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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Images to Provoke Thought

I am doing two things with this posting. First, this is the first time I am posting twice on the same day. Second, it is the first time I am posting something other than a professional reflection. These images do reflect learning. I am terrified of heights. Even when I sit in the car, with my eyes closed at the Grand Canyon, I am aware I am at the edge of an abyss. This fear is both irrational and ironic. As an ice hockey player, I play goal and have faced shots of approximately 90 miles an hour. It could be argued this is foolish and I must be afraid. The irrational nature of fear and non-fear allows me to say, “I am not afraid.” If I could explain what draws me play goal, I would probably not do it. What I have concluded is I feel in control when I play goal, but do not when I fly, sit at the edge of the Grand Canyon, or climb a ladder and, as a result, suffer. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, shared this about suffering in a recent posting: “Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as ‘whenever you are not in control’.”

Fortunately, Kathy comes to my rescue in moments of suffering and takes great pictures to share her experience. In that way, it is a shared experience and, for that, I am grateful. I see and experience these moments through her eyes.

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This is the Chapel of the Holy Cross built into the wall of the canyon overlooking Sedona, Arizona.

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This is the Grand Canyon at Desert View which is the beginning of the trip along the North Rim of the Canyon. At the bottom of the several thousand foot drop, you catch a glimpse of the Colorado River.

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This is the watchtower where the previous photo was taken. I did make it inside and felt somewhat secure in the idea that I would not fall to the bottom of the canyon. I did look out the windows. The watchtower is an amazing, contemporary acknowledgement of the history and nature of the region as evidenced by the art work on the walls.

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These are the remnants of living quarters of a group of people who lived in the Grand Canyon area about 800-900 years ago. It is part of what is called the Tusayan Ruins. I was able to get out of the car as this was on the other side of the highway from the Grand Canyon. The people who lived here were small and did not grow to more than 5 feet in height, so the living quarters were quite small. What caused them to leave? That is an eloquent question open to discussion.

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This is a picture of Kathy and I at Tusayan. You can see I am still concerned about the idea we are 7000 feet above sea level. Only a small smile sneaks out. If you squint, the snow-covered peaks of the San Francisco mountain range are in the background. This weekend concluded the Arizona ski season. The highest peak is 12,000 plus feet and several peaks remain snow covered year round.

This is a tiny sampling of pictures taken over the past week. Kathy takes pictures to overcome my fear of heights while visiting  places like the Grand Canyon, Jasper, and Yellowstone.

Eloquent Questions in Education

Since attending the Servant-Leadership conference at Marylhurst University in Oregon, I am thinking more about eloquent questions in education. Eloquent questions assume no obvious answers and grew out the work of Giambattista Vico, an 18th Century Italian philosopher. Eloquent questions were expanded on by Hans-Georg Gadamer, a 20th Century German philosopher. Without obvious or assumed answers, dialogue and community take on new and important roles in responding to eloquent questions. When asked eloquent questions, I have to be aware of, mindful about, and attentive to my thoughts and feelings and to those of others who are present in conversation.

Several things contributed to this rethinking. Firstly, Dr. Shann Ferch, a keynote presenter at the conference and author of Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity: Servant-Leadership as a Way of Life, spoke about eloquent questions. “Gadamer’s notion of the eloquent or elegant question forms a philosophical bridge into the kind of assured personhood that opens real dialogue, develops authenticity in self and others, and forwards a view of human relationships that helps us transcend our own hidden self- and other-annihilation” (Ferch, 2012, p. 29). Dialogue and community set aside the personal agendas that so often drive discussions. Setting aside agendas calls forth authenticity that helps reveal a safe space and path forward to share what is important and common within a community centred on eloquent questions.

