“This is an act of rebellion!”

For the first time in life, I dreamt I had to go back to secondary school. Apparently I had to complete my studies with some grades I had missed in math.

I felt a bit ridiculous when I walked through the door of a classroom full of teens. I didn´t dare telling them my real age, so I said I was 25 – which obviously still was too old for them.

The teacher was a colleague of mine, from the time when I was teaching at a secondary school on a couple of islands in the middle of the lake Mälaren, just 30 minutes outside Stockholm. I knew she was good so I felt at ease.

Then she started showing us these different graphs and curves. And she showed us the amount of homework we would have to do.

I started squirming in my bench. I knew this was just a waste of my time and that I would never ever use that stuff in my real life. As I sat there, I thought about it and came to the conclusion I really didn´t need it: “I´ve already graduated from university, and I know for sure I will never ever use this.”

So I suddenly stood up, raised my arm with my fist clenched and said “This is an act of rebellion!”. And I explained I refused to do any of the exercises, that I knew it was only a waste of time and that, on top of all, homework is really damaging. “Actually”, I said, “you should read my book!”. And I proudly walked out of the classroom.

That´s when I woke up, crying of laughter. I think it´s one of the best dreams I´ve ever had!

Explora in full transformation

Since November, I´ve felt increasingly uncomfortable with the ways things have been playing out in Explora. Don´t get me wrong: we´re having a great time most of the time. And I still think the concept of an after-school program was a great idea: bringing alternative education “to the masses”. But in real life here in Mexico, the challenges have been huge.

Not enough families have been showing even a remote interest for the Agile Learning concept. I was fine with that, thinking the kids themselves will be the best embassadors for Explora. But even though they love it here, the parents still haven´t grasped the innovative aspects, thus not sending their kids more times a week (because they have English classes, soccer training and so many other things to prioritize).

And since it´s an after-school program I can´t ask the parents to be more present, to read up, to learn and investigate, or even support Explora in other ways. They just don´t care.

For someone who´s been giving workshops for parents for over a decade, it´s been really frustrating not being able to support them at all, seeing misunderstandings and miscommunications arise because they really have no idea what we´re doing and why. Because they simply don´t get it, and frankly don´t even seem that interested in their own kids. So, I´ve come to a place where I feel that I have no time and no energy to work with children whose parents aren´t present nor interested.

Then there´s been the challenge with the “disturbing elements”. Kids that come in once a week, damaged by the system, and basically tear apart our conscious creating culture in a second. Because they don´t know how to listen (not even to themselves) and even less respect another human being (obviously because they haven´t been respected a lot in their lives either). We´ve done our very best to work with them, but the time is too scarce in order to have real results.

As you might understand, it´s proven very complicated to work on these premises, and last week I realized I´d most likely have to shut Explora down. I simply refuse to be in charge of a place where I can´t guarantee children´s emotional safety.

It felt crap. I have such a huge commitment with children and teenagers, always fighting for their rights: trust, respect and freedom. But it´s absurd to have such a commitment when the big majority of parents don´t.

In the middle of the thought that I´d have to let go of the most innovative project I have ever created (tears running and all that emotional meltdown I always go through), I realized it didn´t have to be that way. There was another way to do it. I´d just have to do something I had wanted to avoid all along: turn Explora into a full-time school. Or rather unschool. Or lets say: a substitute for school. Dammit! I don´t want to define it for what it is not (and the word “school” drags plenty of connotations along with it: teaching, curriculum, adult directed etc.).

But enough parents have shown up looking for a school and “only” finding and after-school program. I haven´t been looking for them. They´ve come to me which shows me the need is clearly there. So why not just go with the flow? It isn´t something I had ever thought I´d do, but why not? And you know: it feels light and fun – which is all I need in order to know that it´s the right step to take.

