The Agile Tree // The ALC Model

We use a metaphor of the Agile Tree to illustrate our educational model: some parts, the soil and roots, are essential beliefs about learning which inform the practices of all successful ALCs, while others, the leaves and fruit, are flexible and may vary between communities.

The Soil // Trust

The biggest dividing line between ALCs and a traditional school environment boils down to this: Who do we trust to direct a child’s learning?

Most educational institutions come from the perspective that children are a kind of empty vessel to be filled up with knowledge - a paradigm inherently untrusting of children’s choices and intentions as a valid educative force. Someone who “knows best” should be the one to decide what children should learn, how they should learn it, and judge if they’ve learned it well enough. That someone just never seems to be the person who actually has to live with the consequences of these choices -- the child.

The Agile Tree is rooted in trust: trusting the child to know what they need to learn and to make choices that will support their education.

The Roots // Foundations

In the soil of trust, the Agile Tree has four main roots that are the underlying assumptions and ideals of our educational model. These roots are the foundation upon which everything else is built:

  1. Learning: Learning is natural. It's happening all the time.
  2. Self-Direction: People learn best by making their own decisions. Children are people.
  3. Experience: People learn more from their culture and environment than from the content they are taught. The medium is the message.
  4. Success: Personal growth is achieved through cycles of intention, creation, reflection and sharing.

The Branches // Principles

The branches of the Agile Tree are the guiding principles we use to translate theory into practice and ideals into action. We want each program to be able to invent, adapt, assess, and reinvent our structures, tools, and practices to the needs of their unique community and setting. As you do so, we recommend using these principles as touchstones to help ensure your adaptations are in the spirit of the ALC educational model and haven’t wandered back toward the habits of authoritarian schooling that occupy so much of our experience.

  1. Play Infinitely: Play is one of the most powerful paths to growth. Infinite play is the mindset that games are for adapting rules and boundaries to make space for all the players so that the game may continue and expand to incorporate new horizons.
  2. Be Agile: Make tools and practices flexible, adaptable, and easy to change… or change back again. Too much change all at once can be disorienting -- try gentle changes over multiple iterations to see what’s working.
  3. Amplify Agency: Ensure tools support personal choice and freedom as well as responsibility for those choices. Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in designing and upgrading the structures which guide them.
  4. Create Intentional Culture: We shape culture; culture shapes us. A powerful, positive culture is the strongest, most pervasive support structure a learning community can have. Develop collective mastery rather than restrictive rule-making. Remember, intentional culture building supports intentionality in other domains as well.
  5. Make Feedback Visible: Make choices, patterns, and outcomes visible to participants so they can tune their future behavior accordingly. Make the implicit explicit and expand transparency. These practices empower and build trust among community members.
  6. Clarify, Simplify, and Connect: Don’t introduce unnecessary complexity. Combine many principles and intentions into a single tool or practice, instead of trying to maintain more of them.
  7. Support, Don’t Interfere: Remember that support is not direction -- it does not mean making decisions for children or intervening and managing their processes. Support that takes up too much space becomes counterproductive.
  8. Respect Others’ Time and Space: Hold no unnecessary meetings. Keep all meetings tight, productive and participatory. Honor commitments, as well as scheduled start and end times for happenings. Check-in before creating work for someone else. Be thoughtful about taking up shared space.
  9. Build Relationships: Be real. Be accepting. Respect differences. Support self-expression, self-knowledge and self-acceptance: authentic relationship is the basis of communication, collaboration, and trust between students and staff.
  10. Embrace Full-spectrum Fluency: Celebrate multiple intelligences, modes of expression, and learning styles. Nurture multiple literacies. A functional education for today’s world needs to focus on more than just “book-learning” textual, numerical, analytical, or memorization skills. Social, relational, digital, creative, and entrepreneurial skill sets are now essential; recognize and develop them as such.
  11. Share Value: Make learning visible and sharable. Use tracking systems, record measurable progress, generate documentation (blogs, portfolios, images), and teach others.
  12. Make Safe Spaces: Provide an environment of physical, social, and emotional safety. Set and keep critical boundaries. Foster great freedom within an appropriate frame of safety and legality, so that kids’ energy can be freed up to focus on learning instead of protecting themselves.

The Leaves & Fruit // Tools & Practices

The leaves of our Agile Tree are the tools and practices that we use on a daily basis to embody all this theory. You will read about them here in a bit; keep in mind that these tools may be adapted, changed, replaced, or even abandoned at a particular ALC. But do not try to abandon them wholesale. They are extremely powerful culture-hacking devices which we’ve found produce a healthy culture - both by their direct and indirect effects. Being agile means tweaking tools and practices as your community needs - not reinventing the wheel every time things feel stagnant.

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