"…broadening the base…"

"What we have in common is not knowledge about which we agree but a shared world about which we will always disagree." David Weinberger

Adlt 612: #5 “Stop enrolling, start embodying!”

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In nearly every one of my work settings, a mission statement hung in a prominent space.  My first encounter was nearly 25 years ago. While waiting for the elevator that would transport my haul to the top floor of my elementary school, I would stare at the mission statement that hung on the wall.  I had no idea who had created it, but assumed that it was the work of unknown people in central office.  How it applied to me, considering that I had no voice in it, was unknown.  Very rarely was it discussed or considered when planning curriculum for students and learning events.  In the time that has ensued, mission statements, beliefs and vision and values are featured on the mast-head of newsletters, in lobbies and hallways as well as websites.  Organizations embrace them as a mantra for the collective group.  Considerable time is spent by small interest groups in creating them for the good of the organization.  Survey employees in an organization about them, and I would imagine that you’d become Jay Leno walking the streets of NYC unearthing ignorance at every cubicle.

“Every child, every chance, every day” was the philosophy of one of my work settings. It was prominently displayed for the public to see in buildings and on the marquee of the school complex.  On several occasions I used it to my advantage as both a parent and a teacher.  When every other strategy that I tried failed, I would pull out the mission statement.  I became Elizabeth Swann invoking the right of parley, when asking for accommodations that I felt would benefit a student.  “If the adversary demands parley, you can do them no harm until the parley is complete, she reminds Pintel.  ” Hence a discussion would ensue between me, and the adversary, who was typically an  administrator or a committee of educators.  Negotiations about the terms necessary to make a change for a student may have not occurred without this trump card.   After nearly 8 years, the school board has adopted a new mission statement,

“The…system encourages, challenges, and engages students in an educational process that fosters critical thinkers, lifelong learners, and responsible citizens to be prepared for college, a career and a globally interconnected world.”  

Hurumph, perhaps I wasn’t the only Elizabeth in the organization who evoked parley when quoting the mission statement? I despair to consider how this current mission statement provides for the needs of those who can not speak for themselves? Which part of the statement tells their story?

The 4 Dice group, of the Learning in Groups and Teams class selected “Developing Shared Vision and Values” to facilitate with our class.  At a first glance, the chapter was rather straight forward. It provided several activities, but was very dry. It needed some life, action and a bit of Hollywood to capture the attention of our classmates.   All learning, according to Dr. Jane Vella, must be anchored in work that connects the learner to the task.  Thus we start with the question

What inspires you?

Periodically, I luncheon with a group of retired public school educators.  Conversation is circular, as each woman weaves from present day activity to recollections of life as a career person.  So I posed the question, “What inspires you,” before I launched into an encapsulated version of our facilitation project.  Their responses

Work that uses one’s skills, has merit, provides good feedback, appreciation, work that is effective, makes a difference somewhere for someone,provides opportunity to try new ideas, encourages creativity, provides a balance between sedentary and active work, between doing and receiving, personal relationships make the work worth doing, I want something out of work-it needs to tickle my brain.

Inspiration comes in many venues, forms  and through a variety of experiences.  Consider Jerry McGuire’s recollections of how to embody the philosophy of his late mentor who suggests that “the key to this business is personal relationships.”

 The things we think, but do not say

If we had surveyed our classmates, I would imagine that a variety of (printable) responses about the idea of a mission statement would run along these lines-

Mission Statements are:

  • pointless
  • created by the human resource department
  • take space on a wall
  • mean nothing to me
  • What mission statement?

How do we create new learning?

Anne Davidson, consultant with Schwarz and Associates,  asks the facilitator to consider “…vision as a specific, richly detailed picture of a desired future that a group seeks to create.”  Mission statements are ways that organizations define what is worthwhile, desirable and what it exists to do. Facilitators offer intervention which allow organizations to clarify their mission and vision productively when considering the purpose, an agreement about the values that are at the core of the organization before creating a vision.

What would an ideal future look like and in what way would it be consistent with the values of your organization? Davidson suggests that each facilitation begin with an activity or exercise that helps adults to clarify their desires.  Personal stories may follow the exercise while providing elements to start a conversation about shared vision.  Stories about the peaks and valleys that I have experienced as an educator, would give a starting point for a conversation about “my” ideal working environment. Group conversations are necessary to lead to the establishment of a common ground, a desired future and a goal to meet.

Creating a Vision

 

Response to new content allows adult learners to use what they are learning and not simply responding to it.

Let’s use the new content immediately!

Welcome to Laurinburg, North Carolina

Reading and discussing the exhibit 17.3, Values and Beliefs of the Laurinburg Management Team in printed form is rather static.  Classmates needed to dig deep into the website to practice using the ideas in the content.  An introductory video, Target Laurinburg, provided a visual welcome to the group, albeit a little Mayberry, North Carolina for the taste of some.  Classmates then worked in groups of four to discover ways in which the community embodied the vision. The thirteen beliefs were divided between the small groups.  Members used the city’s website, Welcome to Laurinburg and Scotland County…what do you see?  links provided to them. These links shared initiatives supported by the town as well as quarterly newsletters to answer two important questions:

In what way does the city provide sufficient evidence to support the vision and values stated by the management team?  What relevant information is needed to support these values? 

