Meetings and Practices
There’s a tricky balance to strike with meetings - too much imposed structure and you lose buy-in from the students, not enough structure and everyone goes home at the end of the day unsure what they’ve accomplished. As a rule of thumb, we try and keep meetings as short and efficient as possible - 10-15 minutes being the platonic ideal for meeting length.
We’ve found these practices to be particularly potent culture-hacking structures that supporting learning about group dynamics, time management, and intentional culture creation without getting in the way.
Set-the-week is the first thing that happens Monday morning and involved introducing offerings and creating the schedule for the upcoming week. It’s a mandatory, all-school meeting that allows the whole community to start the week on the same page.
We use a Set-the-Week board to make the schedule and keep it in a prominent place so people can check in throughout the week to see what is happening. If resource people or volunteers are coming into the school to hold an offering, or there is a recurring offering that happens at a set time, we like to put these offerings onto the board before the meeting starts so other more flexible activities can be planned around them.
This can also also be a time when we identify projects that are going to take multiple days to accomplish, plan field trips, and set weekly intentions. Depending on the scope of a project, we might set time aside each day to work toward that goal. This is sometimes referred to as a “weekly sprint.”
The term Spawn Point comes from Minecraft, and describes the place you first appear when you “spawn” in the world of the game. At ALC, it refers to the meetings that bookend the day: Morning Spawn and Afternoon Spawn. Spawn Points are analogous to homerooms in a traditional school - the same group of students and ALFs make up the meeting every day - but with the intention of keeping meeting structure supportive while remaining quick and efficient. The purpose of Spawn Points are to:
- Set intentions in the morning and reflect on what was actually done in the afternoon.
- Support connection among individuals in a smaller, safe, comfortable setting.
- Create space for ALFs to support children with documentation of their learning with tools like Kanban boards (more on that later).
- Provide an opportunity for ALFs or kids to test out cultural practices in smaller group environment (a microculture within a microculture!). The bonus section of the starter kit has more specific examples of this.
Gratitude Circle (also called Gratitudes) can be implemented as a daily or weekly meeting to take intentional time to be present and share things we’re grateful for in our lives and our schools.
Ritual can be created during Gratitudes in whatever way feels good to your community. We find that the practice typically opens with some kind of focusing game, followed by sharing of gratitudes, acknowledgements, or general reflections. You can make Gratitudes optional or mandatory, although we find the optional meeting to be a more thoughtful gathering than the mandatory one. A gameshifting board (more on that later) can help ground the practice.
The Gratitude Circle is designed to deepen relationships and to give ourselves the power to write a positive record of the day, while over time creating a positive culture that emphasizes joy, play, gratitude, and healthy relationships over narrow definitions of failure and success. You could try lighting a candle to mark the start of the circle. You might pass a listening stick around as the tool for sharing. You could open and close the circle with a song. You can write your gratitudes before meeting or improv them on the spot. Use whatever feels right, inspired, and good to you to hold Gratitude Circle as a sacred and special time to connect.
Change-up meetings are attended by the whole community and usually occur weekly. They are characterized by the use of the Community Mastery Board (more on that in a bit) to initiate, implement, and evaluate issues or problems that affect the community. Issues (called “awarenesses”) are brought up, solutions are brainstormed, and an agreement is decided upon and implemented - usually tested for a week before it is fully incorporated into the community agreements. This isn’t a time to flesh out all the reasons why a solution may be a good idea or not, just a quick brainstorm and a decision to try something for a week.
If sitting through the whole Change-Up process is a challenge for your community, developmentally or for other reasons, there are a couple of ways to modify it. You might decide to limit Change-Up cover only a manageable number of awarenesses - three is a good rule of thumb. Or, you might split the meeting into two parts: Check-In and Change-Up. Check-in then becomes the mandatory meeting where community members raise awarenesses, while the brainstorming and implementation of solutions to test are left for the optional Change-Up meeting. In this formulation Change-Up can be held right after Check-In or at a later time in the week. While splitting up the awareness-raising and solution-finding in this way can mean that some members of the community are not a part of the rulemaking process, we do like to remind students that decisions are made by the people who show up.
The Bonus Content includes a deeper dive into Change Up, including stories from actual meetings.
The Culture Committee serves to bolster open communication and intentional culture creation and is comprised of both ALFs and students. Its role is twofold: to help solve conflicts and to brainstorm ways to improve the culture of the learning community. In engaging in this process, the culture becomes stronger and more cohesive.
Conflict Resolution: When a person finds themselves in a conflict, the first step is to stop, take a breath, and talk to the person you are having a conflict with. Step two is to ask for support in talking with the person. When a problem cannot be solved with these basic steps, a person can fill out a Request to Meet form to be sent to the Culture Committee. Typically this form includes fields to describe who was involved, what the conflict entailed, and what kind of support the requester needs. The Culture Committee then meets to talk through the conflict and brainstorm possible solutions.
_Improving the Culture:_The “preventative care” of the Culture Committee is to create conditions that minimize conflict, finding the root cause and underlying cultural conditions that need change. The committee might find issues that they think need to be addressed within the community, which they can then bring to the Change-up meeting that is attended by all of the learning community members.
Since most ALCs are run collectively by staff, students and parents, and funded through private, sliding scale tuition, most of them involve the kids in daily clean up at the end of the day. The scope of clean up jobs, how to assign and rotate them, the timeframe, and more can be discussed at Change Up meeting. It may take time for you to find a system that works well for your community if you choose to implement clean up time at your ALC. The Bonus Content goes a little more in depth about how a process for clean up can be established.