the lands presently called the United States – and the practices of various groups who have been legally or circumstantially excluded from schooling – should remind us that the very groups not often seen as ‘typical’ unschoolers actually have extensive histories of Self-Directed Educative practice.


We have long known that we are fitting into a way of being that is not our own. Rather than wondering whether there is an alternative, however, we know that there is a better way. Maybe some of us always knew, but struggled to admit it to ourselves because of family schooling traditions or our own relationships with schooling. Maybe we’ve recently begun listening to the voice speaking inside us. Maybe the better way makes logical or logistical sense. Whatever reason brought you here, know that: this was ours first.”


[00:05:46] – Bria

There’s a link on the slides, which we can send out, but I also see – thanks, Abby. I knew you would do that. Abby put the link to that in the chat.


I wanted to open the space with that and also I know this is all about how to interact with our kids. So the next slides are going to be about how to talk about race with our kids in a non-oppressive way that relates to self-directed education.


Because I think it’s easy to think that we should force all these things on our kids and make them do certain work. But how do we uphold the values of non-oppression and self-directed education while upholding the values of social justice and racial equity work? That’s a hot topic in all these communities, and everyone’s going to disagree. This is just one way of doing it that I’ve found really works in balancing those values in a family system.


I’m going to share again. So one of the questions I feel like I hear all the time and maybe not in SDE spaces or ALC spaces, but just in general, is “Is my kid too young to talk about this?” or “Are my kids too young to talk about this?” And the short answer is “No. They’re never too young to talk about this”. And it seems like this group is pretty aware, but I’ll just reiterate that POC and BIPOC, black folks don’t have a choice.


[00:07:16] – Bria


They have to talk about this with their kids. For white families to have a choice to talk about race and equity issues is privilege in itself. So as white people, we need to be talking about this with our kids. I’ve worked with kids from when they start talking, are learning to talk, to, you know, 18 and plus. And I don’t think they’re ever too young to have these conversations.


The conversations vary depending on what age they are. But I think the short answer to this question is absolutely not. Your kid is never too young to bring this up.


Should I be forcing my kids to engage with racial justice and antiracist material? Not really, but yes. Akilah S. Richards, of course this is her famous quote, says that we can’t keep using tools of oppression and expect to raise free people. What that means to me is that using the same tools like we use in school and often in parenting to force kids to do what we think is right will not help them grow up to be free people and not help them be free people right now.


[00:08:32] – Bria


So while it’s really super important that we engage with this work, it’s also really super important how we share it with our kids. And from my personal standpoint and my experience, it’s counterproductive to force this stuff on your kids.


So if you’re not forcing it, how do you bring it up in a non-oppressive way?


I was talking to a group of parents about this the other day. And really, this is the same with any topic in your life. If you care deeply about something, you’re engaging in it all the time. You’re sharing it with the people around you. You’re modeling how you want to be in the world. So, if I care about police brutality, I’m talking about that. I’m reading articles, I’m watching police when I see them in my neighborhood talking to black people. And my kids see that. And that’s a chance for them to ask questions, and for you to engage around it. So if you live your values and you’re constantly involved in this, then your kid is going to be interested and asking questions and want to be involved.


[00:09:51] – Bria


If you aren’t living your values and instead you’re trying to tell them “You should do this work. You should read this book. You should learn more about racism.”,  not only are they not going to want to do it, most of the time it’s hypocritical for you to say, like, “Here’s all this material” and then not do any of that work yourself. So it kind of goes hand in hand where you’re like walking your talk. And because all of this stuff is in their environment, they’re interested in it and it’s going to come up.


[00:10:24] – Bria


So I think the answer to should I force it is: You should do it for yourself. If you hold that value, you should force yourself to do it and make it part of your family and part of your life. And that’s going to naturally come up with kids. And this is true with any topic. This is also how I will say, generally how SDE works in the home.


One example of how this came up for us recently is we live in Portland, which is super, super white, but we live in maybe the most diverse neighborhood in Portland. And we were taking a walk because that’s part of our quarantine routine. And I saw a cop – I was with my son and my husband – and I saw a cop stop and walk up to a black woman who was on the porch and demand to talk to someone else in the house.


And I just stopped and wasn’t going to leave. And my son was like, “Why are we stopping?” And I was like, “Well, I’m going to watch this cop. I don’t want to leave until he leaves. I don’t trust him. And I’ll explain more to you when it’s over.” And we waited and it took a long time and the cop eventually left and there was no violence in that moment.


[00:11:37] – Bria 


And then I got to explain to him what cop watching is, why it’s concerning when cops are specifically talking to black people and how that might bring about violence, how white people watching can actually tone down that violence and, like, make those people more safe. And of course, we’ve talked about these things before. So he knows a lot of this stuff. But it’s also hard, I think,  for him as a nine year-old to really process the gravity of it.


So each new situation and conversation that comes up, he gets a little bit deeper into how serious this is and what it means for black people and people of color to not feel safe in their own homes and in this world. So every time this happens, it opens up conversation. And instead of me bringing up police brutality in some offhand way by trying to make him do some curriculum on it, it’s happening in real life. And it’s part of  how our family operates. It gives them a chance to see those values in action and ask questions about it.


I had a woman in a parenting discussion group the other day talk about how her kids don’t want to play with their black neighbors and trying to figure out if there’s like a language barrier, because they’re from France and don’t speak English very well and trying to figure out, is this actually about something related to race or is it about their interests or what’s going on? And she’s really struggling. And I guess when she spoke with her kids about it before, she used the term color blind and now is realizing how harmful that term was.


[00:13:25] – Bria 

She was really worried about it. I mean, yeah, of course, I would be really mad at myself and concerned. That is not a healthy way to talk about it. But we also talked with her about how adults make mistakes, too. And going back and saying “I made this huge mistake. Here’s all the things wrong with ‘colorblind’. Here’s what I’ve learned. And I was able to figure this out and learn more and educate myself.”


And that’s just another form of modeling that, like, adults make mistakes, sometimes really big ones, too, and we’re figuring out a lot of this anti-racist work, we’re figuring out as we go along. That it’s OK to make mistakes as long as you revisit them with your kids. And it’s not like anything you say is going to be the final thing you say.


Here are some resources, you may know all of these already or you may not. But I’ll make sure to share the slides:


[00:14:33] – Bria 


Raising Free people network, with Akilah Richards. That’s a big one. She has a book coming out, her and Maleka Diggs made a workbook about schoolishness and pervasive whiteness in SDE. That’s a really good resource.


Eclectic Learning Network, is Maleka Digg’s network. And she has a deschooling meetup that might open up. Right now it’s full, but it could open up in the next month.


Crystal Byrd Farmer, who is a facilitator at an ALC, has a book coming out also. And I’m really excited for that one. I really need to read that one.


Our contingence is Kelly Lime-Taylor Henderson’s blog.


“She said, We Shed” is a new podcast about a black unschooling mother trying to heal from trauma from her own childhood.


[00:15:34] – Bria 


If anyone has other resources from black women or men in SDE, please share them in the chat.


[00:15:44] – Bria 


Self directed education at home. Everyone uses a different term – there’s like unconditional parenting, peaceful parenting. Sometimes attachment parenting, though that means something really specific.


My favorite term is partnership parenting, because I think it really describes what this actually is. The idea that what you have with your young people, with your kids is a partnership just like what you have with your friends or your spouse or anyone else in your life that you want to challenge and grow with.


So this really helps me frame it when I’m thinking about how I want to interact with my son. I want a partnership with him. I want him to be able to call me out, just like I want to be able to call him out. I want to be able to challenge him and know his goals for himself and support him in figuring out his goals for himself. I think this is really counter to the more conventional thought process about parenting, which is “my job is to know what’s best and then make sure they do it”.


Partnership parenting is pretty opposite of that. Like, my job is to find out what they want and what they believe is best for them and then help them attain that.


[00:17:11] – Bria 


I’ve been in a lot of meetings with a lot of parents lately, so I don’t know how you all are feeling and this might be different than how you were feeling two months ago. But, the feeling that we have to attain some level of normalcy or still expect the same things, seemed pretty pervasive at the beginning. And I just always invite parents and anyone to let go of that. Right now is different than any other time we’ve seen or experienced. Even before we had the protests, on top of a pandemic.  Right now is different than anything we’ve experienced.


My message is always be really kind and forgiving of yourself and be really kind to your young people. If right now they don’t want to start new projects, they don’t want to engage in some family activity you’re used to doing, if they want to be online all day with their friends. I mean, I always think being online with your friends is great and OK, but I think sometimes, like right now, it’s even more and there’s even more time spent on that.


[00:18:19] – Bria 


I think we really need to look at this moment and be like “What do people need in this moment and what does my kid need in this moment?” and see what they’re doing as the answer to that. Instead, I’ve seen a lot of people jump to judging if you’re bingeing Netflix all day or judging if they’re playing Minecraft all day. And I think right now especially, that’s really harmful because we’re all responding to this really strange time and trying to figure out the best way to live in it.


[00:18:49] – Bria 


What your kids are doing right now is what they need to do to live in this really stressful time. So my go-to is, accept what they’re doing, try and understand how it’s helping them and supporting them and what they’re getting out of it, and then move from there.


I also always think of how, I grew up being unschooled, so I always think of my own childhood and how much things shifted in any given year. Based on what I was interested in, what was going on world, what friends I had.


So what’s present right now and this moment for them isn’t necessarily what’s going to be present forever. So, Jason, you mentioned videogames and spending a lot of time online. And yes, maybe he needs to be working towards a career or figuring out how to not spend all the time online. But also it could just be what works for him in this moment right now, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be his life commitment forever. I think as parents, we get pretty trapped in thinking they need to be working towards sustaining themselves, because we want them to be really successful and happy in life and part of that is finding a job and knowing what they want in life. But in unschooling and SDE, I think, and in life, in our adult lives, too, we go through phases of what we’re interested in, what we’re really obsessed with, and that looks different depending on what stresses are in the world right now. If you have access to your friends and things like that.


[00:20:29] – Bria  


So I like to remind myself, especially in this really heavy moment, that what kids are doing and focusing on right now is what they need right now. Just like what I’m doing and focusing on in this moment is what I need right now. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what it’s going to look like forever or we have to start planning their futures right now. So be OK with what’s present and know that that can always shift and may always shift.


But since we’re talking about SDE at home, I’ll just go through this again. I think what you can do to support your kids right now or anytime you’re doing SDE at home is pretty similar.


Abby, maybe correct me if you think I’m wrong, but it’s pretty similar to what facilitator’s do at ALCs and other SDE centers, which is: talk to your kids, engage about what’s going on, ask them about what they’re interested in right now, what they’re doing. Play their videogames with them if you want to, or watch their Netflix with them.  I never thought about Netflix bingeing because it’s not happening around here. Any families I know. But I had one parent talk about how their kid is just watching Netflix all day long and she doesn’t know what to do.

And you can still engage with that, like figure out what shows they’re watching and find out why it’s interesting to them and talk to them about the characters. There’s something in that. Everything kids do, just like everything we do as adults, there’s something in it that’s compelling. So finding out what’s compelling will help you understand what they’re interested in. And then you can talk with them about it, or accept it and move on with what works for you.


[00:22:26] – Bria 


Share your feelings with them. As we talked about, about what’s important to you, getting outside, moving and doing things as a family. Don’t forget to share those pieces about what’s important to you right now.


Share your concerns. We also talked about this. The concerns about screens, about eating, about getting enough sleep. Share them, but don’t use that to coerce them. Just help them work through it and build good habits.


And then remember, I’ll just say this again, remember that the more you coerce, the more you make them do something, the less they will trust you. The more you partner with them on figuring out what their needs are and how to support them, the more they will trust you.


Just be together. Ask them what they’re doing. Help them find resources to go deeper. Talk to them about what’s going on. Talk to them about current issues.


[00:23:26] – Bria 


I think that kids are seeing what’s going on in the world right now, at different levels. Obviously, it depends on their age. But I always like to bring it up and offer a conversation because maybe they’re seeing something I didn’t even know they were seeing or didn’t even know they were talking to their friends about it.


So offering conversations about current events and chances to process is really important. But if they don’t want to talk about it, I also just let it go because it can be really heavy.


My son is running across the hallway with Cheerios in his hand trying to be quiet, but it’s a little distracting.


So, practice. These are just things to keep in mind. It’s like I have to remind myself, I strangely grew up with a really controlling father who somehow was able to be an unschooling parent and share his ideas without controlling us. And I got some of his controlling tendencies. So I have to remind myself to interrupt those and be really intentional about it.


[00:24:41] – Bria


Some things I do to interrupt my controlling tendencies with my kids or other kids is to ask myself before I tell them to do something, or before I interrupt something they’re doing, “Why is this important to me?” Why is it important to me that they clean X thing? Or why is it important to me that they don’t eat bad or whatever it is for you, whatever your thing is that really gets to you?


Why is this important to me? Why am I pushing this so hard? And is this actually my decision to make? So am I pushing that they eat all of their dinner so hard because my parents pushed that on me, or because I’m really worried about food waste or because I spent so much time making dinner that I feel when they don’t eat it, it’s disrespecting me.


Digging into those whys will actually tell you a lot about yourself and your own childhood trauma sometimes, and interrupt you putting that trauma on your kids. And then asking, “Is this my decision to make?” Is what my son eats, really my decision to make. Is what he engages in my decision to make. And if it’s not, how can I talk to him in a respectful way to share my concerns without making it about my decision?


[00:26:09] – Bria


Pay attention and start to track all the times you tell your young person or your kids what to do or require that they do something.


When I was working with two and a half year olds, we once did this thing where on our hand we ticked every time we said ‘no’ or gave an order. The first time we did it was outrageous how many ticks we had for every time we, like, told them what to do or told them ‘no’. You don’t have to, like, put ticks on your arm like I did, but just tracking every time you’re doing that can help you realize how much control you’re reaching for. Maybe for some of you you’re not really exerting any control at all right now, maybe it only comes up in situations. But just mentally noting every time you’re doing that can help show you what’s really going on in your relationship and kind of interrupt that.


Pay attention to your language. There’s a lot of little cues in how we talk and how we talk about our needs and how we talk to people younger than us that are really telling. One thing that I hear a lot, even in myself, is “I need you to do X”. I don’t actually need that,  I just want that. To sort of make that a need is a little bit manipulative, because it’s actually about what you want and not a baseline need for yourself.


You might really need to spend time with them. And that might be really important to you. But it’s not fair to put your need on making them do something, and something that doesn’t actually really affect you. So, like, needing them to eat the broccoli isn’t super fair because that is something about their body and how it affects them. It doesn’t really affect you.


[00:28:06] – Bria 


But needing them to help clean up the living room can be justified in the sense that this is a community space. And here’s why this affects me. So just be really careful about the way you use ‘need’ and the way you use “I need you to do this”,  because it can definitely convey that what you think they should be doing is more important than what they want for themselves.  Not sure how much sense that made, but I’ll check in in a minute just to see where you all are at.


And then we talked about this too:  learn more about whatever activity they’re into, so you can better understand it. So if your first go-to is like, “Why would they play Roblox all day? That’s just useless. They’re not learning anything.” Switching that to “I wonder why they’re so curious about Roblox. I wonder what about it is interesting to them. I wonder what Roblox actually is.” And then trying to figure it out. Play it with them if they want. If they’re open to that. Ask them questions about it.


You’ll figure out why they’re compelled by it as opposed to just seeing it as like a mindless activity. I think we tend to see things we don’t understand as mindless activities. I’m totally guilty of that. I do not understand why people watch YouTube videos. I just don’t, it does not work for me, I don’t get it. But there’s lots of great things in YouTube videos. So if I just switch that and say, like, “I’m curious why this is so interesting to you. Let me learn more” then it helps me see that learning is happening all the time as opposed to just judging certain things as learning and other things as not learning.


[00:30:01] – Bria 


Yeah, I mean, the question is, if we’re not forcing them to do something, then what? And the answer, in my experience and from what I’ve seen work for a lot of parents is we are accountability partners and support in the way we would be with adults.


So, discussing how those things affect them, what they need help with. I’ll always ask my son, I’ll remind him, like, being on the screen and sitting down all day isn’t actually that healthy for these reasons. And I know you’re going to want to – like we had this conversation right when the school shut down and the pandemic  started –  I know you’re gonna want to do this. I know I’m gonna do this. And I know it’s how you see your friends. And I’m thinking of ways we can plan as a family to do fun things that get us out of that.  I’m thinking we’re gonna have to be really intentional about it. What do you think?


[00:31:00] – Bria 


And his answer is almost always, “I forget. I get lost in it and I forget. But yes, I do want to take breaks from the screen.” So I’ll ask, like, is it OK for me to remind you? And for him, the answer is always ‘yes’. For some kids, sometimes the answer is ‘no’. And since you’re asking and you want to be respectful, you actually have to respect the answer ‘no’. That doesn’t mean you can’t come back later, but if you don’t respect their ‘no’ in that moment, you’re breaking trust. It’s gonna be a lot harder later to rebuild that trust. If it’s something really important, I’ll push a little harder. If I get a ‘no’, I’ll push a little harder and be like, “Oh, why is it ‘no’? Can you explain that to me? Is there something else I can do instead? Is there something else we can plan for you together instead? Like a timer, whatever works for you. I don’t know.”


[00:31:52] – Bria 


But working with them to say:  This is my concern about the thing that’s coming up with you and I realize this is my concern, so it might just be an issue I need to work through. What do you think? Do you have a concern about this, too? And do you need my help with it?


And that’s just, I mean, I think that’s how I should talk to my husband too. Doesn’t mean it’s always how I talk to my husband, but like, I need help getting off the screen. I need help being reminded of the things that support me. So just applying those same concepts that you would do with an adult that we don’t think we should have power over, I’m applying those to your kids because I don’t think we should have power over kids either. That’s just a really, really good way to remind myself what kind of relationship I want to have and how to approach my kids.  Anything else coming up? OK.


[00:33:12] – Bria 

Partnership parenting does not equal permissive parenting.

Something I see a lot, and sometimes I do myself, is fall into this space of not wanting to coerce or control my kids means I forget to share what I need as well. So an example of this is like, let’s say the living room is a shared space and your kids play in it a lot. And they leave all of their toys and all of their stuff in the living room and that inhibits your ability to use the living room. But you don’t want to ask them to clean it up because you don’t want to force them to do anything. So either you clean up or you just deal with it. That’s one example.

There’s a thousand examples around cleaning and chores with this, or even not wanting to ask them to spend time with you because you don’t want to force them to spend time with you. But one of your needs as a human is to like, have time with your kids, but you don’t want to impose that on them. So you don’t even ask. I think those are mistakes of being too permissive and forgetting yourself in this. So I just like to remind parents and myself to not forget myself. My needs are important, too. And sharing those is what’s really going to create a partnership.


Ignoring those isn’t going to help them at all. Like, you ignore those and you don’t share those needs with your kids, then they’re not learning how to be in an equal relationship. They’re learning how to center their own needs and not reciprocate and do anything for you. And that’s not their fault. That’s just what you’re modelling and showing them.


[00:35:01] – Bria 


And I also find the more you move away from telling your kids what to do, the more they’re willing to help you out when you ask. We don’t do like, official chores, but if it’s time to clean and I’m like, “Hey, will you help us clean?” The answer is always ‘yes’. And that’s just been true. Or like a favor that I need really bad, but I can’t do myself usually because I’m on a webinar, working, but I need it right now, my son will always interrupt what he’s doing and do it for me because he knows it’s really important. Otherwise, I wouldn’t ask.


So there’s this spectrum of  control and permissiveness. And I think the goal is to land not in the middle, but in the space where you’re there for their needs and they’re gonna be there for your needs. But in order to do that, you have to be willing to share what your own needs are.


And I’m wondering now if anyone has examples of how that’s come up for them. I could tell a dozen stories, but I want to illustrate and clarify this a little bit more, so I’m wondering if you’ve ever felt that tension between, like, asking your kid to do something and not wanting to interrupt their autonomy and where that tension is for you?


[00:36:28] – Bria 


I was thinking, not every passion we have has to be a career in the future. Like, it’s really great to see the 12 hours of gaming and then see how that applies to a lot of people’s career. Those success stories are amazing. And sometimes 12 hours of gaming are always just gonna be a passion and that’s not going to be your career. I don’t know how many passions or even like obsessions I have that have nothing to do with my career that I have and take up a lot of my time. But they make my life better.

So it’s really nice to see those success stories. And it’s also a little bit school-y to think of everything that we do with all of our time as having to lead to a career.


So how can those things live and balance and live together? Abby, do you want to expand on that at all?


[00:37:24] – Abby 


I can. I think my thoughts on this issue come from, in large part I guess, I credit to adrienne marie brown and her writing about allowing pleasure. And it’s like,  capitalism says you have to produce to have value. And that’s B.S.. Especially when the quarantine started, I was thinking, for a lot of kids, about something she wrote about her relationship to eating sugar. And how the same practices she has to make herself feel good and that are her self care, recharging, refreshing rewards stuff, she knows are also the things she’ll fall into when she’s trying to numb. And so she’s got a practice of having that awareness and letting both be OK. But just checking in with herself when she notices that she’s turning to those things and asking, like, “Am I looking for pleasure right now or am I numbing? And if I’m numbing, why? And like, is this how I want to continue to deal with this?” Just adding a mindfulness component to it.


[00:38:56] – Abby 


And the people more recently who have been talking about this are the Nap Ministry, and they’re rad. Their whole schema or philosophy, I guess, is that especially for black people in the US, taking a nap is revolutionary and radical, like, reclaim that rest. Rest for yourself and your ancestors, take it back. Yeah, I think about that a lot.  And it’s so antithetical to school.


[00:39:50] – Participant question slide 

Do you have family meetings?


[00:39:50] – Bria 


We don’t. Our family specifically does not. It kind of comes up at dinner. We’ll talk about it at dinner or we’ll bring it up as it comes up. I know a lot of families do. Especially if you have teenagers, it’s helpful to have meetings because teenagers are really busy doing their own thing or out of the house a lot of the time.


Or if you have more than three people, like we have three people, so it’s easier to communicate. But yeah, I know a lot of families that have meetings. I know a lot of families that actually use the ALC boards to, bring up and  – help me out, Abby, why am I forgetting – things you’re noticing that are not working out in the house. So you can just put that sticky note on the board for whenever your family meeting that’s like “I’m noticing that the dishes are never done on Fridays. Whose job is that?” And then you can go through and talk about and make agreements for it and try it out. And I know that works for a lot of people, but with three people right now, we don’t. Meetings are not needed to be planned. But I do think they can be super helpful.


Awarenesses! That’s the ALC word for it. Maybe it is too early.


[00:41:23] – Abby


Yeah, and it’s funny because as the director of an ALC, when I’ve done family meetings, which are the best thing on road trips with teens, they’re my favorite, I don’t use the board. We just have a conversation when there is a shift in the journey, when we’re like “Do we want to stay in this place? Do we want to leave?”,  you know, that kind of stuff. We’re like, “Oh, we like we should talk about this over lunch”. And then we go to a diner and it’s just like an open ‘where are we at, what do we want, how do we get from here to there’?


[00:42:10] – Bria


Yeah, I think tools are really flexible based on the situation. I don’t use anything like an ALC board because it just like traps me in one mindset. Sometimes I’ll bring it up. But, as a general rule, I like to flow more. Like the way Abby is talking about, like, what’s going to work with this group of people, in this moment, for this problem. But some people love that tool, especially kids, because they’re like, I know exactly how to do this and how my voice is going to be heard. And that really helps me.


[00:42:46] Participant question slide 

How do Flying Squads work?


[00:42:47] – Bria


  1. I’ll say that – Flying Squads are all different, like ALCs, although I think we kind of have a baseline of how it works. I do mostly monthly fees. I know Brooklyn does daily fees, and I know at Abrome that’s woven into their ALC. So people from that ALC are already paying tuition. It does not, for us and I think for Brooklyn, too, it doesn’t include costs. In Brooklyn they walk a lot. And if they want to go somewhere far away, they take extra money for it. We ask kids to bring TriMet passes or money for the buses system here. We never, ever drive them. It’s not like a carting-people-around-in-vehicles thing. In my mind, it’s like figuring your city out. And wherever you can go on foot or in public transit easily is where you’re going, for the most part. And then they bring food. So we ask them to bring their lunches or they can bring money and then figure out where they want to go. I know Brooklyn has a daily deli trip that they are pretty obsessed with, so the kids plan for that.


And then I never plan anything. I will bring up like, “Oh, hey, I saw this thing or this march is happening on the day we have it. Do you want to participate?” I’ll bring things up just like the kids will. But for me, it’s not a field trip planning thing. The adults are not planning an experience for the kids. You meet in the morning, the kids say where they want to go. You work it out together, however that looks. And you go. And then sometimes if there’s like an event in advance, they’ll plan it like the week before or something, because they have to.


But it all comes from the kids. It’s not like an experience made by the adults.


It’s definitely a new level of deschooling for me. Always looking for new levels deschooling, but having no idea what your agenda is with a bunch of kids in the city is like, I love it. And it’s totally next level letting go of control. But every group is different. Which is the magic of it.


[00:45:19] – Participant question slide

How do you start Flying Squads and Meet-ups?


[00:45:19] – Bria 


It’s hard to start from nowhere. Everyone else kind of had a learning center to start from or to pull from except for Portland. And it’s a little harder to start from nowhere. We have a pretty big unschooling population. So I tell them about it a lot. And then just through, like I know a lot of people involved in SDE here and they have a lot of parent connections, which is through like the grapevine.


We have not ventured into, like, putting flyers in coffee shops. My co-facilitator keeps saying that. But I also have a pretty hard “This is what this is. And if you’re not into it, you shouldn’t send your kid here”  stance. We’ve had multiple parents e-mail and be like  “Can I come?” And I’m like, “No, actually. You can’t”. Yeah, I feel like our blog posts are pretty clear about what goes on.


So it’s almost like anti advertising. But then you get the families that have really bought in and you get a lot less issues with buy in along the way. So I’m wary of putting stuff, personally, in libraries, because it’s like, what kind of family is going to find that? But you can be pretty clear in your materials, no matter who finds you, they can self select. And it depends on what you want. Like we have kids climbing trees and going up to school groups in museums and saying “leave school!” and arguing with their teachers.


[00:46:47] – Bria 


And putting up self-proclaimed propaganda about how school is a bully system. We have some pretty out there kids. And I don’t lie to parents about that. So, yeah, it is what you want and I would rather get parents who are bought in then get a lot of money or something. Yeah. But it definitely makes it harder to get a bigger group.

2020 Webinar Transcript: Staying Connected to Why

Agile Learning Centers Network Spring 2020 Webinar Series
“Staying Connected to Why”
with Anthony Galloway Jr. of Heartwood ALC


[00:00:01] – Anthony


What we’re talking about today is staying connected to ‘why’ – not to be confused with some cynic’s book in philosophy on ‘Starting with why’, though it would be very similar. Definitely not him.


Just really quick, who am I? I’m Anthony Galloway Junior, as you see. And I am a director and facilitator at Heartwood Agile Learning Center in Atlanta, Georgia, more specifically, Clarkston, Georgia. We just finished our fourth year of operation just this past Friday. So, yeah, let’s go, let’s get started.


Again, what this is about is staying connected to why. What I wanted to start off was talking about how sometimes we can get really attached to the details of what we’ve done or what we’re doing and get so married and invested in a very specific way of things happening. And that just results in a lot of different complications, for ourselves individually as well as for the community that we might be living in or existing in. So there’s mental stress, there’s the emotional stress, there’s the social stress of trying to push something through, get something to happen in a very specific way that others aren’t doing. It’s that sort of age old issue of wishing people would do what we wanted them to do, the way we wanted them to do it. Which just is not possible.


And even in a Agile Learning Center, or in a cooperative community where there’s a lot of negotiation and consent giving, there can still be some issues and tensions where one person’s methodology is not fitting with another person’s methodology and everybody just keeps butting heads and getting stuck on ‘how do we do this?’. As relates to education and schooling and how ALCs do things, not only does it happen at the school level – and we’ll get to that after this slide as far as what we do with the young people – but then it also happens for the staff, it happens for the board of trustees if you’re a nonprofit, it can happen with the parent community as they relate to the school. It also happens just for the parents themselves.


[00:02:16] – Anthony


And that’s actually what I’m hoping to get to through this, it’s the individual work that parents and caretakers and educators have to do for themselves. But in order to do that, we’re going to go back into it, starting with… First, my theory is that when those moments happen, when we get frustrated, it’s really because the assumption that we have that how something has to be done and if it’s not done that way, then our needs won’t get met and the people around us are then saying or implying that they don’t value us, they don’t care about us, we’re not important to them. What we need or what we want is not important to them. That’s my little theory there.