The vision and values proposed by the management team began with a call by then manager, Peter S. Vandenberg, to reflect deeply about what qualities would create an exceptional organization.  This event was preceded by a tour of the Celestial Seasonings Tea company in Boulder, Colorado. He left the company with the impression that it was the finest company that he had ever toured with the greatest employees.  How did Celestial Seasons carry out this feat?

The management team’s journey began with a foundation of systems thinking, mental models and ground rules before considering how to develop shared values and beliefs.  Over a period of three months, June, 1996-September 1996, the team spent five days in dialogue.  Dialogue was necessary to reach consensus.  Two days were spent clarifying and revising the exhibit.  Consensus seeking is rather time consuming, but a necessary step before a team may begin to test the potency of these thirteen values.

Where do we go from here?

Members of the class, overwhelmingly, agreed that Laurinburg tried to embody the life that they created, as Block suggests in the above quote.  The work occurred nearly eighteen years ago, while the research was published fourteen years ago, by Anne S. Davidson and Richard R. McMahon in Popular Government magazine.  The reading selection in the fieldbook is an overview of this lengthy project.  I found the publication worth the time to read as it unfolds the wealth of learning done by this management team.  It is important to see how the concepts presented by Schwarz were employed by this team in a real-life facilitation and not simply concepts in a textbook.  They do have a life outside of research with implication for systemic change in any organization.

When learners move the content into the real work,meaning their own personal work settings, they discover how to integrate what they know about vision, values and a personal belief system.  For me, this is the most important component of the learning task, but is often one that is rushed with lack of time to consider for future use.  My own enthusiasm for this facilitation and way in which to learn maintained my motivation for the duration of the project.  Vella reminds me to consider ways in which to protect the learning space from my enthusiasm.  The growth mindset with which I navigate through life, makes enthusiasm difficult to contain.  Time allows shared vision to become the values of the group.

“If top management wants to 

create a vision or set of values

for the organization, let them create it

and live it out for themselves first-

for two years or more.  Then let them

worry about how to engage others in

the vision.  Stop enrolling, start embodying.”  

 

 

So who is with me?

The next time I travel south for vacation, I may just stop in Laurinburg and see the vision in action.

 

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Adlt 612#4 Maintaining the proportion…

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To say that my son is NOT a morning person is an understatement.  He is every bit a snarky and surly teenager.  Catch him after an exhilarating soccer match, and that’s a different story.  He’s played soccer in every group setting from Hot Shots in preschool to Junior Varsity now as an 8th grade student.  The bulk of his travel is now over, while the next two weeks are comprised of mostly home games.  While clocking hundreds of miles over a two month time frame is something that most parents willingly relinquish at the end of the season, I must admit that I am feeling rather sad to see this time end.  Discourse between parent and child during the teen years is precious.  Our conversations typically surround evaluating the game, venue and skill level and performance of the opposing team. Discussion invariably transitions to thoughts about philosophy, books or presentations that we’ve heard. I have a captive audience and he is locked into the car with no way to escape. Our last away game conversation surrounded “The 3 R’s and Coach Davis, of whom we have great fondness, to that of a revisit to an earlier discussion about the idea of talent and outliers.

My son’s experience as a player on an “Elite” travel team during the fall of 2013  was by far the most difficult one he experienced.  The dissonant leadership style of his coach fueled poor sportsmanship on the part of his teammates.  This team resembled an autoimmune disorder that attacked itself during times of difficulty and stress. In earlier team situations, my son would admonish me to “hurry up!” as we raced to practice.   He could never be late and always wanted to enter the pitch before the other players arrived.  His anticipation for a strenuous workout transitioned to one of apathy.  He was a young man who lost his best friend, “futbol!” As a mother, my heart sank.  Enter Coach Davis.

Summer break is an opportunity for a player to spread his wings and to embrace new ideas and coaching practices outside of his typical routine. A new philosophy is the  scaffolding which allows a player to reach greater heights, while providing  me with the necessary tools to encourage their player.  John Davis, of ETM Academy in Charlottesville, Virginia  was the saving grace that I needed for each drive to soccer practice and each long haul to a game during this difficult season. When confronted with a difficult experience, a grueling match, referees that one would swear slept through training and dissonant leadership, I would work through a scenario involving, “What would Coach Davis say?”

The “3 R’s:  Refocus, Reform and Refine” became that phrase that began and concluded many a long soccer event.  (My apologies to John if I have transposed theses ideas.)  The idea that a player may refocus-change the way that he views a situation and opponent or a call, to reform-try a new approach and then refine it-work it until it occurs with little or no effort is empowering!  When players internalize positive self-talk it facilitates systemic change.  The performance of an individual player as well as that of an entire team may be transformed.

