ALC Oahu Debrief 2016
Growth is learning
Welcome to the ALC Oahu Debrief. This page goes over the 3 months I spent in Hawaii with an ALC Startup. It is structured following the ALC model of Intention setting, Creation, and Reflection.
I met Nina in the fall of 2014 at the first ALF Weekend retreat in upstate New York. Since then I’ve followed her journey as she’s realized a dream to create a learning center that she would have wanted to attend as a child. By ALF Summer 2015 ALC Oahu had run a successful crowdfunding campaign and brought together a team including Mandy as facilitator, Stephanie, and [woman with website and?]. ALC Oahu was set to open for its pilot year in August.
It was at ALF Summer that I began negotiating the idea of coming out to Hawaii with Nina and Mandy. Fresh off my success at the short lived ALC Everett I was looking for another impactful adventure. Months past and I watched ALC Oahu from afar through blog posts, social media, conversations, and updates brought to the Monday night Facilitator calls. It appeared to me that of the handful of operating ALCs my presence at Oahu would have the greatest impact.
By November 2015 Nina and I had settled on an agreement for me coming out. Here is the basic agreement:
Oahu will support drew with:
- Stable housing
- A stipend for food and other expenses
In return Drew will:
- Commit at least 4 Months in partnership with ALCO
- Co-Facilitate and generally assist ALCO for a minimum of 25 hours per week
- ALC Oahu will gain in-person facilitation support
- ALC Oahu will gain in-depth feedback from ALC Network support through Drew for the purpose of improving operations and sustainable growth
- Drew may provide ALF training to an additional facilitator for ALC Oahu
Shortly after a $250 plane ticket to Hawaii became available and I jumped on it. Set to land in Oahu on January 11th.
New Faces at ALC Oahu
I arrived in Oahu on January 11th and was in the ALC by the 12th. In the same week that I arrived so too did Seamus a 13 (almost 14) year old. We both were taking in the culture, learning the patterns that had already been established.
Challenging Conversations, Disenrollment
Soon after I arrived we had to create a process to disenroll a student. They had become sick and could no longer attend school. It was hard for such a small community to lose one of it’s members. It was also challenging to create a process to remove someone at the same time.
Lesson: Having these kinds of challenging processes prepared beforehand can make things less stressful later on.
Upgrades for Intention and Reflection
After spending a few weeks in ALC Oahu I began to see patterns that could be improved. I was able to share my awarenesses around the cycle of intention setting and reflection with the community at their Change Up meeting. I noticed that there wasn’t a practice of recording intentions and reviewing them at reflection time. I didn’t dictate a solution, only an awareness. Mandy and the community were able to take that and create solutions.
There were only 3 full time students at ALC Oahu. The center needed to grow but it was also in a vulnerable position because it didn’t have an established solid culture yet. When a very excited family came for a visiting week we were excited for a new student but ultimately the community had to turn them away because the parent’s energy would have taxed the limited energy of those holding the group together. It was a challenging but wise choice to value the right fit over growth.
As my time was coming to an end ALC Oahu went on spring break. At this point one of the students had moved to NYC for an unknown period of time, another was away for the previous week on vacation, and the center was left with just one student. Energy was low going into spring break. The following week, however, was a free trial (ALC Experience) week which saw many new faces in the space. It was an injection of amazing energy that recharged everyone involved.
The ALC Oahu space was very interesting because it was part of a co-working space called Box Jelly (Honolulu’s first co-working space). ALC Oahu used the “white room” in the back to hold space. It was a large, mostly empty, room which had to be packed up at the end of every day and unpacked in the morning.
The shelf held all of our supplies, it was covered up in the evenings with a black sheet.
The closet held our larger items. When setting up the room we would put out some carpets and pillows on the floor which is where we spent most of our time. There were also some desks and tables available in the room. All of our tools (Kanbans and intention boards) were moveable.
Much of our time was spent outside on trips to the beach or hiking trails. We would also spend quite a lot of time out and about in the neighborhood.
The CMB is used during the Change Up meeting which is held each week at ALC Oahu. In an effort to make the agreements around community practices available to everyone at any time we decided to digitize the CMB using Trello.com. Click to learn more about how we made a physical board work online.
