My partner put me in touch with an old client of theirs. They needed help to add a page to their existing WordPress site and fix a few cosmetic issues. I agreed to help and dove in, expecting a simple process. The theme was using a baked in version of page builder which I quickly found was both out-of-date and totally not working.
I was to extract text and images from a PDF and apply them to a page in WordPress. I was able to extract the text as HTML (formatting it with some regular expressions) and gathered the source images from the client.
Once I attempted to add it to the page using Page Builder I found that the raw HTML input wouldn’t capture the input text. No wonder the client was having problems! I was able to hack the system by adding the text directly to the input element via the browser’s development console. An impossible task for someone with a only a working knowledge of browsers and web technology.
After shimming the content into the page and fixing some other esoteric theme related issues I was done. This simple act of adding a page to their website cost 300% more than it should. In fact it shouldn’t have taken an engineer to do such a basic operation.
The client had three options. Try to fix the site, recreate the site, or keep using this hobbled site. Because the site hadn’t been maintained the off-the-shelf theme, WordPress core, and many plugins (some integrated with the theme) were all out of date. Updating and fixing the site might introduce a host of new problems and might not even fix the site.
To keep the site as is and just deal with the wonky broken system would cost way more in the long run for the client. The whole point of using a CMS like WordPress is to make tasks like page creation simple enough for a client to manage on their own. The process of adding content to a page was so onerous that it would be faster to just build pages out of HTML!
So my recommendation was to recreate the site in Squarespace. The client accepted this and we began work.
I opted to use the ishimoto theme as a base to create the site. The original site was very clean and minimal so it was fairly simple to remake using only Squarespace’s theme and design tools, no code necessary.
By using gallery blocks and the intuitive content tools provided out-of-the-box by Squarespace I was able to quickly recreate all of the pages. Better yet the client was able to jump in and figure out how to use the system without much hassle. The cost was about twice as much as adding a single page to the old site!
On top of this we were able to leverage Squarespace’s e-commerce tools to begin setting up a system to sell prints directly off the site.
I love WordPress. It is a triumph of free open source software and a gift to the world. With a few plugins and a decent theme you can create a powerful website that does anything for a fraction of the price. It puts power into the hands of the user. However it requires some upkeep, there is a cost to maintaining WordPress. I would say that when compared to Squarespace’s monthly cost (~$12) it’s about even.
The power of Squarespace is that it just works, the server and updates are all handled by someone else and requires no intervention. When all you really want to do is display some text and media (and perhaps a store) it can be a very good option.
As a designer I feared that products like Squarespace would take away from my livelihood, but I find that my skills as a “power user” make it worth while for clients to hire me to do the initial setup and design pass. I can then hand it off to them without needing to provide a long term maintenance agreement. It’s easy for me to build and it’s easy for them to edit, a win-win in my book.
Then I somehow got sucked into creating a whole branding guidelines page after stumbling on Slack.com’s branding page. It turned out awesome! I had already started organizing brand assets on a train ride home one day.
So I took all those images, exported them into a bunch of different formats and dumped them into the ALC shared Google Drive. From there I had everything I needed to put together a resource page for people wanting to use our branding assets. This is pretty much limited to ALFs and ALCs.
So it’s National Novel Writing Month and as is my way I am not writing a novel but instead committing to publish one blog post per day. This intention setting post is a meta level (and cheap) first post.
Another thing I’ve started to do is track my time, like I did when I was doing more paid work. I use a tool called slim timer to track time. So far it’s working pretty good.
This week I was out at Acorn community where I taught a few people about using Kanbans and then created these two one-pager documents about Gameshifting and Kanbans.
Last fall at ALF Weekend 2014 we participated in a game where we wrote out what we did, what we have “juice” for, what we want to be doing, and what action we are taking to get there. We wrote these down then went around the room and spoke them out to our peers, then everyone would suggest additions. It was a super powerful process an
It’s a year later and prompted by @abbyopost and @ryanshollenberger post I’ve decided to update my ALF Accountability information. If any ALFs out there want to do the same I’ll leave instructions at the bottom of this post.
The following is taken from the Mapping ALF Accountabilities Doc, updates are sub bulleted, additions are italic, while subtractions are strike through. Note: Some of these bullet points were added by me, others were added by my fellow ALFs, that should explain the change in tense.
Overall I see my role in this network to make it easy for people to accomplish what they want to do. Be that existing ALFs or people out in the world who want to create a better future for children. I feel that the more I define and document how we do things the easier it will be for people to engage with our network or create their own complementary networks.
It is through my work helping other people achieve their goals that I am fulfilled. Every time I see someone use a process or tool I’ve developed (or better, helped them develop) I am inspired to do more.