[00:03:04] – Anthony


All right, so before we get into I want to do a crash course in the Change Up process. I’m not sure if you all attended the session with Ryan a few weeks ago about how Change Up works. And so what this board is, we call it a Community Mastery Board or Community [Have-it?] Board, in some places. And this is where we have our Change Up meeting and track sort of the cultural habits and customs and agreements of the community that we exist in. And it’s a weekly meeting that we have. So what happens is someone comes up with an awareness, as you see here on the left, about some phenomenon, stuff that’s happening, and then from there a proposal is created to say, ‘Hey, here’s an idea of how we can address this issue’. And each week we revisit it. We all agree that first week to practice like, ‘Yeah, we’ll do this work for a few days. We’ll see how this goes, if it fixes the problem’. And each week we mark off, OK, week one ‘keep practicing’, week two ‘keep practicing’, week three ‘keep practicing’, until it becomes… we just keep checking it off until it becomes a habit or we feel like we’ve mastered it as a community and everybody has internalized this value. This practice is just part of the culture. There’s no need to keep track of it on a long list of rules or book of rules, there’s no need to keep it posted or presented all the time, it’s just sort of the habit, it’s just the way we do things. This board helps us to visualize how we’re improving at these practices.


So that’s that’s a crash course in there. I won’t go into too much detail about that. Instead I want to focus on and look at sort of the things that can end up happening when we go through that process. Like, it’s not a cure all. Let’s see if I can hide all the things that are floating [talking about the screen]. That’s great, here we go.


[00:04:56] – Anthony


All right. So like I said, someone brings up an awareness, some phenomenon. Then someone proposes something for the community to practice, to improve the situation. All right now, version one of this is maybe others in the community don’t like that proposal and a debate starts, you know, especially with the young people. One person wants it done this way. They really want this particular practice or proposal to happen. Other people are like, ‘I’m not willing to try that out or do that for a week or however long’. They’re just not willing to. And they propose something else, there’s a counterproposal. But the original person who brought up the awareness still isn’t budging. They want it their way.


That is a common occurrence, and that is an issue where a person is not hearing or understanding that this practice, this way of doing things, is not a fit for other people in the community, that they don’t like that, that there’s a need or value on their side that is going to be hindered or at least not addressed. But if the person who’s proposing it is so attached to their way of doing it, then these meetings can’t work. There’s no debating or arguing or logic to be had in these situations, because the idea is for everybody to get along and to be able to exist in community. So that’s an issue that we have that pops up.


[00:06:18] – Anthony


The second side of the issue is that we’ve actually been doing it for a week, practicing it for a week, but then the original person who brought up the awareness actually still isn’t satisfied. There’s still something being unmet, unfed in them. And so there’s still the issue of trying to figure out why isn’t this practice working? It might make the most perfect sense as it relates to the awareness they brought up.


Third situation. It’s cut off from me [on the screen], I hope you all can see it. It says, maybe it’s been a few months actually, everybody liked the practice at first and it went well. It’s working. It even evolved, as things happen. And then over time, it starts to fade. People stop doing it, people stop engaging with it. Some people want to…what that says is that some people want everyone to recommit to it and maybe start some enforcement to make people do it. And then other people are not as interested in continuing it.


All these situations happen for us while we have our Change Up meetings, at school or for staff or for the board or even for the parent meetings. Which is why we’ve introduced this concept or introduced the column that identifies our needs and values. That didn’t show up [on screen] either, oh man. That should say ‘Needs and Values’ there. But basically what it is, is that when somebody puts out an awareness, if someone has a proposal, we also sometimes will ask them to identify what’s the need behind it, what is the value behind it, because especially with young people, someone might bring up an awareness, an issue happening for them and everyone else is just like ‘Ugh, OK, so whatever, like, who cares?’ But what’s important is that they also indicate, what do they need from this? Why is it really bothering them? What’s important? Or what community, what shared community value that we all have, this is related to.


Because then that gets everyone invested into this process as well. It gets everyone starting to think about ‘How can we help our fellow community member?’ Because it’s not just about one person not being happy, so one person needing to figure it out. It’s about the entire community coming together to help that person and to help them figure out what’s going on and how can we how can we come up with a solution that meets everyone’s needs, that fits the values of our community and makes everyone happy? What can we try out? So that’s how that happens for us at the school sort of program level.


[00:08:54] – Anthony


But I find  that process of identifying needs and awareness to be really important for the overall unschooling and deschooling process, that it’s important for us as facilitators to do it ourselves individually. It’s important for us to continually ask ourselves these questions, to figure out what’s going on, because if you are raised and trained in this world, honestly, there’s some traditional, rigid ways of existing that we learned that  don’t fit the future that we are co-creating and that we exist in.

In addition, there are ways in which we think things have to be done and that we’re just inclined to do for the young people we work with that don’t fit for them or that don’t work, and we have to be creative and not try to sort of force a square peg into a round hole or vice versa, depending on the size of the peg. Anyways.


[00:09:50] – Anthony


So, how we apply this at the individual level, the adult level, the caretaker level. Disclaimer: because I’ve done so many info sessions and have marketed the school and talked about this stuff, I know that this process can be difficult for people. It can be challenging because it really takes some time to ask and answer these questions. Sometimes you have to deal with and face very hard truths. Sometimes it causes you to question the very basic beliefs you have about yourself and the world, especially in the field of education.


It challenges you to think about the way you learn, the way your development happened and if there are other ways in which it makes you realize, there’s some other ways to go about this. Then at times – sometimes there are no immediate answers or there are no answers at all. And you have to deal with the discomfort of standing in… you have to acknowledge and then also stand in the uncertainty, I will say, because there are some people who feel certain and are pretty sure, but even if there really are no guarantees in this case, you have to stand in there and just learn how to be OK or to deal with being uncertain about what the future holds or how things will have an effect on you.


[00:11:09] – Anthony


All right, so it’s cutting off all of my questions [from the screen]. OK, that’s cool. So, the questions – actually, this is an exercise that I would love for us to sort of go through together, but I wanted to sort of go through the presentation first and then come back to this, so that we can sort of have a dialogue and talk about the questions that I always have to ask myself, other facilitators have to ask, and that we challenge parents when they come to us and they’re interested in schools, to ask themselves: What do they want, what are their values and what’s important to them? What do they want for their young person? What are their values and priorities as it relates to raising them?


So actually, for our info sessions, whenever someone RSPVs, we ask them what’s important for them as it relates to their child’s education. And then when they also come and are present, we also ask them again. And then when we do our interview at the end of our trial weeks, we ask them again. Just to make sure that what they value, what’s important to them, is aligned with what the school even does. So in addition, asking yourself how can you accomplish this and if there’s more than one way to accomplish it. So whatever your desire is, whatever your goal is, there’s a tendency to think, ‘OK, here’s a way I can do it’ or we are just doing the thing.


[00:12:28] – Anthony


Sometimes we don’t even start out at necessarily what we want or what our values are, we’re just doing it. But it’s really important to realize, is there another way? And this goes back to the Change Up process with the Community Mastery Board, that we were looking at earlier, where based on your need or value, there might be more than one way to accomplish this. There might be a way to do this that actually meets the needs of all parties involved. And that’s why we try to challenge students, and we challenge ourselves, not to get fixated on how it gets done. Because if what’s important to you is maybe fun, making sure that everybody’s having fun, or making sure that everybody is involved, or maybe for our meetings, if it’s important to you that the meetings are quick or time efficient, there are a lot of different ways that we can accomplish that, actually. And it doesn’t have to be some specific idea that you came up with, because no matter what, there are other needs and values that also have to be considered.


So funny enough, even in a SDE space – I put these questions last, but usually we tend to start out with these questions. But in talking to adults or parents, it’s always necessary to sort of meet people where they are and then bring them into our space and asking, OK, we’ve asked you, what do you want? What are your values? What do you want for your kid?


Now, what does your young person actually want? What do they value? What’s important to them? What if they don’t want what you want for them? And how do you reconcile that discrepancy?


So we’ll come back to those questions together and sort of dialogue about some of that. But I want to move on and show some of the rest of the tips. That’s a repeat of the questions.


Something else I want people to remember is that you have to be honest with yourself about these questions. And again, that’s why sometimes it can take time and you really have to do some work and dig in. It’s not just about saying the things you think are right or what you think is socially acceptable, because these answers are actually for you, not for others. Because whether you acknowledge the true answer or not, it’s still what’s driving and directing all the decisions that you’re making for you, your family, your household, your young person, your students, if you are an educator. All of that is at play. So you have to acknowledge and call that stuff out.


[00:14:53] – Anthony


Some other stuff to remember is that, like there’s that book, Simon Sinek, ‘Let’s start with why’ or ‘Finding your why’. But like, that’s not – I mean, it would be great if we could all do that all the time. But sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. So sometimes you have to back into it, after looking at what you’re doing and you’re trying to figure out what’s wrong or what’s not working. You have to be invested, though, also in this process. It’s a rediscovery process and you have to stay connected to it and you’re always checking in on it. Eventually it becomes a habit of yours to be aware of this and be plugged in. But at the beginning, you really have to remind yourself and sort of dig deep into these moments, until it becomes just sort of a part of how you exist.


[00:15:39] – Anthony


In addition, motivations, needs and values can shift. Sometimes that affects the efficacy of what you do. So right now, what might be important to you is that your child is just having fun. And so that’s why it can be easy for some parents and educators to be like, ‘Oh, I can let my five or six year go to this SDE space and let them play all day, because I don’t want my five or six year old to have homework right now or I don’t think they need to be reading chapter books right now’. But then sometimes your motivations or needs shift and you start to think that, ‘Oh, I want them reading’ or ‘I want them doing math’. And again, in that sense, you really have to ask yourself why. Like, is literacy really what you value or is there something under that, or are math skills that you value? Why did you stop valuing your child having freedom and fun? And again, these are difficult questions to ask and answer, but they are important to ask. Important to stay connected to.


Few things also to think about, this would be part of what we also share, is sort of what did you learn was actually important when growing up? What did you learn to value? How was that message delivered and how has that helped or hindered you as you got older? As you were young?


Is anybody else willing to share some of their answers to these questions or what’s going on for them?


[00:17:17] – Abby


You know, I really appreciate that you’ve got an explicit like, ‘Is there more than one way to accomplish this?’ Because often… I mean, I like to ask, like, what am I not seeing? But often, if I value their playing because I value their joy and the skill building that I trust they’re doing, and I value a variety of literacies and they’re getting to develop that and to learn how to keep developing different literacies as they grow, then that reminder to ask, ‘Is there more than one way?’ helps me step back and see maybe these things aren’t in conflict the way they initially appear to be. Which is often helpful for me, especially with teenagers.


[00:18:32] – Anthony

Yeah, I think the… oh Spence has their hand up, I forgot about that function. Go ahead, Spence.


[00:18:41] – Spence


Yeah, something that I’ve thought about recently is how my… maybe the focus that… the things I want sort of change. And I came to this new sort of want, I guess, and you know, I’ve been doing this sort of unschooling stuff for a while, self-directed learning for a while, and recently where I reflected on my own childhood and how I was forced to go to these after school reading classes, because I was like dyslexic and I did it for like seven years.


And  I saw it as like, you know, good intentions of my parents to do that for me, to try and help me to learn, but I actually discovered that – through therapy, actually – that the forced nature of that actually silenced my, like, voice. And I’ve seen a huge ripple effect of negative consequences throughout my life because of that. And there wasn’t really a check in on my social emotional needs surrounding that topic. So thinking about my own son, like the social emotional is now my biggest value and the thing that I care about the most. And when he ever learns to read and all that kind of stuff, whatever the topic or a thing that he might be interested in or not learning yet, that will come at some point when it’s necessary. But like the thing that feels really top of my priority list is that he figures out how to, like, speak up for himself and have his emotional, mental needs met as he feels that he needs them. So that was my piece to add there.


[00:20:45] – Anthony

Cool cool, thank you, for participating.


[00:20:55] – Participant


I’ll jump in. Can you hear me? Ok, cool. When I look at this list, I think about what type of like, community I want to be a facilitator in, because I’m kind of… like, we’re at a place here where I live, where there was a project that dissolved and a new project that was being started, and the pandemic hit. And then it’s like, all right, well, is that other project starting? Will it continue to grow? I don’t know. So now I’m back to like, how do I get involved and what are my values? Where do I want to put my time during this time where everything has shifted back to being online? I guess I never imagined that things would be online instead of offline. So I’m trying to, like, reimagine what’s important to me, because what was really important to me was doing more stuff in person. And I wanted to do a lot more things with kids in person that I feel like I’ll probably be able to do right now. So this was just like, it doesn’t really give me answers but just more ways to, like, figure out how I can come up with what I can do with my time now. Thank you for this.


[00:22:04] – Anthony


I wanted to add a piece about the – that actually Abby highlighted – the concept of there being more than one way to accomplish something. We find when parents express interest in our school, they come to the school, you know, one of the most frequently asked questions is, ‘Well, how do they read, write, learn math, go to college if you’re not making them do it?’ And it’s an interesting question because the question sort of says, well, if it’s not this way, what other way is there? What are the other methods? And so it suggests that there might be some other way. But also the person asking the question tends to be in a place of like, ‘This doesn’t make sense. What you’re doing is magic’, or rather, they’re looking for a very specific methodology, a step one, step two, step three, that really replicates what they know, what they’ve experienced, but not necessarily in that same framework.


And so it’s harder for people to imagine that actually, there’s a way that this can get done without forcing it. Just because it is something that you were sort of forced or led to do doesn’t mean that it’s not something that can naturally occur in the young person. There’s an assumption that the young person doesn’t naturally want to become more capable in life and in their community and in the spaces that they operate in, that that desire won’t come for them just because it wasn’t allowed to naturally come for you. And I think, as some people have been pointing out, do you believe that’s the only way? Are you open to finding out or knowing that there’s another way to accomplish it?


[00:23:57] – Anthony


This is the sort of final question for me, when we have these kinds of conversations or discussing self directed education specifically with people, because then that tells me whether or not they’re even open to the conversation or to experimenting with other things, if they can’t at least be open to the idea that maybe there’s another way.


Because after a few years of doing this, I’m very much not in a place of defending and/or convincing and arguing and having sort of an intellectual battle with people about whether the way we do schooling, our education, is effective or healthy or right, because that’s an endless conversation and that’s just not the space that I want to operate from. For me, it’s just about here’s a way to do it. And I prefer this way. It’s really fun for me. It’s really fun for the kids and great for the parents. And this is just the way that I prefer. And if that’s not OK for you, if that’s too uncomfortable for you, then that’s fine. There might be some other way to do it.


Part B of that is, I think when we get too attached to a very specific way for something to go or we get attached to how something is supposed to look or the methods there, I think that’s when we get really dogmatic and very rigid about how we practice whatever we’re doing, whether it is Waldorf or Montessori or Agile Learning or Sudbury or project-based learning or anything, there’s when we get so attached to ‘This is the exact way that it has to be done’ and this protocol is what fits for us, then I think we lose and miss out again on staying connected to our why and being able to adjust and adapt based on what works for the young person.


[00:25:54] – Anthony


So maybe Montessori is what works for a particular young person. Maybe project-based learning is what works for that young person, maybe Agile Learning Centers are what works for that young person. There’s so many different ways out there and I’m not an advocate of saying that one way is more right or more of a fit universally for all people. Everybody’s different. Everybody has different needs that need to be met. And there are different ways to do this. So that’s why for me, like in this – even though it’s important to ask these questions to yourself, Akilah Richards says ‘mad questions asking’, I think, quoting a song, I think it’s an endless process of just interrogating oneself. And it’s difficult, but as it relates to me as an educator and in bringing someone into the fold or participating in an Agile Learning Center, I usually have to say, are you open to there being another way? Like is this possible for you? There are other professors out there who are doing the very important and necessary work of convincing people that there’s another way, that other ways work.


For me, it’s just, are you open to this? Are you willing to hear that there’s another way? Because if not, that’s kind of where the relationship for me with that parent, you know, might stop. But as an individual, it’s important to keep going. It’s a cycle back through all of these and do them in various forms. The question that actually got cut off down here, I believe is….Are your actions actually reflecting your values?


[00:27:36] – Anthony

Sometimes we say we value one thing. We know that we really do value it, but then what we’re doing in our daily lives or what we are doing education wise, doesn’t actually pair with or doesn’t match up with our values. And in those cases, we really have to like, reassess and adjust based on what actually gets us the things that we need. Or realizing that if we’re not willing to change our practice or our way of doing things, then maybe our values actually aren’t what we say they are. So the relationship and the effect goes back and forth, in that maybe your actions aren’t matching your values and you need to change your actions, or maybe you need to realize that your values are different. What has shifted?


I want to hop along to this other slide, and if people are also willing to share some of their thoughts here about their own experiences. If anyone’s willing to share sort of as you were growing up, as you were going through school, what did you learn was actually important?  What did you learn to value? How was that message delivered and how is that helped or hindered you?


[00:28:57] – Anthony


I will actually go first and say that what I learned was important was getting good grades and keeping a very high GPA. I learnt to value intellect and intelligence, but as it is… I valued intellect and intelligence in the way that it is valued and displayed in a traditional school and academic setting, which means being well-spoken, being able to read and speak eloquently and write eloquently, being pretty quick on your feet to answer difficult questions and answer math questions, math facts, and doing all the things that, as we know, traditional schools tend to want from young people. And whatever the teacher says is necessary to get the A or maybe not even doing those things but just having the A and having a near perfect GPA was what I learned was important and what was valuable.


And I got that message delivered to me really just from, I guess partially, obviously partially my parents and then partially from the school environment that I was in and the people who I interacted with as a kid. So always being told about how smart I was or how gifted I was, being in a talented and gifted program, and honors programs. Parents explicitly telling me that my job and my role is to get good grades and stuff and then being rewarded in many different ways because I got good grades and having sort of special advantages or privileges because of that. So I had a lot of that sort of speaking to me and I really started to learn and overvalue a certain appearance of intelligence and value education – formal education, I should say – which resulted then in me devaluing for a while more creative fields, music, the arts, devaluing the community and how to exist with other people, devaluing just sort of character development and improvement in that way.


[00:31:12] – Anthony


So I think it stunt me for a while. And upon becoming an adult and sort of leading a sort of independent adult life, it really also hindered me in that way, like I don’t have everything I wanted. I’m not perfectly happy because my GPA was perfect. Like, sure, I got scholarships and I had access to different education experiences, but it didn’t necessarily lead to happiness. It didn’t necessarily lead to social and economic mobility. It didn’t necessarily lead to an extensive tight knit network or community of supporters. It just called for a period of my life where I was very, I would say, self centered and would write people off if they did not display that they were as intelligent. And for me, just as valuable as I thought, intelligence ought to be displayed. And so that’s my responses to those questions and how the messages that I got and the values that I internalized have impacted me.


If anybody else is willing and wanted to share that’d be great. So after having some people share, I want to go back to this. Definitely want a lot more conversation and participation here, because I think this is what is going to be – this is where this subject of just asking yourself why and what’s important to you and what are my values, like, those are really important. Those are great. And for some and in some instances, it can be very surface-y almost, or it doesn’t get into the weeds and the details and the sort of things that people end up nit picking about. So I wanted to ask some of the difficult questions to you all. And I’m going to read them off here.


[00:33:09] – Anthony


So, how does our role of responsibility in our relationship with the young people that we work with, how does that impact things? Specifically if we are a parent, teacher, guardian, nanny, et cetera, and we’re working with young people, we just undoubtedly end up having a greater responsibility in that dynamic. There are certain things that are expected of us by the young person, as well as the rest of society, that people don’t expect of the young person. How does that increased responsibility affect what we’re talking about here, about doing things according to the young person’s values?


Also, how does the young person’s maturity, age, their understanding and developmental capacities impact this theme or this idea of basing things on the values of the young people?


A few examples of this are, as many of us know, when it’s time to leave an event or end an activity that the young person does not want to leave, or alternatively, if it means attending an event that they don’t want to go to, how does our increased responsibility and being the adult in that dynamic, how does that affect this sort of…almost too perfect or too easy, saying, we should follow the values of the young person. What do they want? What’s important for them? How do we reconcile that?


Additionally, another situation is, you know, what about our young person’s diet, what they eat or their eating schedules? What about their – this is a heavy one – what about this screen time? How much screen use should they have or what kind of content they engage with on their screens? What about things like doctors appointments or certain therapies that they have to attend or that we want them to attend? What are people’s thoughts about how we reconcile that? How do we deal with our role of being the responsible or more responsible party, and how do we balance that with also trying to honor and respect what that young person needs, what they value, what’s important to them, and keep in check the different stages or abilities they have?


[00:35:55] – Abby


I had a period where I was like parenting a teenager and her mom had specifically said, and the teenager had specifically said, she wanted to practice like planning, buying groceries and cooking all her own meals. And that kind of stuff like was explicitly one of their goals for her during this period. And for the first few weeks, sometimes she would have cereal for breakfast, but sometimes I’d wander through the kitchen when she was prepping her breakfast and she would have like, teriyaki flavored seaweed packets and birthday cake ice cream. And it was really an interesting reckoning for me to have to sit with, like, what is my role? What is my responsibility?


Like, all right, this isn’t ideal, but is it so harmful that I have to, like, interrupt what’s happening or is there something else I can do in terms of just asking her about this choice. Like, is it because she didn’t plan her groceries or because she actually wants this and if she really wants this, like, cool, cool, like, how is that feeling? What am I going to move maybe in terms of, like inviting her to grocery shop with me later that day or, you know, to cook dinner together kind of thing, so that I don’t get in the way of her learning, you know. Or then on days where, you know, like, I knew I was going to have to wake her up early the next day to go catch a bus somewhere and do some big thing where she would need to be feeling well, because we’ve been having conversations about like, ‘How do you feel when you’re eating this way?’, I would then prep her and be like, ‘Alright, so this is what we’re looking at for tomorrow. Can we talk about lunch and dinner plans to make sure that we both are ready for this next day?’ But it was hard.


[00:38:34] – Anthony


Who else, who else, who else?


[00:38:37] – Spence


I could jump in. Yeah, I think there’s definitely been moments where it’s like ‘I know what’s best, so I’m going to tell you what to do’. And then I sort of self reflected on, like, you know, how do I like to be micromanaged and how do I like to be told what to do and how that sits and feels for me. And so while my son’s choices may not always be like what I perceive as  the healthy choice, getting to bed on a certain time or brushing teeth or whatever it may be, I think having sort of the conversation of like, ‘Hey, tell me more about what going on here for you. Like, I really value sleep and I know all these reasons why it’s good for my body. Like, tell me how you feel about that and what your thinking is.’ And so then it’s just sort of like a conversation and we talk about what feels good for him and how the consequences of like, not getting enough sleep or too much or whatever it might be. And then we just sort of experiment and sort of do kind of like what you introduced at the beginning, the Change Up, where it’s like, let’s try this for a week and then we’ll check in about it and see how it feels. And then we’ll have more information to kind of base our next conversation on.


So that way, it’s not about my opinion or his opinion, but it’s sort of like how can we, like, figure this out together? And that’s, I guess, part of the learning process. It’s just like, it’s not about my textbook answer. It’s about  the dialogue in the relationship about this thing that we’re kind of talking about.


[00:40:40] – Anthony


Yeah, I think it’s interesting where there’s sort of a continuous dialogue, because my next question is, or my next point is, in addition to honoring or acknowledging the young person, our responsibility as caretakers and then considering where they are developmentally, age wise or in maturity, their ability to understand sort of all the pieces. That shifts, that line shifts and that line changes. So then what you really allow for them to – I think that’s what’s important also is to remember or acknowledge that our position of responsibility also comes or it’s there because of our increased power in the situation, is the…. sorry, I’ve made a Spiderman reference in the back of my mind, about responsibility and power. But we are definitely the more capable and more empowered party in that dynamic. We are the ones who are allowing them or giving them the ability to operate according to their own sense of autonomy and to direct themselves. We could very easily take that away. And I think that is such an important thing to know and to just accept, and like you say, continuously dialogue and work out our own stuff.


[00:42:13] – Anthony


In that process, like, as they grow, as they develop, as they change, how do we allow more things and new things based on what we see from them and what they’re capable of doing? So, for instance, you may need to heavily police screen time or heavily police diets at a younger age, but then are we still doing that when they turn 10, when they turn 14? When they turn 17? When does it stop?


As we know, it’s expected culturally – I’ll stop and say, in the United States, culturally, it’s kind of like the parent is ultimately responsible for everything all the time. And then when 18 happens or in some cases 21 happens, now the kid gets all the powers and privileges and responsibility for themselves. And sometimes that’s a way of existing that they’re not used to. It can be pretty hard if you are suddenly expected to do all those things instantly for yourself on your own.


So how do we as educators, caretakers, sort of move that needle, move that line to allow them more? And when do we decide to move that line? That to me, is the trickier of these tricky, sort of difficult situations or questions. Acknowledging that we do hold the power and when and how do we allow them to access more of that continuously in preparation for adulthood? Wondering if anybody had just open thoughts or feedback about that.


[00:43:53] – Abby


To build off that, bringing the conversation back to community and the value of taking care of relationships and being mindful of our impact, that’s been super helpful for me. You know, Amy, when a kid wants to do a thing and I’m like, well, I’m trying to take care of my relationship with your parent and your relationship with your parent. So let’s talk about how can we do that, you know, to honor that we’re all connected to each other or even with some of the tech stuff, you know? Oh, do you know that video game is run by this company and like they hired this casino guy to try to hook kids and manipulate little kids? Like, what do you think about that? Let’s talk about it. What does that mean for the broader community if you then bring that game into school or share with this younger person? But yeah, just like bringing the conversation back to that, to the values, to our relationships, is really helpful.


[00:45:08] – Anthony


Lastly, I guess to wrap up, I just wanted to sort of review or reemphasize, I guess, the concept of  staying connected to the why, like always being willing and ready to sort of self assess and say, ‘All right, I want my kid, my young person, to do this or I want them to have this experience. Why? Why is this important for me? What do I need actually need from this?’


And based on whatever that value is or whatever that important priority is, is there some other way to meet that that also doesn’t conflict with their needs and values? Is there some kind of way we can both consent and continuously dialogue about what works for them, what works for me, as we have a relationship and or are in community with each other. And not just between me and that person, but then like I said, the community, the rest of the household or the rest of the school, what works for all parties? What is actually the shared need or the shared value?


And sometimes that requires…we’ve had those things just explicitly written out, so that we’re reminded this is what’s important to us. This is what actually matters. So whenever some kind of disagreement pops up or whenever some kind of issue or tension or stressor comes up or there’s just sort of difficult emotions, we can always literally look to the poster on the wall and say, ‘OK, well, remember, these are the things that are important to us. Do we need to possibly add to that list or how can we actually get to accomplishing the same thing if actually what we’re both trying to do, mission wise is the same?’.


[00:47:06] Anthony


There’s some other thing going on, and it’s so great to detach like the personal and internal sort of involvement, the identifying as the practice or identifying as the method, separating those things, like you were not the way in which you choose to accomplish something.


And so if somebody is having a disagreement with the way you choose to do something, that doesn’t mean they disagree or don’t value you. And the same thing happens if we’re talking specifically about the young people, we have to help them realize that that experience is happening for them and us. And again, as we said, it’s with great angst. It’s a continuous conversation and it’s difficult and it’s hard, but you have to be willing to do it.


Also, Alicia said in the chat, I saw that she talked about the connection in the relationship. That’s probably the most important part. Unfortunately, I didn’t really emphasize that before, is that without being in relationship to and to actual connect it to the young person that we’re working with or that we’re parenting or raising, then everything else is lost. We just become this person who’s forcing them to do stuff and they do lose trust. They do lose their ability to depend on us to really value what they want.


[00:48:24] – Anthony


So we always have to keep those things in mind. I heard it said somewhere else by another facilitator somewhere that for them, they would much rather sacrifice the ‘what’ they want the kid to do or what they’re doing or anything and save the relationship with the young person. They would choose the relationship no matter what, like what can be done to preserve our connection rather than trying to exert my authority or my power or control or just trying to show you that I know better and proving that I know better and I’m the wiser person and that you’re actually going to like this in the end.


Maybe they like it in the end, but then after that they don’t…the connection is frayed and that takes a lot of work. So sometimes you have to realize that valuing the connection and the young person is more important than the literacy or more important even than them having fun all the time and laughing all the time, because that’s not life. So, yeah, I’m done my official formal presentation conversation. I can and will remain here if anybody just wants to ask a question, pose some other situation or just wanted to talk. I’m available for that.


[00:49:48] – Anthony


But thank you all for attending. I hope everybody was able to get something out of it. Thank you all for participating as well. There will be another session, a few more sessions actually, the following Sundays. Not from me, but from other facilitators. So, yeah. Thank you.


[00:50:11] – Alicia


As you know, I have a 15 year old – this is Alicia talking, for those who are looking at the screen. I’ve been participating…because I didn’t grow up in an SDE community anything like this, I actively, intentionally chose this for my family. And so it takes a lot of coaching and guidance and mentorship, which is why I’m always in these groups like this. And Abby sees me all the time. There’s another group happening right now that’s being hosted by Maleka Diggs, and she is with Eclectic Learning Network. So any of you can, like, check it out too.


Anyway, we’ve been dealing with this exact issue in that group and just actually starting a new group called ‘Deschooling – it’s a thing!’. That one’s starting Thursday. So, one thing that we came up with and this was just, it ended up being just moms, but just talking about like, what do we do in these situations where especially with our teens, where they just shut down. And because they have the ability to just go in their rooms and shut the doors and have their headphones and be on the screen or whatever, whatever it is, or sometimes even just get in the car and leave or whatever it is with teens, they have more independence.


