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Dog Kennels, Apples everywhere and Culture Change
A Fortnight in The Life Of #2
Welcome to another Fortnight in the Life Of. Again this post is image heavy and will need to be read on the app or in browser. If you receive this by email you can click the title to do so.
Some of you may prefer to read my essays and not these facilitator reflections. These reflections on what we do at our community will be ongoing every other Friday. They will fall under a new section of this substack that you can choose to opt out of here. Hopefully you enjoy both reflections on themes around self-direction alongside getting into the nuts and bolts of working with self-directed young people. Enjoy and thanks for reading, Tim.
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We finished up the dog kennel
The kennel was built two weeks ago, but we didn’t have a dog with us that day or a dog bed. We remedied both of those and here is Buffy sat in the kennel.
Buffy sat out of the kennel where she actually preferred to be, close to the people and in the circle where everyone often hangs out. A extensive project that may not even be used in the end, but often times process is more important than product.
We juiced some apples and everyone got to have a drink. Often the iteration cycle of reflecting on a project happens day to day, or over weeks, but this time we reflected from last year’s failed attempt at pressing the apples and spent some time sourcing and borrowing a much better scratter to pulp the apples before juicing. We estimate that our yield was increased by 100% this year. We have spent a lot of time with apples this last couple of weeks as we have numerous trees on site. Juicing, eating, throwing, baseball, sticking on hawthorn spikes, counting, negotiating, discussing capitalism, the commons and the enclosure acts of centuries ago when the apple pickers refused to share the abundance with others.
Community Mastery Board and Change Up Meetings
So much to say on culture creation/change. We have started moving towards using more and more agile learning centre (ALC) tools. One of those being change up meetings to affect culture change. And the ALC tool that goes along with change up meetings is the community mastery board. Culture is created intentionally by raising an awareness, a problem that someone in the community has insight into, discussing that problem, proposing a solution and agreeing to practice it for a while. If it works and it stays and has been practiced enough it can move to mastery, but if it is not working as intended the cycle starts again. ALC tools seek to be very intentional, reflective and dynamic.
We hold our change up meeting in the last hour of the week. That has always been the time set aside for a whole community meeting where culture change, large issues that need resolving, discussions on autonomy and consent due to incidents that have happened that week have been discussed. They were traditionally mandatory attendance, as with all our meetings, however, change up meetings are often not. If you want to affect the culture you can come, if not, you can stay away but you have to accept the changes of those who made the time to make the decision.
As well as using a new community mastery board where we intentionally move through the awareness > practice > mastery cycle we are employing a sociocratic meeting format from Hope Wilder. We use sociocracy in our setting anyway, and the formalisation of discussing the ideas of safe enough to try, good enough for now hasn’t presented us with a problem as we have been operating with those parameters for a long time, but naming what is already there can be useful.
So how do these two tools come together?
Anyone can raise an awareness throughout the week and write it on the board. At the start of the meeting we discuss which awareness to focus on and then we move to Hope Wilder’s meeting format. We canvas everyone’s opinion in the community by going round the circle and people can either pass or speak to what needs they perceive having come up for them regarding that awareness. This should take roughly five minutes.
Then we seek a solution that we can practice. At this point we move from mandatory to optional, and anyone who does not want to stay and input into the proposal for what we are going to try moving forward is free to leave. They can go and play but must do so quietly and not interrupt the meeting. Those who are invested stay and discuss the topic and in seven minutes create a proposal.
Our meeting bell is rang and everyone returns. One person presents the proposal and we vote on it. Thumbs up means I agree, thumbs to the side means I am ok with it and willing to try, and thumbs down means I see a problem. Those people are then welcome to present the problems that they see. However, this part is crucial. By choosing not to stay in the solution seeking section of the meeting then those community members have abdicated responsibility to the group that does stay. This means that if the problem that they see has already been discussed and thought about then they do not get to override the decision and therefore must accept it.
Let me clarify, if you see a problem and everyone who discussed it says we saw that too, but didn’t think it was a problem then you don’t have the right to veto the decision; you should have to accept it by virtue of not attending to discuss it when offered the chance to.
However, if your observation of a problem had not been thought of then there is a chance for the proposal to be amended to take into consideration said problem. That is the basic structure we are utilising. When the proposal has passed it gets written on the practice section of the community mastery board.
Rough Play and Mandatory Meetings
I wrote in the last installment about rough play and finding the boundaries of rough play. We had discussed in our first two change up meetings “rough play” and how to manage it in the yurt. We had agreed that discussing the boundaries of rough play abstractly, the first weeks proposal, was difficult, so we agreed that we would allow sword fighting with a mentor present, as a tool to discuss the boundaries of rough play, whilst in action. We had planned to return to that topic and see where the boundaries lay. We did have some discussions this week on rough play and it facilitated an opportunity for a risk matrix to be drawn up with some of our young people. We don’t often juggle chainsaws here, but maybe that will come up in a resource procuring meeting in the future.
We, as mentors, also had a plan for changing our morning meetings to utilise another ALC tool: spawn points. We want our young people to have the chance to be more intentional and reflective about projects. There is always a balance, a tension, between creating a meeting that is set up for individual reflections and community negotiations. At the moment our meetings operate on a blend of both, but probably tip to the side of community negotiations. People state what they want to do for the purpose of getting other’s opinions, seeing who wants to join them, or stating a need for a space, like the yurt, that might need negotiating. Projects discussions are very focused on how what someone is interested in doing might fit into the community rather than focusing on an individual intention-reflection cycle.
