There is a basic need to be heard, to be listened to, to share, and to build a community.
This past week I had a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the power of reflection. My dear colleague, Amy Baldwin (www.itsinthesyllabus.com) and I developed and hosted a retreat for Arkansas college and university educators. Our mission was simple (yet not easy): to build a teaching community for student success (www.educationalfrontiersgroup.com). For the better part of three days we all shared strategies aimed at improving teaching and learning.
But that is not the purpose of this post. I would rather concentrate on two take-aways for me that went far beyond any teaching strategy: (1) the power of reflection and (2) the power of community.
After more than 30 years in the classroom, I have come to the (sad) realization that my career field does not give itself enough reflective time. It is very easy to get caught up in fire hosing information—and then assessing the nature or consequences of that fire-hosed information. In my experience, we just don’t give ourselves (or our students) the luxury (necessity) of reflective practice. Too much emphasis on what came through the fire hose (the “content”)—and not much time given to the fire hose itself (the educator). A consequence of this short-sightedness is that we end up in “silos” teaching content (or some, maybe, “teaching to a test/rubric/assessment”) and spend little time considering what we do, how we do it, or with whom we do it with.
While Amy and I provided the scaffolding for the retreat, the Arkansas educators began the wonderful process of building a teaching community for their own reflective practice. For many, this represented the continuation of a journey they previously started. For others, it was a new venture. What we did was provide a venue for the reflection to occur. The participants did the rest. Consider the following:
- Separation. We held the retreat at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute in Morrilton, Arkansas (http://www.livethelegacy.org/). This bucolic location gave the participants time away from (separation from) the distractions of daily life. This allowed them to focus on their craft, their colleagues, and themselves.
- Connection (1). The retreat had built-in time for participants to work with coaches to reflect on material (e.g., engagement strategies, assessment strategies, and social media strategies) presented by experts in the field of teaching and learning. While the coaches facilitated the discussions in small sessions, it was the participants who led the discussions. As one of the coaches, I was energized by the level of conversation—and the genuine and authentic desire each of these educators had to raise their game (and their programs and institutions) to a new level.
- Connection (2). Beyond the content, was the one-on-one personal connection I witnessed. Consider: Monday was the full-day of retreat activities. The agenda began with a 7:00 a.m. breakfast and concluded with an evening social that ended at 10:00 p.m. In between there were a few breaks and on an hour-and-a-half break before dinner. Other than that, these folks were working—and working at building a community. They talked; they shared; they sang (one participant brought a couple of guitars). But mostly they built a community.
When I got home from the retreat (back in Florida) I was effusive about what transpired at the retreat to a friend. She asked, “Were they hippie-types like you?” She was smiling when she said it and meant no disrespect at all. But isn’t it telling that when people get down to the business of building relationships (as the Arkansas educators were doing) the immediate connection is to something other than “business” and “bottom line”? (Side bar: My friend LOVED what we did at the retreat. She UNDERSTOOD the need and the importance of this type of activity.)
But, to me, this is the bottom line. It is activities just like this that improve the bottom line of a school or corporation. For instance, one group from Henderson State University shared a “LipDub” YouTube video that their students had created. I learned about this video sitting on a patio late at night when one Henderson State person, who could not contain her enthusiasm and pride, whipped out her iPad and shared the video. The video itself is a testament to the student community at HSU. But the manner in which I found out about it was a testament to the community we were developing in rural Arkansas.
The point? There is a basic need to be heard, to be listened to, to share, and to build a community. At least that is my take on this side of 59 years of life. What we did on the side of Petit Jean Mountain needs to be replicated in teaching communities, corporate communities, and neighborhoods. Amy and I are not the first to do this. I sure hope we are not the last.
When will you start to reflect and build community? And if you have begun—when will you share the spirit?
Enjoy your week—and H.T.R.B. as needed!
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