[00:51:18] – Alicia


So we’re saying like – one person had said, and I’m gearing up the courage to try it – sometimes as a parent, I tend to, like, have this leadership mentality, where I have to steer the ship, and that means I have to, like, almost be… and maybe this is not anyone else’s experience, but for me, like, I must be less emotional with my kids in trying to provide that stable base of someone to lean on, whatever my inborn concept of parenting is, you know.


And so one of the parents, and actually there was a young person there too, said ‘Sometimes parents just have to break down and have a moment where they just show that emotion’. Like that raw ‘I am struggling here and this is how I’m perceiving this thing that’s happening’. And I’ve tried this recently with my daughter to help our relationship a little bit where I was just like ‘To me, when you’re in your room all the time and you’re on the computer, I totally respect what you’re doing in there’, like she does her own cool stuff, ‘but it almost feels like either you’re hiding, you’re trying to escape from me. Maybe that’s not how…’ And she’s like ‘That’s not how I mean it!’. Anyway, we had this whole like thing, where I’m crying, cause I cry a lot. You know, it’s just a thing of, instead of trying to like… I just let down my guard and I got super vulnerable and I just kind of showed my strength for a little bit and I don’t know if I would do that with a younger child, but maybe with my teen, at least it worked for me. And I don’t know if that’s even useful, but there I am.


[00:53:09] – Spence


I would concur there. Like, being vulnerable is super helpful to like almost every relationship. I think, with maybe like a younger learner, child, like I think maybe, at least for me, self editing when I’m like sharing my fears or anxieties or, you know, the most catastrophic stories that are happening in the world. Just to not, like, put that burden on my young person. But I can hint at them and share some of those realities. But it’s a case by case basis. You know, each kid is going to react to heavy stuff differently. So but, yeah, being vulnerable, sharing emotions, I think especially as a man trying to undo my toxic masculinity, like being able to show I can have emotions and share them authentically, I think is a valuable thing to present to young people, so that they can see that that’s an OK thing to do and healthy.


[00:54:22] – Anthony


I wanted to say something at the beginning of sort of your prompt, beyond you were talking about the sort of swift or rapid changing of interest, possibly in like as soon as something is pursued or done, then they’re not into it anymore. And I know I’ve experienced as an educator and also as a kid, that for me sometimes when the adults, or definitely when the parent seems to take over – and that could be from just showing too much enthusiasm about a thing, to actually, like, take in the driver’s seat and taking the steering wheel and like, really going for it. It could really suck the joy, the sort of naturally occurring joy, for me out of it.

In addition, I’ve seen with the young people that when we as the adults, you know, see something that they do and we’re trying to like shape it and make it into a thing too much, too soon, for them, whatever it is, it just loses all its interest and all its glimmer. For whatever reason.


There are definitely young people that I facilitate for who, the moment you give them too much attention for a thing or too much applause or over acknowledge, they’re like, ‘OK, I’m not – I hate it now’. Or because they’re sometimes attached to a very certain reputation or look – almost, I want to say, like just looking cool – but it’s deeper than that. But then when I come in and I say or do something or try to be a part of it or try to shape it, then that can just really take them out of it. They can completely lose interest in it. Or sometimes it’s actually a passive aggressive [thing], like now to make me mad they will lose interest in it, just to show me that, like to almost imply that I ruined this for them. Or ruined the moment and that it’s my fault, just as a means of communicating some kind of frustration. So I know that is a thing that I have not only done when I was younger, but I also experienced now as an adult working with young people.


[00:56:52] – Spence


I had a recent experience with my grandmother. I had, this past year, left my spiritual tradition, religious tradition, and she started sort of telling me how I was wrong or how, like, I needed to come back to church and all this stuff. And I had one conversation with her that was like, I got all defensive and I pointed out all the reasons why she was wrong and that didn’t get anywhere healthy. And then the next conversation, I had a chance to sort of reflect on that and then say to her, I was like ‘You know, I could tell you all the reasons why you’re wrong and why I don’t agree with you. And you can tell me all the reasons why I’m wrong and you don’t agree with me. But does that actually help us build the connection that we want?’ And that was it. She shut up. We’ve stopped having any arguments about that thing. And that’s been valuable because I was able to sort of like look at the thing that we both cared about, which is our connection and our relationship.


[00:57:59] – Spence


The other anecdote I’ll share is with my mother. We, my son and I, spent like a week at my parents’ house and we were eating dinner or something, and she wanted him to, like, eat these vegetables. And I was just like, ‘No, stop. I’m going to ask you to just stop this conversation.’ She got all defensive, and my son left the room. And I said ‘Now, since my son’s gone, tell me what it is that you want to tell him’. She’s like, ‘I just wanted to tell him, like, he might get cancer if he doesn’t get, like, this food’. And it’s like, good, i’m glad I interrupted that because my boundary is that I’m not going to fearmonger my child. And can we make an agreement about this that you do not, like, bring fear into my son’s life? Being able to sort of just speak up for myself and share my boundary around this I think helped reduce sort of like that friction for our relationship.


[00:59:02] – Spence


And I think back to what Anthony shared at the beginning, that board with awarenesses and agreements and practicing. And  I just keep thinking about that. I may not actually, like, bring a board out with my parents, but just sort of  thinking like, OK, this is an awareness I’m seeing in my relationship. What is a boundary I have and what agreement can we co-create that’s going to work for our relationship moving forward? And so just on the fly in a conversation, I will sort of think about those practices and then, you know, let’s try it for a week. And next week I can, like, bring up a new practice if that works better for our relationship. And that’s my thoughts.


[00:59:45] – Anthony


I like what you said. That sort of parenting or sort of guiding from fear. Like imagine… I just sort of put out there, imagine if we were teaching, facilitating, parenting, mentoring, whatever, not from a place of being afraid or fearful or trying to prevent maybe some future horrific thing happening. So what if I was parenting a young person, introducing them to literacy, not because I’m stressed and worried that if they can’t read, they’re somehow going to fall behind and be statistically related to all these other negative demographics and become an adult who can’t do this, that and the other.


What if I decided to choose not to operate from that space and instead operated just from a space of like ‘Man, this story that we’re reading is just like so fun or is just so enjoyable or like us just sitting together and reading and acting out the story is just so enjoyable. Don’t we love this?’ Or the information that we’re engaging with is really feeding an intellectual thirst or hunger within us. Imagine approaching things from sort of – I mean, I hate to sound this way, but imagine approaching things from like a place of love and just interest and light, rather than fear and stress and anxiety or even trauma based.


[01:01:06] – Anthony


So being worried about what could happen if this young person doesn’t learn to exist in the world in a very specific way, because of the negative things that happen out in the world. And how a person might internalize that, especially a younger person, internalize those values and start to restrict and limit themselves in the way that they can exist in the world. I don’t know. I mean, it’s a thing that people do, obviously.


We all have our own issues that we have to work with and to make sure that we aren’t instilling in and making it a part of someone else’s story. And still, just again, that question of like, why am I doing this, what are my values? And like, am I trying to teach them the way the world is based on the way it was for me? Versus teaching them actually how to change the world, how to shift the world, or just acknowledging that the way the world might be when they become adults could be totally different than how it was for me. So I’m really interested in this.

[01:02:13] – Anthony


I’m glad you mentioned that because I’m just really interested in the idea, the concept of just, what if we stopped being educators or parents from a space of worry and concern and trying to prevent horror, tragedy or discomfort, and we just like pursued the things that we loved and that inspired us and motivated us. And it can seem really romanticized and really idealistic, which I tend to be an idealist, and still, for me, it’s just important that, like, well, we have to try. We might as well try because the alternative, at least from where I sit, doesn’t work or is not a guarantee or it’s not enjoyable. So yeah.

2020 Webinar Transcript: Change Up and Culture Shifting

Agile Learning Centers Network Spring 2020 Webinar Series
“Change Up and Culture Shifting”
with Ryan Shollenberger of ALC-NYC


[00:00:03] Ryan


First of all, welcome everybody, and thank you for joining me today. I don’t know if there’s any mothers amongst us, but if there are, Happy Mother’s Day to you. And thanks for taking time to join today.


Hopefully, you’re here for my talk on culture shifting and Change Up. Let’s get into it. OK,  next thing [is] a couple of key definitions here. Bear with me if you already know this stuff, and given where most of you are coming from, you probably already will, so we can do this quickly. First two things I have here:  Agile. It’s in the name, right? Of course, it’s the ability to change or move quickly and easily. But it also refers to the early 2000s software development innovation with which we share a lot of tools and practices. One of those tools is the Kanban board, which I assume most of you are probably familiar with. It means ‘card signal’ in Japanese. The Community Mastery Board (CMB) is actually a version of a Kanban board, which is why I wanted to make sure you guys had the definition for that. And as you can see here, the intention with the Kanban board is to visualize your workflow, limit your work-in-progress and maximize your efficiency and flow.


OK, just two more quick things here. We’ve got Agile Learning Center (ALC), which is now any member of our ALC network project, but was originally the school that Abby and I facilitate at, and the ALC network, which most of you are part of, is our global network of self directed communities. And of course, we share common philosophies and sometimes tools and practices.


[00:02:12] – Ryan


All right, if you’ve been to Abby’s webinar, then again, bear with me here as we go through the roots: Learning is natural and happening all the time. I’m learning from you right now. Maybe you’re learning from me. Learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom. It’s happening all over the place, always.


People discover their passions through making their own decisions. Their purpose and passions, rather – through making their own decisions. This one is definitely directly related to culture shifting, and we’ll get into that in just a little bit.


People learn more from their culture and environment than from the content they’re taught. We learn from what we experience, so the medium is the message. This one definitely does apply, I didn’t choose to focus on this one as much.


But this last one, we will: We experience growth in cycles through intention, exploration, creation, reflection and sharing.


Moving on, we’re going to focus on this root here: People discover their purpose and passions through making their own choices. There’s a really important part about this one, too, that I want everyone to remember. And that’s our famous slogan that you’ll find on T-shirts and a lot of our swag: Children are people.


So, in the context of culture co-creation, between staff and students, this is important because at ALCs, you know, as a staff, we’re not saying, “OK, here are our rules, here are our policies, and this is what you must follow.” We’re creating these agreements together with each other as staff and with the students. So, in the context of this root here, you know, children feel more connected, feel more a part of an ALC community because they’re not just having the freedom to choose what they do and at what pace they’re doing that, they’re actually joining in the creation of, like, the administration of the school.


[00:04:27] – Abby


The thing I wanted to add is the flip side of the ‘Change Up and trusting kids to make choices’ thing, that I appreciate that we do. Rather than ask the kids to do all of the administration of the school, you know, figuring out “Are we budgeting for two new computers?” or having them do the grant writing or navigate applying for loans and all that kind of stuff, deciding if we’re moving or hiring people or, you know, kicking people out, you know, those decisions that are really heavy and stressful. The kids are invited for sure when they want to do that kind of stuff, but that’s not put on them the way it is sometimes in other free school spaces. Because like, they’re not all trying to have their education lead up to knowing how to run a nonprofit through late stage capitalism. So, like, if that’s the skillset they want to practice, great, they’re welcome. But if they don’t, we’re not going to put that on them, the same way we’re not putting, like, S.A.T. prep on them.


[00:05:42] – Ryan


Awesome. So the other root that I wanted to talk about really quickly, that has context with culture shifting with our Check In and Change Up process, is experiencing growth in cycles through intention, exploration, reflection and sharing. Now, this root, I think, is most often talked about and considered in the context of how kids learn content, how they acquire content at ALCs. But it does also apply to cultural creation. You know, in the Change Up process, which I’ll show you a little more clearly in a second, using the Community Mastery Board as a tool, it helps to achieve this. I’m not going to go too deeply into it now. I just want you to keep this in mind as we start to talk about, or as I start to talk about, rather, the Change Up process here on the next slide. Because it very much is an iterative cycle, something that you do, and then re-examine and then continuously go back to.



[00:06:45] – Ryan

All right. With that said, let’s move on to the actual process here. This image is courtesy of Cottonwood ALC, one of our affiliates in Brooklyn. They work with a little bit younger population than we do, but their process for Check In and Change Up is pretty similar to ours.


One thing before I start to actually talk about the process here that I wanted to make clear is that this process is not about voting, it’s not about majority, it’s not about consensus. And, you know, a question that gets asked a lot is “Why do you use consent based decision making rather than consensus or voting?” And I just wanted to address that first before I went a little deeper into this process.


First of all, consent based decision making does a couple of things. It tends to make the meetings more efficient. There’s no long, arduous meetings. And this is one of the things that my partner and I who started ALC in New York really wanted for our community, because that’s something we had heard was a problem for kids before, that they were spending too much time in meetings. The second thing that’s important about this is consent based decision making works better because the process is light and agile. We’re not creating rules that get written into a book and are there forever and are set in stone. It’s the ability to change things, you know, and not have that be a big deal, it’s a part of why consent based decision making works with this process. And then the last part of this and this part is really important: for it to work well and to work properly, you really need to have trust in your community members, you need to trust each other. And that’ll make more sense here in a second.


[00:08:44] – Ryan


All right, so let me just get into the process here a little bit. If you look at our diagram here, you can see on the left this circle with ‘Awareness’ in it. That’s kind of where the process starts. You start off, you know, with maybe – an awareness, just to be clear, doesn’t have to be a negative thing or something that’s wrong. It’s literally just something that you’re noticing, maybe a pattern. The example that I always use is, you can have an awareness that at the end of the day, in your ALC you’re noticing that food wrappers and food messes are being left out and that, you know, maybe the last facilitator that leaves has to keep cleaning this up. And that’s their awareness. Another example of an awareness could just be “I noticed that the space gets really loud between the hours of noon and two, for whatever reason like activity just gets, like, really crazy at that time and the volume increases.” But it’s really anything, any sort of pattern or any sort of thing that you’re noticing that you want to, like, bring to the attention of the group.


I’m going to skip ahead here for a second, I’ll come back to this image in a second. So don’t worry if you didn’t get to take all that in. So in this process, the reason that I have Check In and Change Up written up here is because originally we started having this process as just one meeting that we called Change Up. And it developed over the years into actually two parts. The first part we call Check In, and that’s where all these awarenesses that are aggregated throughout the week – because this is a process that we run weekly, but in other ALCs and in other contexts, you could do it differently, it could be every month, it could be twice a week, it just depends what you need. In any event, the first part of this process, all the awarenesses are aggregated and we make an agenda. This one here was from last year at our school, and it’s in Abby’s fantastic handwriting. Abby is usually the one that takes notes for us. And, you know, it’s actually important, whoever is facilitating your Check In and Change Up meeting – doesn’t have to be a facilitator, it can be a kid – but  being able to kind of encapsulate what the awarenesses are and put a nice, clear note up there, as you can see sometimes with illustrations, is really helpful.


[00:11:16] – Ryan


So this agenda here gets built in the beginning of our meeting from all the awarenesses throughout the week. And at our school, we actually shifted to a policy of, you know, if you don’t have an awareness up on the board before the meeting starts, it doesn’t get built into the agenda. Now, in previous years and when the school was smaller, we had a system where you just sort of, if something came up for you during the meeting, you could bring that up. So that’s totally an option. We just did it sort of in the name of efficiency and, you know, so that people were clear about what they wanted to talk about before actually showing up for the meeting. So let’s see, do I want to say anything else about awareness. Does anyone have any questions about before I move on? Yeah, go ahead.


[00:12:10] – Participant 


Can I just be really clear, on the previous side, when you said consent based decision making, that’s what you’re now going through. This is the process to make…this is a process to reach a consent based decision, is it?


[00:12:24] – Ryan


Yes. This whole process, the Check In and Change Up process, it’s done using consent based decision making. I just mentioned that first because I wanted that to be clear. You know, because theoretically you could do a process similar to this and have it be consensus or you could do, you know, majority. I was just trying to explain why the consent based decision making is what we’ve chosen to use here. And those few things that I went through, as, you know, as reasons why, efficiency and trust in your community members and keeping these agreements, as we call them, light and agile, it’s sort of in service of that. So hopefully that clears it up, which is actually good, because I want to go back to this slide anyway and go on to the next part.


So, once this agenda is built, and this is part of the trust in the community that I’m getting to right now, once this agenda is built, we adjourn for a second. We adjourn the first half of the meeting and we actually give people a chance to leave. If kids aren’t interested in what’s on this agenda – so if you don’t care about where graffiti is allowed or if [fives?] is a thing, or let’s see if, oh, man, if you don’t care about the hamster and you know, like how we’re treating the hamster, you’re free to leave the meeting at this point. And what you’re deciding to do if you leave the meeting is, you’re saying, “OK, rest of the community who I trust and know well enough to know that you’ll keep me in mind when you make any decisions”, you’re saying, “I trust you to do that and I will abide by that”. And part of the reason that that works is the light and agile part, the part where it can be changed. And I’ll get to that in just a second.


[00:14:32] – Ryan


But in any event, once the agenda is built, we adjourn. Usually, for us now at our school, there’s this interesting thing that happens during this transition time, where the two students who do our school paper will hand out the school paper and people will kind of mill about and read the paper and joke about things that they’re reading. And we usually take maybe five, sometimes up to ten minutes of a little bit of break between these two parts of the meeting. This has kind of become our ritual, that everyone reads the paper during this time. And, you know, a bunch of kids will leave. Theoretically, all the facilitators don’t even have to stay for the second half. We always do. But if one of us has something really pressing to do, we could say, OK, we trust the group to come up with things and we’re going to go about our day.


So then the Change Up part of the meeting, that’s when we reconvene.  Change Up is not compulsory. Kids are there by choice and – I’ll just go back here [to this slide]. So, once this agenda is built, we have all awarenesses, sometimes it’s enough for people just to share those awarenesses with the group. Maybe they just say what was on their mind, say the pattern they saw, and then they feel clear and that’s all they needed. And that’s great.


I would say a lot of the time that’s kind of what ends up happening. And, you know, if your culture is running smoothly and you really don’t have that much that people want to change, that’s what most awarenesses will be. But that said, if people feel like they need something or they need something to change, that’s where this next part of the process comes in. So if you look at the little diagram here, the ‘Sharing experiences’ part, we’ve covered that.


[00:16:12] – Ryan


And then you move on to what at Cottonwood they’re calling a ‘Try it’ idea, what we call that is ‘Testing’. So I’m actually, again, here going to jump ahead and… actually, no I’m not, I’m going to give you a minute before I show you the CMB. But proposing this idea to try it. What that means is, let’s say my awareness that I mentioned before about food mess being left out is an issue. And I feel like I need something to change. So either I could propose or another person could propose: “All right. Well, then during our daily clean up time, every day, once that’s over, then you can only eat food in, like, one area of one room so that we contain the food mess.” That might be a potential ‘Try It’ or Implementation, right. And, you know, for us, since we’re meeting every week for Check In and Change Up, that means that that agreement, we just test it out for a week and see how it works. Maybe it works great. Maybe it’s terrible. Maybe it doesn’t address the problem at all. But the idea is, it’s a short, manageable time period to try something out. And then the next week, you go back and you examine it and you kind of take stock of how it’s worked with the group.


[00:17:31] – Ryan


Now, one second, I’m going to bring my notes up here so I can move us on. At this point, I want to show you the actual Community Mastery Board, because these things are going to make a little more sense here. This particular board is from, I believe, our 2015 ALF (Agile Learning Facilitator) Summer. And it’s super simple. As you can see, it’s just four columns:  Awareness, which I’ve already talked about, Implementation, which is just another way of saying ‘Testing’ or ‘Try it’, Practicing and Mastery. I’ll get to those last two in a second. I mentioned Kanban boards earlier. This is a super simple version of a Kanban board, where we’re visualizing our flow here and moving things through. So let me get to the practicing part. Let’s say we implement this idea of eating in only a certain area after clean up. And we come back the next week, check in with everybody and they say, “Yeah, this worked actually relatively well. I noticed there was less food mess out at the end of the day”, and, you know, maybe the final facilitator who leaves the space and locks it up says “Hey, I didn’t have to clean up any food mess this week”.


So if it’s working for everyone and we’re willing to move that along, we’ll put that agreement into Practicing. And now that means that is something that as a community, we’re actively practicing consistently and we want to get better at. And it becomes part of our culture, at least for the time being. Because remember, this stuff can be changed any time. Just because something’s in Practicing doesn’t mean it’s there for the rest of the year necessarily. It doesn’t mean that it’s there, you know, for years going forward. It can still be changed at any time if it’s not working for people. And reviewing these practicing agreements is something that we’ll often do in either the Check In or Change Up part of our meeting as well.


[00:19:24] – Ryan


Just real quickly, I want to talk about this last column, Mastery, because, you know, really the goal is if we’re practicing something long enough that we feel like we’re doing it super well that we can move it into Mastery. And a quick word about Mastery, that doesn’t mean that, like, OK, we’ve mastered it and it worked great and now we’re done with it and we’re not doing it anymore. I sort of like to think about mastery as a really effective program, that it’s doing its job and running in the background of your culture without needing much active thought. It’s kind of like you’ve become so good at it that you’ve incorporated it and you don’t really need to think about it anymore. But it’s still happening effectively. That’s what happens when you move something into Mastery.


[00:20:10] – Ryan


I want to just show you here, this is a picture of our Community Mastery Board, and I believe this is also taken in 2019. This is from a blog of one of our facilitators, Mel. And I’m actually going to give you guys a link right now, in case you’re curious about what our CMB looks like, I’ll put it in the chat for you. I have a digital version on Trello. I see hands – who’s familiar with Trello as a tool? Do you guys use that? OK, cool. It’s a digital Kanban or like, a digital version of a Kanban, and we have — there, the link’s in the chat for you guys now, if you want to check that out. That’s what our Kanban – our Community Mastery Board, rather – currently looks like. Now, it’s a little bit different since we’ve been doing, you know, virtual distance learning for a while now. But you can get an idea. And actually on that link that I just showed you, there’s our meeting and agenda notes in the left hand column. So if you want to look back through some of those, you can get a couple of laughs from the agendas on some of those.


Let me just come back to the speaker notes here. Still can’t get used to this touchpad on my new Mac, I’m always like reaching for the physical button that’s not there, to go back to things. Right. So, you can see on our board, if you look in the middle of the Practicing column there, there’s a little thing that just says ‘Focus’. That’s something we implemented a few years ago for, you know, that agreement that you’re practicing but maybe you’re really not doing well with it or it just seems like, you know, maybe even you’re really close to mastering it, but you can’t quite get over the hump. So you put it in that focus box with the idea that, for this week period or maybe even longer, like a month period, we’re really going to focus on this thing and really try to move it into mastery.


And then just a quick word about that Archive column there, which looks like [it’s] exploding with post-its, that would be all of the agenda items that maybe people just needed to talk about and didn’t need any sort of implementation. So it’s just, you talk about it and then you move it into Archive. Or maybe it’s a practicing agreement that felt like it was no longer serving the community, so rather than continuing to bang our heads against the wall and move that into Mastery, we just released it and put it into Archive.


[00:22:46] – Participant


This is where we… this was from ALF Summer. We had facilitator’s also and it might be even too hard to see the post-its, but I just always love seeing different examples of these. I just thought I’d throw that in there.


[00:23:09] – Abby


Yeah, can I shout out Anthony Galloway from Heartwood ALC, [who] added the Values/Needs column on their CMB, to encourage people to articulate what was under there [when] they’re bringing up awarenesses. And his webinar in two weeks is all about that.


[00:23:31] – Ryan


Yeah, 10 out of 10 would recommend Anthony, just in general. I love the ‘Need coffee’ in Mastery. Abby and I know about that a little bit.


If, you know…we have certain community agreements, right. Outside of the Community Mastery Board, we have a basic student agreement that every student that enrolls in the school signs. And one of those things on there is ‘Respect yourself and others’, which is really vague in a way, right. But that’s intentionally the case so that, you know, if there’s an agreement in the Check In and Change Up process that someone comes up with and it’s clearly not respecting themselves or others or it’s clearly not, rather, in alignment with the student agreement, we can easily point to that and we can say, “Hey, this is something that you agreed to do to be a part of this community. So I think this thing you’re proposing is not in line with that”.


[00:24:35] – slide

Question: How often should we hold these meetings?


[00:24:35] – Ryan


That’s a good question, and as I mentioned earlier, community size and community type are going to determine how often a meeting like this is going to be useful. We’ve played around with different things too. We tried well, would it work better doing it on a Wednesday so that we had the rest of the week to start practicing new agreements? Can I just ask you, do you guys do three consecutive days or how does it work? So I should just say, when we first started, back in 2013, we had a really small community too, we only had six kids, and we didn’t actually have… we didn’t have a scheduled Change Up. That wasn’t a thing we did. Change Up would just happen when someone had an Awareness that felt urgent enough. And it was cool because at that time, there’s only six kids, so we could just be like “Change Up!” [makes triangle symbol with both hands up] and we would just all go to a room and do a meeting. Which is totally a valid way to do it, and I think in a meta-sense, this is one of the things that is special about ALC, in that you don’t have to apply a tool or apply a practice exactly as another ALC does. You apply it in the way that works the best for your community. And if that’s calling a Change Up meeting as you need to, with the people you need to, that’s fine.


You know, I think given that you guys are only meeting three days a week, doing it weekly I would guess doesn’t feel…I don’t want to say that it doesn’t feel necessary. I mean, if it does, it does. But if doing it monthly feels like enough to, like, build up some awarenesses and then address them, cool. The other thing is awarenesses are sometimes time sensitive, like an awareness that comes up today may not be meaningful a month from now. And that’s OK too. It’s fine to release those things. But, you know, I think you have to feel that out based on how often awarenesses are coming up and how urgent they feel for people. And this is part of the CMB as a tool as well. You know, the fact that, like, if I have an awareness on a Tuesday and I know Change Up is not until Friday, I have an outlet for that, I can write a post-it and put it in Awareness and know with certainty that at that meeting it will get talked about. And that if I show up and I still care, that I’ll have a time to like voice my awareness and then to have it addressed potentially if I need it.


[00:26:56] – slide

Question: Why are there so few cards in ‘Mastery’ on your board?


[00:27:01] – Ryan


She said, “I notice that the Mastery column has the least number of sticky notes. What does this imply?” And well, I’ll tell you. What that implies is that it is actually not that easy to master certain things. But the other thing I will say about that is, first of all, if you look at our CMB this year, like if you go to the link and see what’s there, we’ve actually had far less actual implemented agreements to deal with awarenesses. There’s been a lot less need for the process. And some of that just speaks to the fact that, like, we’ve had students that have been around for a really long time and they’ve already sort of gotten agreements in Mastered that aren’t there. And another related thing about this is, what we do at our school is we actually clear the CMB out at the end of each year. So we don’t keep the agreements and hold them over from year to year.


Now, with that said, a lot reappears. For example, if you look in the… I don’t know if it’s in ‘Focus’ or ‘Practicing’, let me just move this out of the way so I can see. Oh, right, it’s in huge letters: Stop Rule. That’s something that we’ve had as part of our culture, not even since the beginning, since before, because it’s a holdover from another school that ours grew out of. That’s something that we take it down, but it always ends up back up there, because it’s a part of our culture that works. Or something like, if you look to the right there, ‘Tell an adult before leaving’, that’s, like, if you’re going to leave the space, maybe if you’re an independent traveler, please tell a facilitator before you leave. That’s the kind of thing that would come up again. But, you know, to master something…and, you know, in my experience, the kids are a lot harder on themselves and on us than we are. I’m always trying to move stuff into Mastery. And then there’s always like, you know, two or three people are like, “Well, but I saw this thing” or like “But I’m not doing this thing, so we can’t master it yet”. So that’s why Mastery tends to be a little bit sparse. But that’s OK.


And an important meta note about this process and about culture shifting in general. This is something I try to remind people and myself, because I forget from time to time, this isn’t just a place to bring up things that are wrong. An awareness can be naming something that you’re doing well as a community. I think from time to time, it’s good to do that. So as a facilitator, if you notice that 90% of the awarenesses are all about problems or things that aren’t working well, maybe pick one or two things that you really notice you are doing well as a community and name that. That may not mean that it makes it into a Practicing…or an Implementation and a Practicing and then a Mastery. But, naming that thing and then even putting it into Archive, that’s still a powerful process – a powerful part of the process, rather.


[00:30:00] – slide

Question: Have you done this with kids who can’t read/write?


[00:30:03] – Ryan

We’ve done this before. I think this was – Abby, was this three years ago? When we did the dual sticky thing?


[00:30:11] – Abby

Three or four?


[00:30:13] – Ryan


Yeah, we had a few pre-literate kids, and, what we did was, we would do a dual sticky, dual post-it system. So we would have the written awareness on one post-it, and then over top of that would be a post-it with a, you know, some sort of image or picture that was suggestive of the agreement, so that it would be a tool to help kids remember. And the other thing I would say is especially if you’re talking about younger kids – and I mentioned Cottonwood earlier, works with younger kids – you know, whether or not they’re checking in with the CMB as a tool all the time, doing the process and having the meeting and having the opportunity for them to voice awarenesses is still important. So even if the CMB feels kind of like most people aren’t really interacting with it, that’s OK. It’s just one tool that’s a part of the process. And that may be more or less important to you and to your community based on the people you’re serving.


