I have a confession: when I talk about the fourth Agile root, I often forget about sharing. “Growth happens in cycles of intention, action, reflection and sharing.” I’ve always had the hardest time with sharing, which I know is part of my deschooling. This year, I’m committed to examining that – and doing it publicly, as a meta-process.
I was thinking about it yesterday at ice skating, when I was watching Saylor and Savannah teach strangers to skate. Saylor has been skating for a few years now, but one of the first things she said when she got on the ice yesterday was “I forgot how to do this.” And Savannah skated for the first time ever just last month. She went from not being able to make it around the rink without falling down a dozen times, to holding hands with a stranger and encouraging them to lean on her, to keep going, to try what she’s doing. And as I watched them I was thinking, “well that’s definitely sharing.”
I’m sharing this today because I’m realizing there’s lots of different levels of sharing – and the more high-stakes it feels, the more I struggle with the gifts of my schooling: procrastination and perfectionism. I just paused my writing to have a chat with Timo about the difficulty of teaching someone a skill (like writing or, in his case, programming) that requires the person to generate work from their own ideas before you can practice the skill. We talked about “blank page syndrome” and I’m realizing that, while I’ve got a bunch of tricks for tricking my brain out of blank page paralysis, (check out this post on Writing Time for some of them) I don’t often use them with work that I’m planning to share. My reflection practices are robust in writing, but my sharing is sparse. Usually, when conceiving writing I’m going to share here or elsewhere, I get stuck in the planning phase because I’m carrying that blank page around in my head and beating myself up over it before I’ve even begun.
I’m sharing this today because I’m trying to lower the stakes in 2019: to bring my reflection and sharing closer together, to publish shorter blog posts, to remember that sharing doesn’t have to be formal and that no one is judging me. Each of us get hung up on different stages of growth and this is it for me; I am excited to grow even as I am apprehensive of being vulnerable. There is no such thing as perfect work. There is only us, growing together.
Writing Time is a space that I hold. Writing Time is an hour a week (Wednesday mornings at 10 AM) where I am committed to writing. The most important part about Writing Time is that it’s low-stakes; this is an open invitation to my self and members of my community to engage with our writing.
If no one else shows up, I use an hour for my own writing; I draft these blog posts, or work on my zine, or tend emails, or finally get back to those slack messages I’ve been meaning to return (this post was inspired by an exchange I had with Dawn Leonard at an ALC in Florida – she asked me what writing time looks like and I wrote back to her one morning in December when the kids were all busy working without me. Thanks Dawn!). I relate to my role as a facilitator as both a model and a support – I think there’s something really important about showing up for your own offering, ready to write, and willing to do it alone if no kids show up. I love this time, and managed to capture some of the sweet feeling in this post.
When kids join me (which is more often than not) I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve. The first is a 10-minute free write, which is a practice that I learned from my poetry mentor Scott Hightower. These are the rules: I’m going to set a timer for 10 minutes. We will all write for the whole time – if you run out of things to say, write the word “the” until your next thought comes to you. I don’t care about your spelling, I don’t care about your grammar. Write about whatever you want. I prefer to write by hand, but you can type if that’s more comfortable. At the end of 10 minutes, the timer will go off and then we will all read what we wrote. Ready? Here we go. (Here’s any awesome blog post by Beth about free write, written during free write).
Another tool I love is the prompt box. It’s an old cigar box filled with little slips of paper that I’ve rolled up (there’s something enticing about this magical wrapper). They’re mostly story starts, like “I heard a crash from upstairs.” If a kid is stuck, or looking for something to free write about, or coming to writing time and unsure how to get started, I’ll suggest they pull something from the box. I also just leave it around for curious humans to find – you never know when someone needs a few words to kickstart the story in their head.
Sometimes Writing Time looks like a kid coming and pulling a prompt from the jar and the two of us writing a story together – her dictating to me because I type faster. Sometimes it looks like playing a collaborative word game – we really like one where we sit in a circle and go around telling a story one word at a time. Sometimes we make a recording of that storytelling circle and listen back to what we’ve told together, or transcribe that recording. Sometimes kids come with their own projects or intentions – I’ve got a teenager who’s practicing writing essays – and I support them in doing that. I deliberately keep it open; I really like to start with the question “What are you working on?”
