AERO Conference 2015 WORKSHOPS:


  • Body-Centered Inquiry

Alison Fornes

An experiential workshop, participants will learn how (and why) to go from mental-model to body-centered inquiry. Working with the questions people are exploring in their classrooms/homeschool, and using a variety of exercises, participants will be guided through a process that leads to a living concept map. Participants will experience the rich information that becomes available to us at that level of inquiry.

Alison Fornes, MEd, is an educator, consultant, and Systemic Constellations facilitator. She works works in a variety of academic, organizational and private settings, training people to use their felt-sense as a tool for authentic inquiry. Alison is the director of, producing retreats and a biennial conference in Systemic Constellations.


  • Communication is Key: The Language of Self-Directed Learning

Katie O'Connor

In this workshop I will address the issue of language in a self-directed learning setting. Not surprisingly, the language of mainstream education tends to focus on right/wrong, good/bad, competition and pleasing adults. Self-directed educational methods are most effective when implemented with communication that demonstrates respect and compassion, and models curiosity and problem solving skills. Oftentimes we educators know what we don't want to say to young people but don't know what to replace "school" language with. I will give specific examples concerning verbal as well as body language.

Katie O'Connor grew up in Philadelphia where she currently resides. She has homeschooled/unschooled her 14 year-old son since he was born and co-founded Talking Stick Learning Center which she now co-directs. She first learned about the importance of being conscious about communication in a learning environment while working at Open Connections in Newtown Square, PA.


  • Creative Activism

Cynthia Daniel

Creative Activism: Art and Artists for Social Change will provide an introduction to literary, performance and visual artists who focus their work on one or more facets of comprehensive humane education—human rights, animal protection, and environmental stewardship. In addition to studying solutions-focused art and artists, participants will examine their own experience of the creative process, create an original collaborative work, and practice integrating art for social change into their own lives, teaching and/or community outreach. Educators, activists, artists, writers, visionaries, and anyone curious about creative activism will discover ways to cross the bridge from despair to action with the support of a dynamic learning community.

Cynthia Daniel earned her M.Ed. with the Institute for Humane Education. She works as part-time faculty for IHE and Kennesaw State University in Georgia. She has lived aboard a wooden sailboat, performed Shakespeare on Martha’s Vineyard, worked for 15 years in pediatric oncology/hospice as a board certified interfaith chaplain, and directed a children’s bereavement program. She seeks to discover ways to support educators in staying connected to their inspired and authentic selves.  Cynthia is a poet, and wrote her masters thesis on how creative expression can be used to awaken us to the interconnectedness of all life: human, animal, nature.


  • Spiritual Mentoring

Lincoln Stoller

Spiritual mentoring matches a youth with an elder in order to find and inspire a personally meaningful life path. It is a first step in forging a telepathic connection between one person with insight and another looking for it. Through this means a new, collective state of mind is born. One contact with the right person makes a huge impact. I will describe the importance of spiritual mentoring and summarize my spiritual mentoring service. I will explain how you can facilitate these relationships within your community, review mentoring resources and best-practice standards.

Lincoln Stoller, PhD trained in physics and computation, published in psychology, is now practicing as a neurofeedback therapist. He found his first mentors when hew was in high school, collaborated in the creation of a community preschool in 2005, published the book "The Learning Project, Views of Authentic Learning" in 2010, and started the Spiritual Mentoring web service in 2015.


  • Musings on Childhood Autonomy in the Wake of Bureaucratic Productivity

Gret McGilvray

"Musings on Childhood Autonomy in the Wake of Bureaucratic Productivity" is a multimedia presentation using the language of performance art to express themes found in the alternative education movement. It invites parents and children involved in AERO to submit poems, stories, videos and other modes of expression to be incorporated into the performance. The length of the performance is flexible, and can meet the needs of the conference.  I hope you will consider this an intriguing segment that also provides a bit of artistic relief.

Gret McGilvray held a Massachusetts Educator's License in English Language Arts grades 5-7. After working in the Sharon, Mansfield and Dedham Public Schools for several years, she removed herself when asked to keep quiet about a situation involving a middle school student accused of bullying several special needs individuals.

Since her departure, she has utilized her artistic abilities to highlight various challenges found in our current compulsory education system. She is the Producer/Director of Spiral Light Performing Arts, and the aunt of a niece (and potential nephew) attending Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA.