[00:31:19] – slide

Question: Do you ever disagree with a decision the kids are leaning towards? What do you do?


[00:31:19] – Ryan

First of all, yes, that does happen and it has happened. Second of all, I’ll say – the thing about trust, trust goes both ways. If you… if you are an effective facilitator – no, let me just strike that. Trust goes both ways. So it’s important that the kids trust each other, it’s important that you trust them and it’s important that they trust you. And if you have a close relationship with a student and you say, “Listen, I think this is a terrible idea” or maybe not even say it that way, if you say, “Listen, I don’t think this is going to get you what you want to get. I see what you’re trying to do. I see what you want to get out of this Implementation. I don’t think this is going to work the way that you do.” You know, if they trust you in that moment, they’ll say, “OK, well, then what do you think?” Or maybe they’re just so sure about it that they’re like, “No, I have to try this Implementation, like, we have to try it”.

And that gets to that second part where you were saying, well, then you can just try it and then it will, you know what I mean, it’ll work itself out and show you that’s not a great Implementation.


[00:32:20] – Ryan


I thought of one example right away when you brought this up. And this wasn’t so much about me personally, but one of our other facilitators, I can remember being like in opposition to what kids wanted to do. So a couple of years ago, there was this thing about cursing in our space and whether or not it should be allowed or not be allowed. And in an age-mixed space, right, where you have teens and then you have some kids as young as like six or seven, it’s a real issue. One of the things that this facilitator or that I’ve heard brought up even by other kids was “Was that a good example to be setting for the younger kids as teenagers? Should we be like walking around swearing? Because, you know, they reflect that stuff”. And this particular facilitator was saying, like, you know…well, in any event, let me just skip to the good part and tell you what the Implementation was.


Eventually, after much discussion and this was a particularly long Change Up, I can remember, we decided to implement no cursing at others. Because the kids worked out that, or everyone rather, worked out together that the part that was really bad about this, or the part that made people feel uncomfortable was the sort of like, the aggression or the directing of the cursing to someone. So the idea was, “OK, you can curse as long as it’s not at someone. And then it opened up this larger discussion of, well, if you’re cursing when you’re on a video game, are you actually cursing at the people, you’re playing against you, if they can’t hear you on the other side? But, yeah, you know, if you want to be an effective facilitator, sometimes you have to let kids… you just have to step back for a second and say, like, OK, I’m going to let you try this thing. And it’s really, like, what you have to do is decide, is this going to present a safety issue? Is trying this implementation like… will someone get hurt? Or is it going to lead to a situation that is potentially dangerous for these children? If the answer is ‘no’, if it’s just that it might be a little awkward or uncomfortable or even push your boundaries a little bit, I would argue that you should try to release that stuff and try to let them work through it.


And it’s likely that if you have a good sense of the situation and you think, well, this isn’t going to work, that that’s going to play out and that they will, through making their own decisions, right, discover that like, “Oh, wow, this was like a, you know, an idea that didn’t get me what I wanted. Like, maybe we should try a different tack here”. Abby, not to put you on the spot, would you have anything you want to add to that? If you don’t, it’s OK.


[00:35:01] – Abby


Yeah, I mean, I immediately think of the kinds of situations where you’ve got… you do trust kids and you recognize the context. And so if I’ve got three, ‘still in the egocentric stage of development’, upper class white boys, being like “This black girl is too loud and everyone says she’s too loud. We don’t want to admit her and you facilitators are being dictators insisting that we do” having a conversation with them that is an invitation to like – is a strong invitation to consider the things that they weren’t considering. So, do they realize, like, the manifestations of white supremacy here, where you’ve got, you know, rich white boys being like “This black girl too loud”? And do they hear themselves assuming that their loudness means everyone is in agreement? And maybe there is something as a facilitator, like, maybe that’s when I start keeping track of who’s talking in meetings, right. And take that pattern and make it visible.


You know, there’s little things to do, I guess. Trying to figure out how to trust the kids and also be responsible about the context we’re all in and be like, “I also trust that you’re, like, not trying to be racist. You just don’t know, because this is the society we’re in. So, like, how do we move together?” Yeah, and it takes some thought and also being willing to, like, not be everyone’s favorite person all the time.


[00:37:02] – Ryan


Which Abby is really good at, I will say, and I’m terrible at, but that’s why you have to have a balanced facilitator team and that’s why I’m really grateful that Abby fills in all my gaps.


I would just remind everyone, that, you know, children are people, too, and so are facilitators. So just remember, you’re part of the community too and consider yourselves. I think your inclination to step back is usually a good one. Giving kids more space and giving them more opportunity to take the lead and take responsibility is a great thing. This is one of the things that, you know, a lot of times when people ask, well, how is ALC different than other self directed learning environments? I always bring up the Sudbury school thing, where in Sudbury schools, their policy is to always step back and to not offer resources or to not suggest things for kids to do until they ask you. But you know, what I’ve learned in the years I’ve been facilitating is that if you really know a kid well or you really know your community well, that of course, it should be fine for you to make suggestions and to say, like, “Hey, I think this would work for you all”. Because really, if you’re working in service of your community, you’re working in service of your student, you’re making those suggestions with their best interests at heart, and you’re doing that as someone who, you know, knows them really well. So I don’t think you should hesitate to do that. But I do think your inclination to give more space and to, like, let kids take more of a lead is the right one as well.


[00:38:52] – slide


Question: We have new computers and I don’t think parents will be cool with the agreements kids make on sharing them. How do you handle computer sharing and parents’ feelings about screens?


[00:38:52] – Ryan


The thing I think about there is screentime, of course, because that’s always a big issue, like, how much time can and should kids spend on screens? The policy at our school is we don’t, as facilitators, enforce any screentime limits. If parents and kids make agreements together as a family about how much time they can spend on screens, that’s fine with us. We’re not going to police it. We will reflect to a kid who has that agreement, like “Hey, you have this agreement with your parents. We’ve noticed you’re not keeping it. Consider the consequences for that”. And at the same time, we’re not going to keep that information from parents. If we see that kids are breaking agreements we know they have with their parents, we will let the parents know and we’ll make it clear to the kids that we’re going to let them know, that we’re not going to keep that information from them. So, you know, it’s managing, right. That’s a whole ‘nother skill that kids learn. You have different sets of expectations in different spaces and with different people, and you have to be conscious of those and conscious of the consequences of those.


But that said, I can speak for myself and speak for how we do things at ALC-NYC in that we try to.. I wouldn’t stay stand up for, but we try to keep…we try to, like, protect their right and ability to make choices for themselves. Again, if we don’t think it’s going to be dangerous or, you know, have really dire consequences for them, we try to let them make their own decisions and work through those things and instead reflect to them what those decisions might do. So I don’t know, I feel like I’m kind of rambling a little bit here. Abby you were on stack anyway, so if you want to you want to add on there, I’ll turn it over to you because you had another thing to say anyway.


[00:40:49] – Abby


I mean, I am, but you are more, in the ‘sharing of the student computers’ world and like the tool they made and how that’s evolved. That might be interesting for people.


[00:41:02] – Ryan


OK, cool. Yeah, that’s what I needed there, got me back on track. So yeah, this was a tool that the kids came up with at our school a couple of years ago or I don’t even know, more than a couple of years ago now. And it’s sort of evolved, but it’s just like a scheduling grid basically. And they decided to use – at one point it was hour at one point it was half hour time blocks, that you could sign up for. And, you know, we’ve got quite a few computers now. We’ve got like seven or something like that in the one room, that kids can sign up for. And so, you know, basically they self manage this. You have your magnet with your name on it and you sign up for the computer you want in the time block you want and you get it for an hour. And if no one else comes to sign up for it after that, you’re welcome to stay on and keep using it. But the idea is, it’s enough time to do a thing you want to do, but then you’re not using that computer all day. And, you know, even though we have a lot we have different computers –  like, we have a couple of Macs, and the Macs may be able to run a certain program that the PCs can’t and vice versa. And we have Linux on some that maybe can’t run a program that kids want to use. So, you know, maybe there’s like two or three computers that are really popular and kids want to sign up to do certain things. But that grid has done a pretty good job of managing this over the years. As Abby just said in the chat there, we do have a lot of kids that have their own devices, too. So really at this point, there is not a level of competition for time on the computers that makes the tool even super useful. But, yeah, that’s what we use in that situation.


[00:42:48] – Abby


I would add that the computer sharing, the computer sign-up board has been hilarious as someone from the outside, because you get into these situations where you’ve got two kids who are like, “Oh, well, you can use my sign up to kind of hack the system. Here’s a loophole”. And then they’re bartering and they’re like, you know, doing very complicated things, and I’m sitting over here being like, as long as everyone’s consenting to this. And sometimes they have conflicts and it’s been very dynamic and they definitely have practiced all kinds of interesting skills that they wouldn’t have gotten to if we weren’t kind of holding space for them to do that. We do have a…we tell parents, there’s safe search on the computers. We expect devices coming into the space to have safe search. Also, surprise Internet porn is a thing we will all encounter at some point. So, like, you know, don’t freak out when it happens and we’re going to all practice together being like, “Oh, nope”, and then, you know, closing that window and walking away. So.  All the delightful things.


[00:44:02] – slide

Question: Do dynamics between individuals get brought up in Change Up?


[00:44:03] – Ryan


We do have a separate process, we call it Culture Committee at our school, and it’s essentially, you know, our conflict resolution process. Pretty simple. Step one is take a deep breath, try to talk to the person. If you can’t figure it out by having conversations, step two is try to get support from someone else. That doesn’t have to be a facilitator, it can be a fellow student. It can be a facilitator. And that’s still not working, if it’s still an issue, we have a form on our website called the Culture Committee form. You can fill it out. You can write how you’re feeling, what the conflict was, and then we have a group of students who are coherence holders for that group, who have agreed every time this form gets filed that they will schedule a meeting that, you know, not everyone in the school has to come, but if you are part of the conflict, essentially, if you’re a student that’s part of the conflict, you have to show up. And then this group of students and facilitators will show up. And the idea is not that, like, someone’s in trouble and that it’s to mete out punishment. The idea is that there’s something that’s not working for someone. There’s a conflict that exists. And this group’s job is to help everyone feel clear and figure out how this conflict can be resolved and hopefully prevented from reoccurring in the future.


Again, in the beginning, when we only had six kids, calling a Change Up meeting was kind of the same thing as Culture Committee. Those things used to be the same process and then they kind of diverged. Change Up is still a process for addressing cultural patterns, but I think because the Culture Committee process exists, there’s a little bit less, like, “You did this, you did that”. Also, part of the part of the management that we were talking about is when people bring up awarenesses in that first half of the meeting, the idea is it’s just for that person to speak their awareness. There shouldn’t be a ton of discussion happening then. So often kids will try to chime in and be like “But I!  And you!”, and we’re like, “If you want to talk about it, stick around and come to Change Up”. Because then you really see, is it enough of an issue for kids to really stick around and want to talk about it, or are they just like “Uh, actually…”, you know, and then just walk out. So, that’s part of that management.


[00:46:27] – Ryan


The other thing I wanted to say about admissions is, when we have a kid do a visiting week at the school, at the end of the week, during the first half of the meeting, during Check In, we’ll have those kids leave the room, usually with Abby, if it’s one or multiple kids, and they will give their impressions of how the week went to Abby. That’s theoretically how it goes. Sometimes they’re just like, “It was all right”. But, you know, the idea is that they’ll give her feedback and then all of us in the room will discuss, “Hey, how do we think this visiting week went for the student or for these students?” And there’s certainly been times where kids have been like, “Well, I saw this kid do this and they were like, yelling” and, you know, sometimes the facilitator… as facilitators we’ll have to manage like, “Oh, you mean like they were calling people names and cursing at them, like we have heard all of you doing for like the entire first half of this year?” And a big part of our “management” when it comes to that is being like, “Hey, all these things you’re complaining about are behaviors that you’ve been doing all week and like showing this visitor that is part of our culture”. So, we always try to remind kids before we do a visiting week, “Hey, what you show kids on a visiting week is what you reflect to them as like, what’s normal here. So if you don’t want to reflect that, like, cursing at each other and like, you know, throwing stuff at each other or just whatever is the way that we do things here, then don’t do that when kids are visiting. Or they’re going to think that’s the normal”. Because, you know, you’re walking into this new culture as a kid, sometimes from a really different school environment or, you know, really like, different looking environment that you’re in every day. And you’re literally just experiencing all this stuff at once. So to answer your question, the personal like “He said, she said, he did, she did” stuff tends to come up in that way the most, because it’s the most conducive to that. But the actual awarenesses don’t really devolve into that as much because of how the process is set up now, I would say.


[00:48:40] – slide


Question: If the meeting isn’t mandatory, how do you make sure students who aren’t there get updated as agreements change?


[00:48:44] – Ryan


Since we do our meeting on a Friday, for anyone who’s not in Change Up, if the awareness feels really urgent, like something that’s immediately going to be necessary for everyone to know about, we’ll usually appoint someone to, like, go around and alert everyone to the new agreement or maybe to alert specific people that it is really going to affect. Otherwise, on Monday, the following Monday morning in the Set the week meeting where we set up our whole schedule for the week, we’ll make an announcement in the beginning. We’ll like say, “Hey, look over here in the Community Mastery Board. We’ve got some new implementations from last week at Change Up, and this is what we’re going to practice now”. And sure, sometimes those might be met by groans or like, “Whaaat!?”. But, you know, it’s easy because we can just say, “Hey, if you don’t like that, put an awareness up there and we’ll talk about it this Friday”.


And, you know, and that’s where the agile and like light change part comes in. That nothing ever feels – or, I shouldn’t say that – but that things tend not to feel like they’re set in stone or like they’re going to be there forever, and that everyone has an opportunity to revisit that stuff and to change that stuff.


[00:49:56] – slide

Question: Do you encourage people to show up for Change Up meetings?


[00:50:01] – Ryan


I encourage it. Part of it’s a bias of mine, because I actually love the Check In and Change Up process. It’s one of my favorite things about  how we do things.


So, like, I always go and I always feel like there’s value in it, even if we have a really minimal agenda. But rarely… and I would say, like, never do I really push for kids to come. I’ll remind them certainly. Like if on a Tuesday a kid came to me and was really upset about something or really adamant about an awareness being discussed, and then come Friday, they’re like “Meh” and they walk out after Check In, I might say, “Hey, you were really upset about this on Tuesday. Are you sure you don’t want to stay and talk about this and work something out?”


But again, given the fact that, like, if next week they’re still really upset about it, they can just come back again, then it doesn’t really feel like high leverage or worth my energy to try to force or convince them to do anything. This is a big part of my facilitation style, anyway. I really don’t try to force anybody to do anything. I hate being a police dog. Like, I just really – I have like trauma about that from teaching in public schools. So I, maybe to a fault, avoid that. But that said, I think there’s not many circumstances in which I would say, like, “Hey, you really need to show up to talk about this”.  And Culture Committee as a tool is kind of more of that level of escalation, like, “Hey, you’re out of line with these community agreements enough that you have to show up now and be in community with us to figure out why this isn’t working for you”.


[00:51:42] – Ryan


And the other thing I should say about Culture Committee is, it can be used as a kind of urgent Change Up. Even now, with how many kids we have, if there’s a thing that feels so urgent that it can’t wait until Friday,  a Culture Committee can be filed and we can meet about that. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be about  a personal conflict or something someone or some ones are doing [that is] out of integrity with our agreements. It might just be like, something that just feels urgent and that the whole community has to address and it can’t wait until Friday.


[00:52:17] – slide


Question: For Culture Committee, how do you rotate who attends?


[00:52:17] – Ryan


I mean, the idea is that anyone can show up to a Culture Committee meeting. You could have had no context or involvement in a situation, you could not be one of who I mentioned earlier, coherence holders, one of the kids that has said, “yes, I will come to every one”. You could just show up and you can add whatever input you have, you can make suggestions. You know, it’s open to anyone in the community. But the only people who have said, “yes, I will show up to every culture committee” are the facilitators. And to be clear, it’s not always all of us. Like maybe if it’s not… if we don’t feel like it’s super urgent, maybe like if Abby and one other facilitator goes, maybe I feel like I don’t need to. But those kids who have said, “yes, we will be coherence holders”  – and we have another term that we use called ‘culture keeper’ – it’s like, you know, a student who has a deep enough and thorough enough understanding of the culture that they are able to like act almost as a facilitator to some of the other kids, who are maybe newer or younger.


The other thing that we tend to find is that, you know, kids who are at ALCs generally choose to be there. So if you’re choosing to be a part of a community and you care about it, then coming to a Culture Committee is kind of an extension of that. It’s kind of saying… especially for some of the older kids or some of the kids who consider themselves more culture keepers, they’re committed to the health of the community and they’re committed to the school working for everyone. And as Abby just put in the chat, If you didn’t see that, we haven’t had fewer than a third of the school at a culture committee in over a year. And we haven’t really had that many this year.


[00:54:05] – Ryan


I mean, you know, we’ve been off site now for a little while, but even before that, this is the least I can remember us ever having, since having more than 10 kids. Maybe even before that, quite honestly, because it was just easier to call them when there were less kids. So that’s one other thing I’ll say about Culture Committee is that it’s more effective if you don’t use it all the time, because it feels like, you know, a level of escalation. And I don’t mean escalation in a negative way. It just feels like a level of escalation that is like, oh OK, this is serious enough now that we need to discuss this as a community and, you know, we need to figure out how we can support this person who is maybe breaking agreements or we need to figure out how we can problem solve this issue that’s so urgent that it’s come up in the middle of the week that we have to address it now.


I think inviting participation is your best bet there. And if there’s kids who maybe they weren’t involved in the conflict, that weren’t involved in the issue, but you feel like they have some insight to offer, you can tell them that and be like, “Hey, I know that you, you know, and Kid X are on the computers a lot and interact with the sign up board. And maybe this conflict is about that, so I think your input would be really valuable here. Would you mind coming and at least listening and maybe, you know, adding your thoughts?”


I think approaching it that sort of way makes sense. And of course, you know, you have to know the kid or kids you’re asking in that sense, too, like, what do they respond to, you know?


[00:55:40] – Abby


Yeah, I guess also just in terms of expectation setting, we’ve had…I have the log book here, we keep a log book of our culture committees and I brought it home when we closed school. But there is definitely a pattern where they’ll like, you know, at the beginning of the year, remember that culture committee exists. And so, [they’ll] have some conflicts and be like, “Oh, wait, what do I do with this?” And then somebody will remember and call one and then a bunch of other people are like, “Oh, wait, that’s an option?”. And so suddenly you’ll have a flurry, right? You might have like three or four, back to back. And then the excitement and novelty wears off and they get, like, pressure from their peer group to stop, like, pulling people away from their self directed activities. And so then they’ll go back to not calling them for a while. And then, you know, maybe right before winter break or right after that cycle starts again. So just a thing to be aware of.


[00:56:47] – slide


Question: Is Change Up a space where  my kid who is needing quiet focused space can bring that up?


[00:56:47] – Ryan


It can be a space… listen, you get creative, because, you know, one thing that we have to deal with in New York is not having a lot of space. So we’ve had all kinds of volume awarenesses over the years. As you can see, Abby’s got those burly noise-canceling headphones, because sometimes she needs to do admin work –


[00:57:04] – Abby

These are the cheap construction ones! And like 20 bucks max.


[00:57:10] – Ryan


They work well, though. You know, we’ve done all kinds of things to deal with that. Yes, we used to have, we still have a quiet room. It’s like the back room of the school. You know, we’ve done an implementation of Focus Hour where for like an hour in the morning, it’s like no loud games or yelling in the space, because that’s when we determined, “OK, we have mostly like more academic-y, focused offerings early in the morning”. It could be, you know, like a thing where maybe you have a spot off site where kids can go. For us it would be a cafe or something around the corner, where there’s reliable Internet and it’s a little bit quieter. So, you know, yeah, it could be a physical space thing, but maybe it’s getting the community to acknowledge, OK, having time where it’s not as loud and hectic is important and in service of taking care of our community members who need that kind of space, then maybe we can set aside this time during the day where we’re going to do that. I think it just depends like what you have available to problem solve. But yes, super relevant and yes, that can and should be expressed as an awareness, I would say.




[00:58:30] Ryan 


Really important to think about here is you can use this process outside of a school. You can use it in an organization, you can use it with your family, you can use it in a personal relationship. One of Abby and I’s colleagues years ago came up with this concept that she called relation-shifting. And I thought it was so cool, because it was using the Check In and Change Up process for a personal relationship. And the idea that you can have awarenesses with someone that you’re involved with – doesn’t have to be romantically, but can be – and as a way of  improving your communication and improving your, you know, your institution, so to speak. So, you know, you don’t necessarily have to think about this in terms of your ALC project or in terms of SDE (Self Directed Education). You can, that’s totally fine. But I wanted to give you other options as well.

So if you could come up with an example of an awareness in that context and then a possible implementation from it, I just wanted to get a little practice for us at working through this process. And, you know, again, maybe this is something that you guys are already super familiar with, so it will be quick and easy and you could try something outside of your school, say.

You guys were great. Thank you.

2020 Webinar Transcript: Co-Creating A Schedule

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.


[00:10:15]  Antonio


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.

2020 Webinar Transcript: Screens

Agile Learning Centers Network Spring 2020 Webinar Series 

“Let’s Talk About Screens” 

with Crystal Byrd Farmer of Gastonia Freedom School 



[00:00:07.970] – Crystal

Hi again, everybody. I’m Crystal. We’re going to talk about screen time and I want it to be a discussion, a conversation. I have my opinions about screen time, which we’ll  definitely get to, but this is to help you all  think through the issues and concerns that you may have, so that you can maybe talk about some agreements that you’re going to have with your children, or with the children that you facilitate in your spaces.


[00:00:45.530] – Crystal

I’m at Gastonia Freedom School and we have a lot of kids with disabilities, usually autism, also ADHD. And, you know, we make it work. Kids seem to have fun with us. We are definitely pro-screen. We make it a practice to make screens available to all the kids, knowing that they may not have access to them at home. We have some light restrictions on the content that kids are able to access. But in general, they are able to use the screens when they want to.


[00:01:23.610] – Crystal

We have a couple of agreements around the screen time that I’ll share in a little bit, but I am very pro-screen. I have one daughter and she has her own phone. She has a YouTube account that doesn’t have a lot of restrictions on it. We have a lot of conversations about what she watches on Youtube, or does with her phone. But in general, I’m very  pro-screen, she has unlimited screen time, and sometimes she stays up at night, watching videos or making videos.


[00:01:58.700] – Crystal

We’re going to talk about some of those factors that came into play when I made that decision for her. So, I want you all to introduce yourself, tell me your pronouns, where you are. And tell me what your biggest concern around screen time is.


[00:02:19.750] – Antonio

I’ll jump in. My name is Antonio Buehler. I am with Abrome, an ALC in Austin, Texas. I use he/him pronouns and I am very pro-screen as well. We don’t have any limitations whatsoever. We have a general practice of being mindful of who’s around you. And so if you’re watching stuff that may be inappropriate for others, turn it off or, you know, exit the room or ask the other person to exit the room. That’s about the extent of it.


[00:02:52.420] – Antonio

The only problem that I have with screens is my own insecurities over what other people are going to think when they come visit and they see a kid who might just be sitting and watching YouTube or, you know, insecurity about a kid who is playing a video game when I feel like they could be interacting with other people. So, my problems with screens are all internal – letting myself trust kids, basically.


[00:03:30.910] – Abby

I can go. I’m Abby. I use she/her pronouns. I’m based in New York. I run an ALC where we’re very pro-screens. We have a lot of families where the parents are interested in tech. The kids are interested in coding. If you don’t live in New York City with small children, you may not have thought about it, but we don’t have yards. And so for a lot of kids, having all of Minecraft to have space and resources is the closest they’re going to get to fort building in the woods with friends. So, I’m super pro-screens. My concerns as someone who listens and has been studying a lot of tech surveillance kind of stuff for the past few years, is that I hear a lot of adults more concerned with their kid’s hours on Roblox than with the designs of these games, the like lack of regulation around this tech, the way Wi-Fi kiosks were set up in the city without our consent, explicitly to track us. It just feels really wrong and dangerous to me – where these adults are putting their controlling energy, instead of looking to educate themselves and push for better tech for all of us. And I’m trying to figure out how to get us all re-educated. But the kids are great.


[00:05:22.800] – Tony

Hey, I’m Tony. I’m at Heartwood Agile Learning Center, in Atlanta. We are pro-screen for the most part. I don’t think anybody’s anti-screen, actually, but even still. What we do, however, is limit certain kinds of activities on screens. Just anything that lends itself to losing track of time or anything that lends itself to the young people not being able to actually make decisions, or being intentional about their screen time. There are limitations on that, which they all actually agreed to and enjoy. And we’ve gone through a lot of processes with that. So, that’s how we operate.


[00:06:18.270] – Crystal

All right. Thank you. My first introduction to ALCs was through Hany and Kelly, who run Zig-Zag up in Asheville, and Nancy and Tomis, who run Mosaic in Charlotte. And, well, maybe not Nancy and Tomis, but Hany and Kelly definitely fall into like what you call crunchy parenting. They are very interested in agency for their kids, they’re very nature based. They want their kids to be able to talk to them as individuals, but they also want to help them understand how the world affects them. I came into it through that, where the idea of unlimited technology and screens was a little bit like buying into the consumerist capitalist type world.


[00:07:21.770] – Crystal

So when I first got into ALCs, screens were discouraged at Mosaic. There was a lot of conversation going on. There weren’t rules, but there were agreements, you know.  For Roots, which was Lacy’s domain, the kids under five, they didn’t have any screens. My daughter didn’t have any technology to take with her to school, to Mosaic. And it was a lot different from the way that I parented her. So it was good to get that kind of introduction to be in that world and understand that people have different values when it comes to screen time and what screens offer. And that’s where I’m coming from with this presentation, is that I want to talk about why kids might want to interact with screens, why we interact with them, and how we can help kids make good choices about them.


[00:08:25.290] – Crystal

Because the reality is that screens are here to stay. People are going to need them for everyday tasks. So we have to figure out, what are our values and how do we communicate that to the children that we’re with? I have a slide presentation. I’ll go ahead and start that.


[00:08:47.510] – Crystal

The first thing is the definition of screens. I guess it’s important to be in agreement about what we’re talking about. What we call “screens” is:


[00:09:09.590] – Crystal

Social media: things that we use to access our social networks. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Discord, all these other things that I may not know of as far as social media apps.


[00:09:24.980] – Crystal

Videos that we can watch on our screens. There’s news websites that have videos as well.


[00:09:32.190] – Crystal

Apps or games:  any type of electronic game – video game, one of those casual gaming things like Candy Crush.


[00:09:43.270] – Crystal

Screens also include Netflix and Hulu and other streaming video sources.


[00:09:51.080] – Crystal

We have regular old television, which our kids may not be exposed to as much, but that counts as screens.


[00:09:58.950] – Crystal

Podcast, weirdly, count as screens, because they’re on our phones or on our computer when we’re listening to them.


[00:10:05.940] – Crystal

And then audiobooks and e-books. So a lot of kids now don’t really use physical textbooks in schools, in traditional schools. They’re using these e-books, these – what do they call them – expanded resources – these textbooks that are very interactive.


[00:10:35.830] – Crystal

And here are some things that I could think of that screens have. And some of these things are good things, some of these things are bad things, but for better or for worse, this is what screens have.


[00:10:47.440] – Crystal

Screens have algorithms. Screens are programmed by people. And these people have an interest in changing our behavior, modifying our behavior. So those algorithms are going to be directed toward that. Games are going to want you to play more games, to spend money in those games. Television wants you to keep watching. To subscribe, to follow people who you’re watching.


[00:11:21.050] – Crystal

Screens do have a monetary cost, and that’s an access issue when you think about who has access to screens and who can use the information that comes from them.


[00:11:30.960] – Crystal

Information is something that screens have. And a lot of that information is much broader than what we have been exposed to. You know, as me, someone in a small city, in Gastonia, North Carolina, there are just some resources that I couldn’t find at my library, that my school didn’t have. And those are things that I can access on the Internet.


[00:11:55.640] – Crystal

Productivity tools is another thing screens have.  A lot of us use screens to keep track of our budget, our schedule.


[00:12:04.180] – Crystal

We’re using Zoom right now to meet with each other. So that’s another thing that screens have.


[00:12:10.310] – Crystal

Abby mentioned the surveillance piece of it. You know, screens are monitored. Our use goes into databases and it’s not clear who owns that information and what they’re doing with that information. Google used to have their motto be “Don’t be evil”, but that’s not their motto anymore. You think about how much information Google has about you as a person individually and then about us as a society. We don’t have a lot of visibility to what they’re doing with that information.


[00:12:46.430] – Crystal

Viewpoints, tools, terms and conditions, explicit images. We’re gonna talk about some of this stuff that screens do have.


