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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Values-Based Education

The first two world café events revealed values as being integral to learning. Values serve as anchors or roots grounding people as they seek meaning in life. Value is from the Latin meaning worthy or strong. The French word for value is valoir which is related to the English for valour, courage, and spirit. Values are universal and timeless and can serve as bridges cultures and generations, spanning arbitrary and artificial boundaries. Beliefs are founded on, but do not replace values. Values remain constant, but beliefs will be redefined over time.

Values are difficult, if not impossible, to measure. For example, what criteria measures compassion? Instead, we can ask, “What evidence is there that a compassionate person can have a positive impact on children’s learning?” Or, “What evidence exists that children learning to care for others, their communities, and the world are successful in their learning?” What would a love for learning, for others, and for the world look like, feel like, and sound like? Parker Palmer might ask, “What colour is this love for learning and the world?” Do love and compassion animate the human spirit to learn, serve, and care?

When we first fall in love, passion fuels the relationship. Gradually, passion balances com-passion. Humans are capable of learning to attend to activities and others. Learning, in this context, is relational. Passion for life-long learning has counter-weights: compassion, patience, care, integrity, and empathy. Maturing children require gentle, caring patience to achieve success. Learning, a partner for life, brings wholeness and integrity in life. Empathy and compassion open hearts and minds to learn about the other and the world.

Paradoxically, learning and teaching exist in challenging and complex, yet safe relational webs embracing subjects and personal histories. If parents, families, and communities value life-long learning, as a holistic process, children can become successful in their learning.

World Cafe February 4 Poster Photos

Kathy added these pictures and it provides a different view of the summary I posted after the first cafe event.

World Cafe February 4 2012

World Cafe Event #2 – February 18, 2012

The World Cafe Event continued to explore: “What engages us in learning? Underlying questions presented during the second event were “Without being humble, describe what you value most about yourself. How does this contribute to the experience of learning for you? What setting does this seem to flourish best in? What would attract you to that setting?” I struggled with the questions. They focused on the learner to the exclusion of the teacher. Is this possible? As I sat quietly Saturday morning, an answer emerged. We treat learning and teaching as mutually exclusive of one another. With fresh eyes, I saw them as two sides of the same coin, shaped from paradox.

We might argue this is an eastern philosophic view to join the two together, but western cultures also have deep, continuing traditions of the intertwined nature of learning and teaching. Mentor-protege, master craftsman-apprentice, and adult-child relationships reveal examples. In learning conversations, we should embrace the relational nature of learning and teaching; therefore, they will stand in unison.

A second question about the conversation was the reluctance we have to speak of ourselves in positive ways. One group dealt with this using a relational mirror. In the course of conversation, a trusted person described another individual. Innovative teachers dealing with unusual and challenging educational environments use a similar process. Teachers ask students to list valued qualities of each person in the classroom, copy them, and distribute the lists. Years later, former students at reunions pull the tattered lists from wallets and purses to recall what had been said about them by others that otherwise long-forgotten day. The teacher would also learn about the gifts and challenges each child brought to school with them through this activity.

A Summary of World Cafe Event February 18, 2012 of the table conversations are uploaded in the form of  a MS Word document.

Kathy used her camera to capture the energy from the posters  in a PDF format at World Cafe Table Posters. They take a moment to upload and you may have to rotate them.

Community as a Theme (World Cafe 1)

In looking further into the themes emerging from the first World Cafe event, I found each group discussed a sense of community as important to engagement in their learning. This word appeared on all the poster sheets that served as recording instruments. It is an important theme and I chose to expand on it here. Community shares the same roots as common and communication. Communities hold things in common. Individual members of a community reflect a collective identity based on what is valued in that particular community. Value comes from the Latin to describe what is worthy or strong.

Elders play a role in communicating what is valued, what is worthy of being conserved, and what strengthens a community for ensuing generations. This frames what is important for the young to learn formally and informally within and from the community. What is to be communicated between generations emerges from this wisdom, but does not stand alone.

Communication is relational, two-way, and serves to educate both the youth and elders of a community. Reciprocity, trust, mutualism, and respect underpin this communication and lays the groundwork for education. Education comes from the Latin and means to draw from within, suggesting that young and old both hold knowledge required for survival of a community. Elders express what the community historically valued. The young offer energy and ideas needed to help forge the new path into the future. Communities serve as containers for communication and education.

Communities can be safe containers where we share. These can be spaces where we share feelings, feel vulnerable, and express what, individually and collectively, we do not know. Safe communities share values that make them strong and communicate what is worth retaining to build upon as the new enters. Communities conserve through the wisdom of elders and, at the same time, move forward with insight of the young. This is paradoxical, but it is what humans have seemingly done throughout recorded history and serves to balance the passion with compassion.