  • Robert's Rules for Kids: How to teach children the basics of parliamentary procedure

Ted Weisgal

It's one thing to preach democratic decision making. It's another to actually provide an environment where students from K to 12 learn it. And it's even higher on the food chain when what they learn will be useful to them for the rest of their life. Learn Robert’s Rules of Order by doing. Take this tool back to your students. Discover the different rules for a meeting of 12 or less and how to conduct a meeting involving 13 to thousands. Also learn how Robert’s can empower students and address discipline issues. Have fun along the way.

Ted Weisgal has been teaching this subject for a lifelong learning program in Houston, Texas, Leisure Learning Unlimited, for over 30 years. He's written Robert's Rules for Kids…A Guide to Teaching Children from Kindergarten to the 5th Grade the Basics of Parliamentary Procedure. He is currently advising the student-created Student Congress of the Houston Independent School District and the Fort Bend County chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.


  • Revolutionizing Public Education

Richard Fransham

This workshop presents a plan for revolutionizing public education and it provides a process for developing the political will to make it happen. Large autocratic school boards CAN be transformed into networks of community learning centers based on self-directed learning and democratic governance. Come to this workshop to learn about how to do it.

Richard Fransham has had a long career in public education. He recognized early on that something was terribly wrong with how children are treated in traditional schools. He constantly fought to reform the system. His efforts won him reprimands and an indefinite suspension which led to his resignation. He has a masters degree in computer applications in education. He lives with his wife in Ottawa. He has two children and four grand children.


  • Faces of Change

Dee Kimbrell

In this workshop for families, Dee Kimbrell will engage participants in a collaborative artwork from recycled materials.  This art will demonstrate a family's personality by celebrating each person's unique artistic contribution to a digital family collage.   Each person in the family will choose from a variety of recycled materials to create a self-portrait that represents them in looks, personality or interests.  A digital photograph is taken of the self-portrait and combined with other portraits of the family group to make a digital collage.  A digital copy of each self-portrait and the collage will be emailed to each family.


  • Supporting Sensory Learning through Invitations and Questions

Dee Kimbrell

Many parents want to move from teacher to learning facilitator, but keep finding they are following the "teacher" model they grew up with.  Aren't parents and teachers supposed to have all the answers?  What about having the Questions?  Question asking skills are not taught in traditional education, but are the tool you need to support your 3 to 8 year old child's natural questioning phase.  In this interactive workshop you will polish your question asking skills that will open the doors of possibility.

Dee Kimbrell works as an Educational Play Specialist, Workshop Facilitator and Visual Artist.   As a Processology ™ Practitioner, she is extensively trained in the learning process and cutting edge techniques to facilitate creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.   Dee's dynamic style communicates her passion for a new way to experience education.  Based on recent brain research, Dee facilitates interactive and collaborative experiences for teachers that are fun and inspiring.  As a visual artist, Dee specializes in recycled materials and leads groups to create something beautiful while learning about ways to connect with and care for their community.


  • Supporting Education Through Community Engagement

Sienna Wildfield

Identifying and interpreting the embedded learning found in our communities, curating the information, and making it accessible to parents, non-traditional and traditional educators, empowers families to engage in community-based learning. In this workshop I will share examples of, and participants will have hands-on experience with, identifying community-based learning opportunities and interpreting their educational value. Participants will work together in small groups to form a simulated town/location, and then identify the potential community-based learning opportunities and resources that could potentially exist or be created through collaborations. Participants will walk away with an understanding of and skills in how to identify and connect community-based learning opportunities.

Sienna is the Founder and Executive Director of Hilltown Families (, an award-winning online grassroots communication network serving thousands of families living throughout western Massachusetts. Founded in 2005, Hilltown Families believes in creating resilient and sustainable communities by developing and strengthening a sense of place in our children and citizens through community based education and engagement.  Sienna is a board member of the Hilltown Community Development Corporation, Executive Producer of the Hilltown Family Variety Show (103.3FM Northampton, MA), a life-long activist, a mother, and an active community member living in West Chesterfield, MA. See Sienna’s TEDx Talk, "Supporting Education Through Community Engagement:"


  • Planting Freedom: The Impact of Unschooling Exposure on University Teacher Candidates

Adam Jordan, Jordan Hall, Falyn Tansky, Amelia Lancaster, Rosemary Bennett

Unschooling, democratic schooling, and other alternative education principles are not typically addressed in a standard teacher education program.  What happens, though, when they are?  In this presentation you will hear from multiple teacher education candidates on how a visit to a local free school shaped their vision for teaching as well as the practical impact it had on their daily decision-making in the classroom.  It is our hope that this presentation will spark conversation about the role alternative education can play in influencing education majors in the university setting.