[00:12:55.880] – Crystal

Here are some things that screens don’t have. They don’t have that human element, the non-verbal communication, texture and smells.


[00:13:06.050] – Crystal

They don’t have the same values that you as a person has, because, like I said, screens are created by people to change your behavior. So those values may not always be the same values that you have. Screens don’t have personalization – the way that you can change your behavior and your tone of voice, your reactions, you know, when you’re in a person to person conversation,  some of that is taken away when using screens.


[00:13:38.370] – Crystal

Like we said, some of your use is monitored. So when you’re in a person to person conversation, you have a little bit more freedom about knowing who’s watching, who’s participating and all of that.


[00:13:51.930] – Crystal

And then accidental discoveries was another thing that I thought about. In that,  when you are in your library and you’re just roaming around and you find a book and you’re like, “Oh, I think that’s a really cool thing. I’ll just pick it up”, you know? Google doesn’t really have that.


[00:14:09.780] – Crystal

You have to type in a search to find something. There used to be a app or website — Stumble On or Stumble Upon, does anybody remember that? — where it would take you to a random website. But, you know, there’s still algorithms and things guiding you.  So that’s one thing that screens don’t have for me.


[00:14:29.000] – Crystal

What are some things that y’all know or think that screens have versus don’t have?


[00:14:39.320] – Antonio

One thing that I think that screens have that is pretty powerful is just the ability to access platforms to share our thoughts and our creations with the world. I think that’s something that’s very unique and in this time, relative to just even 20 years ago.


[00:15:09.380] – Crystal

Yeah, my sister and I used to make all kinds of videos when we were younger and they’re on VHS tapes and at some point my sister converted them to CDs. But now, if you’re a kid, you can make a video and it’ll be worldwide within a matter of minutes. I see that as a positive because it is a way for people to share, to find people that are like them and to feel like they can express themselves.


[00:15:43.820] – Crystal

All right, so I’m going to introduce this term digital natives. This is what they call the kids who have grown up with technology. My daughter is nine and she would be considered a digital native because she’s never been in a world that didn’t have screens. You know, she’s never seen an encyclopedia set that was a physical copy. She knows what Google is from a very young age. She is used to taking pictures on her phone.


[00:16:11.000] – Crystal

So Generation Z and a little bit of the millennials, like younger millennials, have used technology from the day that they were born. And they use it, not just for frivolous or entertainment things, they use it for important things, like communicating with their family, looking up people and places, doing their homework. And then they use it for entertainment. So the way that, I’ll say, me and people older than me may have grown up wasn’t as exposed to screens.



I had a desktop computer all the way up through college, you know. And so there wasn’t always technology with me. So the way that we look at screens and how we use technology is going to be a lot different than the way our kids look at technology, because for them it’s something that’s always been there. And it’s not necessarily something they just go to for entertainment. Whereas for us, it’s like, “OOh, OK, that box that I use sometimes”. Or before my phone, I used to look in a phone book, you know, and maybe some of us appreciate that. Maybe some of us value the idea of looking through Yellow Pages to find something more than picking up the phone and just typing in a search. There’s going to be different values around technology, just because of the way we grew up with technology.


[00:17:41.400] – Crystal

All right. So now this question is, what was your first exposure to media away from your parents?


[00:17:58.180] – Crystal

I’ll say for me, it was AOL chat rooms. This is like early teen years and you were able to go into these chat rooms and talk to people. And I don’t remember if they shared articles or we were just talking about things. And that was my first exposure to this world away from my parents. You know, my parents watched movies and they watched TV shows. But these were things that I was seeing that were not part of my parent’s world. And that was kind of my first exposure.


[00:18:40.490] – Abby

I mean, media generally away from my parents, I went to a sleepover when I was very small and was in a house where people were allowed to watch Power Rangers and we were not allowed to watch Power Rangers in my house because it was too much fighting. But that wasn’t a world my parents weren’t familiar with, right. They sort of were familiar and had set boundaries. My first, you know, going into a world that was strange to them was Neopets. Which, partly I’m, like, watching all the kids play their take-care-of-little-animals, build-worlds games now and I’m like, “Ooh”. But I was like, maybe 8. I forget. Neopets was like you had virtual pets and you built a world and you can paint them and if you learned some basic HTML, you could change the colors on your webpage for them.


[00:19:33.520] – Abby

And there was a chat feature so you could trade points with strangers, which I remember my mom being really freaked out by. We had a whole conversation about like, do you know who this person actually is? Because maybe they’re misrepresenting themself, but also  in the grand scheme of things, what all could be harmed if this person gives you five hundred “Neo points” dollars, what actually moves? My mom was freaked out, though, which is really funny.


[00:20:07.800] – Antonio

I was just going to say when I was in elementary school, or maybe in middle school, I was in a class that had a computer and they had the Oregon Trail game on it. And so that was the first time I ever interacted with technology, I think.


[00:20:31.900] – Crystal

Yes. I want you to think about the way that you…what you saw as screens and what you first interacted with and maybe the concern and the fear that your parents had and kind of connect that to the concern and fear that you have as an adult, you know, and thinking about your kids or your students using screens. For them it’s like, super exciting and cool. For you it’s a little scary. In Abby’s example her parents really did a good job by initiating a discussion about it and saying, “OK, what’s going on here? Can you help me understand?” And I think that’s kind of what we have to do as facilitators.


[00:21:28.210] – Crystal

My next point is talking about, when we’re doing self directed learning, what we’re really interested in is kids agency. We can’t have different rules for screens than what we have for the rest of their self directed learning. Self directed learning is about choice. It’s about their agency. And I think I think most people agree that in the real world, we only restrict their agency when we think there’s a danger or there’s something that could harm them.


[00:22:03.880] – Crystal

So I think that should apply to screens as well. If we think it’s going to be harmful, then we should feel okay setting some limits. But what you think is harmful may not be what another facilitator thinks is harmful, and it certainly won’t be what the kid thinks is harmful. So that’s why this next section, we’re gonna talk a little bit about what harm looks like, or what negative content looks like, and how we can assess that. Maybe not objectively, but at least assess it in a way that makes us feel comfortable having a discussion with our kids about screens.


[00:22:44.170] – Crystal

My theory about kids and screen time is that they will binge when they know that it’s a limited resource. A lot of families say, “OK, you’re only going to get an hour of screen time” or “you have to turn off your phone” and “I’m going to put it in my bedroom at night” or “you can’t go on these certain websites”. And I think all of us have felt the attraction to forbidden things. And that’s the same thing with screen time, is that a lot of kids are going to see, “My parents are really upset about this. They’re really restrictive. So I really want to know what’s going on. And I want to find out what I [? should?] them, how I can get around them to access these screens.”


[00:23:39.250] – Crystal

And when your kid is trying to get around you, that means that your kid doesn’t trust you to have a conversation and to be responsible about what you’re doing. So I think it’s important to maintain that relationship with your kids and not to come down with strict rules and strict limits about their screen time. I think it has to be an ongoing conversation.


[00:24:04.780] – Crystal

There are kids with disabilities and there are younger people who, you know, don’t have the same skills cognitively to be aware of how they’re using screens. And I think when we’re thinking about younger kids, yeah, it’s reasonable to say, “OK, maybe he shouldn’t stay up all night watching videos. Maybe I should talk to him. Maybe I should decide on something to do to help limit that”.


[00:24:33.070] – Crystal

But as kids get older, the more limits you place, the more you’re taking away their agency in that choice to use screens. And then, of course, the biggest thing about making agreements is sometimes they’re going to say, “I don’t agree to that”. They’re going to say, “I understand your concern, but I’m going to do it this way.” And, you know, that’s just something we have to deal with as facilitators and as parents.


[00:24:58.720] – Crystal

All right. So whoever can identify all of the pictures in this slide can get some kind of imaginary award. So what I tried to do is create the scale of the way that we evaluate content.  On the top left is an ISIS video, which I think a lot of us, I think all of us, would say is something negative and something bad that we don’t want our kids to watch. But below that is Grand Theft Auto, you know, and Grand Theft Auto has killing and running over people and some sexual content, you know. How bad is that compared to ISIS?


[00:25:39.180] – Crystal

And then on the right hand side you have like movies that are really cute. You have YouTube videos that are family friendly. You have these casual games that we play. All of these things are things that we would interact with or watch on our screens. And there’s very little guidance from the American Academy of Pediatricians or websites about what is good for our kids.


[00:26:10.030] – Crystal

There’s a website, if you haven’t heard of it, called Common Sense Media. And what they do is they review games and movies and they give an idea of what’s in it. You know, does it have violence, does it have sexual content, does it have smoking and stuff like that. So that’s a good way to know what’s in something. But it’s all on you and on your kid to decide, well, what’s acceptable, what can I watch, what do I feel comfortable watching? What do I feel comfortable with my kid watching? So the idea of good versus bad is completely in your head. And it may not be shared. It probably won’t be shared by your child.


[00:26:55.110] – Crystal

One of the fears that comes when watching content like this, or content that is on the negative side, is that they will be harmed. There is research, and I have a little slide later, saying that kids who have experienced trauma can be retraumatized by a video that has violence and other kind of content like that.


[00:27:19.110] – Crystal

So there is evidence that some of this can be harmful to kids. Some of the balancing or compensating factors for harmful images are the environment in which a child has grown up. If they’ve had a supportive environment, if they don’t, if they haven’t had any trauma. If they recognize the content as something that’s fantasy, that is made up, that’s not actual real life, you know. So if they know that this is like a game versus, you know, something you’re seeing on the news. If they have like a strong support system so that even when they do experience trauma, they can be resilient and bounce back from it.


[00:28:00.780] – Crystal

And then adverse childhood experiences. So kids who have experienced more traumatic events are going to be more sensitive to traumatic events in their exposure to it.


[00:28:19.150] – Crystal

All right. So these are some of the things that I think are what we talk about when we have concerns about what kids are going to interact when it comes to screens. And the questions that I kind of want to have us think about is:  When we were kids and first interacting with the real world, did we always know what was good and what was bad? Did we have somebody who could help us say, OK, maybe this isn’t something you should be watching?” or “I have concerns about what you’re watching?” Or did we have parents and family members who said, “just don’t watch it.  Just because I said so, don’t watch it.”


[00:29:02.430] – Crystal

You know, can we can we have– can our kids have people that they can go to and have these conversations about content with? Because as parents, certainly, and as facilitators,  definitely, there’s no way we’re going to be able to have visibility or control over everything that our kids are consuming.


[00:29:24.510] – Crystal

And then my last point is that, you know, you can put all the parental controls on anything that you want, but 14 year olds know all the tricks. Think about yourself. Maybe if you’re not a techie person, but if you were in college or in high school and your parents had something on your phone or computer, just imagine, you know, kids nowadays being able to access those tools and being able to get around whatever controls we have, that’s just going to get more and more true. So that’s my argument that you don’t want to try and limit it with these artificial controls. You want to encourage conversation about it.


[00:30:07.070] – Crystal

One more. Dangerous people. The other concern about screens is that your children will interact with people who are a bad influence or who are actively trying to harm them. And this goes all the way from the school bully to child molesters to people who are trying to scam you, people who might want to hurt you. So there is definitely– that danger exists and it’s out there. But think about the ways that you protect your child in the real world.


[00:30:43.920] – Crystal

You ask them to wear seat belts. You ask them to talk to you before they go get in a van with a stranger. You know, you’ve built these relationships where your child can come to you if something is bothering them or if they’re interacting with something or somebody that doesn’t feel right. The same thing can be true online. You can create this sense of trust so that if they have a question, they come to you or they come to a trusted person about some other person on the Internet. And that’s that’s that’s really the only way that you can help people be safe in the real world and when it comes to screens.


[00:31:27.050] – Crystal

All right, so the next discussion question: What are your values and how does that inform your choices around limiting screens?


[00:31:58.700] – Abby

I value people being safe and respected and treated with dignity and I don’t trust a lot of the world to do that. I work with a lot of  young women and people of color and  young black girls, a lot of whom are also queer. And it’s like the Internet at large culturally is not a safe, appreciative place, like– is not going to treat them the way they deserve.


[00:32:35.840] – Abby

And/but neither is a lot of the off Internet world. And so for me, it’s, my relationship to their use of their screens is to try to, like, empower them. When I’m interacting with them and fight for better things for them, when I’m engaging with the wider world. So that’s talking to them about what Pokemon Go is trying to do with their data and support them and talking through like, you know, racist jerks they’re encountering in Roblox and all that stuff.


[00:33:26.070] – Crystal

Have there been things that you’ve come across with your kids or the kids that you facilitate, that have concerned you and that you’ve wondered, you’ve had to go look up, where you tried to talk to them about? One thing that my daughter is, I don’t know, into, or she watches, are inflation videos. This is where, it’s either animation or something where the person is like blowing up like a balloon, or sometimes animals are blowing up like a balloon, which for me is like tied to fetishes and it probably has a sexual connotation.


[00:34:02.980] – Crystal

But for her, it’s just like a funny, interesting thing. And so I, I am– you know, I’m coming at it from a different perspective where I’m like, OK, I don’t want you to accidentally come into some sexual content or, to you know, go start start into that world without knowing how to navigate it. But for her it’s just like, oh, it’s just a video that I like watching and get off my back. So that’s kind of that’s one of the things that is a concern that I’ve had when it comes to content.


[00:34:37.140] – Abby

Yeah, I mean, I found the kids are already great hackers, they’re really good on their own self organizing and dealing with bullies and chats and all that kind of stuff. The concern is definitely more when they’re– the furries thing, the furries fad is really interesting, and I’ve had to check myself a lot and be like, “I know this is a fetish thing. Do you know this is a fetish thing?” How much does it matter if you are, you know, if they are graffiting saying, like, “I’m a furry” on the wall at school in the context of like a social group where that means they like dressing up as fuzzy animals, versus if they’re posting that out on the Internet.


[00:35:30.410] – Abby

And, I’m trying to think if there’s other, you know, in those kind of examples, though, I’ve always found that as soon as I engage the kids and I’m like, oh, do you know that this also means this thing in some circles? And they’ll give me like, “oh, my gosh, adults are so weird.” And then I’m like, “just– I just want you to be safe. Just be mindful.” And they’re like, “Yeah. Like, go away. Weird, weird grownups.”


[00:35:57.530] – Abby

So that’s usually pretty, pretty easy. It just takes like bringing the thing to their awareness. The stuff I struggle – struggled – with more, it’s less of a thing right now, because of like Avatar and Steven Universe. But for a while a group of them were really into, certain anime. So there’s like some anime that is really great, and there’s some that, like, my young women were watching that had really problematic representations of romantic relationships.


[00:36:29.660] – Abby

And mostly that. Other stuff that I was really worried about impacting their their self-image. And when their parents and I could be in dialogue about it and be making sure that they were getting counter narratives and counterexamples also, it was fine. But it was really a struggle in a few cases where the parents either weren’t engaging at all. Or were also in that world in their own ways. So, yeah, I mean, the environment and relationships are huge protective factors. And so really the only place I’ve had trouble is when the relationships and environment have, you know, not been helpful.


[00:37:37.070] – Crystal

Yeah, I think that’s a big part of it, is that parents don’t know everything that’s out there, you know, even me as an adult. There’s things that, you know, I have no idea about, that [a friend showed me]. And I think that’s why it’s important to equip children with the ability to talk to a trusted person about what they’re looking at, what’s going on.


[00:38:08.750] – Crystal

Because I mean, they’re not always going to come to you as a parent or you as a facilitator, especially if you have this power. You know, if you can say you can’t come to the ALC anymore, you know, then they’re going to be very conscious about what they share with you. But there still needs to be a way for them to say, “OK, I’m watching this and maybe I feel a little weird about it. Maybe I should ask someone.”


[00:38:36.660] – Crystal

And you want that someone to be someone that you trust, or someone that you think has good decision making skills so that they can kind of, you know, kind of check their own intuition. Or if they don’t have any intuition at all that somebody can tell them, hey, this might have a harmful impact on you later.


[00:39:01.370] – Antonio

Yeah, I know, I know for a fact that kids like to challenge themselves and put themselves in scary situations, and that’s so critical to growing. Right. Have you put yourself in uncomfortable situations? And that’s why young kids are so often drawn to scary stuff, right. They’re stretching themselves. And I know that as adults, we want to have conversations about what’s appropriate. But most adults, always  – most adults, most often will shy away from talking about the most sensitive stuff.


[00:39:41.930] – Antonio

It’s just like, well, I don’t think that this 10-year-old is ready to talk about sex. So I’m not going to talk to a 10-year-old about sex. And so, gee, what does a 10-year-old do? The 10-year-old goes out of their way to learn about sex, but they can’t have that conversation with the adult.


[00:39:59.270] – Antonio

And so, you know, I raise that point about the time that we had that situation with the kids, with the very violent video. You know, one thing that we did not do in response to that was say that videos are off limits and we didn’t put a, you know, any sort of blocker on YouTube, and we didn’t say certain types of videos were even off limits. You know, we talked about how do we take care of each other? You know, not knowing what all the possibilities are.


[00:40:39.620] – Antonio

Because otherwise, we’re just always going to be trying to play catch up. It’s like, “oh, you did this. Well, guess what? That was bad. And now we have to tell you why you’re bad for doing that.”


[00:40:53.720] – Abby

I mean, I guess. We’ve also in seven years of having a SDE space with lots of computers, like we have had kids who… There is one kid who was very clearly hiding in his – you know, and I played a lot of first person shooter games as a kid. I don’t actually have an issue with them. But it’s about mindful engagement, right. And the graphics on the rest of the story and all that kind of stuff.


[00:41:28.460] – Abby

And we– you know, I’ve had conversations in the community where people are like only in this room, only with the door closed, not with these other people around and can negotiate it. But there have been, there’s been one instance where there was a kid who was clearly, hiding in his game to, like, numb out and escape from family stuff.


[00:41:54.020] – Abby

But it’s like, in knowing him and caring about him, we could see that. And one of the nice things about an SDE space is I can be like, “oh, this person I care about is clearly hurting. There is clearly a problem here.” And then we ran an intervention and like, got therapy, saw doctors. It was it was better. That’s definitely happened. And we, with some of our younger kids with the scary stuff,  have had, you know – they know that consent is important. And that information about what somebody is consenting to is part of that. So, you know, it’s not perfect. It takes practice. But they practice being like, “oh, do you want to watch this, you know, ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ scary video with me?”


[00:42:47.950] – Abby

And they need reminders sometimes that just because something doesn’t give them nightmares, it may give their friend nightmares. And we need to take care of each other. But they regularly practice that, and we help them regularly practice that with the rest of their social skills, as an ongoing thing.


[00:43:19.680] – Crystal

Yeah, I think those are both good ways to approach it in that, you know, the kids, you know individually what they might have going on. And you know that you can’t fix it with technology or with some rule that covers everything the same.


[00:43:39.150] – Crystal

Yeah. For some reason, young kids are good at technology. OK. I asked my sister, who is a PhD psychologist what the consensus was on screens. And apparently there is no consensus because there isn’t a lot of up to date research and eventually, well, the American Association of Pediatricians has decided, well, we can’t really give you guidelines on  screen time because we don’t know how screens affect kids. So you see evidence that video games do not cause violent behaviors, you know, in a normal typical population. Seeing images of violence will increase PTSD symptoms in younger children. So that goes back to trauma and that if they’ve seen trauma, they can definitely reexperience that trauma if they’re watching screens.


[00:44:37.740] – Crystal

Children who use screens will– are more are likely to have symptoms associated with ADHD. So that means either they are going to end up with the diagnosis of ADHD or that those screens are somehow causing those symptoms or ADHD.


[00:44:52.850] – Crystal

So they’re not sure if it’s a relationship, a causal relationship, but there is a relationship between those hyperactivity and attention symptoms and children who use screens. And then use of screens associated with poor eyesight and physical problems, like carpal tunnel or poor posture and things like that. So that’s what the research says. This is not a whole lot to go on. Based on my knowledge of working with kids with disabilities, I’ve started to understand that children who use screens to an excessive amount may have other things going on.


[00:45:31.950] – Crystal

So they may have the ADHD symptom where they don’t know how much time is passing. You don’t have an internal clock that they can track how much time they spend on this screen. They may not be able to plan ahead and say, OK, I need to stop watching at 3:30 so I can get my homework done by 4:00. They may not have that skill. They may not have good executive functions where they know that, OK, this video is getting you really hyped up, so maybe I need to take a break and calm down. They may not have that skill.


[00:46:07.320] – Crystal

They may have– what is it called? There is this symptom that some kids with autism have where they can’t recognize their emotions. So they may be feeling upset, but they may not realize, oh, I’m feeling upset because I’m watching something that is upsetting on my screen. So there are kids with disabilities who may be engaging with screens and have an unhealthy relationship with it.


[00:46:30.390] – Crystal

But that’s not related to the screen itself. It’s related to their cognitive abilities and their neuro… It’s relate to their behavior and the way that their brains are made, that they can’t compensate for some of those skills that they’re lacking. So like Abby was saying, you know, she has one kid who was using his screen to get through a very difficult time. And I think that when we think about kids who are using screens, what we consider too much or in a bad way, we can think about, hey, what are some other things that are going on in their brains and in their lives that is leading to this type of screen use?



All right. And so this is what my thoughts about screens for age limits. So infants, you know, they don’t really need screens. They get a lot of interaction just from people and the toys around them. My daughter is autistic. So as an infant, you know, she was definitely more interested in things than people. And that’s really typical of a lot of autistic kids. So screens was something that she gravitated toward because screens are predictable. She loved pressing the keyboard and seeing the letters come up.


[00:47:49.770] – Crystal

You know, that was something that felt safe to her. Neurotypical kids may interact with screens differently. So I was saying that there are lots of toddler apps that are all over the place and you can buy as many as you want, but they may not help your kid be smarter or whatever, teach your baby to read. So that’s a decision that you have to make when you have small children. You know, it’s very hard to parent a toddler. It takes a lot of energy and sometimes giving them a video to watch or some silly game to play, it’s just gonna give you a few minutes of freedom. And I think that’s OK.


[00:48:34.890] – Crystal

You know, there are hundreds to thousands of apps that have them playing, interacting with screens in a playful way that also encourages them learning. And can I also preserve my sanity because the toddlers screaming and running around all day and sometimes I need a break? That’s what you’re balancing when you have a toddler.


[00:48:57.300] – Crystal

With youth and with tweens, you want to help them understand the whole possibilities that are there, and you want to develop that relationship with them to help them understand what they might get into, and how they should respond to certain types of things. When it comes to shared spaces, you definitely want to have conversations around who’s in this space, what their values are. How easy is it to wear headphones or watch something else when you’re in a space? I think those are important conversations to have.


[00:49:30.370] – Crystal

And then with teens, just like I was saying before, I don’t think you’re gonna be able to reasonably limit teens without them finding a way around it. So you might as well treat them like a growing adult and have some conversations with them. They’re still going to make bad choices because they are teenagers. But the whole relationship part  is really important when it comes to screen use and teens.


[00:50:14.570] – Crystal

All right, so my last bit of conversation is how to talk about these things with your kids. This is what I used as a facilitator and as a parent. I have what– I would call them some scripts for what I say when I talk to kids and I’ll give some examples of those.


[00:50:42.880] – Crystal

So you say, “I feel uncomfortable when you watch videos with blank”. So when it came to inflation videos, I said to my daughter: “I feel uncomfortable when you watch these videos, because I have experience with fetishes and I think that this might be something sexual.” And you know, when you say that you feel uncomfortable – this is part of social emotional skills – you feeling uncomfortable, does it mean that they have to act about it? They don’t have to do anything to fix that discomfort.


[00:51:13.650] – Crystal

You are just acknowledging your feelings and that you have this discomfort. You’re just saying it to them, telling them. But you’re not putting the expectation on them, that they fix that discomfort for you. You can say “I worry that watching videos will lead to blank”, so it could be “I worry that if you’re watching videos all night, you won’t get enough sleep and you won’t be awake to engage with the world during debate time.” And those are things that you can easily say to your kids to make the connection between the screens and what they’re doing with the rest of their lives.


[00:51:48.080] – Crystal

And I think kids are really open to hearing about how they can be happy and do things in their life without it you making a rule and saying, “I want you to turn off the phone so that you can go to sleep”. You know, when you’re connecting to care and concern and their well-being then they are more amenable to it. “I trust you to take care of yourself when you need to.” That trust, I think, is the biggest part of our relationship as facilitators, as parents.We want to maintain that trust because that’s the only thing that’s keeping them from harming themselves, I guess.


[00:52:32.140] – Crystal

Another script is: “Can you change this behavior when I’m around?”. So when we’re at the school, I ask Courtney to not watch videos that have cussing in it, or to put on headphones. And she’s perfectly fine to run [kitty?] children and watch whatever video that she wants to watch. She’s fine putting on headphones. And that is a really simple request.


[00:52:55.090] – Crystal

And of course, she can say no to it. The kids can say no to it. But as long as they know that we’re making this request in good faith because we’re concerned about the space, we’re concerned about the other kids who may be listening or watching, I think they’re usually going to say OK to that request. As long as you’re not saying every single day “do this, do this, do this” in a way that restricts their agency more and more every time you make a request.


[00:53:21.580] – Crystal

Another one is, “I will remind you of this agreement.” We have kids with disabilities and sometimes they forget that they’ve agreed to doing something and it’s OK to remind them. Try to say it in the calm voice. And then saying “I care about you,” helping them understand that we’re not making these rules just because, but that we’re trying to protect them and help them be healthy individuals. So those are my suggestions. Do you have any other suggestions about talking about limits or how  to have conversations about screen time?


[00:54:11.430] – Abby

Because I admin I spend a lot of time sitting with my laptop in one hand and my phone in the other. And when I used to teach pre-school, I picked up narrating my choices. I find that that’s super helpful around screens is to be like “Wow, I’ve been sitting at my laptop for three hours, I’m going to move my body now”. Or, “Wow, I got really into writing this email and didn’t notice it’s so late. I need to go make lunch.”


[00:54:46.290] – Abby

To just be honest about the fact that the kids are seeing what I’m modeling and what I’m modeling, you know, out of necessity a lot of the time. I would much rather be with them at the park. But what I’m modeling isn’t necessarily the kind of healthy screen use that I want them replicating, and so just to try to practice managing as much as possible myself, and being being transparent with them, being like, “Oh, I do want to watch that movie with you. Saturday is my offscreen day. Can we do it Sunday or Friday?”. That kind of stuff.


[00:55:32.860] – Crystal

Last weekend, I was watching two documentaries about the L.A. riots. And, you know, it’s really, really interesting to me. It was really helpful. But for my daughter is very upsetting. She is not interested in knowing about police shootings. She doesn’t want to protest any of that. And for her to say to me, “I really don’t like like you’re watching, it’s really scary, can you not watch it?” that broke my heart.  Because sometimes I’m not aware of how what I’m watching impacts her. She felt like she could trust me and tell me what she needed. So I think that was a really good thing, even though I felt really sad because I thought “Oh my goodness, what else have I watched that she’s been like “Oh my God, I hate that”, you know.


[00:56:27.820] – Abby

I mean, you put up the data about increased PTSD symptoms, and that was one of the big things when the pandemic started here in this city.  I was less worried about kids getting online and bingeing that kind of traumatic content and much more worried about parents reflexively, constantly broadcasting that news in their houses and their kids getting it secondhand. Most of our parent education and communications, the first few weeks were like “please, please, please be careful what you’re putting in your kid’s spheres”.  But of course, Courtney is awesome and can be like “Ma, I need a break from that content. Put your headphones on”.


[00:57:13.900] – Crystal

I think it’s important to model those conversations, you know, in everything, not just when it comes to screens, but also talking about food, talking about rest, talking about whatever is going on in the space, verbalizing out loud and helping kids take care of themselves during the day is important.


[00:57:40.850] – Abby

I had a controversial one this spring when I was reading about Pokemon go and some of my younger humans were super into it and inspired by it to talk to kids they wouldn’t usually have talked to and to go explore parts of the city they wouldn’t usually have. And I had to sit with my knowledge that this app is like a behavioral manipulation experiment an decide how much of that information they needed to be safe and, like, do they need to know all the details?


[00:58:27.590] – Abby

Or is there a way that I can support them in continuing to have the fun that they’re having? You know, without giving up their agency, without letting themselves be manipulated. And it was some some 8-to-10-year-olds. And I chose not to give them all of the information, which I feel pretty good about, but  it’s definitely a “we’ll see how that goes.” Don’t know. It’s tricky sometimes.


[00:59:11.340] – Crystal

And sometimes you take your best guess and try something.


[00:59:18.990] – Crystal
  1. That’s all I have. I really appreciate you all coming. It’s been great hanging out with everybody these past several weeks. So I guess we’ll see whatever what form this takes in the future. It’s been great. And thank you.

