Friday, May 9, 2014

Friday morning pondering

Almost twenty years ago David Bohm wrote in his book On Dialogue the concern for the breakdown in communication that was occurring in spite of the instant communication that was occurring with modern technology.  He wrote that people hardly seem able to talk to each other without fighting or understanding the other beyond the superficial level.

In dialogue people don't try to make common ideas or information that is already known, but instead create something new together.  This something new only happens though when people are able to freely listen to each other, without prejudice, and without trying to influence each other.  What is described as "problem of communication" occurs when people simply want to convey ideas or points of view as an item of information, and often is conveyed with elements of power or authority to a passive recipient or audience.

Bohm describes that in all of us there are "blocks," the insensitivity or anesthesia about one's own contradictions, the subtle fear that we need to be attentive to in order to listen freely.  Wow.  Who of us has taken the time recently to actually do some inward processing, to get in touch with our fears, our "blocks" that keep us from connection.  Our fragmented society is moving at such a fast, self-centered pace, that I am guessing we are not too far off from the concern of a couple of decades ago (will we ever get it right?).  We have the tendency to put the blame outside of ourselves - it's technology, it's education, it's politics, that are shaping our future.  How can we encourage the other to do more reflection, to be in touch with their own "blocks" when we are not doing the same?  I hope what flows out of our slowing down and paying attention to what is within in order to move towards others is the posture with which  I hope new ways of conversation can take place. 

This leads me to wonder about what we do with the past trauma, hurt, and fears that surface when doing this inward reflection?  Wholeness does not just happen and communication can not wait until we are whole.  We need to be present now, we need to engage in meaningful ways, we need to try even though we will fail.  Which maybe brings us back full circle, to needing others, to be in community, which means we need to communicate, to listen deeply to the other, to create something together in dialogue.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Transformative Learning

Crazy how excited I am about this topic.  While I have enjoyed my other topics I have written about over the past year, this one seems to resonate more deeply and helps to give words to much of what I have felt and experienced.

Back when I was in graduate school for my master's degree in educational leadership, I was introduced to the theory, transformational leadership.  This leadership style was described to inspire positive changes in those who follow.  While I may not typically be energetic or passionate, I am enthusiastic and truly want to empower others and see every person to succeed. So my personality seemed to find a home as I found this focus. My understanding of leading emerged through authors such as, Bennis and Nanus, and Kouzes and Posner.  My interest in leadership continued and I have been drawn to expand my understandings and look for ways to build on this foundation to be more effective in my roles. 

In the early parts of this next degree in Leadership Studies, I would have named that what primarily drew me to this program over other programs, was the emphasis on leadership.  While I would say that the content of the courses I have taken has been adequate, I believe that the "fog" that I had been experiencing since the move to Ohio, lingered and clouded my ability to engage, articulate, and digest much of the content.  (This may prove to be a big challenge in the near future when I need to take my prelim exams this summer and be able to write and defend what I have learned in the past two years...yikes!)

So why do I bring up transformational leadership here?  I was needing to settle on a topic to write my paper on for Adult Development.  The focus was to be on a theory or topic that was introduced in class in regards to adult learning.  I had been inspired by something on self-reflection and thought that would be a good topic for me to learn more about and as I was doing some preliminary work, I was drawn to the theorist, Jack Mezirow and this theory, transformative learning.  Of course, I once again found my home in this transformational/transformative focus.

This theory was birthed out of Mezirow's interest in how adults learn and make meaning of their lives, and started with a study on women returning to school as adults. As a basic understanding, it originally consisted of critical self-reflection and disorienting dilemmas to make cognitive adjustments to reframing one's world.  What has been so invigorating for me though is reading about how others have enhanced this theory.  In my  discovery, John Dirkx' emphasis on soulful learning through feeling, intuition, and imagination has given the words to so much that has been going on within me.  I was reading an article that was an interview with Mezirow and Dirkx and their perspectives on transformative learning and as I was reading Dirkx words, I found myself writing in the margins, "that's how I feel" or "that's my question too" and found myself internally wondering if he knew me.  Crazy, scarey, I don't know, I just found myself wanting to read more and understand more. I finally felt like I wasn't crazy for thinking in images and metaphors; for wanting to look at the inner self, the depth of soul, and how we reconcile this with the outer world; for my questions about the meaning of life, work, relationships, and who I am; for grasping to understand authenticity and reconciling it with imperfections, fears, shame; for completely being mesmerized by the sky, a campfire, mountains, water; for wanting to give voice to stories - for all people; for wondering the significance of events; for making sense of liminal spaces - the waiting, the unknown, the not yet times.  These were all things that Dirkx actually referenced in his writing, so either he and I both are crazies, or there are more people out there that think like me :)  I know it just was incredibly comforting to feel a connection to what I was reading.