Secondly, Gen Y Girl Kayla Cruz began following my blog, for which I am grateful. She triggered questions with postings touching on generational differences that impact society in general and education specifically. I was already asking, “What reasons are there to build 400 new schools over the next 10 years in the province of Alberta? What areas will these schools serve? What conversations yielded those numbers to Thomas Lukaszuk, the Minister of Education and the workers at Alberta Education? What costs will result from building these trophy-schools? What does that mean in terms of school closures? Was there a conversation about the need for school as a building?” Initially, I thought these questions might be strictly based on infrastructure, but, thanks to Kayla, I am increasingly aware of other questions based on generational differences. “What impact will a different understanding of personal and professional life for Gen Y adults have on teachers in the classroom (I use that word classroom guardedly, because what the classroom will look like or be is also an important question)? If, as Kayla pointed out, there is a blending of life expectations for Generation Y or the Millennial Generation, “what does that mean in terms of teacher preparation, teacher recruitment, teacher retention, teacher satisfaction, etc?”

I have no concrete evidence, but, as I talk to members of Gen Y, including our sons, I get the impression that work of any form, without meaning and a feeling of real input, is not in the cards. The questions here are, “What purpose does work serve? Do we work to live? Or do we live to work?” Kayla, in several blog entries, linked articles that provided insight. One that caught my attention was The Beginning of the End of the 9-to-5 Workday in a section called Work-Life Balance at Time.Com Moneyland.

It seems an education degree prepares young people for more possibilities than just being a teacher. What should this uncertainty suggest to the movers and shakers who think they can predict a need for 400 schools over the next decade? The above-noted article inferred going to school will not be going to school for everyone. What will school look like in the next ten years? What role will the increasing ubiquity of technology play? These are not simple questions to be answered with a mechanistic process that has been failing for some time. Eloquent questions ask us to not have pat answers, but to continue to ask each day, “What does this mean today?”

We drove back from Sedona to Phoenix yesterday. In spite of my terrible fear of heights, it was an enjoyable three days touring the Sedona and Grand Canyon areas, with the spectacular scenery and their Native American ruins. The visits to three ancient Arizona dwelling sites of Native American Indians were interesting and provided yet another source of rethinking the need for eloquent questions. During an explanation at one of the sites, I was struck by the uncertainty around the possible reasons that led to that village being deserted.

Retrospectively, we look back and speculate and pose eloquent questions, knowing and accepting we can not provide an answer. Looking forward, we are ready to ask eloquent questions “in order to gather greater understanding” (Ferch, p. 29). There is no certainty looking forward just as there is no certainty looking back. Eloquent questions do seem to fit an unfolding, emergent, increasingly complex and uncertain world.

Table Poster Summary March 17, 2012 World Cafe

Attached is the summary of the Table Posters March 17, 2012 table posters world café event. I was able to share some of our experience over the past 2 months at the Servant-Leadership conference in Portland this past weekend.

I devoted a slide to some  of the descriptors that emerged at our tables. These descriptors serve as a nexus for the servant-leader, mindful practice for all  leaders, and the necessary building of community that is so vital in education today.

Last night, I was re-reading an interview with Parker Palmer conducted by Mike Seymour for his book Educating for Humanity. This line stood out for me: “The professional context in school allows very little reflective time for the important questions of selfhood and meaning.” This lack of time extends to adults and children in schools. Without caring and open conversations, the purpose of education remains a question unanswered. The questions about the purposes of education need to placed in the middle of our conversations, attended to carefully, allow spaces to open up for truly democratic participation to emerge, and not assume there are pat answers. That is what I have taken from our time together. There is so much gained from purposeful conversations framed around appreciative and eloquent questions. We took time and reflected on what we felt was important.

What can we do to extend these conversations? What can we do to bring these conversations to schools regardless of how they are organized? Children and adults will benefit from conversations that allow reflective spaces to take root and grow in their schools.

Community and its Role in Learning

Community has been a recurring theme throughout the World Café conversations and events, with many descriptors alluding to communal practices and relationships needed for learning to happen. Reciprocity, connection, supportive, affirmation, and other words expressing interactions suggest community. The summary posters of the March 17, 2012 World Café Event confirmed this recurring theme of community and the table posters, to be posted, also bear this out. The theme of community is important not just in learning, but in life itself. Without community, can life and learning be as meaningful?

Parker Palmer recently shared in a Facebook posting: “Community does not mean living face-to-face with others—it means never losing the awareness that we are connected with each other…” This link is to a short video of Dr. Palmer discussing the Myth of the Individual.