2020 Webinar Transcript: Conflict Resolution

Agile Learning Centers Network Spring 2020 Webinar Series

“Foundation of Conflict Resolution” 

with Jennifer Campbell of Abrome

[00:00:02.250] – Jennifer

Hello and welcome once again to everyone. Thanks so much for joining us. My name is Jennifer Campbell and I am in Austin, Texas, where it’s a balmy 79 degrees and getting balmier by the minute. And I have been a learning facilitator for just under a year now. I came straight from a master’s program in social work and I was looking for a place to do community practice. What that means basically is aiding in the development and the sustainability of healthy communities. And I thought, what better place to do that than, you know, with a bunch of kids?

So today we’re going to talk about conflict. There’s a lot to conflict and there’s a lot of information in this presentation. So today, the agenda is first we’re going to go over just some general housekeeping and group guidelines. We’re going to talk about what healthy conflict is and why conflict resolution is important in self directed learning spaces.

I’m going to talk about what our conflict resolution process at Abrome is, the theoretical underpinnings and kind of the practices, and then we’re going to reflect and y’all can offer feedback, either directly or, if you want to, just privately message Abby. Because, I don’t know, you feel weird giving feedback straight to the presenter. That’s fine, too! So let’s move on.

[00:01:51.750] – Jennifer

What is healthy conflict?

We learn how to address conflict by watching our peers and our caregivers and authority figures, from a very young age. And in many cases we observed conflicts that included aggressive words and actions, avoidance of the conflict entirely, or the interruption of authority figures who removed our ability to resolve the conflict ourselves and to develop conflict resolution skills as a result.

Addressing conflict in a healthy way requires two main ingredients: a supportive community environment and the development of several skills. (Well, I guess each skill could be an ingredient. But.)

The main skills needed are as follows: first of all, mindfulness. Mindfulness in this context means the ability to observe your thoughts, feelings and reactions. This is a big part of creating a trauma-informed, psychologically safe space. If you have questions about trauma-informed spaces, I have a whole other hour and a half on that, but I’m happy o talk about it more later.

But basically, all trauma-informed means is that we recognize that we’re all coming with different histories, and different stories, and different experiences of trauma. And we want to make sure that it’s a safe space for everybody. Not coddling everybody, of course, but recognizing that we all react to things in different ways and and often when we’ve experienced trauma, we can’t heal unless we feel safe. So that’s just a little bit about what a trauma-informed space is.

[00:04:02.610] – Jennifer

So, we all tell ourselves stories about what we’re feeling, and these stories affect how we react to those feelings. When we’ve experienced trauma or another emotionally charged event, those stories carry extra emotional weight. And so different sensory stimuli that remind us of these events can activate our stress response. It can be anything from a smell or a place or a word or a movement. But anything like that, any kind of like sensory stimulus. That’s why they’re called triggers.

When we practice mindful observation of our reactions, we start to recognize these triggers for ourselves and we start to hear the stories that we tell ourselves. So mindfulness helps you to to understand what you’re feeling and what you’re thinking, maybe not why, but what, at least.

And so this leads to the next skill, which is de-escalation. Another term for the human stress response is the fight-flight-freeze-fawn response. Practicing mindfulness helps us to identify which response we go to when we are in that stressed survival mode. For example, I know that I tend to freeze in stressful situations.

[00:05:36.570] – Jennifer

And so when we’re in conflict with someone, then often we get into that survival mode, so we’re thinking about our survival and it may not seem like being-ready-to-defend-myself-from-a-bear survival, but the stress response is the same. Whether you are seeing a bear in front of you or staring down a deadline, it might be, like, in bigger or smaller measures, but that stress response, it’s the same mechanism in our bodies.

Young people are still learning about their feelings and it’s the adults’ responsibility to first calm themselves down and learn those techniques to self soothe. People have different techniques and you find what works for you. It can be taking deep breaths, taking a break from the situation. And then it’s also the adults’ responsibility to help the young person to develop those self-soothing skills as well and to support and scaffold when those skills are still being developed. So, that’s part of de-escalation.

[00:07:01.220] – Jennifer

Next is active listening. That means showing the other person that you are mentally and emotionally engaged with what they’re saying. Some ways of practicing active listening are paraphrasing the other’s words to make sure you understood them, showing through your body language that you’re listening, like nodding your head, facing the person with your whole body, putting down your phone and also using eye contact, if that’s comfortable for you. Basically showing the person with your whole body that you are engaged in the conversation and not just thinking about what you’re going to say next.

Feeling identification helps us to understand how we are reacting in the moment and the more precisely we can identify our feelings, the better we understand our reactions. For example, saying “I’m mad”, telling myself “I’m feeling mad” gives me information. But telling myself that I am feeling sleepy and irritated and confused tells me, “OK, well, I’m not furious. I could just be dehydrated. I could have not had my tea yet. I could need a nap.” Identifying different feelings gives us more information about why we’re reacting in the ways that we’re reacting.

[00:08:35.680] – Jennifer

And finally, imagining the other person’s perspective. This is another way of saying ’empathy.’ So if I’m in conflict with someone and I’m focusing on getting my point across and communicating my feelings and I’m not listening to what the other person is saying, then I’m escalating the conflict. But if instead I have calmed myself to the point where I can actively listen to the other person, then I can hear their points and their feelings.

And I still might think they’re wrong, and I still might have things to say. But now I have prioritized our relationship over being the correct person who’s also the winner.

And I want to repeat that it’s OK to, like, need time to calm yourself, to de-escalate yourself. Like if you’re the person who’s in conflict, it’s OK to step away and say, “You know, I’m having a hard time hearing what you’re saying right now, because I feel upset. I’m going to take a break and we can come back to this later.” If you are mediating a conflict, then it’s your job to stay de-escalated so that the people in conflict will be able to hear each other as well.

[00:10:08.570] – Jennifer

And then finally, an unofficial skill is knowing when to walk away. Sometimes the conflict is not worth it. This is where your personal boundaries come in. So, for example, I recently got into a conflict with a friend. And after we had argued a couple different times, different places, I set a boundary that I would not discuss the subject of our conflict with that person. It was emotionally draining for me and I didn’t want to compromise our friendship just to get my friend to think like I did. So in that regard, it wasn’t important to our relationship for that conflict to be resolved and it was hurting our relationship and so I said, “All right, we’ll just not talk about it with each other.”

Another great example is road rage. If you haven’t been to Texas, it’s basically like the Alamo and highways and there’s a park somewhere — but mostly highways. And so if someone is tailgating me, then I’m going to let them pass. It’s very difficult to de-escalate conflict in different vehicles, at high speeds and road rage can get pretty scary. So knowing when to walk away is also an ego thing too, making sure that the other person hears exactly what you want them to hear is sometimes not important. So, another part of mindfulness.


[00:11:41.180] – Jennifer

These are two feelings charts that I have used.

One of them has pictures, and if you’ll notice, one is “sleepy”. It used to be like under “sad”, but now it’s under peaceful because like, I was doing this with the kids and they were just like, “I’m not sad when I’m sleepy” and I was like, “You’re right.” So I colored it green. But this is a really helpful way of taking big feelings like mad and then understanding more precise ways of expressing those feelings. And a lot of times the visual is more helpful than a list.

The one with faces can help people who are still learning to read or people who need support with abstract thinking. I actually found the one on the right, with the Lego faces online because I was trying to find one that didn’t have just words. And then when I found that one, the five year-old who was my consultant for the moment, he was just like, “That’s great!”. I was like, all right, we found it. He just thought it was like the most ridiculous thing in the world.

[00:12:56.050] – Jennifer

So why is having a conflict resolution process important in self-directed learning spaces? Well, conflict happens between any member of the community. It can happen between adults, between an adult and a young person, between young people. It can happen sometimes between a member of the community and the community as a whole. There are a lot of different ways that conflict can happen. Healthy conflict is a sign that you are getting vulnerable with each other and it’s part of growing as a community.

I remember the first time a learner got super annoyed with me and raised his voice at me. I was just like “Yes! You trust me enough to get upset! This is great, like our relationship is progressing.” In the moment, I was not thinking that, but afterwards I was like, this is amazing.

So, yeah, conflict happens between young people and adults. And children are people. That’s a big Agile Learning Network tenet. Just because a young person is smaller than me and may have different vocabulary or fewer vocabulary for expressing their feelings to me, that doesn’t mean that their feelings aren’t valid. If we are in community with each other, then we’re going to get into conflict, and it’s oppressive for me to say that your conflict is not as important as the conflict that, I don’t know, I would have with another adult.

And finally, displacing conflict doesn’t resolve conflict. What I mean by that is, if I see two learners who are in conflict with each other, I’m not doing them a favor by interrupting and imposing my authority and coming up with solutions for them.

I’m actually preventing them from developing really important conflict resolution skills and giving them confidence and their ability to understand and express their needs and their feelings. I do want to say that there’s a huge exception to this, and if there is violent or oppressive behavior going on, then I am going to step in. Because as a learning facilitator, I am responsible for the physical and psychological safety of the learners. So if the conflict turns violent, I’m definitely going to step in.

Similarly, oppression is a kind of violence. And just in general, I hold a lot of privilege in this society and I can weaponize that privilege by interrupting oppressive behavior. I can also interrupt the perpetuation of oppression by helping young people understand why language or behavior is oppressive, the history of that and what to do instead.

[00:16:27.650] – Jennifer

So conflict resolution in action. Let’s have some definitions. This is the theory behind the conflict resolution process at Abrome. Restorative justice is a noncoercive model of repairing interpersonal relationships when harm has occurred.

When you hear the term restorative justice in the United States or Canada, also probably in Australia, too, you’re probably going to hear the name Howard Zehr. He codified a lot of what was going on in Native American and First Nations justice processes and basically imagined restorative justice as an alternative to what he called the punitive criminal justice system. So this is something that has been dreamed of and enacted by many different groups and many different people. It has a lot of different applications.

But for the purposes of learning spaces, I think that the main things to remember are that it is noncoercive and that you can think of a triangle with the person who was harmed, the person who caused the harm and then the community in which they reside. And they’re all interconnected by needs and obligations. The needs of the person who was harmed are centered and the goal of a restorative justice process is to repair that relationship if it’s possible, and if the person who was harmed feels safe doing that. To hold the person who has caused harm accountable to repairing that harmed relationship, both with the person they harmed and with their community, and to hold the community accountable to supporting the person who caused the harm, so that they can be successful and reintegrated into the community.

[00:19:07.820] – Jennifer

Transformative justice moves beyond these individual relationships and focuses on the systemic ways in which groups of people are marginalized and oppressed. So transformative justice isn’t necessarily about restoring relationships, but it’s about supplanting oppressive systems. This is work that isn’t necessarily done on a micro level, although it can show up.

Like, for example, the process of building consensus in order to make decisions. I would argue that that’s an example of transformative justice, because in a democracy like this one, voting often leaves out, well voting always leaves out some people’s needs, because the majority rules. Even if it’s everybody voting for and one person against. And often what’s happened is that voting rights are weaponized in order to maintain the social supremacy of certain groups. So backing up just a little bit, transformative justice means saying that your learning community is part of a larger whole and is responsible for looking at the ways that you can supplant oppressive systems at home and in the larger world. And that’s something that looks region specific, but there are also groups that I can point you to if you’re interested specifically about learning more about transformative justice.

[00:21:10.160] – Jennifer

And then finally, nonviolent communication. This is a method of having difficult conversations that emphasizes each party’s needs and responsibilities. Nonviolent communication was developed by a man named Marshall B. Rosenberg and there have been a lot of responses and critiques of nonviolent communication. I highly, highly recommend that if you do end up buying the book “Nonviolent Communication”, then you also buy “Decolonising Nonviolent Communication” because it has a better way of expressing the fact that we are interdependent when we are in community with each other. Even when we’re not, we’re interdependent. But especially when we’re in community with each other. And it thinks about, it speaks about nonviolently communicating in a more embodied way. That’s not just about using the nuances of language.

So, the basic formula for nonviolent communication is feelings — or observations — feelings, needs and requests. So let’s see:  “When I came home from work and I saw the sink full of dirty dishes, I felt defeated and disappointed and anxious, because I need a home that is free of clutter in order for me to be in good mental health. Are you willing to do the dishes on days that I work and I can agree to do the dishes on the days that you work?”

The main point that Marshall Rosenberg was making was, it’s kind of like turning the “I feel” statements that we often hear on its head. Like “I feel blank when you blank”. Basically what he argues is that even that is blaming, in a way, and that instead it’s “I feel blank when I see blank and I tell myself a story about it”. And so, again, there are critiques to be made about the fact that, you know, we are individuals, but we are interdependent individuals.

A lot of times there are feelings that come up because of things like race-based trauma or economic inequality. And those things aren’t our responsibility, aren’t the responsibility of people who are experiencing them and feeling them, rather. But the basic nonviolent communication formula is observation, feeling, need and request.

Also, nonviolent communication, usually if you are teaching it to someone, it takes like 8 to 12 weeks. So if this is still feeling like really inaccessible or not intuitive, yeah, totally, I get that. It took me a long time to understand, like, an observation without judgment. Like, “You left your socks on the floor three times this week” vs. “You always leave your socks on the floor”, the little distinction there.

[00:25:27.020] – Jennifer

The conflict resolution process itself. Every community is going to have a different approach to their formal conflict resolution process. But at Abrome, if learners or facilitators are in a conflict that escalates or maybe it comes up again and again, we ask – we being the facilitators, but also a learner could ask as well or bring it up, and they do ask actually and they bring it up – we present the option of having a conflict resolution circle.

This goes back to restorative justice and the idea that the circle has no point and it’s flat, so it kind of eliminates as much as possible the hierarchy between members of the group. Ideally, everybody has the space they need to to say everything that they need to. And it’s centered around what’s most important, basically, which is the community. Or sometimes people use [something] like a candle in the middle. But different ways of expressing that we’re all in this together, basically.


[00:27:04.090] – Jennifer

Restorative circles are used in many different contexts. And what I mean by this one is a mediated discussion between people who are in conflict that is  mediated by a neutral third party. It’s usually a facilitator in our case, but it can also be a learner who’s not involved in the conflict. Each member in the conflict takes turns answering the questions I put up on the screen now and coming up with solutions going forward.

The process is always voluntary unless someone’s safety is at risk. In that case, a facilitator assumes the role of the community in the restorative justice triangle – the person who harms, the person who is harmed and the community they are in. So the facilitator enters into a conflict resolution process with the person who has caused harm, and that would be the only situation in which it would not be voluntary.

This process centers the needs of the people who were harmed, and so they’re never required to defend themselves like they’re in a courtroom. This is very much not like a fact-finding mission or like gathering of evidence in order to prosecute. This is just a de-escalated space that the mediator is holding, is opening up, in order for the people who are in conflict with each other to have a chance to hear where they’re coming from and figure out solutions together. So the goal here is not to avoid the conflict, but to find a mutually agreeable resolution that ensures the safety of the people who are harmed, repairs harmed relationships to the extent possible, and hold the community accountable to supporting the person who caused harm in their own kind of accountability process.

So stepping away from work, I actually participated in accountability processes among my friend groups. And I can say that it’s really messy and really necessary. As somebody, again, who considers myself a community practitioner, I think that it’s my responsibility to build different ways of taking care of each other in the world, and that starts with figuring out the mess that is accountability processes and restorative justice. Because, again, displacing the conflict does not resolve the conflict. It just interrupts it. The feelings are still there and the needs are still there.

[00:30:16.310] – Title Card

Questions To Ask During the Conflict Resolution Process

What happened?

How did you feel?

Moving forward, what do you need?

Moving forward,  what can you agree to?

[00:30:17.880] – Jennifer

So, yes, the questions:

What happened? I remember once there was a conflict between about five learners and they had all come up to either Antonio or me at different points to like give snippets of events and it culminated in a violent act. And so I was just like, all right, we’re going to figure this out. So we had all of the learners sit down, and I was kind of like, “All right, everyone talk about what happened”. And then everyone said how they felt in the situation. It was interesting because in that moment, the kids didn’t think that they were about to be punished, so I think there was an incentive for them to truly express, in their opinion, what had happened and not hide it or or rationalize it or or point fingers at different people.

And so what happened was each kid told a very similar story about what happened, which is really helpful as a facilitator, because then you’re like, all right, great. We don’t have to reconcile everyone’s reality. And it showed to me at least that they felt safe expressing their feelings and trusting that the community would  help them to resolve what was going on. It kind of mirrors the nonviolent communication formula. You know, what happened? How did you feel? What do you need moving forward and what can you agree to moving forward?

There are different ways of saying this. We want to make the language as simple as possible for, you know, for people of all ages. We don’t want to turn it into a legal language where you can get trapped by agreeing to something that you don’t actually want to do. The goal is not to punish. The goal is to restore the relationships whenever possible.

And you don’t need to call a conflict resolution circle to ask these questions. The idea is for the questions to become habit, to become part of the culture of our community. So sometimes a learner will come to me with a conflict they’re having, and if they need help calming down, then I’ll help calming them down. And afterwards I’ll go through the questions with them, help them think — what would you say to this other person that would help them to understand what you’re feeling? Or what do you need from that person?

[00:33:49.080] – Jennifer

While I will not usually intervene in situations where learners are in conflict, I still want learners to know that their feelings are real and important to me and that they can feel safe venting or problem-solving with me, because ultimately the first main ingredient of healthy conflict resolution is a supportive community. That’s the groundwork. Any questions about that process?

[00:34:28.630] – Jennifer

More definitions! A boundary is a limit or a rule that you set for yourself in the relationship. An agreement is a boundary that the whole group consents to honor.

Consent gets trickier with the younger learners because at Abrome, we have agreements that every learner signs as a condition of enrolment. And with the little little ones, you know, it’s hard to say “You explicitly agreed to honoring the meetings, and if you hadn’t, then you would have gone to Parkdale Academy down the street!”, because like, no, they wouldn’t. They can’t drive. It’s interesting, though, because….there’s been situations where the learners are just like “Those agreements aren’t fair!”, but there’s never been a situation where the learner is just like, “All right, well, I’m leaving”, you know. That day may come. Sometimes they leave temporarily. One time someone was just like, “All right, I’m leaving the premises.” And it’s like, “All right, great. Well, we can take a walk”.

But basically, just saying that an agreement is a form of boundary. At the beginning here, I said that one of the group agreements is that this is an anti-oppressive space. Presumably if anyone had had a problem with that, they would have left. By moving forward, it’s kind of like Plato’s social contract thing where it’s just like, by living in a society you agree to its rules. Except I don’t really like that because we don’t actually agree to…anyway, OK, you know what, we’re not going to go there.

So the main thing that I will say about boundaries is that they are flexible as needed and they can change over time. They are not rigid. In my experience, I mean, I’m not old, but in my experience, it never gets easier to assert boundaries. It gets easier to know what to say, but it doesn’t get much easier to say it.

Another thing that I want to say is that boundaries aren’t something that we decide through consensus, because everyone has different boundaries. Going back to making a trauma-informed space, some people do not like to be touched at all. Some people like to be hugged by one other person. And then even sometimes there can be days where you come in and just like, “No, no hugs today at all”. So it would be impossible for us to create rules around, like, when you can touch people. It’s impossible to schedule touch, basically.

[00:38:03.270] – Jennifer

That’s also where a consent based culture comes in. At Abrome we want consent to be at the forefront of social interactions in our community. And so that’s why we have one very rigid boundary. I guess you could call it a rule, which is the stop rule. We say that if somebody says “please stop” to somebody else and that’s regarding their body or their immediate personal space, then the other person stops immediately.

They can stop and say “Were you kidding about that, were you playing around?” And that person can respond to make sure. But regardless, the person stops and that’s just it. That, I think is probably one of the only rules, other than don’t bring weapons, don’t act violently and don’t bring drugs or pornography to the space. Those are the rules. Here are some examples. We actually had a really difficult time for a while because of an instance of harm in our community, and this was the result of us realizing that we needed to be way more explicit with kids about not just saying what a boundary is, but like giving examples and practicing, modeling different different types of boundaries. There are a lot of different types of boundaries and if anyone wants, I can dig up, which I meant to, I can dig up the document where I got these different categories of boundaries. And so, yeah, we just have these posted around the space. I think there’s six different boundaries that we put up.

And then it just includes the definition of a boundary and the difference between a rigid boundary and a – what’s it called – like a soggy, porous boundary, I forgot what the what the word was that we used.

[00:40:51.600] – Jennifer

Boundaries and agreements are great foundations for understanding what might lead to conflict and as you get to know people, you learn what their boundaries are and sometimes you mess up and, you know, you work through it together.

I’m pretty proud of where we’re at now. I’m really excited to see where it leads in the future and really sad that we’re not in person right now. I’m really glad for zoom, too. Those are all my feelings.

[00:41:36.900] – Crystal

I had something about boundaries.

[00:41:38.630] – Jennifer

Oh, please. Please.

[00:41:42.630] – Crystal

The first thing is that, what I’ve noticed with a lot of our kids coming from public school or other spaces, even though they don’t have a good sense of their boundaries, because maybe their parents don’t really let them have boundaries or they can’t make a boundary around themselves because their parent is exerting a lot of control over them. So it’s important to have that conversation and talk about what are boundaries, what are things you can set as boundaries because, you know, they’re usually going to come to you and be like, “Well, they did so-and-so and I don’t like that”. And then you can kind of encourage them to set those boundaries and actually talk it out.

The other thing about boundaries that I’ve learned is a boundary is something that you do. It’s not anything that the other person does. So that’s important. When you’re helping kids define what a boundary is, it doesn’t matter what the other person is doing. It’s how you are responding to a situation.

[00:42:42.060] – Jennifer

Right! Yes, thank you so much, Crystal. Two excellent points. Just as we are helping kids to develop their conflict resolution skills, we’re also helping them to learn about their bodies and what feels safe for them and what doesn’t feel safe for them in different interactions and how to communicate when it doesn’t.

[00:43:11.030] – Question

[Start of Q&As: Why is it called Abrome?]

[00:43:11.110] – Jennifer

It is called Abrome, because ‘A B’ is at the beginning of the alphabet and Antonio wanted it to be first in all the directories.


[00:43:26.070] – Question

[Have you dealt with misuse of the ‘Stop Rule’ before?]

[00:43:26.240] – Jennifer

So, yeah, the part where it says, like regarding your body and your personal space with the “Please Stop” rule, I think we already had it in the language of the Please Stop rule, but we ended up talking about it in a few meetings. Because in that particular situation this learner felt very anxious and out of control in a lot of situations. And so, like if somebody was going outside and it was muddy, then, you know, that learner would say, “Please stop – don’t go outside.” Or like if somebody was jumping around, then the learner would say, like, “Please stop jumping around. Don’t do that. I don’t like that.”

On the one hand, their feelings are valid – they don’t like that, they feel out of control, they feel anxious, they feel worried that the place is going to get messy. And on the other hand, they don’t have authority over other people’s bodies, and there are different ways of expressing those feelings. You know, if you ask someone to do something like “don’t go outside” and they don’t do it, I think that’s where the language about respect comes in.

People say, like, “I respect others if they respect me” or  “if you don’t listen to me, then that’s disrespectful.” That’s kind of tricky. That doesn’t really… I don’t really like using that language, because ‘respect’ feels very hierarchical. And yeah, I’m going to have care and compassion for other people and I’m going to give people my regard. And, you know, when I care about them, I’m going to give them more attention and regard. I admire certain people. But ‘respect’ feels deferential. I understand that when you have been in out-of-control situations, then it feels important for the people around you to respond to what you say and to listen to what you say. But again, that’s part of having a trauma-informed space is figuring out ways to help that learner identify their feelings. I mean, if you ask them and they can list their coping skills. That’s part of what we mean by de-escalation, is that when we’re not activated, then we know exactly what is good for us or at least close to it.

But when we are activated, then it suddenly becomes like, all right, well, “I don’t know.” Basically, just “I am not sure how to react to the situation except to fight, flight, freeze, fawn”. So that’s why we said with the Stop rule, it’s around your body and your personal space. Because we do sacrifice our autonomy in some ways when we join a community. We don’t do everything that we want to do. We don’t eat everyone’s ice cream and we don’t yell the alphabet at everyone ceaselessly all day. But that’s why we have agreements, because it’s just like “In what specific ways I’m OK with sacrificing my autonomy in order to be a part of this community”.


[00:47:40.450] – Question

[What if a kid doesn’t want to discuss a conflict or their feelings?]

[00:47:40.650] – Jennifer

I guess it depends on the context. I would say that, you know, if that person doesn’t have a safe person to express their feelings to, then that would be different. But if they do, then, you know, maybe they do know what they’re feeling and they don’t want to tell you.

The conflict resolution process doesn’t have to be  “What happened? How do you feel? What do you need?” Maybe they know how they feel and they’re just like, “I just want to tell you what I need and what I can agree to.” We’re being really vulnerable with each other when we’re in conflict and vulnerability is scary for a lot of people and in different orders of magnitude. And so I think, like… Are you saying that this person is in conflict with you and they don’t want to talk about it with you, or like, they’re in conflict with someone else and they don’t want to talk about it with you or with the other person?

[00:49:05.670] – Jennifer

Those are tough situations [you’ve laid out].

In the first one, where someone who is causing harm doesn’t want to address it I think that goes back to the exception for coercively involving someone in a conflict resolution process. Like, as a facilitator and learner. Because in that situation, the facilitator is taking on the role of the community and they’re saying, “OK, you know, like, I can’t make you resolve this conflict with other people, but I can say that what you’re doing is causing harm to the community.” And if not individually, then we can address it, like, as a collective. Because if someone continues to cause harm, and doesn’t… Well, I guess it’d be different if they don’t understand that it’s harm. But if they understand that it’s harmful and they are unwilling to think of solutions, then, you know….I mean, we have agreements for a reason. We have boundaries for a reason. If the agreements aren’t met, then that person can no longer be a part of the community.

And the second situation…That one’s really hard because… I will go back to saying that you can’t make anyone do anything. You can assert authority over people. But all you can do [there] is model what healthy conflict looks like and let that person know that they are in a safe space. Both in your words and in your actions.

Like, I definitely relate to the “I don’t want to make waves” thing. It took a long time for me to feel comfortable just disagreeing with the way that someone was treating me or, like, a situation that I was in. And it took practice and it took therapy and other supportive people in my life letting me know that they valued me and that it was important to them that I felt comfortable and and loved. So, yeah. You can’t make a kid tell you how they feel. Unfortunately. In some cases, it would be really helpful. But especially when you’re thinking about a trauma-informed space, like, safety can happen in days or in months or in years. And it can leave and come back again. The healing process is not linear at all.

[00:52:38.740] – Jennifer

So I’m just reading the chat. Yeah, I really like what Alicia is saying, that’s awesome: depersonalise conflict resolution multiple times so the nervous system can be at rest while they practice going through the motions. Yes. Definitely.

[00:52:58.410] – Abby

[Bad audio edit!] Sometimes what I need to say is “Cool that you don’t want to talk now.” Like…you know, “Can I come check in with you at noon or would you rather I check in with you at the end of the day? It’s cool. It doesn’t have to be me. Which other facilitator are you going to talk to?” But with the kids who don’t want to make waves because they’re not used to receiving care or they don’t trust the space or whatnot, sometimes what I have to do is get real like, like…get submissive and switch the power dynamic. Doing that, like, “Hey, out of love, like…I’m suffering, can you help me? Please help me.” I mean and then they can say no, but sometimes that moves kids who were projecting authority on me in a way that had them shrinking and quiet before.


[How do you involve families in conflict resolution processes?]

[00:53:49.750] – Jennifer

Others can jump in. I think personally, in my experience, when we have involved families I kind of made myself available to process things, kind of like… like a group like Processing Circle and anyone who wants to can come and just talk. I have not yet encountered a situation where I’ve involved family members in a conflict resolution circle, but that happens a lot in other restorative circles and contexts. And I can definitely see a time in which that would happen for sure.

[00:54:39.660] – Crystal

There was a conflict going on in the… at the center and we wanted to try and encompass the parents, and that’s…it was a really good lesson that, you know, kids who have difficulty resolving conflicts are going to have parents who also have difficulty resolving conflicts. So, you know, it comes back to the… you know, they’re having difficulty for a reason. And when you try to engage the parents, you kind of have to go back and do a lot of educating them about what our goals are, what our purpose is, that this is not just like a punishment thing, this is a conversation that we want to have. So, yeah, we definitely…that’s what I found with our families.


[00:55:22.950] – Abby

So we haven’t done any where we’ve invited the parents in to problem solve all together. But there have definitely been occasions either when I know the kids and the parents and know that, like, either the story the kid’s going to tell when they get home or the way the parent is going to hear whatever the kid says is going to lead to like, you know, some kind of explosive gossip whatever…. Like, in those cases, I’ll try to preempt that by sending out just an email being like, “hey, just a heads up, this is a conversation we’ve had. This is what we’re doing moving forward. I’ll check back in with you at the end of the week with an update on how it’s going.”

Or if there’s a kid who’s in multiple, like, conflict resolution — we do “culture committees” in our space. If a kid has two or three culture committees on the same issue and it feels like the other kids are getting to a place where they’re going to start suggesting like that the kid stay home for a day or some something, then…then I’ll also send emails to loop the parents into what’s going on, give them a chance… Similarly, I’ll do the like, “hey, if you if you have any insight, if you can help me understand what’s going on, why your kid is struggling with this agreement? What…if there’s anything I’m missing, let me know?” But… yeah, that kind of stuff…to make it easier for you as the facilitators later if things do come to a head.