Coach Shaka Smart’s recent visit to our Learning in Groups in Teams Class on April 14 , provides multiple layers of thinking about being a member of a team and team leadership. He referenced the writing of psychologist Carol Dweck and her work, “Mindset,” which my son and I consider often when struggling to keep up an outlook about one’s ability.

The “5 Core Values” uphold standards for participation that transcend athletic teams to be useful for teams in any setting. 

1. AppreciationWhat is the relationship between appreciation and entitlement?  You may win today, but you must fight for your culture everyday. If the team leader doesn’t emphasize appreciation then the team may lean toward entitlement. Quotes from coaches that Smart considers as he leads his young men:

“We’re entitled to nothing and grateful for everything.”  Jack Clark, Head Rugby Coach, University of California

“We’re in a daily battle for the hearts and minds of our players.” Oliver Purnell, Hear Basketball Coach, DePaul University

Learning in Groups and Teams Take-Away- You can not be highly appreciative and down on yourself.  An interesting way to consider how to work with players who are self-deprecating.  If a player or member of a group focuses negative energy he is not able to consider the benefits of the opportunity.

2. EnthusiasmBeing a member of the team is something you “get” to do vs. something that you “got” to do.  It’s a daily choice to be at practice/to be on the team.  This fact alone should empower a player to be all that he is capable of being.

Learning in Groups and Teams Take-Away- How can good leaders encourage enthusiasm and avoid confusing the daily choice with the necessity of survival? (needing a job vs. wanting a stimulating career)

3.  Competitiveness-players need to push each other to be better.  Competition should not be situational, meaning just on the court.  Be competitive all around.  A leader should promote it among players and encourage them to be competitive in each aspect of his life.

Learning in Groups and Teams Take-Away- I was so impressed with the kind manner in which Coach Smart spoke of the academic tutor.  He showed high regard for education, and a respect for each member of his coaching and learning staff.

4. Unselfishness-  the needs and values of the team need to come before a member’s personal agenda.  Players must commit to something greater than themselves.  When students are selected to be a member of the team they must “get over” themselves.

Learning in Groups and Teams Take-Away- Find a side interest or means to take care of the need for self.  In order to be successful as a unit, one must be in the team not just on the team.

5.  Accountability-Team members must be taught how to be accountable, to be responsible for themselves and for the team.

Learning in Groups and Teams Take-Away-Accountability must be learned, and at times, it’s must be in context.

The ease with which Coach Smart spoke of his work, his team and his philosophy, evidences that he embodies the values that characterize his team.  When faced with a potentially deprecating remark about one of his players, he exhibited diplomacy.  His understanding of the social and emotional development of his players indicates that he knows his audience well. He referenced the work of Carole Dweck, Mindset, as a part of his foundation for learning.  The ability to operate within the context of a “growth mindset” and not a “fixed mindset” is the medium from which one can either succeed or fail in life.  This coach is well-educated, well read and engages theory with strategy to produce results. In otherwords, his “espoused theory” and theory in action mirror each other.

Learning in Groups and Teams Take-Away- I would suggest that groups begin by reading and incorporating the research presented in Carol Dweck’s “Mindset”  Do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?  You might be surprised by what you discover and how it navigates your work and relationships. Try this: Test your mind

Daniel Coyle’s “The Talent Code” explores the secret to becoming good at anything.  Talent isn’t born he explains, it’s grown.  In an earlier post from the spring 2013, I considered the implications for his ideas.

Finally, consider Malcolm Gladstone’s “Outliers.” His writing is insightful and asks the reader to disband beliefs about intelligence and perceived intelligence. I have found that each of these books gave me ideas to consider that impact my thoughts and ideas about learning.  I use the concepts explored by each writer in both my personal and professional life and most importantly, in my role as a parent.

If the author Robert Fulghum were to revise his ideas about “All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten, I would imagine that children could remember Coach Davis’ “3 R’s” Coach Smart’s 5 Core Values. When presented in the simplest of terms, children can blossom into adults who embody the skills necessary to be effective team members. Coach Shaka Smart and the core value of appreciation is now a new source of strength for me as a parent and for my son as a team player.  In our discussions, we revisit these ideas and layer them with new experiences.

How do you maintain a balance in your work and personal life?

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Adlt 612 #3: “Rock the boat, baby.”

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Along the Road to Abilene and other trips that I’d rather forget…

I have to admit, I roared with laughter at the father-in-law’s reaction in The Abilene Paradox:  The Management of Agreement.  In this scenario,  I heard the Texas drawl of Matthew McConaughey when reading  of the father’s explosion. Afterall,  who wouldn’t wish to venture through the dust and soaring heat of West Texas? I roll my eyes and sigh thinking of the number incidents in my life that have occurred as a result of “agreement issues.”  Members of both my immediate and extended family could be the members of this family who were unable to manage their agreement.

