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ALF Weekend Fall 2015 Debrief

Starting last Thursday—October  8th, 2015—a number of ALFs embarked on a zany adventure to get a bunch of work stuff done. This post is the second of two posts about ALF Weekend, read about the organization of the weekend here on my blog. I will cover what we did over the long weekend in the text that follows. This post’s intended audience is Agile Learning Facilitators.

ALF Membrane

Understanding and defining the ALF membrane has been going on since last fall, as you can see from @nancy’s followup post after the first fall’s ALF Weekend:

We created a diagram of membranes that newcomers pass through as they come in contact with our network – mapping a path for those who have never heard of us –> to newcomers –> to participants –> supporters (including volunteers) –> stakeholders (including parents, interns, staff).  We have started documentation on this, but need to fine-tune and add more to the diagram as a part of our growing compilation of ALF Network Resources.

— October 13, 2014 on @nancy’s blog

On the Thursday morning session a number of ALFs collaborated on expanding on this work and discussions that were had over ALF Summer. You can see notes from the ALF Summer session on this spreadsheet. Over the summer we came up with some working titles for the different levels based around the metaphor of baking.

  • Egg
  • Kneaded
  • Baked
  • Holder
  • Muffin Tin
  • Lil’ Debbie

These names began to take on a life of their own, lucky we had @alex to share his voice:

These names, when translated to Spanish, might lose the essence and meaning of what they are trying to represent.

— July 29 comment on a CMB card by Alex

It was clear that our fun little names would have to change. The Thursday group landed on:

  • Novice/Declared ALF
  • Apprentice/Rising ALF
  • Agile Learning Facilitator
  • Holder
  • Multiple Holder
  • Network Holder

These have been submitted as a proposal to the Community Mastery Board and will probably discussed at the next Change Up Meeting on Oct 26th.

Next step: You can add your comments on the card, found here.

Peer Review Process

After tackling membranes the ALFs moved on to peer review process, or the process that acts to move AFLs from one level of trust to another. Two main points were discussed:

  1. Peer Review for areas of competency beyond Kneaded/Baked
  2. Virtual Peer Review

The former has to do with figuring out what to “test” for when moving ALFs to the Holder, Multi-Holder, and Network Holder distinctions. This discussion didn’t really get very far and ended with the next step of defining a rubric for each membrane that will be used in the peer review process.

Virtual Peer Review didn’t require too much time either, who ever wants to be reviewed gathers the 4+ people and facilitates a virtual meeting.

Next steps: Both of these topics require documentation, who will do it? Maybe you?


Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 8.59.10 PMThe ALC Lexicon was a very popular project over the weekend. It started as a blog post by @abbyo and was later added to the Network’s Google Drive Folder. Within the past few days it’s grown to encomaps many of the weird things we say to each other. You can find an embedded version with links on the ALF newbie guide.

I’ve created a short link to the published doc: agilelearningcenters.org/lexicon

ALF Accountabilities

Friday morning saw a group of people working on @bear’s document ALC Domains and Responsibilities. In an effort to better understand where people are putting their energy. The current spreadsheet shows communication channels, areas of work (domains), and current projects within those domains.

It prompted blog posts from @ryanshollenberger (see post here), @abbyo (see post here) and me to describe what they do in the network. They both invite other ALFs to blog about what the do with the tag “alfaccountability”. It also inspired me creating a visual outlining network communication.

Next Step: Write about what you do (see ryan’s post for a prompt) and tag it alfaccountability.

This conversation came from an exercise we did at last year where each person shared the following:

  • What they do
  • What gives them juice
  • What they want to do
  • What actions will be taken to achieve the above?

Which was followed up by the whole group filling in the blanks for them. I was there and it was a powerful experience. I wish we could have done the same this over this ALF weekend but it never materialized, maybe next time?

More information can be found on this Trello card.

Virtual Culture Committee process

This conversation focused on two areas. The first being about offering a space for students to ask the network for support when their conflicts are too big or unwieldily for their community. You can read notes from that discussion on the ALF Weekend Notes document.

@ryanshollenberger agreed to hold coherence around this topic and to create the culture committee working group that fields submissions to the virtual culture committee request form (thanks @abbyo for putting together this form). A working group card has been created on the CMB and is up for discussion.

The other focus was on inter-ALF culture committee functionality. @bear wrote out a simple process that is currently up on the CMB titled ALF Culture Committee Process.

Next Steps: Leave your comments on the ALC CC process card and email [email protected] if you want to work with @ryanshollenberger on the culture committee process.

Communication Channels, Slack

Slack is a service that creates chatrooms, its where many of the Network Holder type people have been collaborating recently. We’ve been trying it out and after a Saturday discussion between @liam and myself we are ready to put forward a proposal for how to use and integrate Slack into our communication infrastructure.

Next Steps: You can view the proposal and comment on it here.

We’ve outlined suggested naming conventions for channels along with suggestions around the kind of communication that Slack should be used for.

Discussion on XQ school project

There is a murmurs around a project grant that ALC could very well win called the XQ School Project.

