Some of what I´ve learnt during this last year

My initial desire for blogging in this forum was really to share my exoeriences of starting up an ALC in Mexixo. Many of the challenges that one has to face when starting a school are probably more or less the same everywhere you go. Others are cultural and unique to every place. I thougth it could be interesting sharing the process, expecially considering someone ele might find it helpful. Then, obviously, caught up in the daily operations, I found myself with less and less time. However a year has passed, and next week I start Explora´s second year. That is worth celebrating with another post!

The pros and cons of an after-school program

The pros are easy! I think the main thing has been that we don´t feel the pressure that comes with a full-time school. We can focus on only having fun and enjoy the work with the kids.

This has led me to be able to focus more on my kindergarten (which is not an ALC) and assure the economic sustainability for the smaller kids. That´s been very important, because it´s proven so much easier to get families to enroll in my kindergarten than in Explora. They understand the concept and they need it. So, by focusing on the kindergarten I have been able to set up the house, pay the bills – and keep both projects floating. Also, many of the kids in the kinder will continue to Explora once they turn seven., so it makes sense to focus on what eventually will make Explora grow.

Having the two projects in the same house has been great. They share facilities but son´t use them during the same hours. The kindergarten is adapted to 1-6 year olds – which for instance means the gate is always closed so the little ones won´t wander off. In the afternoon we open up the gate so the Explora kids can roam around freely.

The Agile Learning concept works really well for an after-school program. We´ve just had to adapt it since we don´t run it that many hours per week (only nine: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, three hours every day). That means we almost never have the time for change-up meetings. We only do them when we´ve got something serious to talk about. Sometimes the kids don´t see the point in setting their intentions: the time they´re there is short and they want to get out and have fun.

The cons have been many, mainly because I didn´t know how things were going to work out and have had to quickly adapt the project on the go, so to speak (see older posts). The biggest con is lack of parent participation. They simply don´t see the point. If they can just drop off the kids at Explora, why have to particpate in a meeting, or learn about self-directed education? Most parents are not interested in a full-time substitute for a school, and during what other after-school activities do you have to get involved as a parent?

This also means it´s hard for me to promote Explora as a full-time project, because the parents simply don´t get what it´s about. They don´t understand how broad the concept is, and what their children are really experiencing and learning there. They also have a tendancy to freak out with all the freedom we give their children. Since they´re not interested in finding out about self-directed education, they don´t approve of kids climbing the wall, making fires or using machetes unsupervised.

I think Explora is the most diverse program for kids where I live, because they can do so many different things every day. But it still seems I need to add on some chunkier stuff in order to make parents really see the benefits of the program (such as having an English speaking person come in a couple of times a week doing activities in English, or for instance music exploration, dancing or carpentery).

What would I recommend for someone else who wants to try the after-school concept?

I would start with three days a week, and I would do three days in a row.

I´d make those three days mandatory. Letting families choose how many days per week, weakens the project economically and – more important – affects the kids negatively. It´s so much harder to create a respectful culture when not all of the kids are there at the same time, or even know each other. The kids that come in only once a week don´t benefit as much from the agile concept, and we haven´t really seen any changes in those children in comparison to those who come in every day.

I wouldn´t freak out so much about the fact that time is short and adaptations are necessary. You simply can´t have the change-up meetings you might want, and reflection time is limited. But that´s okay. It´s still so much better than any other program.

You can use the after-school format as an incubator for starting up a school. This is probably the thing that excites me most at this moment. The thing is, it gives me another year to learn, plan and grow. And – just because the plan is to turn Explora into a full-time program, it doesn´t exclude the idea of an after-school program.

You see, I want to continue using the afternoon slots for the older kids. On one hand, because I want to go on separating the kinder and Explora. I could rent two spaces for that, but honestly, why? I know for one thing that I have no desire whatsoever to have to deal with TWO houses, TWO rents – well TWO of everything that comes with that idea. It´s just all the contrary of agile.

Then, on the other, I really want to give the kids the opportunity of sleeping in and letting them start the day when they are ready. Not when socitey says they should be ready. Starting at 2 pm makes that possible.

And… that means I´ll be able to run both a full-time school AND an after-school program simultaneaously in the same place. Monday to Friday from 2-7 pm I can have a school. And Tuesday to Thursday form 4.7 pm I can complement that and receive kids who´s parents aren´t interested in a full-time option.

That means I don´t need to turn people down just because they´re not interested in a school. The consequence is I might not need such a big group of kids for the school as I first imagined. The after-school program will grow during this year when more and more people find out about it, and that might actually be what makes it economically possible to run a small scale school at the same time.

Again, I think I´m on to something important here, but only time will tell how it´ll actually work out in reality.

If you have any questions about how to run an after-school program, please feel free to contact me!

“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?

Totally devasted

(Warning: this post is full of foul language. I´m sorry, but I can´t help it.)

I´m devasted. Furious. Deeply sad. And I feel like a complete failure and an idiot.

