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I guide to common roadblocks in an Acton journey. The stories in this book were written by one of seven original Acton Eagles. Everything written here is a true experience from that Eagle, written in a way designed to help you troubleshoot any road bumps you may come across.

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"I can say with complete certainty that Ellie’s expertise and experience was a huge asset to our school and was a critical component of a successful launch. Ellie’s passion for guiding, her calm demeanor, and her dedication to finding the processes that work for each individual school or studio will make her a very positive addition to any organization."

- Danelle Foltz, Acton Academy Venice Beach Owner

Stories from an Eagle

"[Ellie] truly cares about the Acton community and creating this opportunity for kids everywhere. She works extremely hard, is always prepared, and is ready to jump in and help out anywhere she is needed. Having her in our studios gave me a huge boost in confidence- something I will take with me into our school year."

- Danelle Foltz, Acton Academy Venice Beach Owner

A guide to common road bumps in the Acton journey, written by one of the first seven Acton Eagles.

Copyright 2018 

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Contents

What is the most urgent and important issue in your studios right now? Flip to the question you feel is important, and learn from my experiences so you can help your studio thrive.

How to Use this Book

How can we maintain a balance of doing best work and working efficiently? ........................ Page 3


How can we introduce and maintain high quality 360 reviews or full circle feedback? .......... Page 5


How do we get Eagles to get excited about and take control of their education? .................... Page 8


How can we help our Eagles become coaches for each other? .............................................. Page 11


How can we make discussion engagement great? ................................................................. Page 13

Glossary of Terms

Eagles - The young heroes who attend your school. Studio - The physical space in which learning happens. Launchpad - Our word for high school. Guides - The adults brave enough to not answer questions, but instead hold boundaries. ROE - Rules of engagement in discussions.

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How can we maintain a balance of doing best work and working efficiently?

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How can we maintain a balance of doing best work and working efficiently?

Eagles in your studio may begin to finish work fast rather than well. In my experience, studios fall to one side of the spectrum and stay there for close to a year. To maintain a balance, there are a few things we tried that worked, and a few that did not.

Short Term Fixes that Work

Equip Eagles by leading important discussions.
One of my favorite launches is the Navy Seal honor code discussion. The important quote, “How you do anything is how you will do everything,” comes from the Navy Seals. When delivered with the right introduction, this discussion can make a lifetime’s difference.


Experts say there are three keys to success. You have to get things done on time, be pleasant to work with, and do what you do well. Actually, you only need two of the three to get a job and become successful. Ask the group questions about their progress in each, which they are confident in, and which they need to improve in. Self awareness can be the key for Eagles to unlock their potential. I remember these discussions in my studio as the start to long trends of motivation.


Long Term Fixes that Work

Create a waterfall of accountability that relies on Guides as the last resort, not first response. 
In Launchpad, the best system of accountability for us involves Running Partners (RPs). Each week, when an RP signs off on another’s goals, their initials represent the phrase, “I agree you set SMART goals,”. Then on Wednesday, they meet to provide each other support and encouragement. On Friday, RPs read each other's’ work to ensure they improved. When an RP signs off on Friday, they risk an equal amount of points.


Same goes for badges. A badge must pass through two Eagles before it reaches a Guide. By signing off, Eagles wager their own work. If a Guide finds missing requirements, all of those Eagles lose a badge.

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How can we maintain a balance of doing best work and working efficiently?

Strategies that Haven't Worked

Introduce new systems instead of inspiring Eagles to enforce core ones.

One year in middle school, the work and studio life quality dropped to an all time low. Throughout one morning, certain Eagles received emails stating they were invited to a standards committee, myself included. I went to Launchpad where over half of the rest of the studio waited.


The Guides told us we needed to fix the studio, and weren’t going to come back if we didn’t. Within minutes, Eagles lost their self control. Eagles ran around the studio, gossiped about those who weren’t chosen, and threw pillows at each other. It worked around the system of accountability already in place and did not provide clear objectives and boundaries.


Later, the Guides took a one-on-one approach to coaching Eagles to enforce the systems already in place and also took to praising positive actions more often. A combination of those actions helped the studio tremendously.



New Ideas

Real World Consequences

Apprenticeship feedback.

One of the most important apprenticeships I completed was at a cake shop in Austin. I remember being tasked with putting cake samples into bowls for prospective customers. I was rushed but got it done just in time. When the owner came back to bring what I prepared to her customers, she had to redo most of the work because I didn’t make it look nice enough. 


This was tough feedback to hear when I was already so nervous. But it was also the most important feedback I received. If you don’t do it right, you may not get the chance to do it at all.