The servant-leadership conference I attended in Portland reinforced that, although community continually evolves, as a value it can remain intact. Here are some examples.

Professor Shann Ferch, from Gonzaga University, spoke about the “beloved community” that the late Martin Luther King so eloquently referred to. It is the necessity to see each other, including oppressors and those who have done harm to us, as human. Dr. Ferch also quoted Viktor Frankl: “We are made to turn outward, toward another human being to whom we can love and give ourselves. … Only when in service of another does a person truly know his or her humanity.”

We easily dismiss these references to community as the extreme and needed actions and words of those in different settings. After all, Dr. King led the Civil Rights movement in its halcyon days and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Dr. Frankl survived the atrocities of concentration camps during World War II. What do their experiences have to do with simply getting through the day?

Kirk Young, a colleague from Gonzaga, elaborated on what could be understood as community in the form of a value. The communities we choose to belong to share one common ingredient: intimacy. Ferdinand Tonnies, a German sociologist, used the word gemeinschaft and described this form of community as “a tighter and more cohesive social entity. [It is] exemplified in family and kinship” suggesting when humans gather in community, intimate experiences can be shared. Members share the good, the bad, and grow together towards common purposes, thus are mission driven. Values and mission serve as glue for community.

John Dear, a Jesuit priest, proposed in The Rebel Jesus, a second, mostly unnoticed miracle occurred during the Sermon on the Mount: the forming of community. Community allowed people to see the human nature of each other as Jesus instructed those closest to him to organize the large group (some believe well over 5,000 people) into small, more intimate groupings of about 50 people each. Father Dear suggested that in these small communities, people interacted differently and shared as they made connections with those now close to them. People were no longer strangers; whereas moments before they were simply part of a large and increasingly hungry throng. In contemporary parlance, they were statistics.

By witnessing the humanity in each other, we are better able to form community and share intimacy without fear. Our humanity is the one thing we can claim to share with others and in this, we find purpose to gather and form community around the universality of human values.

World Cafe March 17, 2012

I took a deep breath and slowed down for a few moments to post these very important contributions you made to my learning. You will find the images of the March 17 World Cafe Table Posters and March 17 Wall Posters posters on the blog. I will summarize them in the next few days and post them. They look amazing. I apologize for the delay and only offer that in the days leading to spring break, appointments, and flying to Portland, time was stretched. Your time and contributions to each event were appreciated and valued.

I want to express my gratitude to each of you for taking time to advance my learning through the World Cafe events and Appreciative Inquiry. You contributed to and guided my thinking as I prepared a presentation I am delivering entitled The Mindful Servant-Leader. The four events we attended demonstrated that a positive focus on important questions asked in a safe and spacious manner yield unexpected answers and directions. Community emerged through the process and people communicated about ordinary and extraordinary aspects of learning. Dialogue and conversation give and affirm voice to each member of a community. Voices are greatest in the collective and we found new, eloquent questions. Answers were assumed to be unknown when the questions were formed and asked.

I will leave you with a passage from Mindful by Mary Oliver: I say to myself/how can you help/but grow wise/with such teachings/as these–/the untrimmable light/of the world,/the ocean’s shine,/the prayers that are made/out of grass?

The Mindful Servant-Leader

Larry Spears suggested servant-leadership “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” This aspiration to lead is based on an awareness of the leader’s feelings and an awareness of the environmental needs, including those of the people that are being served and led. This understanding leads to mindfulness which is essential to the work of the servant-leader.

Harvard psychologist, Ronald Siegel, proposed mindfulness provides skills to help “recognize our feelings and choose whether or not to act on them. This helps us to respond to others skillfully.” The definition of servant-leadership intersects with the skill set of mindfulness. We are aware of our feelings and through careful observation can recognize that needs also exist outside us. This understanding guides the servant-leader to be conscious of the choices made and be aware when he engages in non-choices.

Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein offered a definition of mindfulness: “the practice of cultivating nonjudgmental awareness in day-to-day life.” Awareness is a characteristic of the servant-leader. You might ask, “Am I walking my talk?” The servant-leader makes himself aware if he is simply downloading those things he does not want to do; the mundane, the risky, the confrontational. He recognizes his moral position has a direct bearing on the morale of those he serves and leads.