After sharing an awareness that ALC Oahu wasn’t marking down individual intentions at the opening meeting each day one of the facilitators came up with an elegant solution in the form of the Daily Intention Board. Everyone puts their intentions on the board and marks intentions they wish to share. At the end of this board is referenced for reflection.
I was asked to introduce Gameshifting to ALC Oahu to help structure their meetings more intentionally. I introduced the concept, co-created it with the community, then worked with them to implement it into their daily practice. Click to learn more about what Gameshifting is and how I went about creating ALC Oahu’s board.
This tool is used at the start of each week to determine the offerings, trips, or group activities that are available to the community. I redesigned the ALC Oahu Set the Week board using recycled wood and whiteboard paint. Click to learn more about Set the Week and see examples from around the network.
For community agreements involving only the staff ALC Oahu created a staff Community Mastery Board. It is useful for determining community norms, building agreement around which tools to use, and a way to support interpersonal boundaries and growth. Due to ALC Oahu staff often working remotely it was decided to digitize the CMB. Click to learn more about that process.
The ALC Oahu Staff Kanban was upgraded with the introduction of intention setting and reflection rituals. By formatting the board to work on a monthly, weekly, and daily cycle. This way staff could better visualize what what was happening, when it was expected to be complete, and what work was coming up.
Crunching the Numbers
Round Trip Flight: $641
Supplies + Transport: $190.09
Groceries: $552.6 Monthly: $184.2
Housing (rent): $867
From Jan 11 – April 6
Working in the ALC:
Average Monthly Hours:
The pilot year for ALC Oahu taught me (and others, I’m sure) a lot of lessons. A central take away was the need for clarity around relationships—to the ALC, work, roles, responsibilities— and needs—work style, income, collaborative time, etc—of the people holding the space. I saw that manifest as trust in oneself and the group. I saw Mandy’s trust in her own power as a facilitator grow over the short time I was there. Nina’s ability to advocate for her needs and trust in the community to support her in holding the project was also very present to me.
I learned to keep things simple and trust in my collaborators to take the right action. I got a much better understanding of all that is required to run a lean startup ALC which inspired me to improve my own workflow. I also got to see an amazing culture and eat lots of wonderful fruit.
A central take away was the need for clarity around relationships—to the ALC, work, roles, responsibilities— and needs—work style, income, collaborative time, etc—of the people holding the space.
The following section is a collection of awarenesses and take aways from my time in Hawaii set against the roots and principles of ALC.
Trust – Soil
Coming into ALC Oahu took a lot of trust in myself. I wasn’t sure that I could make a positive impact or perform well but I dove in head first and gave it a shot. Trust is central to ALC’s culture, trust in the kids to take responsibility for their own learning, trust in facilitators to facilitate powerfully (from a place of trust), trusting the group to hold the whole things together. Often we overlook trust in ourselves.
Lesson: Building trust is paramount in your team and it begins with trusting yourself. Trust that your needs have value and should be expressed. Trust that you are powerful and can make good decisions. Building trust within the community (especially between adults) is very important. Getting clear on needs, work style, desired roles, and money are all very important. Tools like Blueprint of WE, trust building exercises, and other tools and games can help a lot.
- Learning: Learning is natural. It’s happening all the time.
- Self-Direction: People learn best by making their own decisions. Children are people.
- Experience: People learn more from their culture and environment than from the content they are taught. The medium is the message.
- Success: Accomplishment is achieved through cycles of intention, creation, reflection and sharing.
I felt that ALC Oahu was very strong when it came to embodying the roots. Finding the right balance between working with kids and working on kids is probably challenging for any group of adults. When I helped Seamus and Alex make their business pitch I kept wondering if I was doing too much work for them. In the end it felt like good collaboration because I was authentically invested in co-creating.
Lesson: Trust that you can collaborate with your kid’s learning and adjust to find the right balance through feedback from your peers!
We played really well at ALC Oahu. Be it structured games or just playing with conversation or ideas. I noticed patterns in my facilitation where I would get hung up on playing the game it was suppose to be played rather than rolling with the way the group wanted to play the game.
An example might be planning a trip to go body boarding but be faced with wave conditions that weren’t good for bodyboarding on the day of. One might cling to the original plan and resist changing it.
Lesson: Go with the flow, there is no right way to play. Trust the group to make the game work for them.