So, for sakes of clarity: as from August 2017, my intention for Explora is that it will be a full-time Agile Learning Center that will be open in afternoons, 2-7pm, with a steady group of children whose parents are willing to let them educate themselves freely, and fully ready to support them on that way. So yes, I´m focusing on attracting very open-minded families (I actually already have a great group that will meet up with me tomorrow in order to explore Explora). And no, I won´t receive parents that aren´t interested in challenging adultism in all its forms.

This year is all about learning and practicing. In August we will be ready – on one condition: that this process flows. If it doesn´t, it´s okay. I won´t push the river.

Involving the parents – finally!

So, I wrote my last post on November 12th, and then my computer crashed.

Being wihtout a computer for so long is really frustrating for someone who uses writing as a means of reflection, sharing, growth and development on a regular basis. Now I finally have my computer back, but only temporarily. It needs new components before it should function properly again, and who knows when those components will find there way to Puerto Escondido (the Hidden Harbour, in Spanish).

After the feeling of total devastation I went through, when a group of new kids came in and tore down the entire Explora structure in a second, I picked myself up and started acting like the director I am.

I wrote a blog post in Spanish called “What the traditional school system does to our kids“, shared it with the new parents and also summoned them for an emergency Sunday meeting (which is highly unusual in Mexico, where Sundays are family days and not to be messed with).

I was a bit shaky on the inside but I know it didn´t show. I told them what had happened, why it had happened, that I wanted to prevent such things to happen in the future and in order to do so I needed to support their children in replacing destructive behaviours for more constructive ways, and that the only way that would have a chance of working would be by separating them and receiving them on different days – if, obviously, the parents were still interested in enrolling them in Explora.

The parents seemed a bit confused to begin with. This particular group is well off economically, and used to being the bossy ones – not used to being bossed around. But they handled it pretty well. I´m happy to say that I know my shit and if I have to adapt and talk in a way that makes this kind of Mexicans listen, then I´ll do so. I´m learning to use my knowledge and personality in a way that makes people down here understand that I´m an authority. That´s really hard for a Swede that was raised under the freaky cultural code know as the Law of Jante.

The result was: all of the parents understood that to me, the most important thing is creating a culture of trust, acceptance, respect and open communication so that all children may feel safe both emotionally and physically at Explora. And they all decided to enroll their kids and agreed to split the days up between all of them.

After that, things really improved. These little kids have quite low self-esteem, which is probably why they so easily fall into the bully mentality. On their own they are very gentle and soft – but already stripped off of their creativity and initiative taking. So we´ve been working on gently guiding them back towards themselves. Trying to figure out what they like and what they want to do. It´s obviously a long process, and when you can only work with a child once a week, the expectations have to be realistic.

The emergency meeting lead to another meeting that was for all of the parents. It turned out to be a really nice one. I shared the foundations of what an ALC is, the way we work with the kids (starting up with a fun group dynamic, using the talking stick and signs with the parents), the changes we´ve seen in the children and the huge differences we notice between the kids that come from the traditional system and those who are unschooled or come from my old project. They realized the monthly fee is really ridiculously low, but that it has to be and that if they want to help out with certain things I´d be more than grateful.

Strangely enough I realized some of the families seem to function through group pressure. What I mean by that, is that they will come to the meeting or enroll their child because otherwise it wouldn´t look good in the eyes of other, more powerful parents. Don´t really know what to do with that. So far it´s just an observation.

Working with parents that don´t have to assist to meetings because Explora isn´t formally a school, is challenging in the sense that they don´t have a lot of time to waste. I need to make them want to assist. It has to be fun, different and useful. I want them to look forward to the meetings and see them as a possibility of connecting and growing.  So this is another challenge that adds on to the others, but a necessary one. If I don´t work with the parents more actively, how can they ever understand and appreciate the concept of self-directed learning?

Flow vs. control

I knew it was going to be intense. Having a high-achieving personality is, per se, hard to handle. Combine that with several severe burn-outs in the past, and you migth understand that one of my main priorities has been finding a way to create my ALC where the flow carries me – instead of me trying to control the flow.

Easier said than done.