This training video doesn’t do justice the scenario painted by Jerry P. Harvey. This collection certainly shows how easy it is for one to become engulfed in a crisis of agreement. Like Harvey, my experience is not atypical of many family and work settings.  I know that I have agreed with ideas, practices or decisions that I know full well that I did not endorse.  What causes me to act this way?  What has prevented the institutions where I work or the non-profit organizations where I volunteer to take this trip?

the impetutus for the road trip-

Where is there a “bypass?”

Action Anxiety: Is it possible that there’s someone out there who hasn’t worked on a project that s/he knew wouldn’t work?  Voicing an opinion that goes against the grain of authority costs.  Sometimes the cost is simply negative reactions or being removed from a coveted program or being denied a leadership role.  Having one’s office moved to the bowels of the building or having desired furnishings removed and given to an “agreeable” employee makes a  strong statement.  The price to be paid for acting in a way that is congruent with my feelings has certainly cause anxiety in the past.  I’ve paid for my lack of agreement in the past, which has forced me to  think carefully about the cost of not agreeing each time a situation arises. When I consider the cost of doing so, it’s certainly plausible that I have cultivated some unwarranted anxiety.

Negative Fantasies:  Agreement certainly happens in family and friend  situations. When I was a young person, articulating a sensible action with little regard for the larger group was plausible.  As an adult, the fantasy of breaking a family member or friend’s heart does produce anxiety.  An invitation to dinner, an activity, or worse, an all expense paid vacation does activate anxiety.  I have most definitely taken a “Trip to Abilene” in the last several years in order to be cooperative, to show appreciation for the generosity of others as well as a desire to keep the peace.  Expressing an opinion that differed from others has often labeled me uncooperative, someone who enjoys rocking the boat. Unlike feedback in academic settings,  feedback is not always “a gift!” (smile)

Real risk and Fear of Separation:  Quite frankly, I can’t say that I’ve experienced any setting where I have gone to Abilene and not run the risk of going somewhere worse or the fear of being separated from a group.  My mode of operandi would be to jump ship rather than go down with the rest of the organization.  I watch from the sidelines and shake my head.  Perhaps this is one of the benefit of being a square peg in a round hole?

People Talk:  It’s universal-when the meeting adjourns, members leave two-by-two, head joined in conversation.  I know from experience that the conversation about the “agreement” focuses on what the individuals did not really agree upon.  Been there…done that…

Collusion:  Everyone in the group agrees upon the book to be read for the next book club, or the trip to take to the museum.  When it comes time for people to show up, attendance is either poor and the trip is a flop, or the group mopes and drags their heels.  Individuals read a book they never wanted to read and find it difficult to contribute to the conversation. In an instance such as this, agreement drags the group down rather than unifying and strengthening it.

So who is responsible for getting out of a situation where a group may fall into agreement issues?  Harvey contends that the necessary leverage is NOT found in the hierarchy, but rather in the membership.  The image of the little boy in the classic tale by Hans Christian Anderson, The Emperor’s New Clothes, comes to mind when I think about leverage.  Everyone in the village agrees that the new suit of clothes created by two weavers is the finest that they’ve ever seen.  Only one small child had the courage to act upon his convictions.  Perhaps he is the necessary leverage for a village of adult who can not act upon their convictions?

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Adlt 612: #2 “Where I’m From…”

Dr. Spock was "the" child expert.  Every mother followed his book religiously.  My mother included!

Dr. Spock was “the” child expert. Every mother followed his book religiously. My mother included!

I’m from the continuity of

Succor from hearth and home

a plate of warmth

guiding gooey morsels

wafts to tickle my nose.

An attentive ear, raptured

in the revelry of my day

          Mother

My father would purchase treats from the vending machine at work and bring them home to me!

My father would purchase treats from the vending machine at work and bring them home to me!

I’m from

Anticipation of treasures

nestled under the dome of

gauge tin, stalwart

cohesion of steel

 Father

No matter how far I may have roamed, home was always a constant.  The values that my parents taught me provide a way to navigate my travels.

No matter how far I may have roamed, home was always a constant. The values that my parents taught me provide a way to navigate my travels.

Rhythmic constancy,

an aperture to adventure

a compass for independence

the crux of my survival

Home

Everyone's grandparents seemed to move to Florida!

Everyone’s grandparents seemed to move to Florida!

I’m from

A populace in transition

a migration of elders

enraptured by sunshine

GI’s, city dwellers and exurbanites

summer now flows year ’round.

Incongruity of thought

split school sessions

contentions rise to splitting seams

housing boomers on the go

         Community

I grew up in a community in transition from summer people to year 'round folks!  Conflict happened.

I grew up in a community in transition from summer people to year ’round folks! Conflict happened.

I’m from an assemblage,

An aggregate of arms and legs

intermingled, pulsating along

a distant tinkle signals

Toasted Almond, Strawberry Short Cake,

Candy Center Crunch.

