Nearly 2 years ago I attended the first ALF Summer at ALC Mosaic in Charlotte, NC. This event marks, in my opinion, the creation of the ALC Network. It was a point when the people and resources came together to support new and emerging ALCs. Now, as we enter our third year, I feel that we are on the precipice of powerful, sustainable growth.
In this post will present a vision for the superstructure of the ALC Network. How the Network, as a group of individuals, relates to the people and places that make up the network. I will cover where we are currently, what work has been done to formalize the structures and ideas that make up the ALC Network, and what is left to do to make my proposed vision a reality.
Unpacking some words
ALF: Agile Learning Facilitator, when used generally it means anyone who is facilitating at an ALC or within the ALC Network. Specifically it means a person who has been officially recognized by other ALFs as a member of the community. Put another way, anyone can facilitate in an Agile Learning environment, but ALFs are “entitled” facilitators.
Holding: Holding is explicit role within a group. A holder is a person whose responsibility it is to “hold” the group together. They are not in charge of the group, but rather in charge of making sure the group is maintained. A project manager by another name without the power dynamic.
Network Holder: This is an Agile Learning Facilitator who has shown up and been recognized as holding the ALC Network. One who supports the ALC Network and the people within it.
Coherence Holder: This term is a bit tricky, it will probably change, but it has two meanings. When used generally a coherence holder is someone holding a project, group, or idea. When used as a proper noun it means a ALF who has been recognized as holding a domain within the ALC Network. This could be an ALC or a working group or something not yet considered.
Vision Holder: In this context a vision holder is a person (or small group of people) who hold a vision for an ALC or learning community. In a young community the vision holder is the foundation that keeps everything together, they are the key to the success of any group (and eventually the source of its undoing, but that’s a story for another time).
Where we are now
As we enter our third year the ALC network has a number of achievements to be proud of. Some of these achievements come in the form of clarity around shared ideas and others are more material. Here is a non-exhaustive list:
- Functioning website that allows the ALC Network, individuals, and ALCs to promote themselves as well as share ideas.
- A solid brand.
- Membership process which has brought over 10 new groups in the ALC Network.
- Foundation for a strong network social media presence.
- Emerging consensus around ALC Network membranes, or definitions about what is inside and outside of our organization.
- Processes, practices, and protocols for dealing with interpersonal conflict (culture committee), collective decision making and organizational culture hacking (change up), and work responsibilities (ALC WORKS!).
- Emerging network vision/mission.
- Pilot training/presentation process for sharing the ALC idea and planting seeds for new ALCs.
Vision for Network Holders
Currently there is little clarity around what ALC membership in the Network entails and who is responsible for maintaining these relationships between the independent ALCs and the ALC Network. This has fallen to a small group of people who have the interest and time to dedicate to holding the ALC Network.
This small group of “unofficial” network holders has been managing relationships with new groups, creating the processes through which groups pass through membranes within the network and supporting existing groups. It’s been an amazing effort but has lacked a vision which in turn makes it difficult to act in strategic ways.
The core of my vision is quite simple. Network Holders explicitly hold specific ALCs, ALC Startups, and Vision Holders by supporting their integration into the ALC Network.
Network Holders (NH) are responsible for creating and maintaining relationships with Coherence Holders (CH) of ALCs, ALC Startups, or other domains within the network.
This pattern is already present throughout the ALC Network. Coherence Holders (such as the director of an ALC) hold space for Agile Learning Facilitators to facilitate (ALF) allowing ALFs to facilitate students/parents/resource people within that space. Network Holders hold CHs in the same way.
Let’s look at a real world example. ALC Oahu’s CH is @nina, she holds space for ALF @mandy who facilitates relationships between students (like @seamus) and resource people like Alex. Mandy helps Alex and Seamus work together by holding space for them within the larger ALC Oahu structure, which Nina in turn holds. I, as a Network Holder, facilitate the relationship between Nina (ALC Oahu) and the rest of the network by connecting her with fellow CHs and ALCs. This might look like help with website, sharing legal docs from established ALCs, or coming out and doing in-person support.
What this creates is a centralized body of Network Holders who work to maintain a decentralized network of ALCs. The Network Holders can create and quickly share protocol with their ALCs through personal relations. The aim of this configuration would be to leverage the best of both a centralized and decentralized network. With Network Holders supporting the connections between CH and ALCs they would limit the bottleneck of going through a centralized system. ALCs can support each other without requiring NH intervention. All while important information can quickly be shared to the entire network through the centralized NH infrastructure and their personal relationships between the ALCs in their care.
Another real world example of this comes in the form of picture sharing. Our social media always needs pictures of people thriving in ALCs. The Network Holders could come up with a strategy for collecting images (based on conversation with CH) then reach out to their associated ALCs with clear instructions for how to opt-in to add images to a community pool. Right now for something like this to happen our social media people (person) would have to shout out to all the ALCs at once and hope that people would be able to take the time to listen and act. In this scenario I already know where ALC Oahu keeps their photos and would be able to add them myself without having to bother Nina or Mandy at all.