My time in this organization has been a great one, truly an upward spiral
Just like the last time we did this, if you see anything I’ve missed please comment below.
Write your own accountability post!
If you wish to participate please write a blog post with the tag:
Answer the following questions:
What I do: (for the network and in your local ALC community)
Juice: What gives you juice (what about the community or your work powers you up?)
Want: What do you want to do (in an ideal world)
Action: What actions are you taking or will you take to do this
You can see everyone’s post on the network feed site (this is a thing!) under the alfaccountability tag:
ALF Weekend Fall 2015 is over, the work has been done, and now it is time to write some blog posts. I am doing a post in two parts focusing on the outcomes and the organization of the weekend. This post will cover how the weekend was organized, what work and what could have been better.
Planning the Weekend
In the weeks leading up to the ALF Weekend @rochellehudson was attempting to organize space to host ALFs for the weekend. Ten days prior to the start of ALF Weekend @abbyo set up a Trello Board to being capturing project ideas that were being discussed on a Monday Call. Six days before the opening of ALF Weekend I began organizing in ernest by setting up a structure and schedule.
Step 1: Organizing Retreats
The first ALF Weekend in Fall 2014 took place at in upstate NY where most of our network met in person (read @nancy’s account on her blog). For me it was a powerful community building time, it was the first time that I hung out with my fellow ALFs outside of the intense ALF Summer. It was much more focused on looking in, strengthening our bonds and developing our network.
Take Away: In person events are the best way to experience an ALF weekend, if possible.
The Fall 2015 ALF Weekend wasn’t able to coordinate around a shared physical space. In our reflections there was agreement that save a large network gathering the next best thing is to have regional gatherings. If possible try to organize local space to co-work and collaborate for—at least—some of the ALF Weekend Days.
Take a look at @rochellehudson’s form for gathering information on interest around a retreat, on this Google Form (note: all ALC Network sites have access to the Gravity Forms plugin for creating forms directly on your sites!). Her form asked for the following:
Name (important and easy to forget this!)
Do you plan to participate in our Fall 2015 ALF Weekend? (with dates)
Are you able and willing to travel to [location], for this weekend?
If you can’t travel to [location], do you still plan to work on network projects virtually that weekend?
How much would you be willing to pay, per night, for an in-person retreat?
Other than the cost of lodging, how much $ could you put toward food & other expenses we could share?
Checklist: Try and gather this information from the network early! Get an idea of the cost, location, and logistics needs.
Step 2: Capture Project Ideas
There is always lots to do around the network and in local communities. Start to visualize this early! Abby took the initiative to create a Trello Board with two main lists, one for network projects and another for local projects. After hearing people say “we should do that at ALF Weekend” she created a space to hold those intentions.
Checklist: Create a container to hold ALF Weekend intentions.
Create a Trello Board with the following lists:
Then begin adding (and asking people to add) intentions as cards. Use labels to denote Network and Local ideas for work. I will go into more detail on how to organize a Trello Board later.
Step 3: Create an Overview & Infastructure
With less than a week before the start of ALF Weekend I didn’t see much more movement (aside from Rochelle and Abby) to schedule the time and projects. So I just took a stab at it, admittedly I could have reached out for support, but really I should have started the process much earlier.
Take Away: Start organizing a framework for the weekend early so there can be more feedback and buy-in from the community.
I wrote up the ALF Weekend Fall 2015 organizing document mostly for myself, to organize my thoughts, and also as something to share. As is typical with me, it was probably a little over kill and I don’t know if many people really took the time to read through the whole thing. If I were to do it over again I would have:
Added a section about how the Trello board worked.
Simplified the schedule and put it at the top.
Started the document earlier to gather more information about projects
Checklist: Create an overview of ALF weekend. Include the following:
Introduction, if people will be taking on roles, make them explicit, share important links at the top.
Create clear expectations, one of the major take aways from this weekend was the need to make explicit that if you say you are going to be somewhere then you will be expected to be there. This can be supported by a clear schedule which I’ll go over later.
Schedule overview, outline the structure of each day. If all the days will share the same structure then simplify it.
Introduce projects, give people an idea of some projects that will be worked on.
Link to project’s Trello card on the ALF weekend board (or what ever system you decide to use)
Description of project
Supporting links (Trello cards, conversation threads, blog posts, documents, etc.)
Checklist: Set up communication infrastructure.
Because this was a mostly online event I figured that we might need extra space to meet virtually. We have a dedicated Google Hangout video conference room for meetings, but if people were working on projects at the same time that would get problematic. I was also worried that if people set up their own hangouts there would be confusion over who was where doing what!