Friday Morning Read-Aloud

On Friday at 12:30 pm, select two Eagles’ names from a hat. Ask those Eagles to read their work from two deliverables from the week. This can work as an encouragement or consequence. The work Eagles do at Acton matter, so this could act as a wake-up call and a call to action.

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How can we introduce and maintain high quality 360 reviews or full circle feedback?

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How can we introduce and maintain high quality 360 reviews or full circle feedback?

Long Term Fixes that Work

It is hard to hear constructive feedback. That’s true for anyone. Eagles might resist getting feedback for the first time if they don’t understand how it can help them. However, if they do understand, the 360 reviews can be a powerful tool. Here are some strategies that have and have not worked for me.

Short Term Fixes that Work

Clarify that 360s reviews are a core part of Acton culture.
On occasion, you may find there’s an entitlement issue in your studio. I know I was a culprit of that at the Austin campus.
For all the systems I didn’t like when I was younger - 360s, discussion, competitions - I didn’t understand they were non-negotiable. The clearer you can be with the expectations of your Eagles, the easier it will be to hold the standard.

Re-establish the “why” behind the 360 reviews and the format.
A simple discussion on the power of 360 reviews and the standard can be helpful. If you make the format for comments clear and clarify that any comments not in the format will not pass, it can make a large difference in the turnout of 360 reviews.


Quick Tip

When in doubt, start by setting tougher consequences and higher expectations. It’s much harder to enforce tougher expectations than easier ones.

Hold face-to-face 360 reviews.

One of the most powerful experiences I had at Acton was an in-person 360 review in Launchpad. Me, a group of four other Eagles, and a Guide met one afternoon at a picnic table. Our Guide set the stage with questions each Eagle would ask the group, and the format for feedback.


In that afternoon, I received more feedback from my peers than I had at any other time in my life. It changed me.
The next time I filled out the online 360s reviews, I was equipped with the language and tone needed to make my comments impactful.

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How can we introduce and maintain high quality 360 reviews or full circle feedback?

Strategies that Haven't Worked

Have coaches deliver feedback.


If your studio is small, and you can’t get 360s off the ground, consider setting up coaching meetings between Guides and Eagles where Guides explain the feedback to the Eagle and help them figure out how they can improve.

If you have a large campus, it could be amazing to have senior Eagles coach newer Eagles in this way too.

Guides screen comments every time.

This can fix short term problems if the culture is toxic. But it also takes up a lot of a Guide’s time. That time would be better spent preparing a great discussion to help Eagles write better feedback next time.




New Ideas

Real World Consequences

Handling feedback in apprenticeships or at exhibitions.

Handling feedback is a skill everyone will use. In exhibitions and apprenticeships, Eagles will hear feedback from experts. If they’ve practiced with the 360 reviews, they’ll be much better equipped to embrace it.

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How do we get Eagles to get excited about and take control of their education?

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How do we get Eagles to get excited about and take control of their education?

If Eagles don’t take control of their education at Acton, no one will. But your Eagles may fall in a habit of getting overwhelmed and settling into the victim mindset I’ve been through this cycle countless times. Here is what helped me get out of it.

Long Term Fixes that Work

Quick Tip

Often, studios have to hit a low before they peak again. The best thing you can ever do as a Guide is to hold your guardrails and provide a mirror when asked. Stay calm and confident that the Eagles will learn.

Coaching. But it’s tough to do.
In Launchpad, we had a Guide who was a culture expert. He met with each individual for an hour every week for a coaching meeting. It’s a hard system to get right. Both parties have to be honest and promise to protect the information in that session. But if you have experience in systems like this, it can change your life.



Inspire and encourage.
Continue to praise Eagles with a growth mindset throughout all studios. Just a little bit of this encouragement goes a long way. If you copy parents on praise emails, that makes all of the difference too.

Hold up the standard.

I remember a day when my middle school studio was especially loud. My friends ran around the studio, breaking the contracts. No one finished any work, even though a few tried to ignore the madness. We didn’t notice any Guides in the studio.
At the closing discussion that day, the studio grew extra quiet in the moments before 3:00 pm. Our Guide had a stern look on his face. No one knew what to expect.
The first question: What should silent core skills look and sound like? At first, no one spoke. Finally, one Eagle spoke up. Others followed. Our Guide wrote the comments up on the board. Then he played the clip.
The studio was disappointed in itself. Our Guide challenged the leaders with a tough tone. He put the responsibility on us and reminded us that our school won’t work if no one steps up to lead. It was scary. But the next day, the energy was different. No one dared to speak during silent core skills. Well, one person did, but they were asked an Eagle Buck and that was the end of the discussion.

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How do we get Eagles to get excited about and take control of their education?

Strategies that Haven't Worked

Quick Tip

It is extremely important to stress the last two steps in the apprenticeship process: asking for feedback, and sending a thank you note. Most learning happens in reflection, so never pass a badge that did not show some reflection.

