week 7!

Can you all read the writing on my whiteboard mosaics? I’m aware my handwriting is not the clearest and this photo is kind of blurry…

We’re still talking about holding boundaries. Here’s some of my thoughts about it from this week…

Brooklyn Museum Trip 

We went to the Brooklyn Museum yesterday! It’s one of my favorite museums in New York in part because the Visual Archives area. I love how eclectic the collection there is and it’s so cool to see a random collection of lamps next to statues next to tea kettles next to chairs next to ivory carved miniatures…


Friday Gratitudes

I’m grateful for trees and the beautiful weather and the blue October sky and patience for working through things and my fellow ALFs and double-field-trip-weeks.

Holding Boundaries, Helping, and Bob Ross Sprouted! [the first six weeks]

Hold Your Boundaries!

The first 6 weeks are done! I spent some time this weekend reflecting on where we’re at right now, as a community, and the biggest challenge I see people grappling with is holding boundaries. What do I mean by that?

What is a boundary?

A boundary is a limit. Knowing your boundaries means that you know the limits of the things that make you comfortable. When you start to feel uncomfortable, anxious, or stressed, in an interaction with another person, they have probably crossed one of your boundaries. I like the suggestions in this article for figuring out where your boundaries are.

What happens when you don’t hold your boundaries?

The most immediate consequence of not holding your boundaries is unhappy, upset, or resentful feelings. The secondary consequence is insecure or frustrating relationships with others. Both lead to the breakdown of trust and feeling of security that are necessary for our community to thrive.

If you don’t set firm boundaries, don’t articulate where your boundaries are, or you let people cross your boundaries without consequence you will probably feel angry, frustrated, or resentful. Resentful is when you let a frustrated or angry feeling build up inside you until you feel ready to burst with it! Recently, I let this happen to me with a person that I love. The result was that my resentment built up and built up and built up until I couldn’t deal with it anymore, and we got into a big fight where we were yelling and screaming at each other on the street. It was awful, and I still feel bad thinking about it.

If you don’t tell people your boundaries, the consequence is that they won’t know that they’re making you uncomfortable and will probably continue to do the thing that is making you uncomfortable! If you tell someone your boundary but don’t reinforce your boundary when they continue to break/push it, the consequence is that you’re sending that person mixed signals about your boundaries – they will probably feel confused about where your boundaries are and continue to break/push them and make you feel uncomfortable and start the cycle all over again.

But I don’t want to be mean!

The number one reason I hear people at school give for not holding boundaries is fear of being mean or upsetting someone. It’s true that sometimes, holding your boundaries can make other people unhappy or even angry.

Here’s the thing: if you don’t articulate your boundaries then you are resigning yourself to being the one who is unhappy or angry. You allow the threat of other people’s feelings to rule your life. You won’t feel safe or secure in your relationships. By not articulating your boundary, you aren’t giving the other person a chance to change the behavior that is upsetting you, but you are guaranteeing that they will continue to do the thing that is making you uncomfortable!

Often, it’s not enough to just set a boundary – you have to hold it. If you tell someone your boundary but don’t reinforce it every time someone pushes or breaks it, you’re sending that person mixed signals about your boundaries. They will probably feel confused about where your boundaries really are (they’re not in your head, after all, and need your feedback to know how you’re feeling) and will continue to break/push them and make you feel uncomfortable and start the cycle all over again.

Setting a boundary is not being mean. Setting a boundary is clarifying what you need to be in relationship with another person. Setting a boundary is showing others how to be kind to your self.

Holding boundaries can look like…

…saying “Stop” or “Stop rule” when someone is doing a thing that makes you uncomfortable, and explaining to them what you need them to stop: “Stop rule on following me, I need some space right now.”

…articulating “if…then…” statements to illustrate where your boundary is, and how you plan on reacting if it is crossed: “If you keep ignoring my stop rule, then I won’t play with you anymore.”

…explaining your boundaries before you start a game so that other players know how you want to play: “Let’s play dodgeball, no headshots allowed.”

Weekly Mosaic

I broke my streak by not posting this on Friday! I am bummed. My mosaic isn’t as detailed as it has been in previous weeks – blogging time got cut short and our energy was very raucous so it was hard for me to focus enough to finish.

Bob Ross Update

He sprouted and made a friend!

Poem of the Week

Just as relevant today as it was last week – thanks Shel!