In the beginning of October I had my first call with Bear. I told him how I had distributed my time between the kindergarten and the ALC, and that Tuesdays and Thursdays were really rough days. I´d come in at eight and leave twelve hours later. Not good.

He said: “You have to stop doing that immediately.” Which I did, because I needed to free energy in order to focus on what´s really important: pulling in more kids to my project.

But it doesn´t go without conflict. I´m indispensable for basically everything. No one else has the visions. No one else can guide the kids the way I do it (because my intention and focus are crystal clear, because I´m super sensitive to the kids´vibes and needs and because I just have all this experience that no one else has). No one else can train my facilitators. No one can talk about the project the way I can etc. So how can I let the flow carry me through this process?

Before launching Explora I created a business plan and I did a SWOT analysis. The biggest weakness was precisely that: Miss Koritz is indispensable. Everything stands and falls with her.

Since I´m a visionary I always see what it´ll look like in the future. In this case that´s when I can be the holder of the project and ¡basta! The problem is: I´m in the present and not in that envisioned future. So even if my intention never was to be everywhere, I´ve known all the time that initially I will have to be. Me no like.

I can see that Explora is slowly moving forward and even though I´m doing my best not to push, the price I´m paying is still too high. After the call with Bear, it took me three weeks to recover energy enough in order to start making those necessary phone calls and visits. I´m working on so many levels at the same time, and it´s all related to the same thing: branding myself, hence promoting Explora. I´m constantly trying to find balance between what is necessary and and what is enough.  And I´m forcing myself to listen to my body, slow down and rest – if that´s what it needs.

Recharging my batteries helps my mind to think clearer. And the clarity told me to write down a wish list. If I could get all those things that are on it, it´d make a huge difference for me and for my ALC:

  1. I´d like a mastermind group that can help me sort out priorities and find new creative ways of using Eplora.
  2. I´d like a weekly mentoring only for me, where I can vent my insecurities and just be listened to.
  3. I wish I could hire a main facilitator that could be in charge of the activities and of the kids, and that could also help me training the facilitators. I know I´m a good facilitator myself and I do have a lot of fun with the kids, but I have to recognize my energy isn´t there. If I could have it all my way, this person would be an associate – someone with the same visions and understanding as myself, but who could take care of this more practical part of Explora.

Number one is a must, but might take some time to gather agroup like this. I think it should consist of people that live here in Puerto Escondido but that have a business mentality.

Number two might not be that hard. I just need to ask for it.

Number three is what I most crave for, but also the thing I have no idea how to manifest. Trusting I can stimulate more flow, I´ll just put it out there: Hey Universe, can you bring me the perfect person plus the means to pay her/him, thank you very much!

My aspie son is my thermometer!

One of the things that had me worried before launching my ALC, was how my son Teo, who´s got Asperger´s Syndrome, would function in Explora.

Teo and his half labrador Solle
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Teo likes playing with other kids, but it often gets too intense for him since he´s quite at loss trying to figure out all the subtle unexpressed rules. Many times he feels misunderstood, and also misinterprets what´s really going on. He´s very creative and fun to be with, so other kids easily gather around him. Unfortunately Teo often interprets that as them harassing or bullying him because they won´t leave him alone. And the other kids totally don´t get Teo is different (only a bit odd) and in what way.

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As from December 2015, Teo no longer goes to school, and previously he had only attended the schools that I founded in the past.

On one hand, the teachers were clueless as of how to treat him and they had too much on their plates to try to figure out how a boy with Asperger´s Syndrome functions and what he needs in order to feel safe in a group.

On the other hand, Teo has never liked adult-directed activities and since he has a highly developed integrity, he strongly reacts against everything that he perceives as imposition.

The last semester he cried himself to sleep every night, begging me to take him out of there. I didn´t know what to do. I had founded the sdsc_1166chool, but it clearly wasn´t working for him at all. At the same time I was reading a lot about unschooling and democratic schools, and suddenly I had colliding paradigms in my mind. I knew Teo didn´t need school. But initially I had founded it for him. I felt like a terrible mother.