All the fears and doubts I´ve ever had about whether or not it is possible (or even desirable) to offer an unschooling project in Mexico seem to have materialized. And I´m not the kind of person who usually wastes a lot of time pondering on what could go wrong. I see what is, I know it´s there and that it has to be dealt with, but I always believe anything is possible and that every single one of us has the capacity to change the world. Today I´m wondering if that´s naive or just plain stupid.

The word is finally spreading, and yesterday six new children came to Explora. It felt incredible! I talked to the parents who were all well educated, interested and curious about the project. As always, I did my best to give them a quick tour in why it´s so important for children to manage their own time freely, to have the opportunity to make decisions, take initiatives and learn how to be responsible for the outcome of those decisions and initiatives.

All their kids go to the “best” private schools here in Puerto Escondido.  “Best” in the sense that parents believe they´re better. Maybe because they have to pay. I honestly have no idea. Every time I visit those schools, I get the creeps and have a hard time to even breathe because of the oppressive atmosphere.

Anyway. So their children came to Explora. And during the time they stayed, my facilitators and I got a real insight in how the traditional school system is fucking children up from the beginning. (Pardon my language, but there´s no other appropriate term, and besides, I´m still furious – with the system, that is.)

These children don´t listen. I believe they don´t know how. Probably because they´ve never been listened to, so they have this urge to be heard.
They didn´t listen to the facilitators, and they didn´t listen to the other children. They called them names. They were using violent language. They were showing very aggressive attitudes. They were even throwing rocks at the Explora kids.

I´m sure these children have never had the opportunity to get their own emotions validated, so they don´t know how or what they feel and they can´t control their own actions. Having empathy and compassion is impossible in that situation. It´s obvious they´ve grown up in a violent and oppressive system that doesn´t listen to them, that shows no respect for them and that´s what they´ve learnt is okay. That is how you live life. So they all have developped a bullying mentality. And they´re only EIGHT!!!

We were in shock yesterday. The collision between systems was awful to watch. The ordinary Explora kids got very upset. They´re used to us all having a wonderful time. And yesterday they were being attacked with rocks, dammit!

And everything got complicated because I had organized a party at the beach with the kindergarten families, so I had to take off. But I know that my facilitators are good, and I knew they were going to be able to substitute for me. And they did a great job. But it wasn´t enough. Those kids just didn´t respond.

They were given freedom, maybe for the first time in their lives, and they had no idea how to use it constructively. So they turned into little monsters.

Let me be clear: none of this comes a surprise to me. I have been concerned about the possibility of this happening. But to see it in real life was horrifying. Because the kids are not to blame. It´s this very violent, aggressive and oppressive society and its stupid educational system that is to blame. And I truly hate the system. I HATE IT so badly. This is what it´s doing to children. It fucks them up.

It makes me want to cry. And the parents have no idea. They keep on thinking it´s all good. That exams are important and grades even more so. They think their children´s behaviour is normal. They´ve never seen anything else.

And here I am wondering what the hell I was thinking when I decided to create Explora. How could I ever imagine it would be a good idea? How could I ever think that I´d be able to change anything from the outside? How could I ever believe we would be able to make a difference?

I know I need to sit down and have a serious conversation with these parents. If they want to keep their children in Explora I can see only one way of doing it: by accepting only one of these children per day and see if maybe, hanging around with kids that do listen and that are respectful might do somehing positive to them. I need to find a way to create a detox strategy.

I´m still devasted, furious and sad. And I still feel like a failure and an idiot. But I´m not giving up. Any ideas on how to proceed are more than welcome.


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

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.


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!

How boring life would be without challenges!

So, a week later I can say that we´ve kind of resolved the inertia of certain kids in Explora.

As a teacher I know how important it is to back off and give students space instead of demanding immediate response to for example questions. However I hadn´t thought that the mere presence of the facilitators would strangle the intention setting process.

We backed off (and literally out of the room), and the kids actually started talking to each other, making more plans together instead of setting intentions on a pure individual basis.

That was the first step. The second was to gently but surely make the kids understand we´re not there in order to play with them or entertain them. This has been easy for some children, and a lot harder for others.


Knitting – on their own initiative!

What we´ve noticed is that all the kids that are bi-cultural (one parent is Mexican and the other is from another country) have no problems at all in taking initiative and being in charge of their own activities. The kids that are very dependant on the facilitators, are the ones that are mono-cultural Mexicans – particularly the ones from families with scarce economical resources.

I know enough about how the majority of Mexican families educate their children and how the traditional school system works, to not be very surprised. The challenge has been to find a way to work with them in order to support them without getting in the way.

Thanks to the support of several ALFs we managed to make this week flow so much better than the second. Instead of leaving completely drained, the facilitators now leave happy and energised.


Kids playing Ninjas. They love that game!

The new challenge that is arising has to do with one very red child (check Spiral Dynamics for references) that is not functioning very well with the other kids, disrespecting both the community agreements and the student agreements. We have set up a plan of how to deal with all the situations that occur around this child and I´m quite thrilled to see how it will work out this coming.

Ending this post with a HUGE thank you for all the support some of you have been offering me these weeks – it´s incredibly helpful and I really appreciate it 🙂