Agile Learning Centers are an expanding network of intentional learning communities leveraging agile tools to support Self-Directed Education

Beyond Your Dreams

Agile Learning Centers restore the joy of learning with a surprisingly effective educational approach: intentional culture supporting self-directed learning reinforced by agile management tools.

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What does that mean?

Self-Directed: Humans are natural learners. When children get to follow their passions, they engage deeply, learning more quickly and thoroughly – covering years of content in weeks at the time they choose to learn it.

Intentional Culture: At ALCs children feel they are heard, they belong, and they make a difference. As social creatures, we thrive in this kind of vibrant community which builds our confidence, heightens our communication skills, and calls forth our best selves.

Agile Management Tools: We use practical and concrete tools to make these lofty-sounding ideals real and reliable. These tools and practices provide visible feedback, effective self-management, clarity of purpose, and easy integration of new patterns as needs change.

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 conventional schooling.

The future is in the hands of the creative community builders, freelancers, and entrepreneurs. The skills to identify an opportunity, organize a team, plan the work, execute to fulfillment, and build your reputation from these successes do not come from obeying “Sit down, be quiet, and do what I say.”

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 facilitation sharing their learning and the inspiration of a collaborative community.

Learn more about our educational model or visit an ALC near you to see it in action…

Education Model: The Agile Tree

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.

We recognize twelve guiding principles as branches which communities refer to when developing new tools and practices.

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.

Agility: 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.

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.

Amplifying 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.

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.

Facilitation: Clarify, simplify, and connect. Don’t introduce unnecessary complexity. Connect kids to the larger social capital of their community, collaborate with them in problem solving, and accompany them in their learning as they grow.

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.

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.

Support: Provide maximum support with minimal interference. Create helpful structures, practices, and environments without making their decisions for them or managing their processes. Remember that support that takes up too much space becomes counterproductive.

Respect for 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.

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.” Social, relational, digital, and a variety of other skill sets are now essential.

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




Safer 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.

In case it isn’t clear already, we believe that all people–and children are people–have a right to self-determination and freedom from oppression. Part of the work of a facilitator at an ALC is that of constantly seeking to remove obstacles keeping learners from realizing their full potential, obstacles from unmanageable shoelaces to systemic inequity.

Tools & 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. Below are ideas of some you might see at current ALCs.



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. 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 (above) where they’re easily referenced through the week.

IMAG0185             IMG_20140618_105825

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.

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 Morning 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.  


From kanbans and their digital counterparts on to student and facilitator blogs, community YouTube channels to Facebook groups and Instagram 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.

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. 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 (above). You can check out a more thorough (and cleverly illustrated) explanation of both Change-Up Meeting and CMB on this ALC Everett facilitator’s blog post.


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. In this ALC-NYC facilitator blog post about Culture Committee and conflict resolution at ALC-NYC, she briefly describes an instance when the committee established a consequence for a student with consistently problematic behavior. [Spoiler: It worked!]


What about Gameshifting Boards to make conversation patterns explicit? The epic ALC Website (behind this one)? The Talking StickGratitude CirclesOn-site/Off-site velcro strips? And why do so many ALFs carry Kanbans?

We have so so so many amazing tools and practices. They’re always being adapted and improved, and we constantly create new ones as our needs change. If you’re interested, you can find much more information in our Starter Kit. Some families have even told us they like to use ALC tools in their homes!


Is School Really Working for Your Child?

If your child is losing their love of learning or their spirit is being crushed by meaningless tests, the drudgery of homework, or abusive authority, how long can you pretend all is well? Schools are broken and falling further behind as the world changes more quickly than they can adapt.

Most of the heavy labels kids carry today — like “below average” and “bad at math” — are a direct product of a school system treating children like they are machines to passively absorb programming in a standard manner instead of active, living, creative beings with their own paths to tread. A broken system saddles children with labels to mask its own failure and ineffectiveness, miseducating kids’ relationships to their abilities and potential in ways that can influence them for the rest of their lives.

The problems even spill over from the classroom into home life. Parents are supposed to be enforcers on their behalf, frowning on poor grades and bribing them for good performance. Why should you spend your precious time with them nagging about homework? Or doing it for them?

School shouldn’t be a punishment – childhood isn’t a crime. A school’s job should be to adapt to your child’s learning needs, not to bend your child into the mold of an obedient, unthinking drone.

It’s time to try a place which nourishes children’s hungry minds and heals their energetic spirits.