Adam is a professor in the college of education at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, GA and a former alternative middle and high school teacher.

Jordan, Falyn, Amelia, and Rosemary are all upper level students in the Early Childhood/Special Education program at the University of North Georgia and will soon be taking positions as classroom teachers. 


  • An Introduction to SelfDesign

David Marshak

SelfDesign is a contemporary expression of the same profound, evolutionary insight into human potential and human unfoldment that guided Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner, Sri Aurobindo, and A.S. Neill: humans at every age can lead their own learning; we can author our own lives. This workshop will give participants an introduction to SelfDesign with a focus on both insights and tools that Brent Cameron and colleagues created in framing SelfDesign; the Life Spiral; the Learning Paragon; and the Learning Domain Mandala. Participants will also learn about current applications of SelfDesign in the U.S. and elsewhere.

David Marshak is the founding president of the SelfDesign Graduate Institute. He is the author of The Common Vision: Parenting and Educating for Wholeness (1997, reissued 2015) and Evolutionary Parenting (2015.) David has supported the learning of people from 4 to 84 in many diverse learning environments over the past 40 years.


  • The Radical Road

Tila Morris & Ian McDonald

The word radical is currently portrayed in the media as something extreme that is to be feared. As parents of a 5 year old that started school at New Lanark Primary School in Scotland this year, we look back to Robert Owen a radical pioneer of free education in the 1800’s to reflect on why our current education systems do more damage than good. Drawing on our experience with disaffected youth, we consider why the principles of radical education are a springboard for nurturing positive character traits in individuals, families, communities and wider systems.

Catch the Light is a youth and community development organisation in Scotland that was formed in 2006 by Ian McDonald and Tila Morris. Having been trained in community education we are committed to developing alternatives to formal learning. We are driven by our passion and belief that young people deserve the best quality of support from all domains (home, school and community) to achieve their highest aspirations.


  • Coming Alive with Full Circle Learning

Linda Aronson, M.Ed.

How often do learners navigate through the full cycle of learning from the excitement of an idea to the catharsis of completion?  How often do learners experience the deeper zones of discovery, innovation, and creating so coveted in the world of today? During this interactive workshop participants will learn why and how Full Circle Learning is a match for the 21st century mind. Full Circle learning is both empowering and transformational. It is learner-centered, experiential, entrepreneurial, globally/community based, is guided but not directed by educators and/or mentors, and is celebrated within community. Linda Aronson will illustrate Full Circle Learning components and process through diverse and inspiring examples of learner work.

Linda Aronson, M.Ed. OTR is the author of Unleashed To Learn (2013), an educator, and speaker.  Since the publication of her book, Aronson has led workshops at national, regional, and state conferences such as Learning & The Brain, Maine and Kentucky State Ed. Dept., Amherst College, and Assoc. of Experiential Education. She consults with schools and supervises college interns. Linda has experience as a homeschooling parent, classroom teacher, school commissioner, and school consultant. She is a strong advocate for learner-centered and experiential learning. Currently she teaches The Trilogy of Intelligence in the community and researches the relationship between experiential learning and social entrepreneurship. Workshop attendees describe Aronson as “very knowledgeable; great energy; fun, and inspiring.”


  • Teaching Global Compassion – Community Service, Ethics, and Mindfulness for the 21st Century

Dave Lehman

Identifying, working from, and sharing our deepest values as educators (whether students, teachers, administrators, or parent/caregivers) – participant will learn about the joint call of Psychology Professor Paul Ekman and The Dalai Lama for "Global compassion."  Practicing emotional awareness by identifying the seven basic emotions – anger, fear, sadness, disgust, contempt, surprise, and joy – as reflected in our facial expressions, we will explore various ways to use social media, classroom activities, community service, and mindfulness meditation to develop and act on Global Compassion as a key quality of personal character and democratic education.

Dave Lehman is officially retired as the Principal;/Teacher of the Lehman Alternative Community School, an alternative public middle/high school in Ithaca, New York. He is now doing professional development workshops ("Critical Friends Group" Coaches Trainings) as a National Facilitator and Executive Editor of the online journal, "Connections," with the National School Reform Faculty, and doing educational consulting with schools k through college.