It is important to note that Network Holders wouldn’t want to be a bottleneck or gatekeeper but foster direct peer to peer communication between people within the network.
Harbor Piloting or Guiding New ALCs Into the Network
When ships enter a new harbor often a “pilot” will be dispatched to assist the captain in navigating the waters. Network Holders would serve this role with new Startups, assisting them in connecting to resources and people within the ALC Network. Further, Network Holders would be available to help “Vision Holders”, or people who are interested in starting an ALC, move forward with their dream.
This is already happening to an extent with the recent trainings that @bear has been doing across the US. Under my proposed practice people who are identified as “Vision Holders” (VH) would have a Network Holder to help them create their own ALC.
I see a clear pathway to becoming an ALC that Network Holders will want to foster. The above graphic describes someone moving from having a vision for “something” to becoming a full ALC. Along that path there is support that the ALC Network can provide to assist them. Presentations, print-outs, trainings, membership benefits, and so on can be deployed to help people realize their vision, build a team, create a learning center, and join the ALC Network.
Limit Your WIP
Currently we are spreading our message and creating many vision holders, like throwing seeds into our garden. I feel that by making Network Holder’s relationship explicit with Vision Holders and limiting the number of explicit relationships to a manageable level, in the same way that ALCs keep a healthy ALF to student ratio, we can cultivate these seeds with more care and grow stronger ALCs.
Network Vision Holders
The above vision I’ve outlined leaves out a different kind of Network Holder. Those who work mainly in their own ALC but who hold the vision and ideals of the ALC Network. @nancy, @ryan, and @abby comes to mind here, they are constantly engaged in Network level discussions (even if it’s only listening) on top of their full time jobs running their respective ALCs. There is a great need for this kind of Network Holding that isn’t covered in my description above.
Having people who actually run and work in ALCs be part of the Network Holder inner membrane will be very important and should be maintained.
What we Need to Get There
We are very close to having a clear pathway to the vision I’ve outlined. To achieve this we need to finish a few projects that are still in process.
“To see where we are going we must know where we are.”
The Annual Report, a project started over ALF Weekend Spring 2016, aims to create a document that describes what the ALC Network has achieved over the past year. It should highlight what the team of volunteer unofficial Network Holders (and other ALFs) have been able to achieve over the past year. This document will serve as an exclamation that says what the ALC Network is capable of. This document will provide the incentive to invest in our awesome little experiment.
Currently very little content has been created. There is, however, a detailed outline available via this Trello Board which @rochelle put together. It contains information about writing an Annual Report as well as cards describing the requested content, which is outlined below.
You can support this project in the following ways:
- Collect member stories, how has ALC upgraded existing learning centers or provided the foundation needed to start new ones.
- Collect powerful stories, images, and testimony from ALCs
- Write ups about the following programs
- Membership model launch
- ALF Summer 2015
- Upgrades to the website
- ALC Starter Kit + it’s impact
- ALF Weekend(s)
- Other content (pictures, images, videos) that highlights the impact the ALC Network has had
I am currently coherence holder of the Annual Report so please contact me, [email protected]
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”
If Network Holders are going to act strategically they will need a clear vision to guide them. Network Holders will be able to weigh actions against a shared vision. This shared vision has been in development for over 5 months. I’m pushing forward a Network Vision which compiles the responses from a questionnaire delivered to the community.
Currently a super rough draft of the vision statement exists, which has been compiled from community feedback. Let me know if you would like to work on this, @sara is the coherence holder but also running an ALC, so contact me.
Over the past 2 years consensus has been forming around our Network’s structure. What @art introduced to us as a “boob diagram” for layers of engagement at ALF Weekend Fall 2014 has been guiding our work in developing the ALC Membranes. Currently the process and community ritual for entitling people who show up in our network is at a new level of functionality. Before we can have Network Holders we will need to agree on an explicit process for entitling them.
Initially it might make sense to simply declare that “I am a Network Holder” or “Holder” in front of our group. I feel that it will be better to have a clear process and actually practice the ritual around entitling people so that we can on board people as we grow.
Currently the ALC Membrane is best described in the Network Membrane Notes spreadsheet, which contains a few iterations as attached sheets. I have been working on a very explicit ALC Membrane Process document that describes the steps taken to perform a peer review.
Both these projects need a coherence holder to actually practice and test the peer review system and make the process of entitling people into ALFs, CH, and NH explicit. Then determine a way to record it. As it stands people implicitly hold these titles but we are missing the functional, technical means to perform and record anything explicitly.
The final piece to this vision will be the membership process. Currently the membership process (which I think needs a different name!) works quite well. It only needs more automation (working on it!) and to include a process for a Network Holder becoming an advocate for new members.