The servant-leader is a deep listener, a vigilant observer. Listening is a full sensory and heart-felt experience suspending judgement. Appreciative inquiry opens spaces for others to speak and feel heard. Trust is built and a path of non-violence is found in these moments. Mindfulness creates safe, trusting, and inviolate environments where questions of the servant-leader are gentle, humble, nurturing, and safe. The leader is attentive to others while listening and while speaking. Vico suggested prudent and wise questions be posed for the sense of the community to be revealed. Common sense is the wisdom of the community revealed through deep listening and vigilant observation.

Quiet spaces for personal reflection are set aside. We listen to ourselves or, as Parker Palmer suggested, we allow the soul or the inner teacher to come out and play in quiet, nonjudgmental spaces. There it find its voice, speaks softly, and reveals wisdom. Richard Rohr proposed discernment is led through the questions we ask ourselves. What questions are we asking in meditative, prayerful, or contemplative times? No matter the name we choose, these are quiet, spacious moments of solitude to seek guidance by quieting our internal judge and cynic. The answers to the questions are often there waiting to be revealed, to guide us when we listen carefully and willingly.

Jack Kornfield proposed “mindfulness is attention.” Respectfully tending to our voice and all voices signals compassion. Compassion or empathy emerges from deep listening. The servant-leader is not cast in the role of problem solver or expert. What if we only asked questions and truly sought to understand by listening first? The great teachers of history learned by listening to the responses of others. The root of responsibility is response. What do others know that makes them responsive and responsible?

Parker Palmer and Thomas Merton spoke of the importance of wholeness in the lives of those we come in contact with. Both wrote of the foundational importance of healing broken spirits with deep listening and reflection led by great questions. If we broke the spirit of another person, an animal, or a community, what could we do to heal and make them whole? As people, and communities as living organisms of people, discover what gives life meaning and calls them to vocation, they become whole and healed, able to serve and lead.

David Rome and Hope Martin suggested the best ways to begin “shifting our patterns of communication [is] with our listening. … Good listening means open-minded, genuinely interested attention to others and allowing yourself the time and space to fully absorb what they say. … Good listening encourages others to feel heard and to speak more openly and honestly.” Mindfully listening empowers the voices of those served and is a powerful form of persuasion. It is a signal of compassion and that the servant-leader is aware of and recognizes worth in others to truly lend a hand. Being the expert problem solver excludes common sense revealed from an open-minded, genuinely interested stance, while attending to others allows time and space to respond, not simply react.

Conceptualization in mindfulness is the beginner’s mind. Thomas Merton and other Christian writers and thinkers have referred to it frequently so it is not only a Buddhist concept. The beginner’s mind sees many possibilities; whereas the expert mind is restricted to one possibility. Harvard psychologist, Ellen Langer, defined mindfulness as “noticing something new” but we close our minds in the pursuit of stability that we recognize as an illusion. Langer has researched mindfulness extensively as the opposite of mindlessness or automaticity which is a cognitive, not spiritual, construct. The beginner’s mind should remind the leader of Einstein’s quote that insanity is solving our problems with the same thinking that created those very problems. The servant-leader remains open to the possibilities others offer through their thinking to help solve problems of the organization.

The beginner’s mind provides foresight to learn from the past, from the realities of the moment, and anticipate potential consequences. Living in the moment and being fully present opens the heart and mind of the servant-leader. Trusting the community to share the burden allows common sense to emerge. The servant leader listens deeply and mindfully while asking questions to appreciate the individual and collective wisdom.

The ‘good shepherd’ tends his flock carefully, devotedly, and mindfully provides refuge and nourishment for each member to grow and the flock to flourish. Metaphorically, the pasture provides safe haven for individual and collective voices to emerge signalling the meaning of the group. The purpose of the group and its very being is in trust, shepherded forward to benefit ensuing generations. We inherit the world from our children; therefore we are its stewards and servants as we lead from the future. What world would we want to leave for our children?