Beckon discriminating

salivary glands,

muculent with anticipation

a solstice of summer

  Youth

One of the highlights of my summer was waiting for the Good Humor man to arrive.  I could hear his bells miles away!

One of the highlights of my summer was waiting for the Good Humor man to arrive. I could hear his bells miles away!

I’m from long stretches

of space between

“Free to Be, You and Me”

and conformity

I meander curbless trails

entranced between an adventure

Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames

a tangle of mystery and intrigue

Pink and white, swirls of peppermint

I discount gestures to linger and wait

at bedside

maneuvering lengths of corridor

in wait for a lift,

convalescent in tow

trails of exotic samplings

sanguine, quarantine

                                       Candy striped

I read many of these books, old covers, old characters and all.  The tasks that I did as a "Candy Striper" would shock infection control and human resources today!

I read many of these books, old covers, old characters and all. The tasks that I did as a “Candy Striper” would shock infection control and human resources today!

I loved my "Bobby Sherman" lunchbox!

I loved my “Bobby Sherman” lunchbox!

I’m from peace, love and joy

A refutation of conformity,

accountability and constraint.

Square toe conjoined with hippie

Hot pants, go-go boots,

Heart palpitations for David.

Bobby Sherman, a lunchbox in tow,

My "hippie" childhood memories of singing, "Beautiful People" in chorus!

My “hippie” childhood memories of singing, “Beautiful People” in chorus!

Yes, Melanie

I am a “beautiful Person”

in search of a brand-new key

I linger for a moment,

but no longer

“Stuck in the 60′s (and 70′s) , Mr. Gallagher!”


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Adlt 612: #1 Baby it’s Cold Outside…

...but it's warm inside Groups and Teams...

…but it’s warm inside Groups and Teams…

Starting a new semester can, at times, feel more than a little chilly and uncomfortable.  Just as the last semester was beginning to feel warm and comfortable, a blast of cold air literally and figuratively arrived between the fall and spring semesters. While not quite a “Polar Vortex,” as those in many parts of the United States experienced, this month,  I could imagine that a new class setting in some universities might feel as uncomfortable.  I knew about the “Shoebox” introductory activity for “Learning in Groups and Teams”  as a result of eavesdropping on fellow Adult Learning classmates.  Being ahead of the game is always more comfortable for me, which often results in me giving the impression of being either an overachiever or absolutely neurotic.  I thought about this assignment for quite awhile, yet wondered how it would all unfold once I entered the classroom.  As a former public educator, this sort of warm-up activity is perfectly normal and expected.  Years ago, my sixth grade language arts students used items within a shoebox to give a “Prop Talk.”  From prop talks, we moved to positive and negative graphs and ultimately to memoirs! Filling a shoebox for this icebreaker most certainly brought back many memories for me.

Team Beginnings, as any student of sociology will tell you, begins with forming. Icebreakers are used in nearly every group or class setting that I’ve encountered during the last twenty years.  There are several that seem to circulate with great regularity in the settings where I am a participant.  I am always looking for new ways in which to get to know the others around me.  I am someone who keeps my cards close to me until I have established a level of comfort. While  the concept of an adult “prop talk” or “drag ‘n’ brag” became more appealing to me as I began to consider what to place into the box, I also wondered how interested the individuals in my class might be in what I selected? As part of our introductions, being asked what made me “interesting” was rather uncomfortable because it asked me to think on my feet rather than to plan and contemplate.  Teachers learn to balance the fine line between both parts of the continuum.  It’s easy to do so when thinking on my feet involves concepts or ideas relevant to the curriculum.  To do so about myself, makes me feel a bit vulnerable. I left class considering this idea of how experience makes one interesting and offers the setting to learn how groups, teams and collections of individuals function.

Teaching during the 1990's was a life changing event for me!

Teaching during the 1990′s was a life changing event for me!

Highland Park Learning Center Magnet School , a Blue Ribbon School of National Excellence, was an environment where individuals worked in multiple team settings.  Support was provided by the administration and recognition was awarded by central administration exemplified the ideas that Levi asserts are necessary components of great teams.  I grew tremendously as an educator,as a wealth of in-service opportunities and conferences were afforded to me.  The freedom to teach without the constraints of excessive testing allowed me to have the courage to teach with enthusiasm and devotion.   The School Board and Administration created the Scholar Mentor Award for high achieving students to recognize teachers who inspired them.  A student from one of my first classes remembered our writing lessons and the experience of entering and winning a writing contest.  I was so involved in raising a baby that I could scarcely recall the incident.  Students remember teachers and class lessons long after the school bell rings.  Roanoke City Public Schools allowed me to pursue the craft of teaching with unbridled enthusiasm!  The 1990′s were the glory days…

Groups and Teams Take-away:  Be a mentor to someone else.  Don’t wait for that individual to seek you out, look for opportunities to make a difference in the life of a student. 

Bicentennial-Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery, Monticello January 18, 2003.

Bicentennial-Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery,                   Monticello                 January 18, 2003.