XQ: The Super School Project is a national movement to reimagine high school. In the last hundred years, America has gone from a Model T to a Tesla and from a switchboard to a smartphone, but our public high schools have stayed frozen in time. We believe American ingenuity can and must move education forward. This is a challenge, open to all, to build the Super Schools that will lead the way.

— xqsuperschool.org

A group of ALFs discussed the idea of using this as an opportunity to write a grant application and get more firm on what ALC’s Network vision and goals are. The conversation quickly went towards getting more clear on the ALC Network vision where new ALF @sarataleff offered to hold coherence for creating a process to gather information about everyone’s thoughts on this and work that into a collective vision.

Next Steps: A Trello card has been added to the Network Growth board, see it here and add to the conversation.

Next Steps

Dance Workshop at ALC Summer Camp

As part of the ALF Summer training this year at ALC Mosaic, I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop centered on spontaneous creativity and expression through dance and movement. This offering was inspired by the Community-based Contemporary Dance Workshop, led by youth leaders from CAUCE (the Center for Urban Community and Entrepreneurial Action of Rio Piedras, …

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Juegos finitos VS. Juegos infinitos

Cuando los niños juegan, o mejor dicho cuando las personas juegan, existen dos posibilidades: los juegos finitos y los infinitos. Los juegos finitos son juegos que tienen reglas y posibilidades preestablecidas y tienen un final. Son jugados con el propósito de ganar, de obtener un objetivo, y cuando este es logrado el juego termina. Juegos finitos: Las reglas no …

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Author: Bear

I have experienced it.

alone in the world with an on-fire knowing at the core of my being.

a knowing that says, in love, and clearly, “no.”

and choosing to honor that “no.” it takes tremendous courage to say: “my heart will no longer abide my continuance on this path.” when I do not know how to walk a new path. when I cannot see a new path. when I don’t know how to forge one. when I have no one there to walk with me.

and I step. knowing only that I must.



and I stand alone there, in the unknown.
foreign, but alive.
lonely, but familiar.

I find myself there. alone. in love.

and then, after a time,

I learn how to forge a path,

and then, after a time,

I find a cool stream to drink,

and then, after a time,

I find signs that others had walked this way before me,

and then, after a time,

I find a tool and I move more easily,

and then, after a time,

I find the path, already cleared,

and then, after a time,

I find a friend,

and then, after a time,

I find a clearing.

In the clearing I find my family, waiting for me.

they find me, finding myself,

in love.



and our hearts beating in love, we walk back into the thickest of the unknown, when we cannot see the new path. when we don’t know how to forge one. knowing, together, that we will find ourselves, there, in love.

ALF Summer: Designing a New Education System

by Tomis Parker

I spend a good bit of my time handling backend administrative logistics for the ALC in NYC and ALC Mosaic in Charlotte, NC. Though there’s a sizable amount of mundane tasks involved in this work, it is exciting to be learning so much about managing a nonprofit business. I’m getting to implement people-centered, agile methodologies across two organizations while employing a lot of my strengths like rational thinking, strategic planning, interpersonal dynamics/communication, and a little bit of math.

Administrative work, managing an organization, and routinely cleaning toilet seats that young boys struggle not to piss all over is absolutely necessary work to maintain the forward progress we have generated thus far. This has been my piece in supporting two of the current ALC communities that we already have up and running.

When I’m not doing this work, I’m usually thinking about ALF Summer, or talking to someone who is interested in attending. I’m stoked on ALF Summer because I see how it encompasses so many things that are essential in our efforts to design a new, relevant, and generative education system. Plus it is just a ton of fun!

ALF Summer 14
ALF Summer 14

From the website:

“ALF Summer is a four-week immersive experience that serves as a co-creative training and incubator for the Agile Learning Centers network.

ALC coherence holders and experienced facilitators come together with parents, new facilitators, and startup groups to support the continuous improvement of our work, the ALC model, and the next stage of ALC network growth.”

That’s the most succinct way we could describe it. This blog is an extrapolation of sorts.

ALF Summer accomplishes many, many things for the ALC project and for the individuals who participate — I see it as absolutely necessary in our work to build a new education system based on collaboration.

Last July we piloted the concept with great success. We were able to bring all of the momentum from that first year to birth a living network of ALCs and a connected facilitator community. For three weeks we created our own Agile Learning Center, where we acted as both the teachers and the students — sharing ideas, using and evolving tools, and generating significant results. We even squeezed a peer-review and self-assessment practice in during the final week. This next ALF Summer will be a month long because we saw how valuable another week would be to the process.

A lot of people are reaching out with interest in the ALC model and in attending ALF Summer. Most of them are pointing to the difficulty in making time for a four-week program. I totally understand this, as rearranging your life to be able to spend a month away from home, friends, family, and other responsibilities is no easy feat. Because I’ve heard from so many people who are thirsty for more but can’t make this investment, I’m motivated to start planning an ALC Conference for 2016. But that’s another topic, another project.

ALF Summer is an investment and a significant one at that. No doubt about it and there’s really no other way around it — it has to be. There’s so many theories, pedagogies, curriculums, teaching aids, tools and strategies out there already, but a relevant education system isn’t going to magically emerge from implementing a few new (or more realistically, old) tricks.