Dirkx describes in his soul work the importance of deepening our understanding of our selves, and that to connect to the whole, we need to know ourselves, who we are and what we are about. He describes that learning involves the sacred and the spiritual so that as we process our learning it becomes an integral part of our being, and when this happens it has the potential to transform our sense of self and being in the world (Dirkx, Mezirow, & Cranton, 2006). 

Now I am considering what are triggers that launch this transformation, the learning that goes beyond the surface and is lasting because it has affected us at our core.  How does one emerge from disorienting dilemmas as a better person and not bitter? Can and do we take the time needed to sit with emotions we are experiencing and reflect in a way so that we can experience the inner soul work and refining that I believe God wants to do within us. As I reflect on some of the transformative experiences I have had, I would name the cross cultural times with SST and YES, times of deep grieving with Todd's death and moving, and birth of children and parenting.  There are other very influential people and times as well, but I am realizing that I need to stop here because I really do need to actually write my paper.  But I woke with this sense that I wanted to blog, so I decided to go with it :)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Full Circle

So it has been a year now.  A year since last August when I sat with a friend over breakfast. She asked some questions that found myself coming alive as I described some of my previous work and realized at that point that it was time for me to inquire about taking a graduate class to test the waters about going back to school.  From that moment on it has been a whirlwind.  Within two weeks I was not only taking one class but becoming a full-time grad student in the Leadership Studies doctoral program.  I interviewed for an assistantship by the time classes started the end of August and have been working on campus since in the Undergraduate Education office as a GA for the general education program.  The year has been full and I still need to breathe it all in as I now take some needed time to reflect.

Yesterday I just finished my last summer course and also met with the same friend from last August and talked about the year.  How incredibly blessed I feel to have had these opportunities.  In many ways I feel like the year was about me exploring deeper into who I am, embracing this liminal space of waiting and the not yet's, and making connections with some great people.  I have written and read more than ever in my life and amazingly I still feel like I can do more :)  Which I guess is good since I still have more to go.

This next year's goal is to narrow in on a topic and research question that I will want to love.  Love enough to read a lot about it, write about it, and research on it.  The problem likely won't be not knowing what to do, but to narrow it down from my many interests.  I have enjoyed reading and writing about so many things this year:  authentic leadership, organizational change and transitions, restorative discipline in schools, authenticity and owning our stories, and generational differences with employee recruitment to small towns.  While I feel like I have nurtured the small flame within me, I still long to know what is around the bend.  So much of life/work has been presented to me and I just take it and run.  I guess I knew I wanted to teach and coach and amazingly the Mennonite school where I attended happened to have my specialized area of Business open at the right time.  I also knew I wanted to do my master's degree and that became a possibility after we made our move to do voluntary service in MI.  A paid position in adult programming became open at Amigo Centre (where we did VS) after we moved to IN.  The amazing process of moving to VA and how the doors of opportunity opened to be at EMU and then later to buy our small farm and then again to work back at EMU was formational for me.

So often I ask myself why this transition to OH has been more difficult. I use to be the one who pushed for change, to move on.  I know deep within that had we stayed in VA, I likely would have been ready to make a change in my work anyways.  Has this change been more difficult not because of work and purpose but because for the first time since living with my parents had I begun to put down roots?  That the difficulty in transition was more about people, about having a place that we adored, a place our children called home?

I keep wanting to land on this amazing topic to research that will launch me into my next career move, that will make an impact on some population and give me an amazing opportunity to make a difference.  How do I relax and trust that the God who has led me in the past will continue to lead me now?  That it is baby steps, that it is opening the spaces in my mind and heart to see in new ways what maybe God has been trying to show me for awhile now - or maybe for the first time.  Maybe I am needing to try again to put down roots, to be connected to here, rather than looking to the what's next before I am ready for what is next.  Has my path not always prepared me well for the next step?  It seems that those steps just naturally happened and this time it feels like I have the opportunity to help shape those next steps and I just don't know which direction to go - higher ed, K-12 schools, Mennonite church, business world, teaching, administration...and likely it won't be any of those.  Maybe school is the avenue that is to help me be patient in the waiting, not yet time?  To help me transition away from the doing, to the being, so that the being becomes stronger than the doing.

For one class I needed to write my personal code of ethics.  That assignment helped me to articulate in new ways this inner sense of being. The song, "One Voice" has become a way for me to capture the image of coming full circle.  I ended up pulling together a number of things from my reading and thoughts into a table and titled it "OWNING OUR STORIES:  Empowering Voices, Practicing Authenticity, Cultivating Hope."  I think I need to sit with this again.  