Accountability and tough feedback without encouragement.

TThe 5:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback is crucial. Especially for Guides. I thought of my Guides as heroes growing up.

There is a note in the Guide Handbook that says to never shame an Eagle. This is the most important sentence in the handbook. Instead of shaming, a Guide should ask Eagles to take responsibility, set big goals, and encourage them as they do so. Consequence without praise will create a negative culture. Positivity without occasional consequence will create a false reality. Use both to create balance in your studio.





New Ideas

Real World Consequences

People don’t want to work with others who complain.

If no one in the studio is willing to give an Eagle feedback on their attitude, someone in the “real world” will. Apprenticeships can kickstart a huge change in Eagles.

A mentor system.

If your Eagles have done Stars and Stepping Stones interviews, you may consider asking them to ask one of those people to mentor them, and have weekly meetings. This is another great way for Eagles to have a role model to look up to.


I had two mentors through official Acton programs, and still remember the important conversations I had with them today.


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How can we help our Eagles become coaches for each other? 

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How can we help our Eagles become coaches for each other?

If the culture is set, Eagles are bound to want to help each other. They will give each other advice, meet often, and discuss their goals and projects. Here are some of the tools you can give them to help them embrace new coaching instincts.

New Ideas

Long Term Ideas that Work

Create a waterfall of responsibilities.

If LP Eagles can help MS Eagles, and MS Eagles can help ES Eagles, you have a perfect coaching waterfall. The Eagles can discuss their work progress and their coaching methods. Never tried this one but I think it could be awesome!


Optional coaching lunches.

Once a week, hold optional coaching lunches where Eagles can learn new coaching strategies. These meetings can be held by Eagles or Guides.


Incorporate coaching meetings into the weekly schedule.

Give Eagles some rhythm around their meetings. It also helps to have a deliverable on the Journey Tracker with ideas for questions to ask.




Quick Tip

Character Callouts are a tradition in every studio at the Austin Acton Academy. At the end of the day, Eagles can award others with a Character Callout by naming an example of a time they used a positive character trait that day.

Have a way for Running Partners, Squads or Coaches to praise.

All three of these types of people will have to give tough feedback often. If there’s also a way they can praise each other in public, all of the feedback will be more effective.


Allow RPs to award badges to each other publicly at Friday closes. Make time for Character Callouts at the end of the day. Have an accomplishments board where friends can post accomplishments in and out of school. These little things make a huge difference.


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How can we make discussion engagement great?

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How can we make discussion engagement great?

Discussions are one of the few parts of the day when Guides have the opportunity to make a huge impact on the whole studio. There are a few things you can do to help raise the standards of your discussion that set Eagles up for success.

Long Term Ideas that Work

Short Term Ideas that Work

Use the wording, “I am going to take back the role of facilitator now.”

In my experience at the elementary school in Austin, on occasion, Eagles try to enforce discussion rules by arguing during the discussion. When an issue like this arises, use the wording “I am going to take back the role of facilitator,”. Further, you can say “If someone needs to (whatever consequence you have set - be asked an Eagle Buck, go to the benches, etc.), I will do so,”.
Another option is to ask Eagles to choose one or two ROEs to focus on in that discussion and ask those who nominated them to enforce them.




Hang the discussion ROEs in a place that all Eagles can see at all times.
Just the presence of the rule document will make a huge difference in keeping the line clear for what is okay and not okay behavior in a discussion.


Track discussion progress.
If you are at the point when Eagles are leading a majority of the discussions, it is important to give them a way to track their progress and improve. For that reason, it can be helpful to rate each discussion on a scale of 1-10. We did this in Launchpad and were all more motivated to keep improving.

Set a consequence that is used every time necessary, with long term consequences.

At the ES in Austin, the consequence for breaking a Rule of Engagement is to go to the benches. (There are a few benches set up behind the discussion area.) At the benches, the Eagles must quietly observe the discussion. This is a great small consequence that adds up after time when you ask an Eagle Buck each time you are sent to the benches.
At the Austin MS, consequences for breaking an ROE include being asked an Eagle Buck, being asked to leave the discussion, or both. Equipping Eagle discussion leaders with the power to hold their peers accountable in this way can also be powerful if they are prepared.

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Strategies that Haven't Worked

How can we make discussion engagement great?

In ES, going to your desk.

Because these consequences may be more frequent in ES given you’ll deal with more focus setbacks in ES than in MS, it can feel somewhat normal for ESers to get sent to their desk in a discussion. They may even end up just doing their work, which can be more of an award than a consequence, as it did in the Austin ES. For this reason, it was helpful for us to incorporate the benches.


A new idea is to rate the ROE at the end of each discussion and track that progress as well.





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