To alleviate this I created two more hangout rooms by going to my personal gmail account, navigating to hangouts.google.com and creating an empty call. I than made the call open to the public, grabbed the link, and used the Redirection plugin (available on all network sites under Tools > Redirection) to create custom links. The result:
Main Room: http://agilelearningcenters.org/hangout
Red Room: http://agilelearningcenters.org/hangout-red
Blue Room: http://agilelearningcenters.org/hangout-blue
These links should still work far into the future, so no need to set up more unless you want to!
Checklist: Set up the Trello
I expanded Abby’s Trello Board to include lists for each session so people could move cards into specific time slots. I also added labels to give cards a visual color marking to indicate information about them.
READ US FIRST: a list of cards with basic information about the board and ALF Weekend
Unscheduled Topics: list of cards that haven’t been scheduled. Cards that didn’t get worked on got moved back to this list.
Don’t know what to do? Do this!: This list was added mid-weekend to hold cards that could be worked on without much prompting.
Happening NOW! This list held cards that were currently being worked on from the sessions.
Session Lists: These lists were for each session (as pictured above) when a session ended cards were moved off and the session list was archived.
Pend until… This list holds cards that need additional work at a later date.
Done! And ready to be blogged about This list is for finished cards/projects!
At the top of each session list I added a card called RSVP with the session time and date. I requested that people add their names to a checklist on each card to indicate when they were coming. This might have been too overly complex… people took to adding cards into sessions saying that they weren’t going to be there or were going to be late, so you might want to pave those cow paths when you do this.
Labels! I used labels to indicate network projects from local projects as well as to indicate facilitation information cards (like the RSVP cards) and also to indicate which hangout room a card’s discussion was held in (main, red, blue):
Again, this was all a little bit over designed. I’m sure it could be remixed to be more lean.
Step 4: Create a Schedule Framework
For this ALF Summer I created a schedule with two 4 hour blocks each day. These “sessions” had a mini SCRUM (or a time in which individuals come together to schedule individual appointments and projects with each other) at the beginning, a “break” in the middle where people were asked to come back together to check-in, and a closing reflection period (all times are Eastern):
9am – Morning work session – Starts with 15 minute SCRUM in Main room 11am – Break – Check-in in the Main room 1pm – End Morning Session – Reflect, document results, check-out in Main room
3pm – Afternoon work Session – Starts with 15 minute SCRUM in Main room 5pm – Break – Check-in in the Main room 7pm – End Afternoon Session – Reflect, document results, check-out in Main room
A note on timing, I chose the start and end times to account for the wide variety of time zones ALFs are coming from. The Afternoon session starts at noon on the west coast and 10am in Hawaii, take this into account when planning your ALF Weekend to be inclusive!
A note on breaks, the idea behind having a mid-session break was 1) to make space for people to take care of themselves, stand up, move around, etc. 2) to make space for people who were late to integrate into the session. The idea was to have people check back into the main hangout before leaving to take care of themselves.
Overall there was a positive response to this configuration and in the first few days there was a lot of participation. However it dropped off as the weekend went on (well, we started Thursday, so by the time the weekend actually came…). The feedback I got was that people burnt out showing up to session SCRUMs to find that the people they wanted to work with weren’t there. Though, I think more shorter sessions might also work, you should mix it up!
Take Away: Have a Set-the-Weekend meeting to establish clear expectations of participation and planning when projects will be worked on.
I did hold a Set-the-Weekend meeting on Thursday night (after the first day’s sessions) but it was announced on very short notice. I did, however, like the format:
Next time: Have everyone commit to sessions they will attend first! Document who will be at what sessions and hold each other accountable.
SCRUM! Start moving projects into session slots, set specific times if need-be.
Long form Check-ins, we saved our check-ins for the end of the meeting to give everyone more time to talk. Each of us went around and discussed what we were doing in the network and/or our local community. We used this time to bond and share our successes with people we maybe haven’t seen in a while. Remember: ALF Weekend is also about community building!
Checklist: Schedule a Set-the-Weekend meeting well in advance! This is probably the most important meeting of the whole weekend, especially if it is virtual!
Step 5: Hold Coherence
I felt a high degree of ownership over the weekend so I held much of the coherence around being at meetings, facilitating, and sharing information. I wish I had had more time to collaborate and share some of the responsibility with others. Here’s a list of tasks that need doing throughout the weekend:
Facilitating session SCRUMs. Making sure trello cards get moved and that people are aware of what is going on.
Facilitating session breaks. Make sure late comers are brought up to speed on what’s going on.