Everything cimg-20151125-wa0005hanged when together we made the decision to start unschooling him. It was really profound. Teo felt so trusted and respected. He suddenly actually had a say in what was best for him: hang out at home, spend more time with me and pursue his main interests: computer games and dinosaurs.

I noticed how Teo, little by little, started healing the wounds he had developped at his school. He started feeling safe again. But yes, it was lonely too. I realized his comfort zone started to shrink. He no longer wanted to see his friends, go to the market, swim in the ocean or even eat out. He just wanted to stay at home all the time. And I was wondering how he´d adapt to Explora.

I didn´t necessarily want him to attend every day. Having Aspergers and beingimg_20160904_063712 exposed to other humans can be very draining (animals are so much easier to socialize with!). I thought three times a week would do. Teo agreed.

At ALF-summer in Charlotte, I consulted several people on different aspects that had me worried. Teo, being hyper sensitive to any kind of situations that restrain his freedom or that can be perceived as disrespectful, is a really good thermometer for what a healthy culture is.

img-20150816-wa0043At my last school, I often had to sacrifice Teo and his needs in order to avoid being considered over-protective. I never want to commit that mistake again. Because the thing is: if Teo is doing okay, so are actually the rest of the kids. They might not be as sensitive as him and could possibly putimg-20160119-wa0082 up with lots of more crap than Teo (which, of course, is horrible per se). That´s why I´ve come to realize that Teo is really the best thermometer ever. If the dynamics work for him, they work for the others too. If the agreements are fair according to Teo, they are super fair according to all. Teo has a highly developped moral and wants justice, fair play and freedom for all.

One of the great advantages with an Agile Learning Center is all the visual, very concrete agile tools and the flexible structure. It can be adapted to any kind of individual needs, and Teo is no exception. So, Teo really likes Explora – just like all of the other kids that attend. Sometimes it´s too intense, but we´re also talking a lot about the fact that he himself needs to set healthy boundaries: if certain situations make him explode – learn to identify what doens´t work for him and avoid those situations. It´s a process, obviously, but we´re finally there and the best of all: it´s working!
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The deschooling process is getting to me

So, the first week went great. It far succeed any expectations I had had. However, the second week left me with a whole different feeling.
No new kids have been enrolled. My radio spots haven´t started to run yet and the directors who were supposed to visit Explora haven´t had time to make it, so some days I have three kids, other days I have nine.
My impression is that the energy has started to stagnate a little. How that can happen after only two weeks is most likely due to several things:

The kids really have very little initiative. They are used to being directed by adults and constantly look to the adults for guidance. By now they know there are board games, art and loads of free outside play. They also know how to throw the snap and play ninjas, but no one is setting any real other intentions but “play without a plan” (something my son initiated and now they´re all copying him…). Now, if they all would “just” play freely, nothing would make me happier! The point is: most of them don´t. They wait for the adults to initiate an activity.

Every day we end with the community mastery board, but only the adults have stuff they want to add. We´ve told the kids they can add anything they think isn´t working very well, but nobody has anything to say so far. We then do a short gratitude circle, but none of the kids have anything to say.

My feeling is they still don´t feel safe enough to share any personal comments.

Besides the lack of initiative and creativity in the kids – which clearly is something I need quick support with in order to manage generating, I don´t know what else to do in order to make the kids feel more comfortable. They come from completely different backgounds and have been exposed to very different family circumstances and schooling. It´s not that easy for them to connect across “borders” (we have so many of those invisible ones down here).

Thursday I tried solid/liquid and it totally didn´t work. Only one very outgoing girl felt safe enough to play. The others were just staring looking completely stiff. I had already questioned that particular activity in my mind, but I thought I´d try it out with them anyway. I still don´t know why I had the feeling it wouldn´t work, nor why it actually didn´t. Why didn´t the kids respond in the same way they did to ninjas? I intuitively know why, but I can´t really put words to it. For some reason it´s an activity that demands more trust, and it also puts the kids more on the spot.