The self managed learning program that the older children can opt in to does this extremely well, however, for the younger ones, we don’t have this at the moment. We have tried different things over the past year to try and facilitate intention setting, however, nothing has stuck and so we wanted to try out spawn points. We raised this at the start of the week and, aware that it might be hard for our young people to speak to that awareness, we decided not to start our change up meeting with a go around the circle to gather opinions, but to conduct a survey throughout the week and individually ask each young person their opinion and present the collated results.
As always it never quite works out as planned and we only had got around to speaking with half of the people we wanted to. However, we decided to blend the survey results we did have with an opportunity for more opinions in the circle round. We wanted to do this this week, putting rough play on the backburner, as that would give us three weeks to try it until the end of our half term, a reasonable amount of time to be able to gauge how it was working as a community.
So I chaired the meeting, opened it, and instantly got an objection from a young person who finds change particularly challenging. Whilst reminding everyone of the the new format and the plan we had outlined at the start of the week to discuss what had come up in the survey they interrupted to object to the fact that a part of the meeting was no longer mandatory, furthermore we had tried this out for two weeks and that was enough time. They are our longest attending young person and for as long as they have been with us, three or four years, all meetings have always been mandatory. This change of meeting structure was not deemed in line with our particular emphasis on mandatory meetings.
They strongly presented their case and were not going to back down, which didn’t come as a particular surprise. As chair I reminded them that we had discussed surveying people and then using the awareness > practice structure that we have been using this term on Tuesday morning. Maybe, it was suggested, that if they had perceived a problem with the structure of the meeting then they should have raised their objections then rather than just as we are about to start the meeting. However, they still objected to the idea of using the new format.
At one point they stood up clearly extremely frustrated by now and literally screamed at the top of their lungs in annoyance. However, this is the beauty of a non-judgmental space where people are allowed to fully feel their feelings, as no one else really batted an eyelid. One young person responded that it might not be helpful for them if they want to get their argument across. To which they replied that they were frustrated and needed to feel the feeling outwardly. Everyone just sort of sat with that for a few seconds, accepted it and moved on. Reflecting on it now I realise that at school they would have been asked to leave the room immediately and a sense of shame would have been inevitable.
However, there, sat in that moment, with this extremely frustrated child, I looked at the other mentor for guidance who shrugged and said what we were both thinking: I guess we have to discuss this instead. And their feelings were honoured. We dropped spawn points, we decided not on rough play, but said you are clearly feeling this strongly, let’s work through this for you.
So we opened the circle. We went round and took opinions. Everyone, bar them, said they really liked the new format. We offered the chance to leave or stay. Lots of people left, surprisingly. Only three young people stayed. I didn’t hold much hope for finding an agreement in seven minutes.
Being a mentor at our learning community is a challenging job. It requires a broad skill set and you to have undergone a lot of deschooling work on yourself. Facilitation is a skill. It is an art and not a science for sure. The particular young person who resented the format change did not budge from their view for five minutes. But in one sentence a solution was found. All it took was the other facilitator to ask one question. To perceive something and state it.
See they were the only one who stayed in the meeting last week, and the only one who has stayed in every meeting so far with the new change. Naming the jealousy, stating that it is unfair that other people get to play whilst you take responsibility for creating culture flipped the whole meeting. It was unfair it was decided. Checking out of the meeting shouldn’t mean checking out of responsibility. A solution presented itself instantly. Those who do not want to stay and discuss a proposal for us to practice must instead go and spend that seven minutes doing the tidy up jobs.
Problem solved. However, we had to call everyone back from playing to let them know that next time they can’t run off and play but must tidy up instead. Hard sell. Or not. Young people have a keen sense of fairness and it must have appealed to this as everyone consented that this proposal was safe enough to try and good enough for now.
Coming Back to Spawn Points
Yesterday we returned to spawn points in our change up meeting and resolved to use them as of next week. We also agreed to move our project planting meeting closer to the start of the day. That meeting is a chance for projects to be tabled and discussed with mentors and other young people if they wish to attend the meeting (it is an optional attendance meeting), and progress on them be tracked and assessed. It sort of serves the purpose as well of a Set The Week meeting that other ALC’s might use, but doesn’t really get used as such. We want it to reflect that and by moving it closer to the start of the day, straight after people have made intentions in their spawn points we hope that it will look a bit more like that. We can table all the projects and negotiate where they will go on our weekly timetabling board. We will also meet in spawn points at the end of the day to reflect on the intentions from the morning.
We also had a discussion in between the first section of our meeting and the second section about people leaving the space and not staying, as no young person wanted to help facilitate the decision. We questioned whether they wanted to leave the adults in the space to make the decisions for the community.
Furthermore, acceptance of the tidy up job proposal from last week was unanimous, however, a teething problem became apparent afterwards in that there was a lack of attention placed on tidying up by the young people and we had to do the tidying up that they had neglected afterwards. But tidy up always presents us with new challenges so I guess that is not surprising.
An intense and interesting two weeks of culture change, reflection, practicing and conversing. We will see what the next two weeks brings.
Thanks and till next time,
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