So why is a four-week intensive necessary and what does it accomplish?

When I first moved to New York City in 2009 to begin working in a self-directed learning community, I was excited, fascinated, and naive — pretty much everything you would expect. My job title was officially known as “staff member”, and though it wasn’t explicit it was implicitly known that my responsibility was to work with the students.

Well, what does that look like? What does “teaching” or being an adult in a self-directed learning environment actually entail? Did anyone know? Not really.

Over the next few years I was able to meet a lot of other people from around the world working in similar independent schools who were also pretty unclear about what the they were supposed to be doing, or what it looked like to be an effective and powerful adult in this kind of learning environment. This makes total sense since it is extremely rare for the adults doing this work to have experienced growing up in a self-directed learning community; there’s been very little modeling of how this works.

How do you create and maintain a healthy and effective culture of self-direction, passion-driven learning, and personal responsibility for kids? It wasn’t until I participated in Emerging Leader Labs that I fully realized the answer to that question. You have to do it yourself, first.


Relevant training for new facilitators looking to work directly with children in a self-directed learning community.

Those who come to ALF Summer because they want to work with kids in an ALC are getting the only kind of training there is for that. It’s learning by doing. Whatever we want our schools to look like for our students we have to be able to generate for ourselves. “Training” in this context means embodying the cultural distinctions that we hold sacred, engaging directly with tools and practices that support an intentional culture, and experiencing yourself as an autonomous, collaborative, and generative learner.*

*Once you stop consuming curriculum nostrums and pushing them onto children, you have to fill that void with something positive. Who you are — defined mostly by what you do — becomes what you teach. We don’t want kids to just consume content, material, and resources anymore. We want them to act powerfully in awareness of themselves towards a happy, healthy, and engaged life. We want them to be generative for themselves and their community. Being a “teacher” in a self-directed learning community means producing tangible fruit from your work — shareable value.


An opportunity for current facilitators to share the value of their experiences.

ALF Summer is all about sharpening our collaboration skills and learning to share the value of our time, work, and experiences with others. Part of training new facilitators means having active and experienced facilitators share what they’ve learned from doing the work directly.

What’s possible if the people learning how to do this work were actually sharing their insights with the next wave wanting to learn? I have seen so many passionate people in the alternative education world tirelessly reinventing the wheel because there’s no opportunity to learn deeply from others.


Filling the gaps in our skill sets, casting the net wide, and maintaining coherence.

Running a business and managing an organization of interconnected relationships is a whole other part of this game — a part that is often overlooked by those starting a school who are primarily motivated by their passion to work with children. Many of the self-directed learning startups I’ve seen or read about have emerged from subcultures that usually don’t associate with the business world and don’t have much practice with entrepreneurialism.

I’m excited about seeing this shift lately, as this is an intention of the ALC project — to bring together any and all subcultures and lifestyle genres that have shared beliefs regarding the way humans learn, work, and play best. The hippies need to upgrade their tools, and learn about effective organizational management and financial sustainability from the business world. The yuppies need to slow down, and learn about the inherent value of every human and systemic inequality from the social activists. (That’s just one example of this idea contextualized to my personal reference points.)

All across the board we need to do more listening and begin looking for the places in which we have similar goals. Last summer we drafted our “Agile Roots” as a way of building an inclusive and clear foundation for the ALC project — the coherence in which we currently operate within. Because a theory of education cannot exist in isolation, we are looking to play and partner with people from any subculture that is committed to operating from these assumptions:

  • Learning is natural. It’s happening all the time.
  • People learn better when they make their own decisions. Children are people.
  • People learn more from the culture and environment they are immersed in than from the material they are taught.
  • People develop their strengths and sense of purpose through cycles of intention, creation, reflection, and sharing.



A practice in true collaboration

Working together in this collaborative context is not just important to kickstart a project like this, it is absolutely necessary to maintain as a consistent practice. An Agile principle that I hold dear is, “people over process”, meaning you should always make sure your process is serving the people, rather than the other way around. (A pull-based approach, rather than a push-based.) Still, you’re always balancing people dynamics since it is impossible to serve everyone within a single organization of purpose and still maintain social coherence.

In an ALC we are iterating our agreements and cultural practices weekly. In the larger project we need to be iterating our tools, practices, and support structures every year. This is the only way to remain relevant and effective and not get stale or institutionalized.

Last summer many of us began as strangers and left connected and committed to continued growth and mutual support. Of course, that’s not always easy and usually there’s some bumps along the way. But that’s just it — there’s something so powerful about strengthening the connections between people who have set out to accomplish the same things before having ever met each other. It is at this intersection that autonomous collaboration can thrive.

The number of people who want to dedicate their life to redesigning (and living!) a new education system continues to grow, but we have to do something productive with all that action potential. So, what’s possible if we get together for more than a weekend of workshops and blah, blah, blah, and actually start inventing, creating, and doing it together?



This article was originally posted on Tomis Parker’s ALC blog, here.