The ALC Network


Agile Learning Center

New York, NY, USA

K-12 independent school serving ages 7-18


ALC Mosaic

Charlotte, NC, USA

K-12 school & pre-K co-op serving ages 3-18

Heartwood ALC

Atlanta, GA

K-12 independent school serving ages 5-18


Cottonwood ALC

Helena, MT, USA

K-12 school & pre-K co-op serving ages 3-18

Free To Learn ALC

Roseville, CA, USA

Homeschool collective serving ages 4-18

Philly ALC

Philadelphia, PA

K-12 independent school serving ages 5-18

ML in Montreal


Montreal, QC Canada

Homeschooling Collective serving ages 12-18

Real Life ALC

Tampa, FL, USA

Homeschool collective serving ages 5-17



Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico

Agile Learning Community serving all ages.

Explora ALC

Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico

A bi-lingual (English/Spanish) Agile Learning Community for people from age 4 and up.

Comunidad de Aprendizaje Autodirigido

Querétaro, México

Agile Learning Community serving all ages.


Your ALC here

The ALC story is being written right now by people like you who have embraced their agency and are creating learning communities that grow healthy, happy people. Get started.

No More Waiting!

A leading-edge education for your child is within reach even if you can’t find an Agile Learning Center near you. We’ve worked hard to make it feasible to launch affordable micro-schools in every community that needs one.

If you can find a handful of committed parents, then you can use our Starter Kit to start one. Agile Learning Centers are spreading rapidly, and there’s a good reason our numbers have been doubling every year.

Get Involved

Thinking of starting a school or homeschool collective? Maybe you’re already running one, but need some support? Explore our Starter Kit and become an ALC member.

  Starter Kit

Are you passionate about playing with people of all ages in self-directed environment? Want to stop trying to fit into an institution and come revolutionize education with us?

  Get Trained

Want to find your own way of supporting the ALC Network or an ALC near you? Find out how you can help add critical mass towards a paradigm shift in education.




How can I be sure my kids will learn the things they need to know? (math, writing, etc.)

If something is actually basic knowledge that you need in order to live successfully in this world, you can’t help but learn it. The “basics” will be captured in kids’ natural learning, which happens through living. We don’t need to force or trick them into learning something basic.

Basic knowledge and skills are defined by our current world. Whereas once it may have been basic to know how to saddle a horse, today it is basic to know how to open a web browser. The rich world environment in which we operate sets us up to prioritize knowledge and skills reliably and naturally based on our experiences.

You just let them do what they want?

Yes and no. Our communities have very clear expectations and boundaries that the children agree to in order to participate at an ALC. They agree to engage with the group process, respect the space, and respect each other.

Adults often want to know, “Just how much freedom do the children have?” The answer is, quite a lot! Our communities set boundaries primarily based on safety, legality, and respect for others. As long as a pursuit is safe, legal, and shows respect for the community, children will generally be supported in that choice.

Because we emphasize good relationships with one another, there is little need to generate “rules.” We create a culture of caring for one another so the children seldom need rules imposed upon them to behave in an acceptable manner. We utilize nonviolent communication and avoid punishments/reward to manipulate behavior. When a difficult issue arises, we make use of conflict resolution tools and enlist the input of others to handle the situation in a way that affirms all parties.

We facilitate people’s ability to get clear about what they truly want to create for and of themselves. We trust.

Will my child be competitive and prepared to go to college?

If that’s the direction that they choose. It may not be.

When a self-directed learner decides they want to go to college, they know why they want to go. Many students unquestioningly spend thousands of dollars and several years of their lives going through college because that’s what they think they’re “supposed” to do. Intentionally entering a learning environment to accomplish a specific purpose is more likely to bring about positive outcomes.

We don’t yet have longitudinal data on ALCs, but we do have it on self-directed learning. Most of the kids who want to get into college do. Having alternative forms of record keeping and evaluation has not been an impediment for kids who want to go to college. In fact, there’s a proven advantage for people whose college applications can’t be tidily ranked by GPA and academic track: a human has to actually look at their portfolio. ALC students document their learning on sharable platforms, such as blogs and Kanbans. As a result, they typically find it easy to construct a rich portfolio, and some already have created portfolios for their personal websites.

For one parent and former teacher’s perspective on her daughter’s journey from self-directed learning to the college admissions process — check out Karen Hollis sharing her experience in Life Learning Magazine.

How does ALC compare to other models of alternative education?

Montessori: Montessori schools and ALCs both practice age-mixing and supporting students in self-directing their learning. Montessori age-mixing involves grouping students who would typically be in three different “grades” into a cohort; ALC age-mixing is much broader, usually separating only very young students, sometimes only for meetings. Montessori students self-direct through a prescribed menu of subjects and concepts that changes based on the age range of the students; ALC students self-direct based on their interests, passions, and the opportunities they see in the world around them.