In the end, most of the support that I offer is encouraging kids to be prolific, to start in a non-judgemental place and stay curious about what is taking shape under their hands. Having ideas about what you want to write is exciting, but ideas aren’t workable until they’re words on the page and you can play in them. And it’s hard to make time for that! So I hold writing time, and we make that time together.
I wrote a post back in the beginning of October about my weekly schedule here at ALC-NYC; now, at the halfway point of the year, it feels like a good time to check back in and see what’s changed and what’s stayed consistent.
Mondays still start with a protein-heavy breakfast, Set-the-Week, Spawn, and Acro, which remains one of my favorite offerings. In fact, I just passed the one-year Acro-versary, and I feel a deep gratitude to my last-year self, for accepting a kid’s invitation to playfully challenge myself. I’ve mastered my headstand over the course of these 12 months; now I’m working on my handstand (and I’m so close!).
The rest of Monday has changed a lot since October; for one, I’m not playing Pathfinders anymore. The crew – Iphy, Xander, Erez, Serena, Doug, and I – all started out really enthusiastic, but as the weeks wore on and we dealt with absences, general lack of focus, and a couple of key, in-character betrayals, we decided that we were more enthusiastic about creating our characters than we were about finishing the story we’d started. So, we decided to create NEW characters and start again, with a new DM… and then our DM was absent, or when she was present but they players hadn’t finished our character sheets, or someone was traveling and we decided to wait for them to get back before we started playing, or, or, or….
Sometimes this happens! Right now, I’m actively choosing not to shepherd the players back together. There’s a balance between supporting kids in following through on their commitments, and taking their autonomy away by deciding they must follow through on something. Because Pathfinders fell apart between games – after the group decided that the current dynamic wasn’t working for us, but before we’d settled into a new one – it doesn’t feel to me like a failure in follow-through. I’ve had reflective conversations with most of the players about this, but none of them have chosen to move back towards it; for now I’m waiting, and watching, to see if it will reemerge.
So, instead of Pathfinders, I’ve been spending my Monday afternoons running around playing Banana Slug Tag at Close Park (as we affectionately call the playground half-a-block away), followed by Werewolves!
Werewolves is a social-deductive game about a village beset by werewolves. The werewolves are trying to kill all the villagers during the night, while the villagers are trying to figure out the identities of and eliminate the werewolves during the day. A game requires at least 6 players and a Gamemaster, and takes about 30 minutes to play. There’s more nuance to it – some villagers have special powers, and some ALC humans have better poker faces than others – but that’s the general outline.
Many of the former Pathfinders players are part of the regular werewolves crew, which is interesting to me. It’s been a staple of ALC-NYC since I first arrived, but its popularity waxes and wanes. Right now, we’re playing a lot of werewolves – 2 games back-to-back most Monday afternoons, and 2-3 more games throughout the week – and I’ve been right in the thick of it. I even won a game this week as the Piper which, trust me, is extremely hard to do.
My Tuesdays, like my Mondays, start out the same as they did in October (with Magic School Bus – we’re on season 2 now) and end very differently; Cook n00b has returned! Nancy, our longest-serving volunteer and all-around delightful human, brings the supplies and we make a huge delicious mess in the back room. It’s a puzzle not just because of our many, sometimes conflicting, dietary restrictions, but because our space isn’t equipped with a real kitchen. We have a toaster oven, a hot plate, a griddle, a microwave, a grill (weather permitting), and a deep fryer (it was a gift). I appreciate the ingenuity our cooking situation inspires, the useful skill that is cobbling together a meal with what you have, considering all the needs of the humans you’re making it with. My favorite part, though, are the conversations we have while cooking and over the meal afterwards; it’s true in my life and in ALC-land too.