  • Cooperative Games for a warm and Loving School Climate

Suzanne Lyons

We’ll talk about why cooperative games are useful as an antidote to excess competition, as a vehicle to support social and emotional learning, as a medium for content learning, and as a tool to promote a loving and inclusive school climate. We’ll play some cooperative games so you can experience the magic and learn how to use them in your own educational practice.

Suzanne Lyons made it through the educational system with many bumps and bruises but still enough joy to feel an enduring commitment to the promise of education.  She's a former science teacher; a mom of two teenagers; a textbook author; a developer of educational materials; and now a small business owner since starting


  • Teaching from the Felt Sense

Zachary Katz

The felt sense describes a nonconceptual, bodily felt experience that is at the core of successful emotional growth. This workshop will focus on the ways that you can use your own felt sense, and connect to the felt sense of  other to foster education. Particular focus will be given to working with adolescents and adults in areas of problem solving, motivation, and anxiety related to learning.

Zachary Katz began to explore Progressive Education when he his first AERO Conference in August 2008. Since then he has gone on to found ProGo Learning, one of the first Progressive Test Preparation companies in the country. Zachary was awarded an IMA from Goddard College in 2011 for his thesis: Teaching Learning. He believes that bringing progressive educational approaches into conventional classrooms can transform student lives.


  • Is there a future? On a swiftly disintegrating world, what still needs to be learned?

Alan Fortescue

As our global society swiftly tilts towards environmental and social self-destruction, the question arises if the pursuit of individual passion (or the un-schooling focus on meeting learners where they are) adequately prepares children to be active citizens, compassionate humans and full subjects in a complex world. Through audience engagement this workshop will explore whether the un-schooled still need a structured base knowledge to fully understand and engage their role in shaping the human experience and future.

Alan Fortescue holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Virginia. He was Director of Education for Earthwatch Institute from 2005-2010, and is a consulting editor for the Journal of Environmental Education. Alan served as a consultant for UNESCO where he was a co-founder and steering committee member for the North American Alliance for Sustainable Development and Education. He has consulted for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, Discovery Channel Education, and WGBH Public Television. Alan enjoys empowering and inspiring students to gain awareness of themselves, others, and the world around them.


  • Can Movement Transform the Education System?

Jonathan Angelilli

Isn't feeding, healing, nourishing, and strengthening the physical body at least as important as reading, writing, and math… if not more so?  This workshop takes the radical perspective that teaching children how to master their body is the most dynamic, accessible, and complete way to educate kids. Mastering the body through movement brings mental focus, confidence, patience, and many other mental benefits: in a word, empowerment. Through movement, we can transform kids, schools, and the entire education system. This workshop outlines how teachers, students, and parents looking to create their own education curriculum can use movement for empowerment and as a means to uncover the students life purpose.

Jonathan Angelilli is an Exercise Alchemist who teaches kids of all ages how to use movement as an empowerment practice. He's had the privilege of serving all kinds of people from all walks of life for the last 15 years as a holistic personal trainer. A recovered addict who used movement and meditation to heal himself completely, Jonathan is passionate about helping others use movement to realize their full potential. He serves on the board of Stoked Mentoring, a non-profit that empowers inner city kids through snowboarding, surfing, and skateboarding.


  • PropagandED – Why the Conversation About Education Matters

Steve Hargadon

A look at how the conversations about education reflect deeper historic and philosophical views of the individual and society–in particular beliefs about individual agency and the use of enforced schooling as a form of propaganda and control in a system that requires financial and intellectual dependency and compliance. We'll compare the potential for a learning revolution with the independence movement in India and the civil rights movement in the United States, and have a group discussion on how to help facilitate larger civil dialog and change in this area.

Steve is the founder and director of the Learning Revolution Project, the host of the Future of Education interview series, and founder and chair or co-chair of a number of annual worldwide virtual events, including the School Leadership Summit and the Global Education Conference, Library 2.0, the Future of Museums, Gaming in Education, and the Homeschool Conference. He pioneered the use of live virtual education conferences, and built the first modern social network (Classroom 2.0) for teachers in 2007.