Wailin Jennys
Empowering Voices/Transformation
Practicing
Authenticity
Community/Circle Cultivating Hope
Spirituality/Faith
Wholehearted Living
One Voice
-          Knowing oneself & our Creator
-          Soul searching & worthiness
-          Inviting grace, joy & gratitude into our lives
-          Loving ourselves
Value & Worth
Personal Experience or perspective
Created by God – wonderfully made

Engaging our lives from a place of worthiness
Voices Two
-          Provides support, encouragement
-          1-1 listening, mentoring
-          Validating, giving dignity & respect
-          Opening ourselves, becoming vulnerable
-          Telling our stories - Truth-telling
Courage

Becoming open, building trust; validating voice of others; sharing story with facilitator; preparation for the Circle process
Beauty is revealed from light within
We are brave and worthy of love and belonging;
Love is something we nurture & grow;
Telling our stories;
Voices Three
-          Belonging, connectedness
-          Inviting diversity
-          Harmony – beauty & creativity
-          Community created
Connection
Group circle; valuing each voice; stating own needs; entering in to others stories, listening; repairing harms
Connected to each other by God who is greater than all of us
True belonging happens when we present our authentic imperfect selves
All of Us
-          Attraction to the harmony
-          Need to express & experience love, trust, courage, hope, joy, forgiveness
-          Open hands – seeking & serving
-          Focus outward, not to just those who we want to call our neighbor
Compassion
Going forward with new hope & perspective – reaching out to others by fulfilling obligations; ripple effect
Grounded in love and compassion
Restorative; choosing to let go of fear

One People/
One Voice
-          A transformation - deeper, enriched person
-          Feels deeply, sees deeply
-          HOPE
-          Resilience, grounded
-          Impact is far reaching
Purpose
Place in the world; responding out of value & worth; seeing beyond self; connected to the whole – seeing all people as valued; completing the circle
Brings meaning and purpose to our lives
Good for the soul; we are not alone; inspired; freedom

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A response to Guns in Schools Forum in Archbold



So last night I attended a forum in Archbold about guns in schools.  Of course I didn't have the courage to speak up while there, but woke early this morning and started to put my thoughts down in written form. Below are my thoughts:

I believe that every voice spoken and unspoken in the room was important to our conversation. We don’t always like or agree with what we hear, but we need to listen in order to understand.  We also need to have courage that our own voice is valid too.  Unfortunately some of us take awhile to formulate our thoughts before they can be articulated.  If I were to summarize on some of the key areas that were touched on, here would be what I would add to the conversation.

Every school administrator has a responsibility to not only create a safe environment for our students but to create an environment for learning, an environment where students find meaning in life.  It is being responsible to practice drills for any type of potential harm. All places of employment practice what they believe is the best response.  As one teacher named, a lockdown drill is no different than a fire or tornado drill.  The safety that is practiced at school can also be translated to safety within our communities and home.  We would be outraged if there was a fire in a school and chaos ensued within the school because people didn’t know evacuation procedures or administrators couldn’t account for every student within their care. 

Reality is, there are real possibilities for violence to occur, and schools are taking necessary steps by keeping doors locked, by providing A.L.I.C.E. trainings, by having all visitors enter through the main entrance, by wearing visitor badges, by having photos taken of visitors before being allowed to enter the hallways, by participating in drills.  We don’t want to instill fear, but I believe these measures actually help to create a sense of security.  When those within the school feel like there is a plan, if and when it needs to be implemented, there is a sense of what to do that brings confidence when leading others.  Our children grow up hearing how to respond in a fire, but until they recognize the importance, the drills are just something we tolerate.  If there was a simulation for a fire where a hallway was filled with smoke and students needed to evacuate, they would realize quickly the importance of knowing where an exit is, how to feel for warm doors while crawling on the floor, etc.  How we communicate the value and importance for something, create meaning for it, will help to take away the unnecessary fear in something, yet realizing that if someone had been in an actual fire, the simulations would create some real anxiety again.  The trauma of any crisis is real and having a place to process and work through that trauma is extremely important, something that people often forget after a crisis happens.  Who helps to pick up the pieces?

While we know that a fire is a real possibility, we do not have a designated fireman that lives on our campuses.  We create good working relationships with the fire department and we trust that they will respond to our needs as quickly as possible when needed.  Having a positive relationship with the police department helps immensely anytime an administrator needs advice in a situation or if a crisis happens, there is immediate support.  I believe that arming our teachers and staff takes away from what their primary responsibility is at hand, to educate our students.  We already ask our schools to do more and more, to add the extra responsibility of carrying a weapon, seems too much.  Having a resource officer walking the halls can have benefits of perceived safety, but our halls are many and being at the right place and time may be a huge obstacle. 