Education should reflect the community’s values, what it chooses to conserve, what it chooses to discard, and what replaces the discarded. Without a safe container to hold conversational tensions, it will be difficult to undertake this transformation. The World Cafe discussions identified community as an important factor in this transformation.

Summary of World Cafe Event

I have treated the summary of the charts we created on February 4, 2012 as an attachment at  World Cafe Event Summary. There is so much more there than I could have wished for and I thank each of you sincerely.The event was  extremely positive and energizing. This was added to again when I completed the summary.

I am looking  forward to the next event on February 18.

 

 

Application of World Cafe for Immediate Benefit

I looked for themes as I reviewed the responses to the question posed for the first World Cafe Event. The themes fell into several categories and I chose to look at these first responses through a lens that asked, “What does this mean to students right now? What could I change in my co-learning practice?” Although this is data towards my dissertation, it still applies to the more immediate moments of this practice.

The focus for the event was to think back to a time that participants felt was a high point in their learning, a time they felt most alive, effective, and engaged in the learning they had undertaken. They were asked to describe how they felt and what made the situation possible.

Some of the responses were replicated and some were phrased differently, but carried similar messages so I brought them together as I found links between concepts. For example, encouraging curiosity fits with directing one’s learning. The following serves as a brief summary to immediately begin a reflective process. What can I do to enhance my current practice?

Students can be encouraged to ask thoughtful questions and I can model this practice. Nurturing learner curiosity allows a process of inquiry to underpin learning and can create connections between people and subjects. Meaning is created when we ask “What makes this subject important? What relationship does it have to me?” Thoughtful questions fuel learning, motivating and directing the learner, unlike going through the perhaps mindless motions of learning what others prescribe. It is not my learning, but the learning of each of us that is paramount.

Several points stood out in the summary that fit with my reflecting on and carrying out my practice in the immediate future. Learners need to have their basic needs met before they can move onto the next level. What does this look like with my students? What do I observe? What works for them – for each student? What connects me to them and each of us to our learning?

Active listening provides a window into where students are in their individual learning. Students progress at different paces and learn in different ways; the questions they ask might provide insight into what they need next in their learning. Certainly they need to step outside their comfort zone and the key may be to identify comfortable. This might be seen as the “Goldilocks paradigm” of learning; not too hard, not too easy, just right. This seems to run contrary to the current model of schooling where we lump students into grade levels based on age rather than present ability or even interests. The ideal adult learning situation is when we see value in what we are doing. What can we do to apply this kind of thinking throughout education?

World Cafe Event – First Conversations

On February 3, 2012, I organized a World Cafe event to begin the research process leading to my doctoral dissertation. An invitation was extended to a diverse group of people who brought a range of learning experiences and backgrounds to the table. The overarching question for the first 2 hour event was: What engages us in learning? We focused on the qualities that engage people in their learning and asked questions about what created such an environment. I used Appreciative Inquiry to frame the questions in a positive manner. We all have stories to tell about times and places that learning was important and I hoped participants could share experiences to see if common themes emerged.

The results were beyond anything I could have imagined and the energy that emerged in the room far exceeded what I expected. It drove conversations in such a remarkable and positive manner that it is impossible to fully express it, as my words only capture my view and that cannot fully describe what others felt. Instead, to those who were there yesterday – please come back; and to those who were not – please join us in this forum. The way to fully experience what we did will be to attend the next World Cafe Event on February 18, 2012. We will delve into new questions based on the first conversation, the resulting themes, and tied into the overarching question. Our cafe is located at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church at the corner of McLeod Ave. and Calahoo Road in Spruce Grove, commencing at 10:00 AM. If you get there early, please knock or ring the bell. An important voice is those of younger people. I believe that we also need to hear from those who are just concluding the first chapter of formal education, recently moved into the next phase of formal education, or recently joined the work force. Adding their voices to the conversation is essential.

I do want to leave those reading this with some of the concrete and explicable parts of the event: the themes. In my role as a researcher, I need to stand back from the process in a way that does not take me outside of the experience itself. I mindfully crafted broad and general questions to allow participants room to tell their stories as they conversed. I feel this validates the emergent themes. Some of the strongest themes were mutualism, feeling safe, curiosity, assuming responsibility, reciprocity, and making connections. These themes are reflective of the soft skills or the people skills that are difficult to measure and describe, but seem essential to building communities of learning. Parker Palmer (2004), in A Hidden Wholeness, suggested “community … means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other. … It is about being fully open to the reality of relationships” (p. 55).

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