Facilitation and Beyond
Facilitating @ Startup ALCs
If you are just starting out, remember that it takes time to build trust and strong cultural norms. In the startup phase of an ALC, the most important thing an ALF does is facilitate the creation of a safe environment. This means both a physically and emotionally safe environment, which we’ll explore further in the next section. It is highly suggested that there be more than one ALF holding a school; generally we find that a 1:7 ALF-to-student ratio works very well. The best scenario is a team of people working together, parents and ALFs. The “Building a Team” section of the starter kit discusses this in more detail.
Trust is foundational to all ALCs, but requires particular tending in the startup phase of a community. If the focus is on questions like “What are the children doing with their time? What are they learning?” then the environment becomes one where the adults feel like they must prove the kids are learning and being productive. This is what happens in most conventional schools where teachers feel a responsibility to prove their own worth through the accomplishments of the children, and can fundamentally undermine the foundation upon which safe spaces are built. Later on, we’ll dive deeper into the idea of creating an intentional culture.
A final note on startups: when you’re first starting out there won’t be a strong, well-established culture, which means the culture that new families bring with them can have a significant influence. The stronger the alignment is between an ALC’s initial group of families and their facilitators, the smoother the culture creation process will be. You will need to be clear about the needs of the whole community and discern when it feels right to say that your ALC isn’t the right place for this child at this time. This does not mean anything is wrong with the family. It’s simply that a startup school without an established culture won’t be a safe place for every child. Recognizing this early and being honest about it with yourself and the family, even when you really want it to work out, can save everyone a lot of frustration down the road.
Facilitating @ Established ALCs
As the community grows and culture becomes more established, it is the role of the facilitator to evolve and grow with it. This means asking yourself, your fellow ALFs, parents, children, and other community members questions like:
- What types of activities/offerings/experiences have happened at our ALC? Are there new experiences that feel healthy, exciting, or inspiring to introduce?
- How have the children individually and as a collective changed? What might we do to change our environment to better serve them now?
- Does our staff reflect the diversity of our community? How do we center the experiences of students of color, queer students, and neurodiverse students?
- What practices do we have that currently feel stale and uninspiring to us?
- How have we, as ALFs, changed, and what does that mean for our community?
- What are we doing for children that they now can do for themselves?
- What have we not been doing for children that we now see they need support with?
Facilitating vs. Teaching
It’s important to remember that while ALFs are teachers, so are all of the other students, parents, and volunteers who comprise your ALC community. One of the fundamental beliefs of ALC is by virtue of being human in the presence of other humans, you are always teaching and always learning. The unique role of a facilitator is in holding a physically, emotionally, and intellectually safe space for teaching and learning to emerge from the students’ own curiosity and intentions.