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What is an Agile Learning Center?

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Our world is bursting with new information and high specialization. For children to navigate this rapidly changing landscape, they need to be at the helm of their 21st century learning: to practice making decisions and discovering their gifts, talents, and passions.

alc_alfsummer15-looking-upIn addition, children are natural learners. They are at their peak of mental flexibility and ability to absorb ideas, insights, and exploration. It is senseless to consume their days and evenings with the memorization and regurgitation of data for standardized tests on a narrow selection of subjects. Far more important than memorization are the skills of finding information, filtering it, integrating it, and using it in new and creative ways to build something valuable.

The ability to quickly translate a vision or idea into tangible results has always been a valuable skill. In today’s rapidly evolving world, it is a fundamental capacity of the leaders in every field. Daily activity at Agile Learning Centers is organized around this understanding.

What do ALCs focus on?


Most major projects can’t be done alone, but working together can be frustrating and dysfunctional when the conditions are contrived and the participants not invested. Effective collaboration happens when people care about what they are doing and have the tools to adjust the social dynamics so they can work together successfully. When collaboration is experienced in this manner, people access each other’s strengths and experience a deep sense of accomplishment.


Many adults express regret that they were unable to identify their passion earlier in life. What are you here to do? How do you discover your purpose? One thing we know is that you won’t find it without ample opportunities to explore. If you can’t try doing what you think you might love, you won’t find out whether or not you really love it.

We regularly hear from parents that they wish they’d had the opportunity to explore their passions earlier so they could have developed a greater sense of purpose. Maybe they didn’t need to change their college major 5 times, graduate with a degree they didn’t really use, and finally figure out what they’re about during a mid-life crisis.

The sooner a child is given the time and space to pursue their talents and passions, the sooner they can develop mastery in one or more of these domains. The achievement of mastery is itself a transferable skill which provides confidence to move through the world with a sense of purpose and awareness of the difference you can make. 

Culture Creation

Many people imagine that culture is simply something we must accept, that it is unchangeable. The fact is, we can create and change culture intentionally, especially within a smaller community, such as a business or school. This phenomenon has become more apparent since the advent of the internet, which made a variety and diversity of subcultures more visible.

Tools that facilitate intentional culture creation serve to make implicit cultural norms explicit, help us practice new patterns of behavior through social agreement, and enhance accountability using increased visibility of intentions and results.

Creating the values and behaviors that we want, together, allows us to operate without an oppressive number of rules or overbearing structure. Because everyone is participating in the culture creation, everyone is invested in supporting it.

Tools and Practices


Some things are central to what ALCs are about, while other elements are flexible and may vary between communities. We use a metaphor of a tree to illustrate this aspect of the ALC educational model more clearly.

The soil we grow from is trust: in students, in each other, in you. The four assumptions—roots—which ground us are as follows:

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


Tools and practices are the leaves of the Agile Tree. As a group, they help the tree nourish and feed itself, but no individual leaf is essential to the health of the tree. Some may be useful on a daily basis, while others get pulled out only a couple times a year… And they change! Like leaves, tools and practices have seasons of relevance: they are used when they’re useful, changed when what’s needed of them changes, and set aside when they are no longer of service. 


Set-the-Week is a meeting for introducing and scheduling a new week’s opportunities–trips, projects, classes, games, film screenings, etc–which we refer to as “offerings.” Resource people make special offerings and get commitments from those interested. There are progress checks on regular offerings to decide whether they should continue. Groups working on long-term projects increase their work days or rehearsals as benchmarks and showcases approach. Possibilities become plans, and they get posted on a Weekly Schedule Board where they’re easily referenced through the week.

alc_generic-group-week-kanbanDaily Schedule Board outlines the scheduled offerings for the day. New offerings can be added to it as they come up. It’s useful in many ALCs to post the location of each offering along with its title and time; passers-by can quickly gather from this tool what’s going on when and where to go if they’re interested.

An Offerings Board lists possible offerings and opportunities. Agile Learning Facilitators (ALFs), parents, resource people, and students can contribute to this repository of potential whenever they want to make their time, skills, or off-site adventures available to others.