  • Taking One Step: The Journey of a Thousand Miles…

Judith Hurst

This workshop is a Socratic discussion style exploration of my process to start an alternative learning institution. It is by no means a definitive roadmap. I had been a teacher for many years, then I saw the light. I quit my job and started my own nonprofit learning community. It's a growing, happy learning center in Florida. Did I have a wealthy sponsor? no. A support system? no. More than $4,000 capital? no. A massive drive and passion to offer young people an alternative to traditional school and home school options? YES. From the logistics of learning the administrative minutiae to the emotional stress of the isolation and work challenges, this workshop might be an enlightening and helpful storytelling experience for anyone ready (or nearly ready) to take that first step on the proverbial thousand-mile journey!

Judith Hurst, founder of Yellow Wood, has been working with children and teenagers for nearly 30 years. She is an experienced Florida Certified Teacher and a National Board Certified Educator (English). She taught for many years in Broward County Public schools (middle and high) as well as a brief spell in the private sector in Palm Beach County, teaching 9th and 10th grade English at Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches. Judith holds a BA in Literature and an MA in Educational Psychology and considers herself the ultimate life-long learner. As director of Yellow Wood, her responsibilities are varied, but none as enjoyable as her first passion–teaching. Judith facilitates classes in Literary Analysis & Writing and Psychology. Visit:


  • Techniques for Developing Narrative

Carol Nash

One of the most important things that differentiates self-directed learning from standardized education is the ability of learners to focus on what is personally meaningful to them.  Often, however, learners can be unclear of what they actually value in learning.  One way for learners to come to know what they value is to take their cherished stories about what is real learning to them and develop these stories into a unique narrative with a particular point of view.  This workshop will offer a number of techniques that will help self-directed learners successfully evolve their stories into narrative.

Carol Nash is a co-founder of Alpha II Alternative School, a public secondary unschool in Toronto, Canada.  She holds a doctorate in the philosophy of education and was formerly a practicing public secondary school teacher in Toronto.  Presently, Carol facilitates the History of Medicine Research Interest Group at the University of Toronto where she is Scholar in Residence in the History of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine. 


  • Pedagogy in Learner-Centered Alternatives

Harrison Smith

In learner centered alternatives, we tend to agree that children learn best when they are free to follow their interests, but how do we best help children learn about topics that interest them? I’ve been surprised at the number of schools that take a rather traditional lecture and book approach to lessons, despite their progressive ideals. I want to discuss whether pedagogy matters, and if it does, how can we teach in the most accessible, relevant ways?

Harrison Smith has been involved with learner-centered alternatives for 5 years now since he co-founded a democratic school in Phoenix at the age of 20. He has worked with kids in formal to informal settings, teaching calculus, planting seeds, collaboratively building a space shuttle simulator, and spending time in the wild. He recently earned his Master’s of Education and is now free, seeking just the right space to explore the world with young people.


  • Radical Boredom (for Secondary School Educators)

Stuart Grauer

A World Cafe gathering.

Start: a brief, provocative slide show and topic intro. Participants will share the most exemplary classroom and schoolwide methodologies for democratic education being used s from around the nation. We all feel the drive towards an increasingly automated instruction and controlled curricula–so what are the most innovative among us to keep learning student-centered?

Dr. Stuart Grauer, Founding Head, The Grauer School/ Founder, Small Schools Coalition, consults with schools worldwide and has taught all grades through graduate education. Stuart has received many awards including Fulbright and 2014 Uni. San Diego Career Achievement Award. His work has been covered by Discovery Channel, NY Times and frequently in his home town of Encinitas, California, where he has been named “Peacemaker of the Year.” His 2013 book, Real Teachers, has been called "amazing," "restorative," and "liberating." His book, Learn by Discovery, is due out in the spring of 2015. He is a veteran World Café leader.


  • Holistic PR

Andrea Adler

In this course you will be given tools to evaluate and develop the STORY of your business and the lens necessary to differentiate your school from any other. By developing a strategy that resonates and aligns with your school, you will be able to look at performance in a whole new way, and generate outcomes you never dreamed possible. The creative in non-linear, therefore we need holistic systems that are efficient and resonate with the audience that will magnetize to our offerings. Envisioning the future and Mind-mapping your strategy will split the red sea and provide the yellow brick road.

Andrea Adler referred to as the “Metaphysical Marketer” is an international speaker and workshop presenter. She is the founder of, the author of The Science of Spiritual Marketing: Initiation into Magnetism, PR for the Holistic Healer, Creating an Abundant Practice and her breakout novel, Pushing Upward, published by Hay House.