I have so many questions about what other activities to offer and how to guide the kids towards more self-directed learning opportunities. At this point it feels like as if I will have to basically kill myself in the process of finding more fun group games to help them connect. I haven´t managed to find any information in Spanish on group activity games, so the other facilitators can´t help me with it.

I have also observed that the facilitators tend to go for very adult directed offers that don´t create any space for the kids taking their own initiatives. We talked about it the other day at our weekly meeting, and they could totally see it too. I have some ideas on what I could suggest to them, however, I´m starting to feel drained in the process of first creating and now holding the entire project without any tangible help from anyone else down here.

I know there will always be ups and downs. Waiting for the rollercoaster to take me up again!

One week after having opened Explora

I´ve been nervous about starting up Explora. Quite nervous.

What if the kids don´t respond to the agile tools? What if they simply don´t know how to take initiatives? And what if my facilitators don´t get it? Or what if I don´t manage to be agile enough, turning all rigid and controlling? And imagine if there are no kids?

Then I´ve taken a big breath and focused on remembering that I´ve done my very best on all levels and that now it´s time to let go, let the snowball roll and trust that everything is in perfect order.

One week after having opened, I have nine kids and more are coming. The kids are having so much fun and they´re becoming the best ambassadors for Explora.

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The agile tools are working really well! I´m a beginner, obviously, but I´m not a beginner working with kids and using my personality and autenthicity is showing results. The point is coming across to the other facilitators: be your unique and authentic self and let the children be that too. The consequence is an atmosphere where the kids feel at ease and are showing a lot of trust. I think it´s a great beginning of creating culture consciously.

Some kids are just roaming around freely (like my son, who´s one and only intention throughout the week has been: “play without a plan” – and then he ends up doing plenty of other things as well). Others are already implementing projects, like creating a cornfield or redesign clothes. One thing is for sure: they´re having the time of their lives every day!

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The children are still in an adaptation process that I´m guessing will last at least a semester. What we do is so radically different, and just to have them use our first names instead of “maestra/maestro” has been revolutionary.

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My facilitators and I are observing that this much freedom can be both overwhelming and a little bit confusing to them – simply because they´re still not used to it. So many possibilities of creating, but where to begin and how to ground it? This is where I feel our biggest task so far lies: to help the kids ground their ideas and actually make them happen – always remembering to offer the maximun support but interfering as little as possible.

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The facilitators feel positively challenged by this different way of doing things. I quoted Maria Montessori to them a couple of days ago: “Every unnecessary help is an obstacle to a child´s development”, and it really made them reflect on how and when to intervene.

However, the main achievement so far is: we´re all having a tremendously fun time! The kids are enjoying themselvs soooo much, and the facilitators love coming in to “work”. Personally, I have never ever had this much fun before because I´m allowed to be my playful self all the time which creates a huge sense of freedom. I´m guessing the kids and the other adults are feeling the same thing, even though they might not express it the same way.

Of everything I´ve created so far in my life, Explora is the top of the tops and I´m so proud 😀 The agile format, the fact that it´s an after-school program (and thus accessible to so many more children) – the culture creating aspect of it – it just all rocks!

Satisfaction and happiness: what a way to start a project!

 

Start with WHY

When you create something new, I think it´s vital to be very clear about why you want to do it. That´s basically where you´ve got to start because oterwise you´ll get lost in the process or unconsciously create something that you didn´t intend.

When I started my first school projects, my whys were:

  • To provide my son with a healthy educational option.
  • Let my creation benefit as many other children as possible.
  • Sowing a tiny seed of transformation in this world.

All of it I managed to do, but I also missed some important points that lead me to
1) Having almost no spare time because I was constantly working as a volunteer.
2) Being in a really crappy financial situation for years, since the schools completely took over my working life and I had less and less hours where I could actively make money.
3) Not really enjoying the process or my everyday life.