This process should be decided by the Network Holders once they (we) are an implicit group.
Putting it all together
This is my proposal for the Network focused work we should do at ALF Summer 2016. By recording our achievements in the Annual Report we can advocate for an investment in ourselves. When we complete and come to agreement on a shared vision we will be able to think and work strategically. Once our membrane process is agreed upon we will be able to entitle each other and maintain a clear path for introducing new people into our ranks. Finally with a few polishing tweaks to our membership process we can realize the explicit formulation of having Network Holders hold all members of the Network. With these elements combined we will have everything we need to consolidate consulting, info, and startups working groups into a single group of Network Holders who execute the Network Vision by supporting ALCs, Startups, and Vision Holders.
Emerging Strategy for ALF Summer
- Write the “story” of Agile Learning Centers from the last year (to 18 months) in the form of an Annual Report.
- Invest in some structural improvements to our online database of users, ALC and ALC Startup organizations.
- Adjust the membership model ($10/student, $95/minimum)
- Determine and describe NH’s specific strategy moving forward
- Some (or all) NHs taking on a coaching/support role with a handful of ALCs and Startups
- Define goals and desired outcomes (specific/concrete as much as possible)
- Define any other known, essential roles that people would be taking on to accomplish these outcomes
- Formalize Network Holders WG
- Determine best options for funding
- Create a Pitch Book, or any other materials necessary for appealing for funding
Elegantly simplified, I’m certain it will move things. I have some thoughts to share in response.
On Holding: “A project manager by another name without the power dynamic.”
There seems to be a reticence to speak of power dynamics within the project that is perhaps more a reflection on our shared bias’ than on any reality. (We may all have the ‘power’ to speak, but who listens to whom?) I don’t point to this with the intention of ‘calling out’ power structures (to block them), but to point out that a culture of ‘calling out power’ (a trend in liberatory projects) is perhaps the reason we avoid talking about power at all.
This could prove counterproductive. As David Graeber writes in Utopia of Rules: there are times when bureaucracy is necessary and sufficient. How best to determine who receives a heart for transplant? Surely consensus would be absurd and needlessly taxing, even ethically fraught. Obviously we are not faced with such life threatening problems of scarcity of resources, but if Network Holders are essentially to become grant writers or fund getters (who are sustained presumably by both membership fees and potential grants) while having other such liaison roles (tho not gate keeping) inevitably we will need to tackle, explicitly, tho one hopes in an Agile way, where the power rests (and then ethical responsibility) for decision making.
I couldn’t help but wonder at how similar the various positions we have created are to those existing in public schools (hear me out). ALFs as teachers, Holders as Principals, NHs as Supers… Perhaps making explicit the differences in these roles or how they relate to each other in the model of work will help. Presently, it looks like the Network is headed towards de facto centralisation: what happens when the network DOES win grant funding and those network roles become the key to access funding? (Which may certainly allow for expansion, but then also dependencies). Note: This is nothing new for struggling public schools – federal funding is only about 10% of total but dictates most policy. Do ALCs need to be (explicitly always) self sufficiently funded? That wasn’t rhetorical.
This is a long response, but I just want to raise one final point/problem (via Graeber). There is a tension within Agile Philosophy itself: we aim to avoid the red tape and power struggles – to be agile and maintain lean decision making processes – but we are also committed to ‘make the implicit explicit’. These two are at odds, according to Graeber: the more you create a Grammar that describes how things work (which is always inevitably flawed, a thin description) the more beholden to those ‘rules’ you become.
Drew, you’ve done a fab job covering the visions process and sharing the goals/projects you see as pressing. These challenges I’ve just expressed are meant as fascinating provocations for mindful engagement. It generally goes without saying that I trust you and the network at large (to avoid the long name dropping) and am thrilled to be a part of working through these projects/puzzles. Besides, who’d want to know all the answers in advance? It’s ALIVE!!!
Thanks for the thoughtful comment @abram! It reminds me of a quote I attribute to you, which sits on the ALF Community Mastery Board at the top of the “awareness”.
I’m very sensitive to power and find that I am very skeptical of it, probably because I tend to amass quite a lot of it without anyone questioning it. I could edit anyone’s blog post, I have intimate knowledge of a huge amount of information and documentation about our network, I am a super admin on nearly all of our platforms, I have the source files for our logos!
I also see how power grows in the absence of structure. Without a clearly defined group with a mandate to use funds in particular ways or distribute them through transparent systems we are left with trusting people to do what they think is right. Right now that feels very good to me. I trust the people who control the purse strings (of our tiny budget) but I also want to have systems in place for when disagreement eventually comes. Right now a $100K grant would probably do much more harm than good. Though, a $100K grant that will be given to us in 1 year would force us to come to terms with a lot of these unspoken dynamics.
I feel really good having your brain in the mix and look forward to digging into these conversations and finding new and exciting ways to mess up (by avoiding the ways others have already done it!)
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