Andrea pioneered holistic marketing in the early 80’s and has since traveled the world offering workshops, consultations and coaching. A Broadway actress, a journalist and an entrepreneur, Andrea demonstrates how to integrate spiritual practice and psychological self-inquiry into a fundamental transformation of people’s lives and their marketing approaches.


  • Theatrical Simulations Games

Meghan Carrico and various students

Windsor House staff and students have developed a culture of all ages simulation games that span historical settings and events, as well as fictional stories. In a democratic school where no one has to attend any classes or activities, simulation games have become a core example of how to both teach and learn in a non-coercive learning environment. Students and staff  will lead participants in a small scale simulation game and show pictures of ones held at the school in past years. We will answer questions about how to develop simulations in your own school or setting.

Windsor House school is a publicly funded democratic school in Vancouver BC, Canada. It has 160 students aged 5 to 19 years old. It was founded in 1971 and is currently funded by the Gulf Islands School district. Meghan Carrico is the principal and daughter of the founder Helen Hughes. A number of Windsor House students will be attending and volunteering at AERO this year. They will lead the presentation on Simulation Games. They are delighted to talk about Windsor House at anytime and answer questions about democratic education.


  • Holistic Learning in a Technological World

Peter Berg

We live in a World engrossed in technology. Education has become enamored with technology and all that it can offer this has led to a heavy reliance on technology to meet all learning needs.  We will explore ways in which technology and holistic learning intersect while uncovering areas where technology falls short.  Come discuss, and learn some strategies to blend holistic learning with the use of technology and ways to separate the two when it makes the most sense. 

Peter Berg is a holistic mental health coach, author, blogger, educator naturalist, youth voice and educational advocate who works on various initiatives to transform education. For over 20 years  Peter has been an educator, educational leader, health coach and youth advocate.  He also is the AERO REP organizer and is committed to providing all learners with equal choice and opportunity.


  • Unschooling's Future

Liam Nilsen

Unschooling has been around for a while.  There are more adults that purposely didn't attend school since the dawn of the school system.  So what's next?  Will this generation Unschool its own young?  Or form co-ops? Co-op networks? Or something else entirely?

Liam Nilsen is a life long self-directed learner.  He is the founder/director of the Endor Initiative, an ALC affiliated educational space for high school aged persons in Asheville, NC.  Liam is the community manager at Makey Makey, a former NBTSC adviser and a former Norwegian preschool worker.


  • Rites of Passage in Educational Design

Jen Mendez in collaboration with David G. Blumenkrantz, Ph.D., Ed.M.

Rites of passage were the way we passed essential life sustaining values, information, and skills to the next generation and communities were able to adapt to make a meaningful place for emerging adults, all in reciprocity for survival. When value-based experiential education integrates the principles of youth and community development through rites of passage those values become deeply embedded in our thinking and, as a result, can reshape our world. We'll learn together about what is possible when our children are initiated into more conscious ways of being in honest relationship with themselves, others, nature, and our sacred Earth.

Jen Mendez is a wife, mother, experiential education mentor, and founder of PERMIE KIDs. She has a M. Ed. in International Education and has worked with children in the U.S. and overseas from early childhood through the primary years, as well as parent-educators. She integrates an ethical, design science methodology with her love for education to help others learn to design a customized education with their children.

David G. Blumenkrantz, Ph.D., Ed.M. Since 1966 David has dedicated his life to improving the conditions that impact education and human development. He has been called the “father of modern community rites of passage” and has served as an educator, youth worker, administrator of public and private human service agencies. Along with authoring publications David has consulted with and provided training to schools, communities and organizations around the world.


  • More than 10 reasons of why we should avoid the idea of introducing literacy at early ages

Silvia Villacorta

As an educator, I strongly believe that the mainstream school system and also parents are making a big mistake by introducing literacy at the ages of 4- 5 (even earlier!). Based on my experience and research, there are several reasons why is totally harmful and counterproductive to introduce the formal process of reading and writing to young children, that are lacking  many important previous skills and are “jumping” into one of the finest motor skill which writing requires. The idea of “quality in kindergarten” is provoking serious consequences on our children. There are fantastic ways to introduce literacy and wait, when all the conditions are on our side, to guide the natural process of literacy.

Silvia Villacorta has a Bachelor in Pedagogy, specialized in Multilingual Education and Human Rights. I was born in Guatemala where I started my career in Education. She lived in Spain for more than 15 years, creating an alternative cooperative nursery and a non profit organization for immigrants.