ALC tools were adapted by ALC Oahu from network knowledge in a way that served the community well. The daily intention board was such a good example of this. Mandy facilitated the creation of implementation of the board from feedback I and others gave into a elegant stipped down kanban board. It was exactly what we needed to help us better capture and reflect on our intentions.
Lesson: Make, adapt, and use tools that serve the needs as they are right now. Don’t over design or over think. Trust your intuition and don’t be afraid to use your natural authority as an adult/facilitator to change up things.
Leaving a little more space, even just a breath between speaking, to make room for kid’s agency to show itself. I noticed that sometimes in CMB meetings group consensus (or the sense of the meeting) felt a bit rushed. Finding a balance for respecting group time in meeting and allowing space for people to express themselves can be challenging.
Lesson: Be sure to make time for softer voices to emerge, too much leadership from facilitators can prevent the emergence of needs and ideas from others.
Intentional Culture Creation
Building a startup from scratch is an amazing feat but it can also be very stressful. Facilitators brought in some of their outside “baggage” to the space, but I think this is actually a really good thing. I felt that some issues could have been discussed directly with the kids or around the kids.
Lesson: We all have off days or get stressed stepping out of the room or speaking in hushed tones about certain topics out of fear for the children is probably not necessary (if it’s for your comfort, that’s fine of course). Model having a bad day! Model talking about issues on your mind with fellow facilitators. Model positive and direct communication. Model having and acknowledging your feelings!
ALC Oahu was very good about taking feedback about tools and practices in the space with the kids and making them visible through tools like the Change Up meeting. This feedback was adapted into the culture expertly.
Making visible feedback between staff wasn’t quite as good. I think it’s harder for us adults to make the time to honor reflection around our shared work. This is especially true when it comes to interpersonal awarenesses.
Lesson: Creating a healthy culture where feedback can be shared isn’t just for the kids, it is important for staff and other adult community members. Be sure to create and honor patterns that help make this kind of feedback visible.
ALC Oahu did such a good job with facilitation. The trips were amazing, the connections to community wisdom and support really made for some incredible offerings.
Lesson: Having authentic connections to the greater community and inviting their participation is so important to creating a rich environment where magic can happen.
Good levels of support which sometimes slips too far into instruction/direction. More trust in children and their ability to fail.
The support between facilitators and kids was really inspiring. Getting to know the kids in the space and helping them find ways to explore their interests lead to some amazing activities and happy kids at ALC Oahu.
I noticed that finding a balance between holding space for kids and instructing/directing them was challenging. I’d often catch myself solving problems for the kids rather than giving them space to try and potentially fail.
Lesson: Sometimes you can support someone by letting them try and fail on their own.
Respect each other’s time and space
It was interesting taking my New York City Time mindset and adjusting to “island time”. I had to learn to slow down and expect things to flow more naturally. This served as a great example of why our ALC tools and principles need to be flexible to fit the culture they are in rather than try and fit the culture to the tools.
Lesson: Go with the flow, be real about your expectations and what you can and can’t commit to.
Super sprinkles here, the relationship between the staff and kids was really lovely. More focus on the relationship between staff would have probably prevented some friction along the way.
Lesson: The relationship you have with your co-facilitators, staff, parents, and resource people can be just as important as the relationships you form with the kids. Investing time in making work relationships can keep things running smooth.
ALC Oahu had a great social media stream. Documentation was very good but it was rarely revisited. Simply commenting on a student’s blog post can really encourage reflection.
Sharing doesn’t have to be fancy or fit a particular method. I like to blog, Nina likes to Instagram, we do what feels best for each of us.
Lesson: Making shareable value is much easier when you do it in ways that are easy and comfortable for you. It’s better to have a platform you use rather than an empty one!
A saw a great multitude of learning styles in play in my time at ALC Oahu. Kid’s interests were supported often in very clever ways. For one of our beach trips we chose a location—with input from the kids—so we were near the airport because one of the kids was interested in plane spotting. Trips would often overlap in this way.
Lesson: By involving the kids in planning activities multiple styles of learning can emerge.
At ALC Oahu very safe space exists, I saw kids supported in a way that allowed them to push beyond their comfort zone and explore new ways of being. Safe space doesn’t only mean a reduction in hazard. It can also show us as holding kids so that they feel safe messing up without fear of ridicule or rejection.
Lesson: Creating safe spaces for kids can give them the confidence to push their own boundaries.