Declaring and Reflecting

In Agile Software companies, Stand-Up Meetings typically happen in the morning and are conducted, not surprisingly, while participants stand. Standing keeps the energy up and gets everyone ready to jump into the day. ALCs often have similar Morning Meetings or Spawn Point Meetings, where the practice is very similar. In this meeting, each person states their intentions for the day and makes any requests for support they may need. This simple process takes only ten to fifteen minutes, but it starts each day with intention, accountability, and a chance for cross-pollination. 

The learning cycle that begins with Morning Meeting’s intention sharing comes full circle during Afternoon Meeting (also known as Afternoon Spawn Point in ALCs with Spawn Points and Closing Meeting in ALCs where it’s the last meeting of the day). This meeting focuses on personal and group reflection. We take this time to ask, “Did we accomplish what we intended to? If so, how? If not, why not?”



These meetings create a feedback cycle through which learners grow in self-awareness. Documentation tools are regularly used during these meetings, to further support students in self-assessing their progress towards their goals, recognizing patterns in their time-management and decision-making, and deciding what–if anything–they want to change when they approach their intentions the next day.  


alc_generic-possibilitiesFrom kanbans and their digital counterparts on Trello.com to student and facilitator blogs, community YouTube channels to Facebook groups and Tumblr feeds, we have a diverse range of documentation-generating tools being used across ALCs. Some reflect to the individual what’s happening (or not) with their intentions. Some support deeper personal reflection and sharing of experiences. Some face outwards, sharing glimpses of what we’re up to with parents and community members. All are excellent resources for students building descriptive portfolios, at any point in their learning journeys.

Creating Culture

At Change-Up Meetings, all staff and students gather for a check-in. They can be daily, weekly, or monthly, and the goal is to discuss and possibly change-up school culture. Participants bring “awarenesses” to the meeting. Maybe they are aware that there isn’t a norm established regarding use of a specific room, and they bring it to the group’s awareness because they want clarity.


More often, the awareness is an issue that the participant would like the group to address. The group brainstorms solutions and then picks one to try out for a short period of time. We refer to these trial solutions as being in “implementation.” The group revisits the solutions in implementation at their next change-up meeting; those that are working move from implementation to “practicing,” where they stay until they become an established community norm–part of the culture–and the issue vanishes.

If a solution in implementation turns out not to be much of a solution, it gets thrown out and the group implements a different solution. This very useful tool for tracking and visualizing the process while also documenting the norms the community has established together through the Change-Up process is called the Community Mastery Board or CMB.

Some awarenesses require deeper discussion than is productive to attempt in a large group meeting like Change-Up. Someone wants to brainstorm fundraiser ideas so the school can afford more laptops or canvas. Someone else noticed that meeting flow management tool needs upgrading. Two students had a conflict and request support resolving it. These are the kinds of topics that are brought to the attention of the Culture Committee, a group of staff and students who have committed themselves to proactively shaping the school culture. In this small, focused group, meetings can be used to create specific proposals for upgrading tools and practices, discuss possible underlying causes of cultural disruptions, and spend time exploring ways to nurture the upward spiral growth of their community. 

alc_alfsummer15-kids-sittingThe Culture Committee can also be convened as the last step of the Conflict Resolution Process. The process consists of four simple steps for a person who winds up in a conflict. First, they are asked to stop, breath, and decide how to communicate to the other person. Next, they try talking to the other person. If that doesn’t work, they ask a third party to help them talk to the other person. If the problem persists, they request the support of the Culture Committee. They explain their experience of the situation, and the committee discusses the nature of the problem and how to respond to it. The solution may be to facilitate a discussion between those involved in the conflict, or it may be to address each individual separately to clarify community boundaries and offer personalized support.


Do you love learning as much as your children?!

We have a myriad of resources, books, and videos that support the theory and practice behind free learning environments. Check out the full database on the main ALC website here

More questions about what we do?

Check out the main ALC FAQ here