In reality, our schools may be the safest place for our children.  For some, it is a reprieve from the verbal or physical abuse at home.  For some, it is the only hot meal they get in a day.  For some, it is warmth.  For some, it is a place of connection.  For some, it is a place of accountability.  For some, it is another place of shame.  For some, it is a place of anxiety.  For some, it is a place of growth and stimulation.  For some, it is a foreign language.  For some, it is a place of fear.  There are deeper issues at hand here.  Some students walk the halls where no one calls them by name, they feel invisible.  There are deep wounds and struggles.  Students are trying to make sense of the world outside of the walls at school, let alone try and learn random facts and content within the walls.  There is a disconnect for many of our students.  Rather than helping them make sense of their world, education tends to reinforce that their voice is not valid, that their acting out is not tolerated. Statistics were shared about suicide and issues with access to mental health.  Bullying is a real concern that was raised.  Recently an article in Inside Higher Ed shared that a large concern is how students come to the university with so much anxiety.  That some students leave not because they cannot handle it academically but because they no longer are able to cope.  All of this points to what is not right in our world. 

All humans have a need for connection, from birth to death.  A sense of belonging is deep within us, so much so, that we seek after it in whatever way we can. Sometimes this is nurtured in our families, for others that place of belonging becomes a gang or a team or a group of friends.  To be called by name, by someone who you believe cares about you, is a powerful connection.  With this need for connection also is the importance of worth, value, and respect.  I can’t help but wonder what the voice of any perpetrator would say if somewhere along the line people would have asked them about their pain, their fears, their hopes in life.

School violence is not an easy an issue.  It goes beyond school shootings and arming teachers and staff or having a police officer on site.  Violence is raging silently within some of our students.  There is a scenario where one person is sitting alongside a river when someone calls for help after falling into the river.  Soon another person is caught in the river.  We can respond to the many people who seem to be drowning in the river (some calling out for help and others who we never find until too late) by jumping in and saving them but at some point should we consider walking upstream and discover where and why they are falling in, in the first place.  We might just find that there is a broken bridge, the only bridge that takes them to the other side.  We will never know why there is the need to get to the other side, so much so that they are willing to risk their lives to get there, unless we begin the conversation. 

This conversation about violence is important but this is more than a school issue. It is going to take all of us, parents, grandparents, teachers, counselors, pastors, to begin having conversations with our children and each other, to continue the conversations, and to seek help when needed.  As was stated, every child, every person who dies is too many.  From Sandy Hook, Columbine, VA Tech, Nickel Mines to the countless other shootings and suicides and murders, yes, each child/person was beautiful, filled with much potential. Might we be brave enough to begin asking questions, to engage in the messiness of life, to be a light in the darkness.  Let’s try voices instead of guns.  Voices that empower, speak hope, validate and bring comfort, opening the doors for people to be valued and heard. Maybe then there would be less need to worry about guns being used for harm.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thursday Thoughts



The term “authentic” has become a familiar buzz word in today’s society.  It is a word that we want to embrace, especially in a time when you wonder if there is any honesty rather than people simply trying to advance their own personal gain or political agenda.  It has become disheartening to see so much distrust of leadership in the corporate world, the government, and even in our own communities, families, and churches. 

There is a keen awareness that all is not right in our world or in our personal lives.  We continue to mask the feelings, imperfections, fears, pain, as well as the passions, and hope that speak truth into our lives and give us courage to become authentic.  But what does authenticity really look like?  Do we even know what is inside of us?  Are there role models that represent an authentic life?  Is authenticity something we just aspire to, but never achieve?

What does it mean for leadership?  Does the definition of authentic change when you lead others?  How do you reconcile when, where, how, and to whom it is okay to be transparent and vulnerable?  Then what happens when we miss the mark, do we become inauthentic?  Does this change our credibility? 

For many, even those we admire most, appear to have it all together yet hide behind walls that have been built to keep out the feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure, longings to belong and have meaning.  We numb the feelings and gradually we drift so far away that we may not recognize the lack of feelings in our lives.  We put off an aroma of perfection, that we have no flaws.  So the point in which we come face to face with this fa├žade often comes at a breaking point.  There becomes a recognition that the old tapes of perfection, performance, and protection of self need to change.   

So how would this change us? What would leadership look like if we lived with courage, compassion, and connections with others?  Might “authentic” be more about living without all the answers, peeling away the layers to discover who we are, naming our imperfections so that we can invite others into our journey towards wholeness, authenticity?

These are my beginning thoughts for more writing this semester.  I am grateful for a moral and ethical leadership class that encourages me to keep seeking and learning beyond just my head.  I am thankful for a professor who was excited about a topic of authenticity.  I continue to feel like I am in the right place, yet still needing to learn that I don't need to have everything figured out when people ask me what I am going to do with this.  Trying to take this one day at a time and trust God is preparing the way for the what's next.