[What are some critiques of NVC – Non-violent Communication?]

[00:57:02.280] – Crystal

I appreciated the perspective on nonviolent communication, that there has to be some decolonizing for that, because it is a favorite tool of progressive communities, and then you have these other communities that just don’t talk that way and they find that kind of condescending. You know, I tried that with a couple of people who, like my family members, and to them, it’s like, “you’re using this academic language now to talk down to me.” And that’s definitely not the way that I want to make them feel. And yes, I love Marshall Rosenberg. I love all his things. But sometimes it is not going to be helpful if you have people who are not able to moderate or understand cultural differences and incorporate that into their practice of NVC.

[00:58:06.350] – Jennifer

Thanks, Crystal. That’s helpful, too, for sure. I think one of the things that… One of the critiques of NVC is just…like for people who are learning English, Rosenberg talks about very, very subtle distinctions in language that even I sometimes struggle to see. And I’ve been speaking English all my life. So, yeah, for sure.


[00:58:38.590] – Jennifer

Thank you all so much. This was a treat. It’s great to have people on both sides of the pond, as it were. And have a great rest of your Sunday.

2020 Webinar Transcript: 21st Century Skills

Agile Learning Centers Network Spring 2020 Webinar Series

“21st Century Skills and Self-Directed Education” with Crystal Byrd Farmer

 of Gastonia Freedom School



[00:00:00.060] – Crystal

So when I talk about 21st century skills and the way that that applies to our students, there may be different examples at your ALC. 


[00:00:16.490] – Title Card

21st Century Skills in ALC Land with Crystal Byrd Farmer from Gastonia Freedom School


[00:00:16.570] – Crystal

Here we have a factory worker and, of course, this is a recent picture. So there are still people who work in factories, but at one point, manufacturing was 40 percent of the US’s GDP. So a lot of kids were growing up and expecting to go into a factory environment. It wasn’t until I worked in a manufacturing plant that I realized the bells that you hear in school are what you hear at plants. There’s a bell for the beginning of the day. There’s a bell for lunch, and then the end of the day. So those bells, that kind of controlled thing, it comes from the factory and is helping to attune kids to what factory work looks like. So, part of doing that kind of work– you have a very set, a very strict, rigid schedule. You come in at eight a.m., you get a lunch break, you leave at a certain time – some people may work for a shift, second shift – but everything is kind of planned for you. Your day is already set. You know what time it’s going in. You know, everything’s pretty routine. You have very monotonous, repetitive tasks. So you’re doing one thing and you’re doing that one thing over and over. Now, you may need to be trained for that one thing, some machines you take a lot of training, but you’re still just doing that one thing over and over and over.


And part of the reason that manufacturing has left the United States is because those “one things” can be automated. I found the website – and maybe I’ll share it in the chat in a little bit – it was like, “how likely are you to be replaced by automation?” And a high likelihood is going to be things like people who work on assembly lines; people who do things, like, even if you’re talking about working at McDonald’s, if you’re serving food; people who are just typing up information, typing in data; customer service, people who are answering the phone and troubleshooting with you, all of that is being automated. And so the skills for people in the United States nowadays are a lot different. They are– you have a much broader range of responsibilities. 


[00:02:41.390] – Crystal

So another thing that we have in the 20th century is hierarchical management. So you report to a boss, that boss reports to a boss, and eventually there’s the CEO of a company somewhere. And so it’s very clear who’s in charge, who you report to, and who you complain to when you have problems. In the 20th century, a lot of people had just one employer, so they started with them when they were 17, 18, and then they retired with that same employer.


[00:03:11.560] – Crystal

And then there are limited sources of knowledge, only accessible through institutions. So you think about institutions — such as colleges and universities, training facilities, schools — they were they the source of information. Libraries! If you weren’t able to get to that source, you wouldn’t have the information. 


[00:03:36.470] – Crystal

So now in the 21st century, we have more responsibility. So you’re not just doing one thing over and over and over, you’re doing multiple things over and over and over. And some of those things overlap. Some of those things have to be done at the same time. Some of those things require working with other people are going out to this thing, to this person, and asking for help. 


[00:03:58.310] – Crystal

You’re reporting to different people, so you may have what they call  “dotted line managers” also: people who aren’t very direct, who aren’t responsible for approving your timesheet, but people that you have something that you need to report to them, or product you need to give them. So you have more of a flatter structure because it’s not going from me to my manager, to [their] manager. This is going from me to this person and that person to that person. Flat management structures are another kind of corporate buzz word thing where you’re not just seeing some one person as an authority figure. You’re feeling responsible to a lot of people, to your team because that helps spread out the accountability. 


[00:04:45.400] – Crystal

Another thing is that people of my generation and after– this is going to– we’re going to have more than one employer. So I’ve had about five employers in my career. This is much more common than it was in the 20th century and it’s something that I mean —


[00:05:14.530] – Abby

Crystal, your sound cut. Crystal. 


[00:05:25.470] – Crystal

I’m going to be a lot different, but previously people coming out of college had a lot of options. They had a lot of people fighting for them because they know that nobody is going to just be loyal to one company for 50 years. They’re going to look around and try and find a company that has the coolest perks and pays the best and stuff like that. 


[00:05:47.780] – Crystal

The other thing is that we have a lot more gig jobs, side jobs. So people are driving Uber, they’re doing Postmates. They are working on the side for things, getting other sources of income. And when you have a gig or freelance job, you’re your own boss. And that means you have to take care of your taxes, your IRA, your job responsibilities and customer service. So that’s that’s on you to do. And that means you have to have a lot more skills in that area. 


[00:06:23.530] – Crystal

And finally, the knowledge that we can gain is is much more accessible. So there are a whole college courses that are available for free on the Internet. Google is– has changed the world in terms of finding information. There are a lot more sources of information, and it’s a lot easier to get. And so that means that we individually have to be responsible about how we find information, and how we evaluate information instead of just trusting that whatever this source is, is important for us. 


[00:07:00.880] – Crystal

All right, so I’m – speaking of information-  I went and I tried to find a graph that shows what GDP had turned into and I didn’t find it. All I found was the Department of Labor site, and it had a list of all the 2018 contributions to GDP. So what I did is I put it in a table, and I made a chart. So this is showing the share of GDP, and GDP is Gross Domestic Product. That’s how economists measure what our economy is focused on, and what it’s doing. 


[00:07:38.340] – Crystal

And so you see this big blue area that’s called “services”. And it’s a couple, several different categories. But all of this service thing, all of these things are what you would consider to be “twenty first century type” jobs, so you have professional and business services: your accountant, your engineer, your lawyers. You have educational services: your teachers, a therapist. You have health care: so you have everything involved in the health care system, as far as nurses, doctors, technicians. And information is just a really broad category that I can consider anything dealing with a computer so: information technology, software developers, software engineers, programmers, technical support people, all of the things that deal with how information gets from one place to another. And then you have your finance, real estate and insurance people, our favorite people to deal with.  Just kidding. All right. 


[00:08:45.770] – Crystal

So this is — this is two years ago. This is what the GDP was. Almost 50 percent of it (the number is 47.4%) is in this services category.


[00:08:57.550] – Crystal

Manufacturing is only at eleven point four percent, nowadays. That used to be much greater, used to be a lot more involved– a lot more of the economy in the US was devoted to manufacturing. And this is why we need 21st century skills, because what we’re expected to do has changed. 


[00:09:20.860] – Crystal

So while the world has changed, education has not changed. When we think about what our kids are doing now, especially if they’re going to end up working in services, they need to have time management skills, customer service skills, teamwork, communication, problem solving; some of ya’ll mentioned these things, when you thought about about 21st century skills. Knowing facts — like in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue —  facts like that are not as relevant. I have Google so I can figure out any fact that I want. I was an engineer; we use calculators all the time. It’s not necessary for me to figure out the hypotenuse of a triangle on paper, and that’s where these twenty first century skills come in.


[00:10:12.260] – Crystal

So before we get to – 


[00:10:15.160] – Antonio

When people talk about twenty first century skills, they so often are talking about exactly that, preparing them to be tech workers. And, but if you look at the jobs that are available in tech, those are the ones that are most often most easily achievable by opting out of the system. Right now, the traditional education, or the conventional education system is much more about credentialing and training. So even if the focus is just on jobs, if you’re talking about the tech space, you know, conventional schooling is hardly the best option for people.


[00:10:54.430] – Crystal

The first thing, the first kind of group of skills are things beyond academics. So, of course – well, maybe not of course – sometimes we do want our kids to know the basic A, B, C, Ds. In our ALC we do focus on reading and writing and math. You we do teach those basic skills. But besides just knowing the facts about world history or about how math works, you need to have an awareness of how all of that connects to what’s actually happening in people’s lives.


[00:11:27.640] – Crystal

The global awareness. You know, we talk about climate change, wars in different places, and now we have a whole pandemic. So understanding how countries are connected, how people live in different parts of the world, all of that’s important for us to know. 


[00:11:44.830] – Crystal

This has been a great time for our ALC to talk about what’s going on in the world, and how viruses work, and how something that started so far away can have an impact on our lives right now. And that’s what I think is really good about the ALC model, is that we have time to have those conversations. We don’t have to just say, “well OK, this is a fact, this is a pandemic and we’re closed, and move on because we have to take this test at the end of the semester.”


[00:12:15.020] – Crystal

It’s like, “Well, what is going on? How is it affecting us? What are we doing differently and how do you feel about that?” So that’s one way that we incorporate that financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy. 


[00:12:30.880] – Crystal

What that means is that if people are more in charge of their careers, or in charge of their futures, they have to have some type of knowledge about how the economy works and how finances work. So you need to be able to make a budget. You need to be able to understand, if you take this job, how many hours you’re going to work, how much you’re going to get at the end of that, how much taxes is going to be taken out, things like that. 


[00:12:57.160] – Crystal

When it comes to business literacy, if you’re going to be working for different companies, you might want to know what that company’s performance on the stock market is doing. What does that mean if a company’s losing value over time? What changes do you need to make if your 401k has sunk to however much percent? Things like that. So that’s some of the awareness that you need to have. 


[00:13:27.300] – Crystal

Civic literacy: so we need to know who our leaders are, what decisions they’re making, and how those decisions affect us. So, one of the big things that, well, that I was excited about was talking about the impeachment of the president a couple of months ago. I don’t think our kids were as excited about it as I was. But that’s OK. That’s the nature of self direction. You just kind of throw it out there and see if they pick up on it. But, talking about what it means to vote, how what our representatives do, what our president does, and how we hold those people accountable is important to know. You’re not just having your preacher tell you who to vote for. You’re making those decisions yourself. And that requires a lot more critical thinking skills.


[00:14:13.210] – Crystal

Health literacy, that’s what this row example is illustrating. You need to be able to know, if there’s a pandemic going around: What are the symptoms? Do I have the symptoms? Where can I go get tested? Am I going to be immune after I get Covid-19? So those kind of things are not always things that you can just, like, read a book and find out about. We have to –we have to find the sources. We have to evaluate those sources, we have to understand if that’s a good, a good source of information, if it’s telling things accurately, if it’s from people who are trustworthy, and then we can apply it to our lives. So that’s health literacy. 


[00:14:59.530] – Crystal

Environmental literacy. It’s kind of like the global awareness where we have to understand our impact on the environment around this. And so we have to understand how we live in the world and how that impacts people around us, whether it’s just on the local level, or the global level, and is more important to to know how your life impacts other people’s lives than to know specific numbers about what– what size particulate is the worst pollutant in the environment and stuff like that.


[00:15:31.870] – Crystal

So it’s important that when we are wanting kids to learn these twenty first century skills, that they’re seeing the context of it. They’re not just learning facts without any context. They’re learning what it means to know this thing or to be aware of this thing. 


[00:15:53.710] – Crystal

One thing that’s not on here that I could talk about — that I like to talk about — is being aware of race and culture. So understanding what their race can experience in the context of the world, in the context of America in the South, understanding that being a black person in the United States can be a different experience than being a white person. Having that knowledge means that you can move through the world a little bit differently, you can also apply some critical thinking to things that happen to you. You can start advocating for things that are important to you. You can have an impact on the world by understanding– by understanding who you are, and how you– how that comes out in being inside the world. 


[00:16:46.840] – Crystal

All right, so my real world example, you have to make changes to your finances, you have to adapt to your workplace changing. You have to deal with the fact that the parks are not open, playgrounds are not open. You have to find that health information, and use it to keep your family healthy. And then a lot of people will want to volunteer, because a lot of people are making masks nowadays. You have to be able to to understand what a need is, what somebody’s need is, and then apply that and help other people. Not just learning by rote. 


[00:17:28.470] – Crystal

One of the biggest things that technology companies want from their young employees – or future employees – is to be creative, innovative, to have initiative. You can’t teach creativity by giving multiple choice tests. You can’t sit someone down and say, be creative. You have to give them the opportunity to try things, to fail, to explore. And that’s how you develop those creativity skills. When it comes to creativity and innovation, if you have a kind of free form materials — so think of Lego, those building blocks, Play-Doh — those are things that inspire creativity because they start out as just a lump of thing. You have to envision in your mind what you want it to be and then you have to make it into that. And that’s a skill that you practice. And kids practice this all the time as they grow up. It’s just that when we get to school, we think, “oh, well, the only way they’re going to learn it is if I give them a book and tell them to read these lines about creativity.” 


[00:18:44.500] – Crystal

So that’s why our ALCs usually have a lot of materials around. We encourage art sessions, news sessions, writing sessions so that kids can explore things. They can try it without worrying if they’re going to get a good, good grade or not. They can just say, you know, “I’m just throwing it out there and see what happens.”


[00:19:06.990] – Crystal

When we talk about critical thinking and problem solving: this is the skill of not knowing how something should end up, but working toward it. So there are several cycles of problem solving. One is called Think, Plan, Do. So you have a problem. You think about what the problem is and what potential solutions are, you plan a solution to it, and then you do that solution. But that’s not where it ends. It goes back around to Think, Plan, Do. 


[00:19:38.470] – Crystal

So once you’ve done a couple of solutions that you think will work, if you go back and say, “Well, did that work? Can I make changes to it? Can I improve it – can I improve it?” That’s how the problem solving loop goes. And when you’re in the real world, that’s what you’re doing all the time. 


[00:19:58.330] – Crystal

Like if we went fishing [all] morning, and I’m not catching any fish, I can say, “Well, OK, the problem is I’m not catching any fish. Maybe I should change my bait.” So I change my bait, draw the line out, see if I catch any fish. OK, not catching any fish. Then, maybe I need to go to a different part of the lake. 


[00:20:19.260] – Crystal

So practicing these skills is what helps our kids get better at them. If we’re just putting them in a room saying, “OK, here’s a puzzle, and here are the instructions to it, just to follow the instructions and then you’ll get to the end and you’ll get a good grade.” That’s not encouraging problem solving skills; that’s encouraging “follow the instructions” skills. And that’s actually not what employers want for their employees, nowadays. They want people who think outside the box, as it’s called. 


[00:20:52.300] – Crystal

Alright, communication and collaboration. Now, since we work with so many, in such a dispersed world, you have to be able to communicate with people who may speak a different language, may be part of a different culture. Even if they’re just in a different department, they may have their own set of acronyms that you don’t have. So being able to communicate is an important skill, and if you’re in a traditional classroom, you know, the only communication you’re doing is the right answer, the wrong answer, and “can I go to the bathroom?” So having space for kids to try out ways of communicating, to talk about what they need, is important to encourage those skills. 


[00:21:36.700] – Crystal

At Gastonia Freedom School, we have a lot of kids who are autistic and one of the symptoms of autism is difficulties in communication. So that can mean verbal and nonverbal communication. That means, if I say something, I may say it in a way that somebody misunderstands, or if somebody is really mad and they have their arms crossed and they have a frown, an autistic person may not catch that, that person is mad. So understanding those communication signals, and being able to say what you want to say, or hear what the other person is saying, is important and we have to, with our autistic kids, we have to teach that explicitly. We don’t just expect them to pick it up. 


[00:22:24.890] – Crystal

So a lot of things we do – they’re called social skills – is what we work on: listening, hearing other people, repeating back what they said, understanding if somebody is upset or not. And these are skills that all kids need to have. And if you’re sitting in a classroom, facing forward the whole day, and not allowed to talk at lunch, you know, you don’t get to practice  those communication skills. You don’t get to figure out what works for one person versus another person, or the ways that you like to hear information, or take in information. 


[00:23:02.230] – Crystal

And finally, collaboration. Being able to work with other people, to get over your differences, to work with somebody when you’re mad or upset. All of these are important skills to have. As adults we know that this is important! We go to potluck dinners, we go to church and do a Bible study – we know it’s important to collaborate with people, but a lot of times when we go to school settings, we say, OK, here’s your work, but here’s your irony. Now you sit down and and just do that all by yourself. You know, they call it– they call it cheating when you’re asking somebody else for help, or to get answers on a test. Whereas in the real world that’s what we would do. 


[00:23:50.880] – Crystal

So the example I have is taking a road trip: you need to know how a car works, and how to make sure your car’s in the right condition. You need to be able to read a map or at least use your phone to figure out where you are.


[00:24:04.950] – Crystal

You need to know how much fuel your car holds, and when to stop for gas. So there’s your math skills. You have to communicate with people about how far you are away, and when you’re going to get there; you have to agree with the rest of your family on where to eat dinner. You know, a lot of times the parents may make that decision, but you can be more collaborative by having everybody voice their opinion, and then figuring out some kind of consensus. 


[00:24:31.820] – Crystal

And then improvising – so how many people have been driving and just like, “OK, let’s stop and go south of  the border there’s this cute little town in South Carolina.” You have to know, do I have enough gas to get there? How much time do I have as far as our plans for the trip? Are we going to run out of daylight if we take this side trip? Do I need to have extra money in case we want to buy some kind of knickknack thing?


[00:25:05.800] – Crystal

All right, the next one is uniquely 21st century in that there’s a lot more information out there, and you have to understand where that information comes from, whether it’s reliable. You have to know where to get the information, and then you have to be able to apply that information to your life. So information literacy, media literacy. And then this ICT is what we deal with when we’re talking about marketing or branding things that corporations do to kind of influence us. 


[00:25:49.540] – Crystal

So understanding how someone is communicating with me, or how I’m being influenced by a particular piece of information, is very important. So when it comes to our ALC, you know, we do a lot of filtering of information because our kids have access to YouTube. But when something comes up and if I think it’s relevant, I can say, well, that’s not exactly how I see how things go or, you know, I can talk about what I think is important and then I can give them resources- books, Web links – to say, “these are ways that you can figure out more about what you want.” We talk about evaluating sources so saying, OK, did this come from the first page of Google? Did it come from an encyclopedia? Did it come from a misinformation site? Being able to know what is good information versus bad information is really important for people who have so much coming at them because of a device in their hand. So screen time is a big topic of debate in a lot of ALCs.


[00:26:59.470] – Crystal

I’ll tell you Gastonia Freedom School is very pro-screen. So we have devices for all of our kids to use. And we are– I wouldn’t say it’s unlimited, but it is very liberal as far as their ability to access those devices. And that’s because we have kind of this dual purpose of helping lower income kids, or kids who may not have that access to be able to to learn those skills and be able to access technology. But also, I feel like– Information is free and everybody should be able to find information on their own. 


[00:27:37.320] – Crystal

So when I was growing up, we had one family computer. You know, we didn’t have our individual phones and we had a set of encyclopedias. But there was so much that I gained by going to the library, and picking out books myself, and reading, and exploring is that– that’s how I learned who I was and what I wanted to do and how I saw the world.


[00:28:02.020] – Crystal

So we need kids who are able to take in information, and then understand how that applies to them, and what they want to do with that information. That’s why I’m pro-screens, because that’s how you get information. And it may not be information that you want your child to have right now, but that’s kind of where parenting comes in. 


[00:28:24.130] – Crystal

Alright, so my example, if you have a brand new child, you want to know, is it safe for my child to be on screens? Should I put limits on their screen time? How can I put filters on YouTube or browsers? You have to be able to find sources that appeal to you. A lot of people are critical of mainstream media and mainstream sources. So you might have another set of sources that you feel is reliable. You have to examine your values and say, “OK, this is what’s important to me and this decision I’m going to make for my family.”  You know, you’re not sitting in a pew waiting for a pastor to tell you what to do. You’re not reading a book by Dr. Sears where he tells you the appropriate amount of screen time for kids because they didn’t have screens when Dr. Sears wrote his book. And then if you want to download an app, you just have to be able to navigate an app store to read the reviews to find out which app is the best. To download it to figure out if it works for you, and keep it if it does. That’s how information becomes a skill that you need to be able to, to process information, store information, organize information and use it to your advantage.


[00:29:53.860] – Crystal

All right, and then this was mentioned when some of y’all talked about flexibility and adaptability. All of these are what I would call leadership skills. And this is one thing that definitely doesn’t get taught in in most traditional education settings. You know, you might have five kids who are like your student council. And so, yeah, they get they get some some experience being leaders. But really, when it comes to 21st century world and future employers, everybody needs to have those skills to take the initiative to change something, to communicate about what’s important to them, and to convince other people to go along with what they want. So flexibility and adaptability is important. You need to be able to say, “OK, I was planning on this, but something happened, and now I’m doing something different.” 



And in our school, with autistic kids, that can be hard sometimes. And so that’s one of those places where we add a lot of support in for our kids and saying, “OK, this is why it’s changing. It’s OK that it hurts, that you don’t like it. But we’re going to change this and we’re going to be fine.” 


[00:31:04.780] – Crystal

A lot of ALCs, since they’re small, things can kind of move with the flow, you know, with the student’s interests. So we don’t have to say, “Well, we set the week and we have this one schedule for the week and that’s what we’re going to do. No questions asked.” We can say, “OK, well, we were planning on this, but there are a couple of kids out sick.” Or, you know, “as a facilitator, I’m not really interested in that subject right now. And if nobody else is going to show up, then why am I going? So I’m going to do something else.” 


[00:31:35.010] – Crystal

There’s a lot of times when I come to school and I have an offering and the kids are like, no. And it’s just like, “OK, well, now I’m going to do something different because they said they don’t want to do that.” And that’s a challenge for me because — why? Because. [laughs] So that adaptability is important, and it’s very important when we live in a world that has technology that changes constantly.


[00:32:04.450] – Crystal

The phone that I have right now? 10 years ago it was completely different. And so if I’m not able to understand what changes are happening and how to interact with that, then I’m going to get left behind. Initiative and self direction is important. So if you’re a gig worker, or if you’re working in a job that you have a lot of different responsibilities, you need to be able to identify problems and then apply– apply solutions to them to go and do something without somebody telling you. And when you’re in a traditional school environment, there’s nothing that you don’t do unless somebody has told you to do it. You don’t even go to the bathroom unless you raise your hand and said, “can I go to the bathroom?” So when you have a group of kids, you want to encourage that initiative and self direction by not jumping in when something goes wrong.


[00:32:58.870] – Crystal

A lot of times as parents, we want to make something go away: if the kids [are] arguing, if they’re having a disagreement, if they don’t know what they’re going to do as far as the game. A lot of times you want to jump in and just say, “OK, you have the red, you have the blue and that’s it.” If we let those kids kind of work out what’s going what’s going on, and what they want to do, they’re using their communication skills, their negotiation skills, they’re practicing listening to somebody, practicing, calming and regulating their emotions. So when you give them that opportunity to figure something out between them, you’re preparing them for a future world where there won’t be a boss, or my mom, standing outside and saying, “OK, do this.” You know, you’re preparing them to take the initiative on their own. 


[00:33:50.720] – Crystal

The other thing is that the world is changing and the people that we’re interacting with come from different parts of the country, different parts of the world, they have different native languages. They have different cultures. And being aware of those cultures is important because if you just go and act like, “OK, this is how middle class American culture is and that’s how it should be. And I’m just going to go and do everything in that kind of way.” 


[00:34:17.030] – Crystal

Well, some of those ways we know are harmful to other people. And so it’s important to teach your kids– to teach your kids that we grow up one way and there are people growing up a different way. And when those people grow up a different way, they also want to honor and value the things that they grew up with. Just because they’ve moved to a place that has a different culture, doesn’t mean they want to abandon their own culture, and we have to recognize that the culture I grew up in may have some things that are not useful, that are harmful, that maybe I should think about changing.


[00:34:59.670] – Crystal

Ultimately, accountability, so that– that goes back to the corporate world of measuring things, are you getting are you hitting your numbers every week or are you… meeting your performance plan? Things like that. Being able to know what you’re doing well on, and what you’re not doing well on, your strengths and weaknesses, being able to know that is really important because there’s not– you get– you get your performance review, but you don’t get a report card, it just has like, “OK, so you got an 80 on this skill and a 90 on this skill.” You have to be able to talk through what your strengths and weaknesses are, give examples about it, and then say what you’re going to do to change it if you need to change it. 


[00:35:48.420] – Crystal

And then, this real world example is talking about leadership and responsibility. So, if you are a part of a housing association and you take a leadership position, you’re communicating, you’re sharing information, you’re helping to resolve conflicts, you’re recognizing who the people are in your community. You’re advocating to the larger community to help people understand what your issues are. All of these are things that you can do as an adult that we may not get prepared for, as children. 


[00:36:24.130] – Crystal

So if you think about ALCs, a lot of the older kids kind of start seeing the world around them and getting interested in advocacy. They want things to be better, so they want to reach out and improve the world around them. So if you think about Greta Thunberg, who started the climate strikes on Fridays– you know, so she decided that she was going to do something different. She organized them. She did them. She got on social media. She learned how to communicate with people. She found a carbon neutral boat that could take her over to America. So she’s doing all these things because she had the freedom to to see a problem and and think of a solution for it. Nobody told her, “No, you your solution can only happen within these square walls of our school.” Somebody gave her the encouragement to really be passionate about something and to to step up and actually make something happen in the world. 


[00:37:29.260] – Crystal

Schools have become aware that they need to change their structure and that things need to be different. So, on the left are some of the things that schools have talked about now. Before we opened Gastonia Freedom School, I worked at as public school assistant teacher and a sub. So, you know, we can see some of the things that current public schools have done, they will do Genius Hour, which is an invention like, “OK, you have one hour to kind of play in a passion project or learn something or work on something.” And so you may have one hour a week to do something that you feel passionate about. 


[00:38:13.190] – Crystal

Another buzzword is Project Based Learning, so that’s where you give kids a goal, something that they need to accomplish, and you put them on a team and you say, “OK, this is what you need to do within three months.” And you can be– they can be very specific about the requirements and the tools they’re going to use for that, or they can be very broad. So Project Based Learning is a way that they try to encourage that initiative, leadership, communication, problem solving. That’s how they try to encourage those types of skills.


[00:38:47.530] – Crystal

Career Technical Education is a word for kind of a track of classes. So nowadays in school, you may have an engineering class, or a technology class, or it may just be called a careers class where you’re learning about real world topics. So that’s where I learned how to use Excel. I took a CTE class and learned how to use Excel. Or you may learn how to give presentations in your Career Technical Education class. 


[00:39:20.610] – Crystal

And part of this goes into the school choice thing– that some schools now have different tracks that you can go into. So instead– back maybe 20, 30 years ago, schools would have been a preparing you for a trade like plumbing or welding. Nowadays your career technical classes are preparing you to be a programmer or to work in health care, you know, to work with information some kind of way. So that’s what CTE kind of does, is like it’s an extra elective that you can take so you can learn about real world careers. 


[00:39:59.950] – Crystal

And then we have this kind of movement for teaching social emotional skills, so teaching kids how to have a growth mindset, how to have grit. And those are those things that, unfortunately, get left behind in traditional schools. It’s like– analyzing why does somebody fail or succeed in the school environment? What’s going on in their lives outside of their ABCs? 


[00:40:25.360] – Crystal

And this is something that ALCs are good at incorporating automatically because we don’t just see it– see our kids as a student who has to learn this and this and this, and get it, and pass a test on it. We see them as whole persons who have feelings. They have emotions. They have dreams, you know, they have things that are holding them back. So instead of just saying, “well, OK, most of the time we’re going to work on our ABCs and 123s. But every once in a while, we’re going to talk about bullying or peer pressure, things like that.” Instead of just adding that onto a school curriculum, ALCs can spend a lot of time in that kind of that realm of skills. 


[00:41:09.870] – Crystal

And then magnet schools and choice programs. This is one of my favorite topics to read about and think about– is how the world has changed, the US has changed their education system so that now you can kind of decide what you want your kid to grow up to be, and then you can put them in a magnet school to become that.


[00:41:30.490] – Crystal

I mean, that’s where I got into engineering, is that I went to a high school that was like “we’re the first technology high school in the count, so I’m going to go into a technology career.” Where now you have that all the way down to elementary school, where you have the STEM elementary school, or the immersion– language immersion elementary school, or the arts elementary school. So we’re understanding that not everybody is going to go into the same type of jobs. And so the traditional school solution is to create these little silos of schools where you focus on one thing and kind of hope that the kids will get some value out of it all the way up to high school. 