Facilitating session reflections. Make sure work is documented and cards get moved.
Send end-of-day recap. I sent out an email at the end of each day that went over everything that had been worked on, this helps keep people too busy in the loop.
Checklist: Assign people these roles.
Step 6: Document the Result
I see this blog post and the one that will follow it as key to this (or any) event. I want other ALFs to feel empowered to take on this kind of responsibility which is why I try and make explicit what and how I do things.
If you are reading this with the intention to organize an ALF weekend or similar event I hope you find this useful and I also hope that you remix this!
It’s blogging time at ALCNYC and I thought I’d write down a little reflection about what I’ve been up to.
CASA Consulting gig
The big news was settling my first (perhaps the first) ALC consulting gig. A few weeks ago I got in contact with Jamaal from Cornerstone Academy for Social Action (CASA) Middle School in the Bronx and spoke to him about CASA’s move toward self-directed education and our work at ALC. I then went to meet him and was thrilled by the work they were doing there!
I hope this will set a foundation and give us a tool set to bring Agile Learning Tools into public schools.
Upgrading the Website
I went through the somewhat tedious process of upgrading our website to WordPress 4.3.1, you can read the release notes here. You can see all the stuff I did on the commit history of our website git repository.
I jumped back into Duolingo recently with the intention to do a 50 day streak, which means earning 20px per day for 50 days. I’m currently on day 14 and working on sizes and house hold object names.
Setting up ALF Weekend
I was inspired to pick up and run with the organizing of the upcoming ALF weekend. I wrote up a, possibly overly complicated system to work on stuff as a community remotely. I split up the weekend, which goes from Thursday to Monday into two four hour chunks each day which relate to a Trello board where people can put projects they wish to work on.
I’m really excited for the weekend and think it will be super productive.
The conference (or con as the cool kids say) brought together a number of intentional communities from around the world. It takes place each year at Twin Oaks a nearly 50 year old egalitarian income sharing community. Both @bear and myself think that intentional communities are very important allies for ALC as they typically already have experience in creating and maintaining the kind of culture at the heart of ALC.
On Sunday we hosted a info sharing session in the “Open Spaces” portion of the conference, which was basically like our daily intention setting and offerings practice.
Our session had about 10 people attend. We structured the presentation around a big kanban board with the column headers what we could do, what we will do, what we are doing, and what we have done. As questions came up or new topics emerged we would add them to the board. I love using the kanban to organize these kinds of meetings because it allows me to organize the meeting in a dynamic way while also modeling the tool.
We also used a Game Shifting board to facilitate the meeting space (and model the tool).
It should be said that Bear and I didn’t really “plan” very much of this event, we just shot from the hip and it was awesome!
Played a connective game
What is ALC?
How do we use this stuff in RL (Real Life) – i.e. how Bear and I used the tools and practices in our daily lives.
ALC & Experiential learning
Tool: Set the week
Tool: Change up Meeting and Community Mastery Board
What is an ALF?
Tool: Game Shift
I started by explaining the Kanban, then we moved into a connective game where bear had everyone mill around the space, make eye contact, then start saying hello, then stop and share with a person what you intended to get out of the conference. We then moved into playing “yes lets” where people suggest something to do then everyone says “yes! lets!” and we all do it. Our group stretched, jumped like a kangaroo, stood still in silence, sung a song made up on the spot, touched our toes, and sighed.
After the games we dove into what ALC was and then went over the tools and how we use them in real life. The Game Shifting Board was use to manage how we all interacted fairly successfully. We lead a real life Change Up Meeting using issues with the dish line as an example.
I felt like all this information went over very well and that overall the presentation was great! Later in the event I even stumbled upon a Kanban that someone else had made:
Always the sign of a great success. I got this feedback on Facebook today as well:
I made a kanban today to handle the tasks I needed to accomplish. and I’m hooked. I love it. I can totally see parenting using the whole system…and my children and I using the CMB to bring up with citing issues and providing solutions. I can’t wait to learn more. Please keep me in the loop for any trainings or visitation days. Thanks!!
What an amazing week! I’ve been in Asheville NC visiting the Endor ALC crew. I was housed by two amazing collective homes full of wonderful and amazing people who kept me well fed and in good company. I spent most of my time co-working with @liam and @rochellehudson which fueled one of my most productive weeks I’ve had in a long time. So, what did I do?
I’ve updated the network website to a point where it clearly outlines what ALC is. Gratitudes to my fellow ALFs, especially @tomis, @nancy, @abbyo, @artbrock for their contributions in content and design.
We’ve switched to the network theme which is a lot cleaner and clearer now. The front page covers much more about what ALC is and how to get involved.
