Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Most Important Processes of All

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A process is a step by step progression of tasks needed to accomplish an important goal, in a timely manner, with limited resources.   Exposure to and practice with processes are perhaps our most important tools for our “learn to do” and “learn to be” work in the studios.  During the 2012-13 school year, we cataloged thirty seven major processes that Eagles learned to use in real world challenges.

At the end of Session Six, Eagles paused to reflect on the most important processes used this year.  Was it the Socratic Method; The Scientific Method; initiating a life changing conversation; conducting a world changing interview or securing an apprenticeship?

Time managementSelf governance

All of the processes above were mentioned, but a consensus quickly formed around the two most important processes: (1) Time Management and (2) Self Governance.

When asked why, Eagles responded:

  • “Because rich or poor, powerful or not, each person only has twenty four hours in a day.”
  • “Setting priorities helps me use my gifts to their full potential.”
  • “Leading people is difficult; so is knowing how to choose a leader and when it is  your time to follow;” and finally
  • “These processes teach you about yourself and what you need to change to live a  hero’s life, which is the most difficult challenge of all.”

No wonder these two processes take so much time, effort and practice.  It’s because along with courage, they are the very foundation of the Hero’s Journey.


A Famous Film Critic

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We ask a lot of our Middle School Eagles:  Quests; Deep Book Badges; Between the Lines Literary Analyses; Civilization Discussions plus Khan, Reading and Writing.  Yet most find time to do so much more.

Take for example one MS Eagle who has started both the popular Computer Science Club and Film Club.  Now he’s launched a Film Blog.

Who needs Godzilla to fight the forces of evil?  We have Mason.


An Apprenticeship Celebration

Launching a new business; landing that special client or securing an apprenticeship – each of these is reason enough to celebrate with a friend.

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So on Friday the thirteen Acton Eagles who have secured an apprenticeship or started the negotiations for one took each other out for lunch to celebrate.

It was a humble celebration.  One Eagle, on seeing the outdoor taco restaurant  El Chilito remarked: “It’s exactly like a food trailer; just no wheels.”  Spartan though it may be, the food at El Chilito was delicious and it was a beautiful day to hike to lunch.

More importantly, we toasted the bravery of thirteen young heroes, each of whom had written an irresistible email , launched it into cyberspace and received an affirmative response.   Knowing how to discover, pitch and land your next adventure is a 21st century skill worth celebrating.

Advice for Parenting Heroes

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Decades ago psychologist J. Zink  published a series of parenting books so helpful for raising young heroes that out-of-print copies soon commanded $100 per copy.

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Now, thanks to the prodding of Acton Academy parents (and others)  J. Zink has come out of retirement to update one of his classics and offer it as an E-book titled Upbringing.

Simple, common sense, easy to follow.  Advice many of us hope we practice every day.  Nevertheless, an invaluable refresher course offered by a kind and gentle man who has helped tens of thousands of young heroes and their parents.


A Gold Medal in Interviewing

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One of our objectives this session was to “Ask Questions that Motivate a Tribe or a Nation” from a stage.  In other words, we asked the Eagles to learn how to interview someone in front of a live audience.


First Eagles studied great interviewers, from William F. Buckley to Oprah to Jon Stewart, noting the strengths and weaknesses of each.    Then each Eagle wrote (and re-wrote and re-wrote) an email inviting a hero to come to Acton  for a 20 minute live interview.

Once the invitation had been accepted, it was time to research, draft and send powerful questions and prepare for the week long Interview-A-Thon.

During the week Eagles heard from a globe trotting CEO; a Navy Spy; an award winning architect; a not-for-profit CEO who is changing lives in Africa; a world changing Bicycle Entrepreneur and many others.  Each had an inspiring Hero’s Story of trials and perseverance, as the Eagles made for a rapt audience.

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One of many highlights was Nikita interviewing her long time hero, two time Olympic Gold Medal Winner Garrett Weber-Gale.  Afterwards, Garrett couldn’t wait to send the video to his mother.

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Who knows? Perhaps we sowed the seeds this week for a future Gold Medal Winner.


Becoming a World Class Conversationalist

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Our three major challenges this session were to:

  1. Secure a Life Changing Apprenticeship
  2. Become a World Class Interviewer; and
  3. Become a World Class Conversationalist.

The goal of challenge #3 was to be equipped to walk up to anyone, anywhere and strike up an interesting conversation that makes the other person feel like a Hero Who Can Change the World.

In preparation, we dug deeply into what make a great conversationalist, including the seven key practices outlined in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Once we had the basics down, we practiced them: in role plays and improvisation; on Running Partners, Elementary School Eagles and Incoming Eagles;  with critiques and video reviews until the art of conversation became as natural as breathing.

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Then it was time for the big test: Those who earned the honor were allowed to take a long lunch at the Food Trailers at Mueller and practice the art on complete strangers (with all the appropriate warnings and in full view of a Guide.)

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The results? Outstanding.  It turns out our Eagles not only can strike up a natural conversation at lunch or a cocktail party, but learn enough to write a Hero Story about the person’s life afterwards.

Reading, writing and arithmetic – fundamental.   But so is conversation, practiced not in a self centered way, but as a Conversational Artist who knows how to ask questions that motivate a fellow hero to take on the day.

Extracurricular Activities at Acton Academy

“What about ‘socialization’ at such a small school?”

It’s a question that makes  those of us in non-traditional schools cringe.  So being in a classroom with thirty students, all the same age, being fed information in a factory-like assembly line is an approximation for the real world?  Hardly.

