Tools and practices are the leaves of the Agile Tree. As a group they help the tree nourish and feed itself; however, no individual leaf is essential to the health of the tree. Some may be useful on a daily basis. Others get pulled out only a couple times a year. And they change! Like leaves, tools and practices have seasons of relevance: they are used when they’re useful, changed when what’s needed of them changes, and set aside when they are no longer of service. We have a sizable inventory of tools and practices, and we’re always adding to it. Below are ideas of some you might see at current ALCs.
In Agile Software companies, Stand-Up Meetings typically happen in the morning and are conducted, not surprisingly, while participants stand. Standing keeps the energy up and gets everyone ready to jump into the day. ALCs often have similar Morning Meetings or Morning Spawn Point Meetings, where the practice is very similar. In this meeting, each person states their intentions for the day and makes any requests for support they may need. This simple process takes only ten to fifteen minutes, but it starts each day with intention, accountability, and a chance for cross-pollination.
The learning cycle that begins with Morning Meeting’s intention sharing comes full circle during Afternoon Meeting (also known as Afternoon Spawn Point in ALCs with Spawn Points and Closing Meeting in ALCs where it’s the last meeting of the day). This meeting focuses on personal and group reflection. We take this time to ask, “Did we accomplish what we intended to? If so, how? If not, why not?”
These meetings create a feedback cycle through which learners grow in self-awareness. Documentation tools are regularly used during these meetings, to further support students in self-assessing their progress towards their goals, recognizing patterns in their time-management and decision-making, and deciding what—if anything—they want to change when they approach their intentions the next day.
From kanbans and their digital counterparts on Trello.com to student and facilitator blogs, community YouTube channels to Facebook groups and Instagram feeds, we have a diverse range of documentation-generating tools being used across the ALC network. Some reflect to the individual what’s happening (or not) with their intentions. Some support deeper personal reflection and sharing of experiences. Some face outwards, sharing glimpses of what we’re up to with parents and community members. All are excellent resources for students building descriptive portfolios, at any point in their learning journeys.
At Change-Up Meetings, all staff and students gather for a check-in. They can be daily, weekly, or monthly, and the goal is to discuss and possibly change-up school culture. Participants bring “awarenesses” to the meeting. Maybe they are aware that there isn’t a norm established regarding use of a specific room, and they bring it to the group’s awareness because they want clarity. More often, the awareness is an issue that the participant would like the group to address. The group brainstorms solutions and then picks one to try out for a short period of time. We refer to these trial solutions as being in “implementation.” The group revisits the solutions in implementation at their next change-up meeting; those that are working move from implementation to “practicing,” where they stay until they become an established community norm–part of the culture–and the issue vanishes. If a solution in implementation turns out not to be much of a solution, it gets thrown out and the group implements a different solution. A very useful tool for tracking and visualizing the process while also documenting the norms the community has established together through the Change-Up process is called the Community Mastery Board or CMB. You can check out a more thorough (and cleverly illustrated) explanation of both Change-Up Meeting and CMB on this ALC Everett facilitator’s blog post.
Some awarenesses require deeper discussion than is productive to attempt in a large group meeting like Change-Up. Someone wants to brainstorm fundraiser ideas so the school can afford more laptops or canvas. Someone else noticed that meeting flow management tool needs upgrading. Two students had a conflict and request support resolving it. These are the kinds of topics that are brought to the attention of the Culture Committee, a group of staff and students who have committed themselves to proactively shaping the school culture. In this small, focused group, meetings can be used to create specific proposals for upgrading tools and practices, discuss possible underlying causes of cultural disruptions, and spend time exploring ways to nurture the upward spiral growth of their community.
The Culture Committee can also be convened as the last step of the Conflict Resolution Process. The process consists of four simple steps for a person who winds up in a conflict. First, they are asked to stop, breath, and decide how to communicate to the other person. Next, they try talking to the other person. If that doesn’t work, they ask a third party to help them talk to the other person. If the problem persists, they request the support of the Culture Committee. They explain their experience of the situation, and the committee discusses the nature of the problem and how to respond to it. The solution may be to facilitate a discussion between those involved in the conflict, or it may be to address each individual separately to clarify community boundaries and offer personalized support. In this ALC-NYC facilitator blog post about Culture Committee and conflict resolution at ALC-NYC, she briefly describes an instance when the committee established a consequence for a student with consistently problematic behavior. [Spoiler: It worked!]
What about Gameshifting Boards to make conversation patterns explicit? The epic ALC Website (behind this one) that staff and students use to communicate between ALCs? The Talking Stick? Gratitude Circles? On-site/Off-site velcro strips? And why do so many ALFs carry Kanbans?
We have so so so many amazing tools and practices. They’re always being adapted and improved, and we constantly create new ones as our needs change. Some families have even told us they like to use ALC tools in their homes!