I did a bit of work on designing visual elements for the page and getting it to a point of being pretty okay.
I’m very proud of the ALC directory which I created using Google Fusion Tables. This takes a spreadsheet and outputs it as a map. I did some custom design using a Google Map Style Wizard, it’s pretty fun, try it. Then I implemented some custom code to get it to display real nice on the welcome page:
Each of those icons is generated automagically as new schools are added to the directory. Each icon is clickable and displays information from the directory.
I’m super excited to expand on this work. To tighten and expand on the design and layout. I now feel like I can send people to our website without worrying that they might not “get” what’s going on.
Foldy Release Party!
@liam and I printed out about 50 of my School, Yay! foldys for a Wednesday event at Fire Storm Books & Coffee. There was a great turn out and even with no planning we were able to pull of a successful info sharing session about ALC and Endor. I used a Kanban to manage the flow of the event.
There was some great questions from our audience and super awesome input from @liam, @rochellehudson, and Keli (a new ALF from Asheville).
The foldy was also a great success!
Organizing and Orienting ALFs
I spent a lot of time working on some internal pages for alf.agilelearningcenters.org and our supporting systems to better organize our communication and collaboration within the network.
The Newbie page
I created a page for newbie ALFs (and forgetful ALFs like me). A quick aside: newbie is a term for someone who is new and thus inexperienced, it’s a term of endearment, unlike n00b which describes a person who acts dumb. The newbie page covers all of our internal tools and links to our support documents and other such things.
The Baked ALF checklist
Along with the help of @nancy and other “bakers” I started to develop what I hope to be one of many internal checklists for doing network jobs. This one focuses on what to do once a person has had their peer review, submitted their documents, and been “baked” (a title we are using to indicate a particular status of an ALF).
Added Helpful documentation
I spent a lot of time writing up helpful documentation about how to use some of our internal organizing tools. One that I’m really proud of is the ALF Community Mastery Trello Board that we use to create ALF cultural norms. This board covers how we handles meetings, what meetings there are, what software we use, and the protocol we follow for doing everything from sending emails to adding new people to the network. It’s an interactive tool that makes our community agreements and structure not only visible to all members but changeable (through our monthly change-up meetings) for all members! It’s something that deserves it’s own blog post. You can read about a real ALC example on the Everett page.
Created “easy links”
Using a redirection plugin I’ve created a number of links to important documents and services that we use. So rather than sending around long links like:
to point to the long link. Which is also very helpful if the link has to change! If we find that the hangout link stops working all i’ve got to do is edit the redirect and no one will have to be told about the change, it will just work!
Playing with Slack
We’ve started using this cool service called Slack, which is a group chat room on steroids. It’s really cool! What’s more cool is that is has a bunch of service integrations that can do all sorts of things like listen to a website’s RSS feed or display changes to a Trello card. I spend some time setting up a number of these tools along with @tomis.
The Great List Migration
Part of the work I did over ALF summer was to migrate from the NYC Google Apps for Education account to the ALC Network Apps for Education account. One of the big items of that migration was to switch over the email list serves that we use to communicate. I wrote up an email about what was going on and what people could expect
Upgraded ALC Everett
I’ve spent a lot of time writing about what happened at ALC Everett but I left the website in a kind of limbo. Anyone who was visiting the site wouldn’t exactly know that the school had become inactive or that I had written a comprehensive debrief on the whole thing, including a bunch of documentation around tools and practices. So I spend some time making the site look nice, adding a bunch of links to the debrief and the tool box as well as explanations of what the current status was and a way to contact folks at ALC incase they were from the area and wanted to learn more.
ALC Domain Mapping
This didn’t exactly happen this week, but I wanted to share. @artbrock and I managed to finally get some backend features working that allow schools (or anyone with an ALC site) to map the site to their personal domain name. This means that our school sites can use their own domain while still being part of the network!
So now sites like alcoahu.agilelearningcenters.org will show up as alcoahu.org! So cool.
This has been such an energizing week or productivity! I really feel like I’ve been in a great flow and hope to continue it into the rest of the month.
So I’ve traveled to Oakland and am staying in a Berkeley Coop called Lothlorian, which is a beautiful mess of 60 UC Berkeley students all living together in a cooperative style.
I’ve been spending quite a lot of time at this community space called the Omni Commons, which I’m sure I’ll write much more about in the coming weeks. Until then I just wanted to share that I’ve added our Change Up Meeting structure to the Omni Commons’ Wiki. Please give it a look and let me know if I can make it better in any ways. I hope to practice the game with the community a little bit before I leave so they might consider adopting it.