  • Michel Foucault: Reflection on the question of freedom within democratic Free Schools

Kirk Cunningham

The works of Michel Foucault raise a critique of our concept of student freedom, even within a democratic Free School. This critique may inform reflection, how much are we indirectly driving what our students do/learn while in our spaces? We will examine the critique, discuss its implications for us as education facilitators, and finally what does this mean for our spaces, many of which contain explicit reference to student freedom to choose their learning path. Take part in a lively discussion of both the critique raised by Foucault as well as how this lens may positively impact our practice.

Kirk Cunningham is a 20+ year educator who has taught in “At-Risk”, “International Baccalaureate”, and “Traditional” urban and suburban classrooms in the Southern and Midwest U.S. Personal experience transforming a public 6-9 grade classroom into a Free School space motivated dissertation research. Within this research the literature of Foucault arose as a valid critique of the core democratic Free School principle of freedom not license. He aspires (post PhD) to work with young teachers, exposing them to the vast world of authentic alternative learning philosophies evident in the diversity of AERO.


  • "Learning" Math without "Teaching" Math

Loretta Heuer

Q1: How can kids "learn" math without being "taught" by rote? Loretta has unschooled her two sons in math, written math coaching courses, and devised math curricula for college professors (who may be brilliant in math but lack an understanding of how kids think and learn about math.) Q2: Is your child a numeric, geometric, or algebraic thinker? Q3: How can patterns make math…lovely? And fun?

Loretta has unschooled her two sons in math, coached math teachers, written math coaching courses, and devised math curricula for college professors (who may be brilliant in math but lack an understanding of how kids think and learn about math.) She currently is tutoring math to her 10 yr old homeschooled neighbor, Lizzy…who teaches Loretta dance.


  •  Intro to Agile Learning Centers: Tools and Practices

Tomis Parker and Nancy Tilton

When we remove a core or compulsory curriculum from the function of teaching, we are left with an entirely different kind of craft. This workshop is designed for educators, parents, and organizational leaders who are looking for tangible ways to support intentional culture creation and effective facilitation in a self-directed learning community. We will share information about the origin, contextualization, and evolution of our tools and practices. Our goal is for workshop attendees to learn about several practical and employable tools for creating and sustaining healthy learning cultures. For those who attended the AERO conference in 2014, this will be an updated version of last year’s workshop, “Agile Learning Centers: Self-Directed Learning for the 21st Century”.


  • Agile Learning Centers: Diving Deeper

Tomis Parker and Nancy Tilton

This workshop is for those who have attended an introductory workshop or have already explored Agile Learning Centers tools and practices in some way. We will share a more in-depth picture of where the ALC project currently is and projected to go in the next year. For those with specific questions about how to engage with the ALC project, this is the opportunity to bring those questions to a group setting and dive deeper into the conversation of how we expect to expand the ALC network in a way that remains cohesive and connected.

Tomis Parker co-founded Agile Learning Centers in 2013 informed by five years of work with alternative education models, specifically Montessori and democratic/free schools. He currently support the Agile Learning Center in NYC and ALC Mosaic in an administrative and advisory capacity, and help hold the larger vision of the ALC project.

Nancy Tilton started her career teaching in public and private schools before finding AERO in 2012. After learning about democratic education through AERO’s School Starter Course, she started a school in January of 2013. After a few short months, she branched out to find a more cohesive model for her school and ended up meeting Tomis Parker with Agile Learning Centers. Now ALC Mosaic is a part of a growing network of Agile Learning Centers. Currently there are two Mosaic campuses in Charlotte serving 35 children from ages 2-12.


  • Creating a Good Clash

Meg Mott

Debate teaches students how to articulate a position in the presence of one's detractors. Debates require the precise use of language and the analytical skills of a lawyer. Students who love assertions and games with clear winners are naturally drawn to debate. But not all students learn best in antagonistic circumstances. This workshop uses fishbowls and forum theater to increase the contexts for productive clashes. Where debates foster strong opposition and linear development, fishbowls foster peripheral alliances and lateral surprises. Positions that might have taken on an adversarial tone in a debate find themselves sitting quite comfortably next to a different perspective in a fishbowl. Where debates end with a clear winner, forum theater's conclusion is more cooperative. Spect-Actors jump into the re-enacted clash to create a more democratic outcome. By using all three formats, students become more skilled at creating productive clashes.

