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).