I now live  in the Charlottesville area where I live  and breathe Thomas Jefferson and Monticello.   The Monticello Foundation hosted the bicentennial of the”Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery,” Monticello January 18, 2003 with a special ceremony on the West Lawn.    My co-worker and I were thrilled to be selected to accompany a small group of students for this historic event,which would launch a class exploration of Ken Burns “Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery.”   On this particular day, temperatures on the mountain hovered around 3 degrees fahrenheit  January 18, 2003-probably the coldest day of my teaching career and probably one of the funnier recollections of work with students.Recollection of all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the day is overshadowed by a student who asked in earnest, what he should do about his frozen bologna sandwich.

Groups and Teams Take-away:  Take time to laugh.

Dolls made by Amish women are difficult to locate even in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Dolls made by Amish women are difficult to find even in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. October 1997

Throughout my lifetime, I’ve supplemented my income with a variety of odd jobs, some of which were quite interesting.  In Wayne, Pennsylvania lies one of the most wonderful farmer’s markets, The Lancaster County Farmers Market.  My roommate, Sally and I, lived in a glorious carriage house apartment at the back of a Mainline estate.  While we may not have possessed more than two or three nickels to rub between our fingers, we most certainly enjoyed a wealth of hearty vegetables that I brought home after laboring for hours at a stand.  Our fascination with all things Amish found us ambling through the Lancaster County countryside on many occasions. It doesn’t take one long to learn that the “fancy folks” and the “plain folks” intermingle when necessary to do so.  On a later excursion to the area, my husband and I met an Amish man in a buggy in the drive-thru lane at the bank.  Pennsylvanians understand that outsiders gawk, but learn not to do so themselves.

Groups and Teams Take-away:  The power and influence of a larger group over the members can sustain a collective over lengthy periods of time. 

Buxton, Ontario was a planned settlement for those who travelled the Underground Railroad.  July 2010

Buxton, Ontario was a planned settlement for those who travelled the Underground Railroad.
July 2010

The ability to stumble on opportunities is a skill I perfect with regularity.   One such “stumble” occurred during our last visit to Ontario.  We rarely take the normal family vacations that my son dreams about. Christopher Paul Curtis’ novels have entertained us during family readings with  quirky characters. His ability to bring the chilling reality of Jim Crow to life provide the historical context that enriches our understanding. My choice of  his new book, Elijah of Buxton, to read for a graduate course in juvenile literature was one such opportunity.  The bibliophile that I am,  I read the Afterwards and Author’s Note before I read the story.  Curtis’ description of Buxton, Ontario, a planned community for runaway slaves, piqued my curiosity.  What followed months later, was a family visit to the settlement.  With the simple mention of this book, our tour went from short and mundane to fascinating. The same man who worked closely with the author shared the story of how those travelled the railroad sought a life of freedom in Canada.  While my son might beg to differ, this was certainly NOT something that we could experience at Disney World!

Groups and Teams Take-Away:  Everyone has a story to tell.  We are a repository  of all those who have come before us.  Members have a “back story” to tell.  Be interested and take time to ask and listen to the story.

The University of Virginia Health System is a place where one individual can make a difference!

The University of Virginia Health System is a place where one individual can make a difference!

This was a very touching experience.

This was a very touching experience.

Spirit Week in any middle or high school would not be complete with out “Grown Up Day.”  The first year that my middle school chose this category for “spirit” I didn’t need to think too deeply about what I would wear.  Volunteer work is an integral component of my life outside of the classroom.  At times, it has taken a back seat to child rearing and intense academic demands.  Wearing a red smock from the University of Virginia Volunteer program brought many quizzical looks from students and faculty alike.  After all, once an individual goes to work, we assume that they are grown up.  Several transitions between work and home have afforded me the opportunity to participate as an auxilian.  In the late 1990′s, Christopher Reeve was invited as the guest speaker for medical center hour.  I was both honored and deeply touched to volunteer for this event.  Reeve was no stranger to the hospital.  His visit was a highlight for the medical community and an opportunity for those who suffer from disability to be reaffirmed by his presence.

Groups and Teams take-away:  His book, Still Me, is a reminder to look beyond the exterior of an individual and to embrace what is the essence of the individual. Sometimes groups may need to rely heavily upon courage to surmount difficult tasks. 

Adlt 606: #4 Field of Dreams-Embracing the why

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“People will come, Laurie.  People will most definitely come,” say my gardening friends.  Asking a master gardener about the validity of a program such as the “Community Gardening Day” events designed for the adults of student gardeners is like preaching to the choir.  Master Gardeners gravitate to any training or educational experience that enhances one’s skill as a gardener.  Trainees, those who matriculate through the state program register for the course understanding that there are many previous ideas and assumptions to be challenged.  They take the “why” harder than the well-seasoned gardener. It is common to listen to the sighs of frustration between presentations. Our instructors, university professors, county extension agents as well as those engaged in private practice, are well skilled in releasing the whys behind their presentation.  They have no problem telling us what we are doing wrong and presenting the science behind it to validate their statements.  We accept the why and embrace it.  After all, to refute the science behind the why is to make oneself look less than enlightened.  On numerous occasions, I have jokingly suggested that one of the training sessions should be “Partner/Spouse 101,”  you know the individual (s) that we live with who not only refuse to embrace the why, but whom at times, sabotage the why of our work.  Laughter erupts, listeners nod in agreement and the conversation moves on to another topic.  I am left holding the proverbial bag, thus exposing a weakness in our program.  Where do I go from here and how do I engage others to embrace the why? Help!