Reggio: The basic assumptions informing Reggio education are highly complementary to those informing ALC education. Reggio was created based on the belief that humans are born with many forms of expression–languages–available to them. Most forms of schooling only develop literacy in three of these languages: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Reggio seeks to provide acknowledgement of and opportunities to develop as many of these languages as possible through themed “explorations,” The Reggio model recognizes the environment as a powerful teacher; thus, Reggio schools are carefully designed with goals of sparking inspiration, encouraging curiosity, and facilitating interpersonal activities. ALC philosophy shares a view of the child as powerful, competent, and full of potential. We also share the recognition of the environment as a teacher and the emphasis on the importance of social relationships. We’re different in our emphasis on intentional culture creation, our documentation practices, and our structures for supporting student self-direction.

Steiner/Waldorf: One similarity between ALCs and Steiner/Waldorf schools is that both approach education holistically. Though in many ways Steiner/Waldorf schools advocate a single developmental trajectory for all children, it is also true that Steiner/Waldorf schools and families honor children’s individual timetables for learning. Particularly with literacy, you will find stories of Waldorf students who learn to read in the traditional sense at a wide variety of ages from 5 to 12 years old. ALCs see “development” as even more complex and expect students to have different learning journeys, and our staff aspire to support students in creating their own adventures. 

Democratic Free School: ALCs are similar to Democratic Free Schools in that our students contribute to decision making at the school, direct their own learning, and participate in meetings. Many of the differences between ALC and Free Schools developed in response to challenges Free Schools commonly face.  For example, in some Free Schools decision making is consensus-based and adults strive to influence students’ learning journeys as minimally as possible. ALC decision-making more closely resembles the Quaker “sense of the meeting” than consensus, and our staff comfortably make suggestions the way they would to friends they were trying to support. The former change leads to faster, more action-focused meetings; the latter gives students opportunities to practice the valuable life skill of navigating attempts to influence them. The main differences between ALCs and Free schools are that our students focus on creating culture rather than running the school, use structures to support intention-setting and reflection on their learning journeys, and explicitly aim to keep 90%+ of each day meeting free so students can focus on their learning.

Unschool: Unschooling always looks different, so it’s difficult to compare a “typical” unschooling experience to an ALC experience. Both Unschooling and Agile Learning relationships with learning come from trusting that the individual—adult or child—knows best how to design their education and should be supported in doing so. The difference is that unschoolers focus on their individual paths, while ALC students engage in active culture creation. The social component is foundational to Agile Learning: students learn from, inspire, negotiate, and collaborate with each other on a daily basis, enriching each other’s learning and challenging each other to constantly improve their social skills.

Homeschool: Homeschooling looks different from case to case, but it typically involves traditional subject areas and limited opportunities for social interaction. Students can set the pace of their studies, but their topics are still usually informed by state or parental standards. ALCs see students as self-directed learners in a world where all learning is interdisciplinary. Our students decide the pace and the content of their days. They also learn from, inspire, negotiate, and collaborate with each other on a daily basis, enriching each other’s learning and challenging each other to constantly improve their social skills. Since so much learning happens in interactions with others, the emphasis on creating opportunities for high quality interactions at ALCs is one of the main factors differentiating us from homeschooling environments.

 Got questions or feedback? Talk to us.


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Where Did ALCs Come From?

In fall of 2012, two weeks before school was supposed to open, it was looking like the Manhattan Free School was going to be shutting down instead. Dismayed by the prospect, one parent called another, and they came up with a plan. This wasn’t just a plan to save their school, though. They were on a mission to create something new, to build a community that would bring the Democratic Free School ideals of self-direction and collaborative community into a 21st Century framework.

Soon they had gathered a small group of parents, staff, and volunteers ready to reimagine the school. They ran it through a transition year, informed by their experiences with Free Schooling, Open Classrooms, Unschooling, Democratic Free Schools, and Agile Software Development. Then in fall of 2013, the Manhattan Free School officially re-opened as the Agile Learning Center.

Soon there were two ALCs. Then four. Then seven. Our NYC flagship began looking for nicknames more specific than the ALC, and its staff partnered with those from others to create the ALC Network to provide startup support and facilitator coaching.

In 2014, ALC Mosaic in Charlotte, NC ran our first summer facilitator program. By the end of 2017, we’d inspired 27 such programs, and there were ALC start-ups on every continent except Antarctica. That’s in just 5 years! Will you join us for the next 5?