A 21st Century Education

Children today will need to succeed in a very different world than the one we’ve known – one completely outside the reach of traditional schooling.

Gone is the era of stable corporate employment. The future is in the hands of the entrepreneurs, freelancers, and creative community builders. The skill set required to identify an opportunity, organize a team, plan the work, execute to fulfillment, and build your reputation from these successes does not come from “Sit down! Shut up! Learn what I tell you to! Now barf it onto this test.”

Children need a setting to develop their fluency in digital media, their social, cultural and emotional intelligence, motivation, self-knowledge, and their sense of purpose. They need a platform for sharing their learning in a digital portfolio with a collaborative community.

The metaphor of a tree is used to illustrate the ALC educational model more clearly.

Educational Model : The Agile Tree



1. The assumptions : the Roots

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.


2. Principles: The Agile Branches

The tools and practices that we use in Agile Learning Centers emerge as leaves on one or more branches. These branches depict the guiding principles we use to translate theory into practice and ideals into action.

Infinite Play: Play infinitely, grow infinitely. Play is one of the most powerful paths to growth. The concept of infinite play reminds us that games aren’t about winning; changing rules and boundaries is part of playing, letting players constantly expand the game of outrageous personal growth to incorporate new players and new frontiers.

Be Agile: Make tools and practices flexible, adaptable, easy to change… or change back again. Too much change all at once can be disorienting — try gentle changes over multiple iterations to see what’s working.

Amplify Agency: Ensure tools support personal choice and freedom as well as responsibility for those choices. Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in designing and upgrading the structures which guide them.

Intentional Culture Creation: Acknowledge and use the water you’re swimming in. We shape culture; culture shapes us. A powerful, positive culture is the strongest, most pervasive support structure a learning community can have.  Develop collective mastery rather than restrictive rule-making. Intentional culture building supports intentionality in other domains as well.

Visible Feedback: Make choices, patterns, and outcomes visible to participants so they can tune their future behavior accordingly. Make the implicit explicit and expand transparency. These practices empower and build trust among community members.

Facilitate: Clarify, simplify, and connect. Don’t introduce unnecessary complexity. Hold coherence for personal growth in an empowered cultural context. Connect kids to the larger social capital of their community as they seek learning resources. Combine many principles and intentions into a single tool or practice, instead of trying to maintain more of them.

Support: Provide maximum support with minimal interference. As adults, we often need support reaching our goals and fulfilling our intentions; so do children. We create supportive structures, practices, culture, and environments. However it’s important to remember that support is not direction — it does not mean making their decisions for them or intervening and managing their processes. Support that takes up too much space becomes counterproductive.

Respect each other’s time and space: Hold no unnecessary meetings. Keep all meetings tight, productive and participatory. Honor commitments, as well as scheduled start and end times for happenings. Check-in before creating work for someone else. Be thoughtful about taking up shared space.

Relationship: Be real. Be accepting. Respect differences. Authentic relationship is the basis of partnership, communication, collaboration, and trust between students and staff. Support self-expression, self-knowledge and self-acceptance, letting the experience of nurturing relationship teach the power of interrelatedness and community.

Shareable Value: Make value received from learning visible and sharable. Use tracking systems, record measurable progress, generate documentation (blogs, portfolios, images), and teach others.

Full-spectrum Fluency:Embrace multiple intelligences, modes of expression, and learning styles. Nurture multiple literacies. A functional education for today’s world needs to focus on more than just “book-learning” textual, numerical, analytical, or memorization skills. Social, relational, digital, and a variety of other skill sets are now essential; recognize and develop them as such.

Safe Space-making: Provide an environment of physical, social, and emotional safety. Set and keep critical boundaries. Foster great freedom within an appropriate frame of safety and legality, so that kids’ energy can be freed up to focus on learning instead of protecting themselves.


3. Tools and practices : the Agile Leaves

Tools and practices are the leaves of the Agile Tree. As a group they help the tree nourish and feed itself; however, no individual leaf is essential to the health of the tree. Some may be useful on a daily basis. 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. We have a sizable inventory of tools and practices, and we’re always adding to it. 


Here are a few tools that we use:


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.” These are often exciting meetings! Resource people make special offerings and get commitments from those interested. Possibilities become plans, and they get posted on a Weekly Schedule Board where they’re easily referenced through the week.


A Daily Schedule Board (above) 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.




From 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 the ALC network. 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.



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. A 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.

The 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.