Learned about Zebras Unite and their conference Dazzle Con (Katie will be there). This movement came out of a great think piece called Sex and Startups and has turned into a movement. Basically they are promoting funding more feminine business practices. Here’s an image from sister.is that they shared:
Howard Brodsky speaking about co-ops. The numbers, and the stories, are bananas. 90% of co-ops still in business after 5 years; worker co-ops double worker wages; 900% more women CEOs. #platformcooppic.twitter.com/Wo9Ed5AxsK
Last month was the 6 year anniversary of #OCCUPYWALLST, a political movement in the US that needs no introduction. September 17th, 2011 was a pivotal point in my life. It was the day I started down a road divergent from the status quo, the day I left the confused world of early 20’s “adulting” and joined The Movement. It brings hope of a world arranged in such a way that poverty is impossible and extractive ecocide is not the basis of economic activity.
It took me three years to begin to grasp a very important lesson that The Movement demanded I learn.
“Change must start from within”
It’s almost cheesy in its simplicity. But this was such a profound realization that I recall the exact moment it truly stuck. Sitting on a low wall, looking over the East River on September 17, 2013, I realized that change starts within me. This is why a protest that seemed to be about big banks and income inequality spent so much time talking about systemic racism. It’s why I was constantly being told to “check my privilege,” why I was told to examine my bias. The systems that created the economic crisis of gross inequality didn’t come from nowhere; they came from people just like me. People who hold within themselves the schematics of oppressive systems. It is through people that these horrors are birthed and through them that the horrors are overcome.
“The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves.”
In this quote, Bell Hooks is describing the connection between violence against women with the internal violence against one’s self. She makes a similar connection to police violence in the US and its roots at home. There is a thread of commonality that runs between the unaccountable violence we see from police as an institution and the individual acts of violence we commit against ourselves and others. The way we treat ourselves as individuals and those around us is linked to the whole of a culture.
As Above, So Below
I believe the message here is that we cannot hope to address systemic violence in our institutions if we do not also face the violence in and around ourselves.
More broadly, we cannot change anything outside of ourselves if we do not also change within. This is why:
“Change must start from within”
I don’t believe that it is a controversial thought, that a person who commits domestic violence will bring that same violence into their workplace and, inversely, a workplace that is violent will be carried home by those who work there.
What The Movement taught me with #OCCUPYWALLST was that I couldn’t hope to change the way the world worked if I didn’t change the way I worked within the world. If I want women to be equal I’d better treat them as equals. If I want equality, then I must practice equality in my life.
The fractals of change
These thoughts are not groundbreaking; the Dalai Lama was tweeting about this before I even integrated it into myself.
A genuine change must first come from within the individual, only then can he or she attempt to make a significant contribution to humanity.
What I want to do is apply this truth to work we do and how we do that work. Consider the leap between me not interrupting women at meetings and systemic violence against women being eliminated. I’ll admit, a single act of not-being-a-dick doesn’t do much to erode thousands of years of systemic oppression. But the actions of the self and the actions of a culture are fractal reflections of each other, with too many steps in between for a single act to resolve this deep-rooted issue.
For the purposes of this article, “culture” is defined as the dominant form of human activity on earth. This could be K-12 education, nation-states, money, etc. Basically, everyone except for the 0.01% of tribal people still holding on.
If we consider culture to be a mighty river, then the individual is but a tiny spring that flows into it. These individual springs flow together to form a small creek, and all the creeks join together to form a stream, and the streams join to form the river…we can see how this analogy might be used to map the fractals of human endeavors. The individual flows into a group, the group into a team, the team into an organization, the organization into sectors, the sectors into economies, the economies into culture.
So, if we agree with the premise that “Change must start from within,” we see the fractal connection between the atomic part (the individual) and the whole (culture, or all humans). Change the humans, change the culture. This connection is present between every step in that system. To change the family, you must start with the family members. To change the team you must start with the members of that team. Again, I suspect that this isn’t earth-shattering news to you. Basically, what I’m saying is, “To change the whole you must start with the parts.”
There is a relationship between the components and the whole. If you want to change the educational system, teachers will change how they teach, schools will change how they run, school districts will change how they operate, and so on up the fractal ladder. If we want to address police violence we must address violence along the fractal, from violence against the self to domestic violence, to violence among nations. The violent tweet is connected to the bombs dropped on Syrian children is connected to a bully beating up a peer is connected to the violence that the bully witnesses at home. All are parts of the fractal.