We don’t have a massive football stadium or a large marching band.  No pep rallies either. Nor will we have a prom, unless the Eagles decide to throw one.    In fact, that’s the secret to all of our extra-curricular activities: they are organized and run by the Eagles and parents.

Here’s a partial list of the post-school activities we’ve sponsored at Acton:

  • The Children’s Business Fair
  • Computer Coding Club
  • Spanish Club
  • Golf Club
  • Running Club
  • Speaker’s Club
  • Chess Club
  • Lego’s Mindstorm Robotics Club
  • Film club
  • Tennis club

These are just the events led by the Acton community, and doesn’t count citywide club sports or scores of other after-school challenges in music, sports and other areas pursued individually or in small groups by Eagles, or the many home school Co-op programs open to Eagles.

No, we’re unlikely to field a State  Championship Football team, much to the chagrin of some of our middle school boys.  But at least most won’t discover the hard way that there were only eleven starters on offense when our 2,564 student neighbor recently won the district playoffs.

Socialization?  Far better to live in a tight knit, multi-age community, arranging your own fun, all the while preparing for world changing apprenticeships that will deliver real world skills.


The Importance of Process

We started this session’s Apprenticeship Search with the same plan as last year.  Introduce one Apprenticeship Challenge at a time, each with a note to read and a skill to practice to help Eagles find, pitch and land a world changing apprenticeship.

Almost immediately the plan began to unravel.  Veteran Eagles who had mastered the Apprenticeship Challenge last year, and who all year long had been cataloging apprenticeships that fit their gifts, flow experiences and opportunities, wanted to skip ahead and pitch for apprenticeships immediately.  Some were quite talented and offered well targeted and compelling pitches.

Unfortunately, this led to less experienced Eagles believing they too could launch an Apprenticeship pitch, without doing all the upfront work.  The Acton brand would be at risk if Eagles began pelting potential employers with poorly worded emails.

This led to a morning launch on the importance of process:

Would you build a bridge, “on the fly,” just winging it?  would you be willing to be the first person to drive across the bridge that had no blueprint?

Why do you need processes?   Is it to prove to others that you know what you are doing?      To have a record that you followed careful procedures, in case something goes terribly wrong?  As a beginner, to learn the steps?  As a master, to lay steppingstones to inspire and equip the next generation?

The Eagles weren’t buying it.  Many thought the Apprenticeship processes were stilted and unnatural.    Plus, a set of procedures for bridges made sense, because it was a matter of life and death; apprenticeships weren’t as important.  Even an attempt to paint apprenticeships as a bridge to anew life fell flat.

For some Eagles, moving forward without practice was almost certain to fail; but requiring Eagles to use a process just didn’t seem like the Acton way.  Yet there was great risk in a  laissez faire approach that could damage the community’s reputation.

Finally, a reasonable compromise emerged:

1.  Eagles could either opt completely in or completely out of the Apprenticeship Process.

2.  Any Eagle opting out would not be able to mention the Acton name in an email, phone call or in person pitch.

3.  If an Eagle elected to opt out of the Apprenticeship Process, he or she would need a parent’s approval.

Choice and consequences; freedom and responsibility.  Processes only when you think you need them.  The right to fail.  They’ll be some hard lessons from this, but the world hopefully will have fewer failed bridges in the long run.


Sentence Ninjas versus Sentence Robots

This session we started what will be a continuing series on the Six Traits of Writing: Ideas; Organizing Ideas; Sentence Fluency; Voice; Word Choice and Conventions (Grammar.)

Our long term goal is to equip Eagles to write clearly, convincingly and beautifully, each with an original voice that can be tuned for different audiences and genres.   We want to inspire Communication Ninjas emboldened by Ninjato Tools – named after the swords ninjas wield  — rather than Language Robots, who see each tool as a hard and fast rule.

For example, our focus this week is on Brevity in Sentence Fluency.

A Sentence Robot hears a suggestion like “try short sentences” as a hard and fast rule, and makes every sentence short.  A Sentence Ninja uses sentence crafting tools to tease out and clarify ideas from a sentence, and then decides whether to string ideas together in a rhythmic way or let some ideas stand alone.

Eagles worked in groups of six on Tuesday, breaking a handful of long sentences into individual ideas.  Some then recombined the ideas; others let them stand alone, with much arguing and discussion about which approach yielded the best results.

For example, Eagles reworked this sentence: “I killed him even though didn’t want to because he gave me no choice.”

Some struggled before one Eagle identified the first idea as: “I killed him.”

An Eagle who was passionate about film, argued for this version: “I killed him even though I didn’t want to.  He gave me no choice,” before realizing that no character would ever speak this way.

This led to a more pleasing revision: “I killed him.  I didn’t want to; he gave me no choice.”

Eagles practiced the following steps:

  • Ninjato Brevity move #1: Break down into exactly one idea per sentence.
  • Ninjato Brevity move #2: Remove unnecessary words.
  • Ninjato Brevity move #3: Recombine in a way that delivers ideas in a logically powerful and/or rhythmically beautiful form.

Then Eagles performed surgery on the following sentence, written by a Guide as part of the new Badge Requirements: “Do your best work and be sure to contribute details from your own life and examples and quotes from the lives of heroes you respect because these apprenticeship pieces will go into your Apprenticeship PLP and be part of your first Apprenticeship Badge.”

Why not give it a try yourself, and see if you qualify as a Sentence Ninja?