[00:42:10.240] – Crystal

So they’ve they’ve done a lot of changes. They’ve tried to make changes to help incorporate these skills. But the problem with school, with traditional school, is that it’s still school. 


[00:42:23.820] – Crystal

So you have kids who have one test at the end of the year – and maybe you’ll add a senior thesis for the for the kids who are graduating, so they have to do a presentation on their project. Maybe you’ll add that. But at the end of the day, they’re just getting a grade. They’re getting a percentile out of end of course tests. You still have authoritarian discipline, so you have one person in charge of the classroom. And then that person, of course, is somebody who’s in charge of the school. A lot of times you have unequal discipline going to kids who may have disabilities, lower income, or minority kids who are seen as acting out when they’re just being their authentic selves. You don’t have a lot of differentiation. So you will have–you may have a class of high performers, of class of average performers and a class of low performers. But even with those three groups, you have kids who are doing well on one scale versus another scale and kids who need a lot of support versus little support. So teachers, since they have classrooms that are so big, and that may not have a whole lot of opportunity to differentiate, you know, they have to kind of just aim for the average and then hope that it catches most of the kids. 


[00:43:43.570] – Crystal

In traditional schools you have the school board and the school district that kind of controls the curriculum, what time lunch is, what you get for lunch and the grading policy, so you don’t have teachers or principals who are able to flex around their kids’ needs, or to make changes to their environment to help their kids improve. You still have classrooms grouped by age and ability. So one of the weirdest things in the traditional school system is single age groupings. 


[00:44:21.910] – Crystal

And in the real world – and when you had one one room schoolhouses, kids of different ages where were mixed together – and Peter Gray talks about this – when you have older kids and younger kids, the older kids can teach the younger kids things. They can show they can be a role model, an example, to the younger kids. The [younger] kids can encourage the older kids to play and to relax and to enjoy what’s going on around them. You have skill transfer when you have age mixing.


[00:44:55.170] – Crystal

But traditional schools are still very rigid in that you only have groups with the groups of kids who are like one or two years apart. And what that ends up doing is increasing bullying behaviors, increasing maladaptive social behaviors. So that means that kids are now competing with each other. They are not encouraged to collaborate, to feel sympathy for each other, because they’re all going through the same issues at the same time without a lot of good examples to look up toward.


[00:45:33.740] – Crystal

And then the goal of the traditional education system is still to get a diploma. That’s still the idea of what should I do with my education. The reason that I go to school is so that I can graduate and get a good job. That doesn’t have to be the goal anymore. There are still careers that require a diploma, require an advanced degree, but there are also skills that do not need high school math education that you can do without going to four years of college.


[00:46:11.520] – Crystal

And when we’re preparing our kids and ALCs for that type of world, we can help them understand whether they need that diploma or whether they don’t. 


[00:46:26.940] – Crystal

So here are some of the ways that ALCs are different. 


[00:46:30.750] – Crystal

We focus on real world learning, so that means that we don’t just do our ABCs and 123s; we are putting our kids in situations where we have to use those skills. If you have a group of kids and you want to go on a walk: “Where are we going to walk? How far is it going to be? Who’s going to get tired first. Are there stop lights that we’re going to have to cross traffic?” Things like that, so they can use some of those 21st century skills. 


[00:46:59.610] – Crystal

We have cooperative processes, so our kids are practicing giving input, being heard, suggesting changes. You know, we have formal tools to help them have a voice at our centers. The built in feedback loop – this kind of attention setting, doing and then reflecting on what we’ve done – is a way to help kids be aware of their development and understand what they’re learning and what they need.


[00:47:26.640] – Crystal

We are flexible for individual students, so that means that if one kid is struggling on one thing we can reach them there, instead of just aiming for the middle. And then we have mixed age groups so other kids who are more skilled at one thing can help kids who are less skilled. 


[00:47:44.130] – Crystal

We’re connected to the local community. That means we’re helping raise their awareness of local issues. We’re helping them get into leadership positions, if they’re interested in having an impact on their community. We’re talking about how different cultures interact and what’s going on in our world and how that affects us as individuals. 


[00:48:03.800] – Crystal

And finally, the biggest thing is just flexibility. When we see a need, we can move to meet that need. We don’t have to go through 10 layers of bureaucracy just to get that need met. 


[00:48:19.290] – Crystal

So it’s a big reason why we started this webinars is because of the coronavirus, we– a lot of our centers are physically closed and we wanted to keep offering things to our students. But we also recognize as a group of ALCs that we could offer things to each other’s students. And that’s one of the things that I’ve been enjoying these past couple of weeks, is that I get to play with kids who are in Texas, who are in New York, who are out on the West Coast. I’m meeting lots of other kids and I’m making offerings that maybe my kids at my local school ALC, you know, don’t want to do.


[00:49:05.160] – Crystal

So that’s been really fun. This is this is this week’s calendar. And we have a whole lot of different types of things, but it shows you kind of the variety of what ALCs offer. It’s not always going to be academics. And I guess you know that. But it’s going to be things that are what the kids are interested in, what the facilitators are interested in. These skills are being taught through all of this, not just because we said, “well, I need to find the one thing that’s going to teach them leadership.” 


[00:49:39.200] – Crystal

No, it’s like, “OK, I’m offering something. And along the way they’re going to learn some leadership skills.” So this is what our calendar for this week looks like. I’ve been offering Arduino.


[00:49:53.730] – Crystal

My favorite offering has been this thing called GeoGuessr, and that’s a game where you get on Google Maps and it kind of drops you in the middle of the earth somewhere. And you have to figure out where you are. So you can use the street view to see the signs and the see the roads and stuff like that and figure out where you are on the map. So I’m not sure what 21st century. Oh, that’s probably like wayfinding. That’s that’s how I would turn that into a skill.


[00:50:24.040] – Crystal

All right, so y’all may have gotten these questions when you talk with parents about what– what are they going to do with all of this, these things that you’re so-called teaching them? What about the basics? What if they don’t want to do anything? How will they learn? How do I get them to do hard work? How do you assess them? How would they prepare for college? And the answer that we give as ALCs is we trust them.


[00:50:55.710] – Crystal

We trust them to be human beings and to learn what they need to learn. And I have a suspicion that Abby wrote the FAQ, so if you go on to the Agile Learning website there’s a huge page, that has just a lot of good answers to this if you do have parents in your community who are wondering about these things. But the short answer is that we trust them, and we know that what the end result may not look like what we want it to, but it is going to be exactly what our students need.


[00:51:34.860] – Crystal

And I appreciate y’all being part of this movement, because it’s it’s really changed the way that I see education. I think it’s been really helpful for our kids.

2020 Webinar Transcript: Agile Roots

Agile Learning Centers Network Spring 2020 Webinar Series

“Intro to the Agile Roots” with Abby Oulton of Agile Learning Center NYC



[00:00:04.530] – Abby 

The topic of this webinar is the Agile Roots – Intro to the Agile Roots – the philosophical basis of Agile Learning Centers, both the one that I work at, and all of the more than 70 around the world.

Some definitions. Because there are some words I’m going to use a lot and it will be helpful if we have a shared understanding of what I mean, some definitions.

Education: the process by which one learns; experiencing, exploring, applying, changing. I put this one here in part because I was in a class at Columbia once – I didn’t go there, I was just auditing – and the professor asked for a definition of education and I gave an answer like this. And people were like, “wait, no, it’s when you sit at a desk at school.”

And so then we had this conversation about “what are we imagining?” And, if we imagine education as the whole process, all the richness of experiencing life, and learning and growing and changing through that experience, then what’s possible in reorienting how we relate to kids and to schooling and to our own learning process?

The quote here is from one of my favorite books, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She’s an indigenous botanist. She’s great. And this – “Isn’t this the purpose of education, to learn the nature of your own gifts and how to use them for good in the world?” – feels like the definition of education that is most useful to me as an ALC facilitator.

[00:02:20.300] – Abby

Next, self directed education. So if you are – this is very funny, since so many of you are facilitators – but in the education world generally, beyond conventional school, there’s a lot of different kinds of alternative education. We could really nerd out about those in another session, if you’re interested. But the philosophy of self directed education recognizes that education is this broader process of being alive and says, then, that the learner, the person living that life, having those experiences, should get to steer their journey and decide do they want to, I don’t know, mix music for three days straight or do they want to take a chemistry class here and there? Whatever they want.

And so then from that perspective, my role as a facilitator is to hold space and support the flow. And this is both in relationship to a learner specifically and individually – I’m trying to show up and be present for who they are, and what they’re trying to do, and work with them – and also for my community at large. And so all of the learners, and all the parents and volunteers, because we’re an ecosystem and when I can support us having a healthy thing going all together, then that creates the conditions for each of the individuals in there to flourish.

And the quote underneath there is from another one of my favorite authors, adrienne maree brown. If you haven’t read her stuff yet, she’s brilliant. And she had a quote in a design magazine where she talks about how facilitating is about creating space for the people to do something, whereas teaching is passing on knowledge directly. And either thing can, a facilitator can, be called into a teaching role and vice versa. But they are distinct orientations and require different skill sets.

[00:04:53.440] – Abby

OK, the roots. So what are the root values, the philosophical assumptions that inform how we do what we do in Agile Learning Centers? There’s four of them.

[00:05:10.220] – Abby

The first is that learning is natural and it’s happening all the time. Learning can be something you engage with when you attend a webinar. It can also happen totally by accident. I’m out in the park. If I encounter a person in a situation of [poster], engage with that. Learn a thing.

So, I used to be a regular school teacher, and there was a lot of fear that if the kids weren’t forced to learn, then they wouldn’t. Which just scientifically, isn’t actually helping humans function, right? Our bodies, our brains are constantly perceiving what’s going on and interpreting that, and then we’re applying that to continue getting better at engaging with the world.

With this orientation, if I can trust that the learning is happening, it’s what the kids are hard wired to do (And so are we right? Our brains are plastic.) then I’m not worried about how to try to force them to do a math worksheet. I’m much more interested in creating conditions where they feel curious and able to experiment and fail and make messes and do all the things they need to do to be learning. And then to also work with them and make sure that they’re empowered to steer their learning and decide, you know, is this content that I want to engage with? Should I close this YouTube video? Do I quit this book now? Do I walk over to this conversation because it sounds interesting? And how do I jump into that?


[00:07:16.750] – Abby

Second root is that people discover their purpose and passions through making their own choices. Also, children are people. Big shock.

We say that part explicitly because [laughs] there is – I’ll say that in a room of people and the adults will nod and be like, “oh yeah, obviously children are people,” but then listening to and watching the way people sometimes think it’s OK to interact with children… would you do that to an adult in the world? You’re going to run up to them and just like put a tissue in their face and be like, “Blow your nose!” Another adult would not be OK with that. They would want you to ask first, right? So, what’s going on? Unless your child is too little to communicate, why do we think that they don’t have the right to communication and consent and bodily autonomy and that kind of stuff as people, as their own people?

So there’s some assumptions in this root. One is that everyone has purpose, or that purpose is an important thing. And I’m going to send out with the slideshow some links to readings if you want to explore this further, but basically researchers both on trauma resilience and on end-of-life, and what makes for a positive end-of-life experiences for people, and also researchers on what makes us different from computers, if that’s a thing you’re interested in – they all agree that meaning making is really important for us.

If we can make meaning or recognize a meaning, find meaning in our life beyond our individual self and our experience of a moment, then we are more likely to recover from trauma. We are more likely to persevere through hard circumstances and we are more likely to have positive end of life experiences.

There’s a really cute case study by town that bought, like, you know, a hundred birds, four cats, three dogs, and then did a bunch of workshops for the people who were there. It was a hospice center where they were each gifted a plant and taught to care for it. And the people who funded the research initially were like, y’all are nuts. But, maybe not surprisingly, what they discovered over time was that the people in the hospice center perked up, became more engaged, showed some improvements in their health, like they were walking more, or people who had been non-verbal, speaking to their birds. Some cool stuff.

So it is, whether you want to say that we are born with some kind of purpose, track like that whole philosophical argument, that aside – us perceiving that we have a sense of purpose, does good things for us and so does good things for children.

[00:11:34.990] – Abby

Other assumption: passions, that passions are important.  That purpose and having something we’re dedicated to and excited for is positive. I just told you, I’ll send you the resources on that one. The other part of this is that delight and joy and pleasure have value.

Which isn’t something we usually talk about in education settings but if you’re familiar with Audre Lorde’s work, or bell hooks, or adrienne maree brown, you’ve probably thought about how what makes life worth living is not SAT prep.

So that’s that part. Oh, and then choices.

Sometimes in trainings, people will be like, well, not everyone can make choices. And while I get that concern, there’s often a communication barrier, right? Just because a toddler can’t tell us what they would like to have for dinner doesn’t mean that they don’t have preferences. Just because somebody has a disability where they can’t verbally communicate or write – you know, the communication is the the barrier here. People – and I’ve confirmed this with friends who work in all different kinds of mental health settings – people can self determine to varying extents. And it’s the job of a facilitator to keep them safe. Right? Help them have good days, help them have a sense of dignity, and to get creative in letting them and supporting them in self determining to the greatest extent possible.

[00:13:44.130] – Abby

So what does this look like – letting people make their own choices?

In our local community, we rent a small space (in non-pandemic times) on the second floor of a church building in upper Manhattan, and there’s twenty or five-thirty of us bouncing around there. And so letting people make their own choices doesn’t mean everyone does whatever they want all the time because we’re trying to not get evicted. If we burn the building down, then nobody has a school. And the other nonprofits we share it with can’t keep doing the good work they do to make sure people have housing and food. And we also have kids with varying allergies – like nut allergies, are a big thing in our space – so we do a lot of work meeting as a community and talking about “How do we let people self-determine as much as possible and keep everybody safe?”

So if you really want to have that peanut butter sandwich, or you really want to do a fire experiment today, how are, how can we work to make that happen for you, without harming anyone else, or putting the broader community at risk? And there are times where the answer has to be “we can’t.” But in more conventional education settings, there’s kind of a gut [reaction]: “that’s an absurd idea, no, we couldn’t possibly with our constraints.”


[00:15:27.840] – Abby

And one of the fun things for me about being in an Agile Learning Center is, if the kids who have been studying bomb diffusing because they played a video game where they had to do that, and then they met somebody who used to work as a bomb tech, and so he started teaching them, and now they want to build a fake one and practice… Definitely not a thing we can do in New York City. And kind of a scary thing to think about, really. But I get to say to them, “If you can fundraise for us to take a field trip outside the city somewhere and you can get our bomb tech friend to come in and help, we can do that.”

How do we take your desire and our constraints and find a way where this all works? It’s a different game, but it’s a fun game.

[00:16:28.300] – Spence

I was reminded of an experience I witnessed – there was a facilitator working with the learner on a DC current device, that measures DC current. They’re playing with, I think, a drone and showing how this DC current works. And then the facilitator and the learner went outside to go play with the drone. And then they came back in, and another learner’s like, “Hey, I fixed this drone that was broken.”

And the facilitator’s like, “How did you figure that out?”

He’s like, “Oh, I saw you showing this other learner how to use this DC current thing. And I tried it out on this broken drone and I noticed that the circuit wasn’t working. So I fixed it.”

And [the facilitator] was just surprised that, “Wow, it’s not always about ‘I have to sit down with someone else specifically, tutor them.’ They can just witness me with someone else and it can just sort of happen organically.”

[00:17:26.470] – Abby

Ok, next root. The next one, is that – shocking – we learn from what we experience, so the medium is the message.

And in non-pandemic times, when I get to this part of this module, we will do an exercise about the format of conventional school, and we’ll talk about the hidden curriculum. What are the lessons in a teacher standing at the front and kids sitting in rows, separated by age, expected to be silent and listen to the teacher and told helping a friend is cheating and no, you can’t go to the bathroom until I, the teacher, say so…? We get into all that kind of stuff, and it’s super interesting.

[00:18:24.430] – Abby

In pandemic times, this has been really present for me, because I’ve been doing a lot of communication with parents about the flip side of the “learning is happening all the time” and “the medium is the message.” In relationship to a conventional school context, taking these ideas about learning lets you open up possibility, and value a broader diversity of paths and activities and intelligences, and it gets really rich and exciting.

The other thing about it is that it’s important to be mindful of these in pandemic times, especially as adults engaging with children, because it’s a reminder that what they’re experiencing in their relationship to us, and through us, and in our shared living spaces, is all stuff they’re learning from. And so it’s important to be mindful of what we’re teaching. If we’re watching the same catastrophic news loop over and over again while they’re in the room. If we’re panicking or repressing our fear or anger.

They’re seeing what we’re doing, they’re noticing how we take in information about the world and then respond to it. And that’s where they’re getting their ideas about whether they’re safe, whether their relationship to us is a safe place, whether their feelings are OK, ways to cope with their feelings, all of that stuff. And so in this particular moment, the medium is the message has been a really interesting kind of adventure.

[00:20:32.430] – Abby

I’m not taking attendance right now for our school because we’ve moved everything online. And I’ve been very clear with parents – I’m not sending home packets of work and calling people and being like, “why doesn’t your kid check in every week?”

The thing I’m sending home several times a week is: “It’s lovely when we see you. I hope you’re safe and well. If not, here’s how to reach us. Hey, I care about you. Here are resources, take what’s helpful and leave the rest.” But, it’s all about the mental and emotional and physical well-being of the family systems these kids are enmeshed in. Because that’s the thing that they’re going to take from this experience much more than whatever we cover in a in a virtual class.

And – I say that that’s extra present for me right now – it indirectly is something we focus on a lot at facilitator trainings. It’s this idea that how I am and how I show up in in relationship to the kids in the community is as loud as whatever I’m, you know, whatever book that I’m talking about, or if we’re doing a — I don’t really teach any offerings right now, but like… in those settings, the kid is noticing whether I’m encouraging them to try a different tool, whether I trust them to like, you know, peace out and go get lunch because they’re feeling hungry.

And they also notice stuff that sometimes as new, facilitators, we don’t realize we’re putting out, and so if we’re carrying in – into our relationship with the kids – unhealthy self talk, or a way of relating to conflict, or shame about whatever that we picked up in our growing up and we haven’t reckoned with yet, that’s what we’re going to like… we have to recognize that we’re going to pass that on to the kids and they’re going to pick it up and copy it. And so it becomes important to be proactively deschooling ourselves, and doing the work to take care of ourselves, so we can show up in right relationship with with them and be healthy.

[00:23:19.620] – Abby

OK, last one. We experience growth in cycles through intention, exploration, reflection and sharing.

If you have done any kind of research on pathways to learning, learning stages, that kind of stuff, you’ll know that there’s a bunch of different versions of this. They’re all slightly different. Most of them are valid in various ways.

The key pieces of this one are the inclusion of intention. And that’s got to do the idea that the kids are learning all the time in our information age, we need to focus on empowering them to decide what they want, value their desires – right? – and then figure out how to move towards that, how to set an intention, set a goal, steer their journey, filter out the noise.

That’s the biggest, interestingly, one of the biggest skills that they need in this day and age: how do you filter out the noise of your 80 different app notifications and finish kneading your sourdough bread? Or whatever you’re doing.

[00:24:50.380] – Abby

Also key in here is reflection – the inclusion of a reflection – a phase where the whole point is to pause. Default culture, conventional schooling has this “go, go, go, do all the things, go, go, go, produce, produce, produce.” And there not only isn’t often time built in to pause and reflect and integrate your learnings from that reflection and past experience; it’s sometimes actively discouraged, right? People try to shame each other for taking a rest. Often we’ve internalized that from regular school and do it to ourselves really more than people outside are doing it to us, but either way.

We value taking a pause, taking a break, reflecting. Because, otherwise, you’re going to do your 13 year sprint or whatever it is, and look up and not not have learned as much as you could have and also maybe end up someplace totally different than where you were trying to get to. So we regularly build reflection into our our weekly rhythms, our daily rhythms, our cycles.

The other thing we have here that most other learning models won’t have is sharing. And so we’re explicit about community and about recognizing that it’s in relationship that we exist [laughs] and grow and learn and have power, can offer things to each other, can change the world. That our reality is an inner subjective one that we build together.

And if you are not super familiar with ALCs, but you know something about the self-directed education world, you might know that there’s a little bit of tension in the self-directed education world between people who think self directed education is my individual child, with the solution that they’re not in relationship to influencing, being influenced by others around them. And then there’s us being explicitly collaborative.

[00:27:44.940] – Antonio

There’s a lot of progressive schools or alternative schools that aren’t self directed, who have a big emphasis on sharing, but their method of sharing is forcing the kids to perform, like at the end of a unit, where they’re doing some sort of public demonstration. And it’s difficult sometimes having conversations with parents who are looking at schools such as… they might have seen High Tech High, in the way they have their end of the year presentation, or Acton Academies, that have these public demonstrations where they force their kids to perform. And I was just — I just wanted to raise that, sometimes sharing can be coercive and also just sort of open it up to people’s experiences with addressing that concern from parents.

[00:28:51.720] – Abby

Yeah, thank you. Maybe I should have put that in the definitions. Because is it sharing if it’s coercive? If you force me to present or perform for the consumption of other beings, that’s very different than my asking if you want half of this chocolate cake, right? In sharing, as in all of the rest of this, consent and self determination are really important for us.

If your education is the journey of your life and experiencing and growth and development, I mean there… one could do that for the consumption of others, explicitly. But to get back to that: do you have a sense of meaning and purpose? Are you fulfilled at the end of your days? Do you want to spend your whole life living for other people’s consumption? I mean, I guess people could. Yeah, thank you.

[00:30:18.890] – Abby

I have two more points on this one. The first is – and I work mostly with older kids now, so this doesn’t come up quite as much, but – regularly practicing intention setting and reflection and sharing, communication with other people, taking a thing I know, synthesizing it, offering it to somebody else, getting feedback on whether they’re clear or not, and iterating: that practice builds executive function, which is a malleable skill set and one that contributes to resilience and satisfaction.

Q&A Section Begins
[00:31:08.010] – Question

[Wait. You didn’t say this tool or that tool is THE answer…?]

[00:31:22.190] – Abby

Tools. Tools are not as important. They’re not sacred. They’re tools. You know, if you find one that works for you, awesome. If you find one and you’re like, this would work better for me if I break it a little bit this way and add a thing over here, great, excellent. If it’s not working and you want to throw it out, excellent. Do that too. It’s going to be different for everybody.

[00:32:04.670] – Question

[If you don’t make kids take, for example, chemistry, how do you make sure they get exposed to topics beyond their norm that maybe they’d discover they really like?]

[00:32:04.670] – Abby

Well, it’s funny when that question comes up at trainings, because I’m in the middle of Manhattan, right? So I’m in New York City, but even if you’re not, it’s 2020. We’re in the information age. There is the whole Internet. You know, there is more content available, there are more people and forces trying to influence kids and put different ideas in their paths than ever before in the history of our species. And no one of us is going to – or would be healthy if we could even – be exposed to and learn the whole Internet. Like, that’s terrifying.

Well, and that ties into my last note on this root, which is that recognizing that learning – here, we say it happens in cycles and sometimes people will picture a really tidy something like a spring or a slinky, and maybe that works. But the exciting thing here is that if growth is non-linear, then there’s lots of space for mess and for chaos. And I can look at a room where there’s slime ingredients everywhere and see it through eyes that are excited about the potential in it, rather than being like, “Ugh, I thought they were over this potions making sensory exploration thing.” And it allows for more patience, diversity of paths, interdisciplinary learning, all that good stuff.

[00:34:03.720] – Question

[What if the kids tell you they’re going to do something then lose interest?]

[00:34:03.720] – Abby

Yeah, this came up on the facilitator slack recently. There was somebody who had a group of kids commit to doing a contest and then right before, like their big presentation, a bunch of them got nervous. There was other stuff going on, but they got nervous, essentially, and were like, “Oh, we don’t want to do this anymore.”

And it’s hard because there isn’t a rule of like when to, you know, step in and manage more for them and when to be like, “Well, if you want this or not that’s on you.”

You, as a facilitator in relationship – authentic relationship – with that child, will have a sense of what they’re capable of, what support they need. Is this, sincerely, that they’re not interested anymore? They’ve picked up this other new interest and they’re trying to jump into that and you should support them. Or is there something else going on?

The nice thing about working on a facilitation team – like there’s four of us in my space – is even if I’m not sure about a kid, I can check with other facilitators and we can decide, together, what we think is going on. We can also just talk to the kids, obviously.

[00:35:37.390] – Abby

And there definitely have been moments where I’ve set up, like, weekly check-ins. I’ve got a kid I’m coaching through graduation right now and we’ve got weekly check-in calls separate from his official ones because within our relationship, I can see that that’s something that he — that’s helpful for him, that he needs.

And there also have been times – there’s a bunch of times – where a kid will say they want to take a field trip to — oh there’s some house on a rock museum out in the Midwest? It’s… far from us. And I had a kid who put a bunch of work into planning how we were going to get there and calculating costs and all this stuff. And then when it came time to fundraise, he just dropped it, wasn’t interested anymore. And as an adult, maybe, if you get emotionally invested in the end product, if you get attached to this exploration leading to a specific outcome, then it can be hard to be like, “OK, I guess I guess we’re not doing that. I guess they don’t want it.” But if you’re following the kid and more curious about the journey than attached to a specific outcome, it’s easier to be like, “Oh, so this child has learned that transportation takes money, which doesn’t materialize out of nowhere. And they know that I’m here to support them in fundraising, if and when they do decide they want to do that.”

And I have had kids, like, circle back two or three years after having an idea and be like, “Hey, we had talked about this thing, like — would you still be up for that if I wanted to do it?” They’ll surprise you if you leave them space.

[00:37:51.260] – Abby

Which was my last note on this root is that also shows up in conflict mediation with really little kids. Sometimes it’ll look to the adult like they’re fighting about a specific toy, but if you do the mediation in a way that is about kind of holding space for them to work out how to get to a place where people are getting their needs met, and feel good… I’ve had kids before, I’d be like, “Oh, we actually would like to go invite this other person to go get a snack with us.” And it has nothing to do, seemingly, with the original conflict, right? But you trust them to make their choice, and you’re there to keep the consequences from being dangerous. But you let it go when they do their thing.

[00:38:57.610] – Question

[What do you do when a kid doesn’t follow through on intentions they’ve set?]

[00:38:57.610] – Abby

Totally. I sometimes am responsible for an Aries teenager who shows up super enthusiastic about her 80 projects and all the things she wants to do. And she’s been a really good teacher for me in that regard.

Because sometimes we set intentions and we’re like, “Oh, I want to do that thing.” And what’s actually going on is we like the idea of that, or we like the idea of being able to do it, or having done it, or whatever. But we haven’t reckoned with, like, “do I want that enough to do the work?” You know, it’d be nice if I spoke Spanish better. Like, do I want to speak Spanish better? Am I intending to learn in a way where there’s enough desire there that I’m going to follow through?

If a kid’s posting an intention, and I’m noticing that they repeatedly aren’t following through with it, I’m going to check in with them and try to figure out, is that what’s up? Is this really a thing that they want? Sometimes it’s not, right? Sometimes they try it on a desire and they aren’t into it and that’s learning, so that’s a success. Now we know more. Cool.

Sometimes it’s that a parent is forcing them to declare that, record that as their intention that day, and that’s a trickier one to navigate.

[00:40:42.360] – Abby

And sometimes it’s that the kid does really want the thing, but there’s some kind of obstacle. And so in, in that case, in checking in with them, we would then explore together and try to figure out, “What are our obstacles?”

Is it that my response to the pandemic is to have trouble focusing? And so maybe this isn’t the moment. Or, is it that I’ve been trying to read, but maybe I am having trouble sitting still, so I need to look at audiobooks? Or, is it that I’ve got 80 projects and I need to pick the two that I’m focusing on this week and we’ll check in on them on Friday. Which is my kid doing the graduation project – that ended up being what he needed. And so, there’s a collaborative aspect of it and a recognition that, the vast majority of the time, them completing their intention, is in service of them learning how to learn. And learning about what they’re interested in learning. So even deciding that I’m going to take this intention off my list, that I don’t actually want that, that’s still productive.

[00:42:12.760] – Question

[Is there space in self-directed education for people to still be teachers to one another?]

[00:42:12.760] – Abby

There’s an interview with adrienne maree brown, the same one, and she talks about the absence of hierarchy, and as a facilitator, on the one hand trying to get rid of hierarchies that don’t make sense. And also if – she was talking about her mentor, Grace Lee Boggs, – and she’s like, “if my teacher is there and she’s 90, obviously I’m weighting her words according to that. And it’s better for us both if I do.”

[00:42:51.980] – Question

[And you don’t worry about measuring their learning or the value of their free play?]

[00:42:51.980] – Antonio

One thing that we use when we’re talking to families, trying to talk about what our space is, we always use the word “a space where they’re free from judgment, ridicule or assessment.”

[00:43:05.080] – Abby

There are people who talk about reflection and sharing, as Antonio said, and they’re focused on forcing performance or documentation. That’s not our goal at all. I mean, if I trust that they’re learning, including when it looks messy, then I’m more likely to leave space and let them play. Which is what they need, right?

[00:43:29.370] – Title Card

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