Meg Mott teaches politics and law at Marlboro College (Vermont). Before becoming a college professor, Meg clashed with District Attorneys about domestic violence and with public health officials about needle exchange programs. She has since changed her mind on the former but not on the latter.


  • New Eyes: How to Pass the Baton AND Advance Your Vision

Pat Montgomery, Ph.D. and Chandra Montgomery Nicol

Clonlara, the country’s oldest operating alternative k-12 school, was created from scratch by a mother who envisioned the best for her children. Under her direction, it survived well beyond their youth. As happens with all founders, however, the time came for her to leave. This workshop will tell the story of Clonlara School’s transition from Founder to Modernizer, from the perspectives of the two people most intimately involved in the process, Pat Montgomery and Chandra Montgomery Nicol. We will share how we used the collaborative tools of William Bridges and the sage advice of experts like Margaret Wheatley to systematically manage the process and make the most of change. Come learn from our global success story of how the mother sowed the seeds of an organic, free school, and how her daughter, the now director, kept it true to its roots, while re-envisioning it for the future. “Only if we take the time and discipline to see with new eyes will we be able to discern more clearly and choose more wisely. And as our clarity and wisdom grows, we develop the confidence and strength necessary to persevere in the work that is ours to do.” Margaret J. Wheatley

Pat Montgomery, Ph.D., is the Founder of Clonlara School (1967) and Clonlara School Home Based Education Program (1979). She served as Director of both programs from 1967 to 2005.

Chandra Montgomery Nicol, MS, is the Executive Director of Clonlara School and Clonlara School Home Based Education Program.


  • Teen Panel: Directing My Own Education

4-5 Teens from Liberated Learners centers

A panel of teens from Liberated Learners centers will share their stories about how they learned to self-direct their own learning, including leaving school, deschooling, finding themselves, figuring out what they want in life, and some of the cool stuff they’ve been able to do because they are not in school for 7 hours every day. Moderated question and answer to follow.

As current members of Liberated Learners centers (e.g., North Star and Princeton Learning Cooperative), the teens on the panel will reflect varied backgrounds, with some having left high school or middle school due to stress and anxiety over social issues or academics, and others leaving high school or a homeschooling situation because they wanted more out of life.


  • Democratic Teachers in Public Schools: Looking at Authority and Cultural Context

Diane Hamilton

How does teacher authority happen differently in classrooms led by democratic educators? How do cultural norms shape the way that authority is understood and played out by teachers and students? What the heck is "authority" anyway? Please join me as I describe my journey exploring these questions, by way of a research study involving 3 public school classrooms. The 3 elementary school teachers I observed represented diverse approaches: one teacher emphasized choice for her students and accommodated their needs; one teacher prioritized mutual respect and endeavoured to see the best in his students; and one teacher stressed accountability to the community and trained his students in democratic class meeting skills. Mainstream North American cultural norms are the (invisible) background to this drama, shaping how all the players view each other and how they understand authority, democracy and community participation. How these teachers negotiated authority with their students sheds light on democratic teacher practice.

Diane Hamilton is a beginning teacher, in my third career after stints as a social worker and as a potter. She teaches grade 1 French immersion with the Toronto District School Board, as democratically as I can. Her son attends Alpha Alternative Public School, a democratic free school within the same board. Diane recently completed my master's thesis: "Teacher Student Authority Relations in Elementary Classrooms Committed to Democratic Pedagogies".


  • EDUCATION UNCENSORED: Child-led Learning Techniques in the Classroom

Laurie Block Spigel

How do you get your students to ask their own questions? To choose their own projects? To connect with the material at hand? To see themselves in their studies? Is it possible for students to experience self-discovery, perhaps even a personal awakening, as they learn about the world? The answer is a resounding YES! Join Laurie Block Spigel as she shares the many techniques she has developed as a parent and classroom teacher of homeschoolers, including practical approaches to child-led, self-directed learning, for individuals and in group situations of all ages, where there is often a curriculum focus.

Laurie Block Spigel, author of "EducationUncensored: A Guide for the Aspiring, the Foolhardy, and the Disillusioned," is an educator and homeschooling advocate. She homeschooled her two sons, now adults. Laurie currently teaches popular child-led classes to homeschoolers in NYC. She has lectured at conferences including AERO, the NJ Unschoolers Conference, and Learning Creations in Sydney, Australia. Read more about Laurie, and articles written by her, at



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