After cooking, I have free time; I’ll take a crew to the park for Banana Slug Tag (a delightfully chaotic version of freeze tag where everyone is it) or play a werewolves game or find a project. For a while, Timo and I were doing a grammar offering, but decided that we’d gotten everything that we needed from it, so we adjourned. Yesterday, I mentioned to a teen that I had a free half-hour and he replied, “Cool, do you want to talk about the death penalty?” Free time in ALC-land is always full of surprises…
Wednesdays begin with an hour of Writing Time, which is where I started this draft. For the first half of this semester I was hosting three half-hour long blocks of Writing Time, but I found that just as I started to get into the groove of it, the offering was over. I also found that it was easier for people to say “oh, I’ll come tomorrow,” and for tomorrow to never come. For more on Writing Time check out my recent “how I run it” post and this older “how it feels” one.
After this I’ll play another game of Werewolves (I told you, we’re on a kick) and then either join Board Game Time with Doug or maybe park trip, or crochet, or make some art – Wednesday afternoons are also unscheduled.
Thursdays are still field trip day; we’ve been Bouldering at the Cliffs in LIC consistently since October and some of the kids are getting really good! It’s also gotten cold enough to go ice skating again which, though the logistics of it are a bit trickier, remains one of my favorite things to do with kids. Both climbing and skating are about getting up when you fall down, trusting your body and your balance, about the stability you find in motion; topics we get to practice in ALC-land instead of just talking about them, like they do in conventional schools.
Like cooking, field trips always spawn interesting conversations; particularly the subway rides to-and-from our destination. The last time I went climbing, we got to talking about space on the subway platform and 8-year-old Demian asked “What keeps the universe spinning?” I’m still thinking about it.
Friday starts with Check-in and Change-up, our weekly culture-setting meetings. Over the week, we collect awarenesses on a board called the Community Mastery Board – anyone, at any time, can write an awareness on a sticky note and put it on the board for discussion. On Friday, we all gather together and read the stickies to check in (hence the name) about whatever’s on our collective mind. Check-in is mandatory, and our intention is to hold a space where all community members have the power to acknowledge the parts of our culture that are working and to shift the ones that aren’t. Several of our teens have been practicing facilitating this meeting, and it’s so exciting to hear them step into their voices.
We read out the awarenesses on sticky notes (which today included an announcement about an upcoming visiting week, a reflection that we’re not doing a good job cleaning after cooking, and a reminder that gator balls are expensive and if we keep ripping them we won’t have any left…) and write them on a different white board to make an agenda for Change-up; then we release anyone who isn’t interested in working through the agenda.
Most of the kids leave at this point, but we’ve had a really strong showing of culture-keepers, particularly among our teens, stay consistently for Change-up to talk through the awarenesses and make agreements based on them. Today, we made the agreement that committing to cooking means committing to cleaning up… we’re trying to practice keeping things simple in our agreement-making! There’s a lot more to say about these meetings, which are a cornerstone of ALC practices, but suffice to say they’re a dependable part of my weekly schedule.
After Check-in and Change-up I’m still doing portraits with Abby and Beth, and still loving it. Today, as I painted, I reflected that this time last year I wasn’t painting yet, hadn’t given myself permission. I often feel like working in the self-directed environment of ALC affords me the space to open the parts of myself that I closed in my own conventional schooling; art-making is one of those places. Here’s the finished portrait I started in October:
Post-Portraits is Anatomy and Physiology; Beth, Hugo, and I have been joined by Iphy, and we’ve switched form Crash Course to Kahn Academy for our content needs. Kahn is a lot more thorough, and their videos move at a slower pace so it’s much easier to take notes and retain information. It’s been really rad, and I’ve learned a lot (specifically about my circulatory system, because that’s the unit we just finished – did you know that, at any given time, 20% of your blood isn’t in your veins at all?).
After that is cleanup, then Focused Blogging, where I hold space in the office for anyone who needs a little more quiet to write. It often starts that way, at least….
Now that you’ve read all this, I must confess that this isn’t what my week feels like at all. 1500 words later I’ve captured the structure and none of the sense of it and this will just have to do. Three years in and I’m starting to feel comfortable sitting with the contradiction that documentation is necessary to track the spirals of growth and time, and that documentation is inevitably limited and imperfect. This is the impossibility of painting with broad brushstrokes a place where magic happens in the specifics. What can I say? This is just a schedule – time is another dimension.