James Earl Jones, in his Field of Dreams monologue reminds Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, that baseball is a part of America’s past.  It reminds us all of what was good and could be again. All he needs to do is to build the baseball field and then people will miraculously come.  How different is this idea about baseball, the Great American pastime, and America’s roots in gardening?  All I need is to create a gardening program and the community will come, yes?

Take any small group of people and give them a little time to reflect and reminisce.  Conversations about gardening and family members reflect significant experiences for many adults.  Older adults share memories of how gardens created to sustain families during the depression transitioned to Victory Gardens during World War II.  Middle-age adults recall hippy parents who become exurbanites who live organically.  Many within my surrounding area talk about how their grandmothers “put up” fruits and vegetables to enjoy during the winter months. Time spent with family doing work that is useful and meaningful reminds adults about what was and can be important.  Conversation almost invariably moves in a circuitous manner, as adults wonder why they no longer garden.

An important component to state and local gardening initiatives is to show that gardens provide nutritious food for family members with minimal cost and maxim health and economic benefits.  I have considered these ideals when creating a series of gardening events for adult learners.  Cafarella’s Successful Transfer of Learning Model considers the elimination of barriers a component that does not affect a program in isolation, but rather is interconnected with other factors. The Community Garden program, encompassing four learning events is broad enough to make the learning experience complex.  I found it challenging to take twenty or more initial objectives and condense the program into eight achievement based learning objectives (ABOs). Successful transfer of learning is crucial to the participants overall feeling of time well spent, as well as the acquisition of useful skills.  When writing this program, I considered carefully the myriad of ways Caffarella suggested as possible reasons for the lack of transfer.  The “other important people in the learners’ lives” is the one aspect of change that causes me concern.

I have neither the tools nor the experience thus far in my own gardening life to assist others.  When faced with an unknown I typically reflect on my experience as an educator and as a student for inspiration.  As a student in the Teaching with Technology track, I am reminded of the power of crowdsourcing as a way to problem solve.  In the world of digital learning, one is never alone.  There are many gardeners on Twitter ready to supply an idea or suggestion.

There are many changes necessary for learners to become successful gardeners. Embracing the changes necessary to create a community of gardeners means being willing to embrace a period of transition.  William Bridges suggests that every transition begins with an ending, is followed by a period of confusion, which eventually leads to a new beginning.  While some adult educators may consider this a misuse of his theory of transition, I would like to suggest that the learning events in this program indeed require greater effort, time and consideration, on the part of the learner, prior to making the leap to change old behaviors with new ones.

What behaviors will need to end?

  • Composting means that participants need to create a new routine for waste management along with time to sort the harvest. This practice is easier said than done.  Composting eliminates excessive garbage and smell during the warm months, yet means remembering to sort correctly and to feed worms that are living in your home. (To which some readers say, “Yuck!”)
  • Gardening preparation means that participants will need to consider the health of the soil by testing and amending it. The clay soil in Virginia leaves much to be desired!
  • Intensive gardening means considering not only the spacing of plants but also the need for resources and beneficial partnerships with other plantings, such as flowers and herbs.
  • The old method of plop and go does not yield a successful crop of vegetables, as a friend recently lamented when telling me of the death of his garden.

The structure of the learning tasks provides a safety for the learners as well as accountability for me as the designer.  I structured a time for dialogue and discussion during the induction period of each event. The time to understand the context in which learning occurred engages emotional intelligence on the part of the designer and implementers. Leaders should strive to develop a personal relationship with each participant.  Bridges suggests that individuals keep the connections to the people and places that define who we are. Learners who feel a sense of connection to the community garden and a sense of acceptance among the volunteer gardeners may develop a positive reaction to their new learning. Merriam and Clark suggest that in order for the experience to be significant it must be attended to and reflect on.  Dialog provides a place in which the learner could tell his or her story about the learning. It is my hope that the learning events produce positive effects on the learners through education. An increased sense of worth, because of the learning and relationships developed through the program, makes the effort necessary to produce this program well worth it!

I listen to Margaret Roach’s podcast “A Way to Garden,” while doing housework or while waiting for soccer practice to end.  I find her weekly dose of “gardening know how and woo woo” inspiring. Through her podcast interviews, I have met many gardeners of national importance, who share failures and successes of a life of gardening endeavors.   She is Terrance Mann and my fellow gardeners are the baseball players of games long gone. She is standing in the community garden telling me, “If I plan it, they will come.”