Growing Pains, Brooklyn, and Giant Sequoias

[In August I emailed the parent community and requested they tell me their feelings about our intention to open a second campus in Brooklyn because “I want to build our second campus to serve our whole community, not shoehorn us into a space because we are feeling rushed, cramped, or stressed. I want to know what you want; I want to build this with you.” One parent responded to me with honesty about their growing-pains-anxiety and I am super grateful for that because it helped me clarify my thinking about where we’re at as a growing community, and what I want to see for us in the future.

I put together this blog post with the intention of making my thoughts on the Brooklyn campus more visible and expand on my (intentionally brief) request for help with the Brooklyn Campus Working Group at October’s Assembly. Most of this post is excerpted from my email response to that parent.]

I think you’ve put your finger on exactly the concern that people have been hesitant to voice, one that merits a thoughtful response: that we as a community too small or too fragile to split up, that something will break if we make this change in order to continue growing, and that we should just hold still exactly as we are, in this equilibrium.

And I must confess, there have been times where I was feeling that too! I have been incredibly fortunate to walk into a thriving, healthy culture at East Harlem and become a member of the community almost immediately. I love the space in East Harlem, love the way the light slants through the windows in the back room in the morning, love the library, love the lady at the deli and Central Park around the Meer. I am grateful for the authentic relationships I’ve developed with all of the kids here and I’m sad to think that when things change it’ll mean that I won’t get to see every one of them every day. Our facilitator team is complementary and well-balanced and I know our lives will become more logistically complicated when our day no longer ends with all four of us in a room checking in. The idea that we could just hit pause and hold things just as they are is undeniably tantalizing, and it took me until this summer to truly appreciate why we can’t.

For one, it’s too late to hit pause now; we’ve already outgrown our East Harlem space. We have 30 students currently enrolled (and running and playing and making joyful chaos) in the space, with 3 more joining us as soon as their visas clear. We have a waitlist (!) of 6 kids, who have done everything in the application process except a visiting week (which we haven’t been able to schedule because our space is so full…) and 15 more families RSVP’d to our upcoming Parent Interest Night. We have doubled in size every year since the school has been in existence, and we have hit the point where the only thing preventing us from doing it again this year is the size of our space. With 9 kids and 3 facilitators already commuting from Brooklyn, it makes the most sense to open the second campus there to free up space in East Harlem.

Because beyond logistics, the exciting thing about adding the more humans to our community is that they (1) bring more material resources to support our kids’ already varied and awesome interests, and (2) bring their selves to augment, embolden, and enrich the culture of the school.

To the first point: more space means we can enroll more students, which means more tuition money to buy supplies, pay facilitators, or even hire support staff. Two locations means twice the jumping off points for field trips; more ice skating and DUMBO bouldering and Brooklyn-Museuming with less time spent rushing back on the subway up the entire island of Manhattan for spawn.

The second point is more ephemeral, but no less important. More kids means more interests, different offerings, new ideas. I’ve seen firsthand this year how each new person in the community enriches it, brings new things to light for all of us, creates more invitations to explore, discover, and grow. Some things we can only do as we get bigger, like field sports teams or run hackathons. My dream is to get big enough to stage a full musical; one the kids write, compose, direct, design, act in, and crew. We’re going to need quite a few more humans before we hit that goal!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the cross-section of a giant sequoia tree I saw at the Natural History Museum in London – it lived 1300 years before being felled in 1893 in California and sliced up for lumber and museum fodder. It was large enough that I could have lain down twice across it, and its rings were marked with historical events: the penning of the Magna Carta, the birth of Queen Victoria (very Anglo-centric, of course). When that tree sent its first shoots out of the earth, English was not yet a language.

In ALC-land, we often talk about the Agile tree metaphor – the soil is trust, the roots are foundations, the branches are principals, and the leaves are the tools – to illustrate the difference between what is fundamental or essential to ALC and what is cyclical or changeable. But inherent in this metaphor is the idea of growth. Every year, every day, every hour, that giant sequoia grew until someone got greedy and saw its glory and cut it down. In the natural world, living things are continually growing, changing, and adapting or they die.

I do this work because I truly believe that self-directed education can do the most good for the most children. I believe our increasingly scary world needs more humans who are curious and adaptable and emotionally intelligent, and that ALC is a place that nurtures those traits and people. I believe we are doing something special by creating in a world where things are mostly destroyed. I want ALC to be the tree that keeps growing, across boros and states and countries and continents, that fruits children who grow to be adults who care about the fate of trees, that spreads its seeds to create a whole forest and support the lives of a whole thriving ecosystem.