To be stewards and servants for the benefit of those who trust us is heady and demands the fullest possible awareness to the commitment undertaken. The servant-leader nurtures the growth of each individual and the community, allowing gifts to be revealed and, in turn, others to become servant-leaders. I coached hockey for years and when parents would complain about a team’s performance, I would gently point out I  was committed to their grandchildren. Their sons and daughters were the next generation of coaches. Being mindfully aware of my commitment allowed me to better serve that commitment, the individuals, and the team.

The servant-leader is aware community is changing and understands community as a value. The servant-leader is aware of a shift from local community to large institutions to global networks as primary and interwoven shapers of human lives. This awareness calls the servant-leader to search for and identify the means to build, sustain, and refresh community and in the company of others maintain community as a value. Mike Seymour explained that companion and community were breaking of bread with others. Breaking bread has gone viral and this suggests the servant-leader is attentive to and mindful of the common purposes shared within a community or between communities.

Greenleaf proposed the best test of the servant-leader is to ask, “Do those served grow as people? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? What is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

When I consider the best test questions, I am inclined to wonder, “What will be the role of mindfulness in the service of the leadership construct known as servant-leadership?”

Servant Leadership — An Overview

Leadership came up several times in the first three World Cafe events including an explicit reference to servant-leadership which I feel it is a concept worth exploring. Serving and opening a path to leadership should have merit in education and I want to expand on the characteristics used to describe the servant-leader. I drew extensively from an article written by Larry Spears (2004) called Practicing Servant Leadership. Spears was the CEO at the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership. Its namesake, Robert Greenleaf, was the person responsible for developing and articulating servant-leadership.

A definition cited by Spears was servant-leadership “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant–first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.” Making sure people’s highest priority needs are served came up several times in our conversations. Words such as community, safe, listening, empathy, and compassion are a small sampler of descriptors provided in conversations. The following represent 10 characteristics attributed to a servant-leader, drawn from Greenleaf’s writings.

1. Listening: This can be broken into two parts. There is a deep listening to others, but also quiet reflection. Listening deeply to others represents compassion and quiet.regular reflection reveals wisdom.

2. Empathy: Through listening to others to understand, the servant-leader seeks empathy to accept and recognize special and unique spirits of those he/she listens to. Empathy calls for appropriate behaviour or acceptable performance from those being led.

3. Healing: The relationship between the servant and others carries an implicit message. There is a search for wholeness, integrity and completeness of the person. To be whole, one must feel listened to and served.

4. Awareness: Awareness is a disturber and awakener. The servant-leader is aware of both internal and external landscapes allowing for an integrated, holistic person to emerge. This awareness is a seeking to understand issues related to values and ethics.

5. Persuasion: This refers to the servant-leader using persuasive rather than positional power to make organizational decisions. Persuasion acts to build consensus rather than using coercion, manipulation, or power.

6. Conceptualization: This is the ability to balance the need to ‘dream great dreams’ and simultaneously remain focused on day-to-day functions of an organization.

7. Foresight: Allows the servant leader to learn lessons from the past, the immediate realities of the moment, and potential consequences that might arise in the future.

8. Stewardship: The rubric of servant-leadership is one in which all CEO’s, staff, and trustees act as stewards holding something in trust for the greater good of society. Stewardship is based on openness and persuasion rather than power and control.

9. Commitment to the growth of people: This is the responsibility to nurture the growth of each individual in a community. Members are allowed to reveal their gifts and, in turn, serve.

10. Building community: The servant-leader is aware of a shift from local community to large institutions to global networks as the primary shaper of human lives. This awareness calls the servant-leader to search for and identify various means to build and sustain community.

Greenleaf proposed the best test of the servant-leader is to ask, “Do those served grow as people? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? What is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

When I consider the best test, I am inclined to further wonder, “Is the role of a teacher ideal to serve? Is the role of teachers, in whatever capacity, best defined by asking: do children in their care become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely to become servants?” I include a vast grouping of people as teachers because many are called to serve and teach in various capacities. Parents and family members want their children to grow just as teachers in schools want their students to grow.

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