 

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Adlt 606: #3 “Liberating the why.”

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Those who follow my blog know that a good scene in a movie is one that resonates with me.  The thread of an interesting line, the reaction of a character to a situation that may seem inconsequential to one viewer can make a significant impact on me.  Enter Peggy Sue.  While the time frame for this film is at least twenty years before I encountered high school, the setting could have been taken directly from a day in my life.  Hollywood presented a character who spoke what I had thought for so many years about the study of mathematics.  Where in the world would I use it and what made it essential for me to study it?  My teachers provided no viable reason for learning the subject and certainly didn’t enlighten my ignorance. Light years before the STEM movement, educators rarely discussed the relationship between mathematics and the rest of the world. Why should I give countless hours of my time to learn formulas and theorems that appeared to be little more than rote memorization and endless hours of dittos and worksheets?  I hated the subject, saw little relevance to my life and didn’t believe that I possessed a mind that could comprehend the subject.  I became a devout “Math Atheist.”

Dr. Herta Freitag, known for her work on Fibonacci numbers, joined the faculty of Hollins University (then College) in 1948.   The first woman to serve as the section president of the Mathematical Association of America would certainly be an interesting guest speaker at the local business woman’s dinner meeting.  I knew that my supervisor would relish the idea of an opportunity to hear her speak, let alone sit and dine at her table.  What my supervisor did not envision was what would follow my introduction. I extended my hand, introduced myself and stated that I was a “reformed Math Atheist.”  Dr. Freitag’s laughter did little to assuage the embarrassment of my guest.  Her warm smile and request to repurpose my expression was a sure indication that a mathematician could have a sense of humor.

Somewhere between the end of high school and this dinner my ideas surrounding the subject of mathematics rotated a full 180 degrees.  Enter fifth grade. I loved the age group, yet, bemoaned the idea of being responsible for a subject that was of little use to me.  My colleague claimed language arts and social studies which left mathematics to me.  How would  a “Math Atheist” present learning tasks  to a group of eager and enthusiastic students? The world of manipulatives, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, small group instruction and most importantly, the world of “why” turned my life around.   The late 1980′s and early 1990′s were a time of great fun for me as a teacher. A transformation occurred as I began to question the purpose behind what I taught and how it was presented to me as both a learner and a teacher of learners.

As anyone who works with elementary children knows, the teacher does not lecture, but rather designs a situation that ensures that learning is meaningful for the learner.  An experience full of purpose does not occur without dialogue, as Jane Vella asserts.  “The dialogue in dialogue education is not between the teacher and the learner but rather among learners, of whom the teacher is one.”  (p. 51)  I began to question the reason behind the imprisonment of the “why?” While my education did not offer the necessary background and context for understanding the “why’s” of mathematics, the teacher training was a wealth of rich contextual experiences.

The ideology behind questioning authority, while central to my teachers and babysitters of the 1960′s, seemed to take a back seat to the adage, “Children should be seen but not heard.” To question the relevance of a subject, the reasoning behind a lesson or assignment was considered disrespectful.  The social activism of the last century brought transformation to many systems within society. In what way did it impact my role as a public educator, I wondered?  When posed with the question “why” my students often struggled to both ask and answer questions that allow them to engage in self-discovery.  Adult learners often question each other  about the reason a training must occur, particularly when a worker’s load of responsibilities is already overwhelming.   Rarely, if ever, have I heard an adult voice concern within earshot of the presenter.  Comments are routinely voiced during break time, while visiting the restroom and in passing materials and resources to one another.  While it would only seem natural that learners would begin to question the purpose of a learning event, “why” continues to be imprisoned. Adults learners need rich contextual experiences that show respect for their time and effort.

In Design and Delivery of Adult Learning programs, I am charged with discovering the needs of my learners and the importance of assessing those needs prior to any learning event that I create.  The work invested in the program, Community Garden Day, shows evidence of the work that my learners will do in a small group setting. This evidence comes with hours of preparation, research and much reflection.  Do these events adhere to the “safety in design” ideology proposed by Vella?  If the group loses energy, will they have a the tools necessary to discuss the questions posed by the event? For years I have told my students that good readers, like good movie goers leave the story asking more questions  than they had entering it.  While I have never seen my needs projected or discussed at the beginning of any meeting or training, I am convinced that to do so at the Community Garden Day programs will show careful consideration and planning for a positive learning opportunity. Adult learner must see themselves as a focal point of the learning event.

The mantra of  those who design programs for adult learners should be “Tough verbs and tangible products.” It would certainly spark some interesting conversation, if not a few puzzled expressions. I love how Vella describes the importance of the tough question.  All research begins with a question, yet we often fail to consider how every learning event should surround one as well.  She ascertains that it’s a cogent indicator of learning. (p. 57)  (Thesaurus.com sites 34 synonyms for cogent, all of which are pretty tough in their own right!  Go Vella).

A cogent indicator of learning must be the liberation of why!

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