So, this time I kept the above whys, but I also added on three more: I decided to create Explora in order to also be able to live off my passion (instead of triple working) and at the same time have great fun every day. And I really intend this to include all my co-workers, because if we earn good money for what we do, we´re so much more motivated, and if we have fun, so will the kids. The third and last is to create freedom – for everyone involved.

After only one week of having opened up Explora, it´s obvious that I´m on the track of achieving all of the above.

 

Starring in a coming documentary on alternative education

Sometimes I´m just like: seriously?! Is this really happening?

That´s the feeling I got when I got to know Bruno Iriarte. Bruno is travelling from Mexico to his home country Argentina in a Volkswagen minibus, visiting all the different projects on alternative education he finds on his way. His goal is to investigate all of them and create a documentary on alternative education in Latin America. (You can like his FB-page here.)

Gemán Doin, the director of the documentary The Forbidden Education, is keeping him up-dated on what projects to visit and what persons to contact. And that´s how Bruno found me and Explora.

Since I don´t have that much time, I told him he could assist one of my sessions with my facilitator team and he gladly accepted.  The cool thing was that it was just the day I was going to explain what exactly an ALC is, and on what foundations it´s built.

Is it enough to say we had an incredible time all of us?

Is it enough to say that Bruno himself experienced a quantum leap in his own thinking?

Is it enough to say that he´s super impressed with the ALC concept, the ideas behind Explora and that he sees me as this rad visionary, unique in Latin America?

No, it´s not enough, because then I was interviewed and filmed and will now be part of his documentary!!!

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This is a big time woooohoooo for me. I´ve been working on positioning myself as an expert on alternative education in Latin America, but it takes time and I´m still very isolated geographically. But here someone shows up, eager to talk with me about what I think, listening to every word I say like as if they were precious drops of gold.

Again I feel so seen as a person, and appreciated for all that I do. Now Bruno is all about how to get my book translated from Swedish to Spanish. – We need this book in Latin America, he says.

My life is expanding in the most incredible ways lately, and all I can think is: how could it get any better that this?

 

 

Stepping into my power

Lately I have been very concerned with how to pull in the money I need to get the most basic stuff in order for Explora to be able to function on a basic level.

Opening up the kindergarted enabled me to shape up the facilities, but the top floor has been completely empty – and still is.

Since this time, I´m not running a communitarian project I have no one else to rely on in order to make Explora happen. However, since Explora is still a project for the community, I thought I´d be able to pull in support from some of the more resourceful people down here (see blog post on that). So, I shared my ideas with several of them, and got loads of thumbs-ups and cheers. But nothing more.

Since I know furnishing and equipping Explora is nothing in comparision with what I had to do in order to get the kindergarten ready, I have´t felt particularly worried about it. I´ve more been wondering how I want to interpret the lack of physical support.

And here´s my conclusion: 
I feel that the lessons I´ve had to learn when I left my old project in December 2015, have been all about stop hiding and making myself smaller, that it´s time for me to step up and take up my own space.

I´ve had to learn that I´m so much more powerful than I´ve ever dared to express, and that it´s nothing to be ashamed about. That dimming my light only harms me – and others. Since I´m all about empowering others, I´m being incongruent if I don´t dare to fully express my own power. I´m not steeling anyone else´s thunder by doing so. And, more important: I´m no longer misleading people by leading a project but pretending I´m not all that important. 

This time I´fully need to show myself what I´m capable of. I don´t need anyone else to help me pull this off. I have all the qualities Explora needs in order to get started and to function properly. And by doing it all by myself nobody will ever again be able to tell me I don´t know anything about starting up and leading educational projects. 

So this week I decided it was time to act and went about and ordered mattrasses and cushions for the cozy corner. I´ve bought several board games. And this coming week I´m getting art materials and whiteboards. I have a couple of plastic chairs and a table that I don´t use. That will do to begin with.

And suddenly the owner of the house showed up and told me he´d clean the two lots of land that are included in the rent.

Monday 5th I´m opening up the doors to Explora. I´m ready!