You are part of the world and part of the fractal
At this point, we must be careful not to get lost within ourselves. Change along these fractal ladders happens all at once. Its influence is omnidirectional, happening up and down and at all points. It can be easy to confuse the need to start within with the desire and ease of staying within. We must address state violence as we address police violence as we address our own violence. It all happens in tandem. The spring flows at the same time as the river.
You might think that you need to do all the internal work before facing the work that needs to be done in the world. This is not the case; I can advocate for a carbon tax while still driving a car. You can and will be a hypocrite and that’s okay.
The whole system moves at once. We start from within because it is where we have the power to start. I can only move my body. I cannot move yours, yet by moving my body, I inspire yours to move too.
What you do is how you do it
Let’s consider how we make change in the world. The kind I’m talking about is often done through activism and organizations with social good as their bottom line, which in the US take the form of non-profits or a 501c3. These organizations seek to change something other than the numbers in their bank account. The idea that “Change must start from within” is probably very familiar to them. Personal development, anti-oppression training, and other means to change the “within” of the individual are often present. But what doesn’t seem to be given much thought to is how these organizations’ structures mirror the fractal patterns they target for change.
Can an organization that wants to reduce inequality in the world complete their mission if those very patterns of inequality exist within their own organization?
“Change must start from within”
Even if the people in the organization are all woke as f**k, that organization also needs to start from within.
This is the fractal ladder we must climb to get out of our current crisis. Just as we need to look inward to work through our internalized biases, so too must our change-oriented organizations look within. How can a group fight for women’s rights if women are talked over in meetings discussing this very subject? How can a group push for greater democracy in the world while organized as a tyrannical hierarchy? How can a group demand equality while it’s interns go unpaid?
It is this relationship between the meta and the micro that we need to address. I do not mean to say that a group cannot work toward change without being perfect. Instead, we need to always remind ourselves that working towards change means working to change –on all levels of ourselves, our lives, our peers, and our culture.
This is why my co-op chose to organize as a co-op instead of any other hierarchical business model. This is why we spend so much time working on our internal culture. If we want to be able to shift other groups’ culture towards alignment with their goals, we too have to shift our culture to align with ours.
As a designer, I love a good challenge. A recent favorite of mine was working for the DSA on a 3-day deadline.
Delegates were about to pick the new leadership body, but were dealing with the unique challenge of needing to represent the true scope of diversity that exists within the democratic socialist left. Charles Lenchner – with People for Bernie – and his team wanted to create a booklet and worksheet to help delegates in the selection process. It would help see at a glance how diverse their choices were before casting their votes.
With the 3-day deadline, we needed to act fast. We had to be agile and adaptive.
The booklet Charles needed had to contain the list of candidates. Each profile would describe them, including a short bio, the region from which they were, their gender, race, and a few other stats that were easy to read for the regular voter with a quick scan.
The worksheet we created would allow to tally up the diversity categories’ totals.
With such a short deadline, the challenge was not only to deliver on time, but also to design alongside Charles and his team. While we created the actual document, they were putting all the information to be printed in the finished booklet together. For this very reason, we needed to work with live documents, so we worked in Google Docs. That’s how Charles and his team were able to update and edit everything as it was created. I watched their edits in real-time, while I fixed up the formatting and design.
Because Google docs’ styling tools are not as robust as in my software of choice – Adobe InDesign – formatting was a challenge. However, the limitations lent to a clean and very simple design, resulting in an easy-to-read document with clear organization. It wasn’t the most indulgent of designs, but what we lost in flashy graphics, we made up for with time. Thanks to the live documents, we had no back and forths of confusing revisions, so all we had to do was work.
With the magic of Google docs, we were able to create live/editable pie charts of the diversity data with customized style and colors. As the data was updated, transferring the new stats to the pie charts was as easy as, well… pie.
In the nick of time, we called it done. We exported the doc as a pdf and went to print. What a rush! Thanks to this time-constrained challenge, I got to enjoy adapting my process to our client’s specific needs. There are a lot of really great tools out there for us to use. Though I may be more comfortable with a cordless screwdriver, sometimes I need to use a hammer.
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.