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Category Archives: Learning Organizations

A Place; A Space

Over the last few years, I have increasingly exlored how we use language. For example, we use the word organization as a noun for places where we work, learn, and play. It grows static and lifeless Yet, its root, organ, suggests life and interacting with one another. John Dewey and Ivan Illich referred to interacting and communicating as intercourse. This suggests we engage in intimacy and love as we communicate with one another.

As well, an organ, as a musical instrument, needs a human touch. At our best, we organize, work, and learn, through a common purpose, like in a jazz ensemble, and what calls each of us in some meanfinful way. In a neo-liberal and neo-conservative world, organizing, working, and learning fall short of the common good (common weal) and what calls each of us to feel fufilled, perhaps self-actualized.

Out of this reflecting emerged the following poem.

This place–

This space–

Welcoming–

Beckoning.

When cold, aloof–

As a frigid lover–

Pushing us away;

Denying intimacy.

As an anxious lover–

Frantically clinging;

Giving no room to breath.

As a capricious lover–

Now here;

Now gone.

At its best–

Fully alive;

Not on life support!

Exuding hearty warmth–

Healthy, vibrant;

Touching in human ways.

Gentle lover embracing–

Inviting and olding close close;

Letting us breath.

A place–

A space–

Wanting to be.

A place–

A space–

Call, giving voice.

Sharing–

Drawing us each closer;

To our common humanity.

Yesterday, I heard the following song by Mavis Staples. It reminded me, regardless of how things are going, there are always high notes in life.

Do Pigs Have Udders?

Part of educating for hope is “reading the world” in hopeful while living “in dynamic interrelationships” with others (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 102). This means opening the world to eloquent questions without presupposed answers and without the threat of violence of any form. I used the quote in a recent book chapter I co-authored with a colleague from North Carolina. The book is to be published in late 2020 or early 2021. What does it mean to live in a world full of hope; a hope(ful) world.

My first day back from the retreat I posted about in Welcoming Differences and Gentle Rain I noticed the students were subdued. In the afternoon, I was alone, which was unusual. Without an adult and teaching three grades, it could be demanding. Other times, it provided interesting moments, and this turned into one of those moments.

I had contacted a substitute teacher I had used several years before and who was available again after completing a long term assignment for an ill teacher. As we talked about what was bothering me, the students told me they had not enjoyed the teacher. I was surprised, as he had seemed a good fit before. I asked for an example and they told me he had told them their conversation was inappropriate. This was unusual, as the students in this group were well-behaved and respectful. I asked them what the conversation was about and they told me, while completing some Science, one student asked “Do pigs have udders?” Apparently, this became a hotly debated topic and it was brought up again today.

I laughed. For me, it was funny and pointed to an irrevocable human truth: curiosity about the world we live in and eloquent questions leading to exploring the world and learning about it. We had serious fun as we talked about what udders were and their role in feeding offspring. I even phone Kathy, who was raised on a farm, and asked he. She was not sure, but thought it was a structural thing and pigs probably did not have it. We left it as an open question.

Simple question,

Emerging eloquently,

Not presupposing answers;

Fueling curiousity–

Energizing learning.

What does this mean?

Is it true?

Querying and questing;

Seeking to fill gaps;

Not with certitude;

New questions emerging.

With passing years,

Recalling that moment,

Smiling, chuckling;

Appreciating simple, provocative question–

Do pigs have udders?

As best as we can learn, they do and it was fun trying to figure it out. Adolescent children ask the darnedest things. Laughter is an antidote for difficult moments. Something I learned as a student teacher was a safe classroom allows children, youth, and probably adults to ask provocative questions with no preconceived answers. In the polarized world we live in, we have lost that assurance of safety and are reluctant to ask questions needing answers.

I will save you looking up the answer on the Internet. Pigs do not have udders. Udders are a reference to mammary glands on certain mammals and it has to do with their structure. I read a version of this poem for a group at a retreat in Wisconsin. As I finished, adults wanted to know the answer. I said I didn’t know and someone looked it up on the spot.

I don’t have a picture of a pig. Here is one of a bear I took in Waterton Lakes National Park. Bear and pigs are related, so it was as close as I could get.

Companions

I wrote this poem as I prepared to go to Bainbridge Island, WA. While there, I attended a leadership retreat offered by the Centre for Courage and Renewal based on the writing of Parker Palmer. As it was the second part of the process, I had a sense of how rewarding the process and journey were.

Like my time at Gonzaga, I found companions who I remain in touch with via social media and as I travel to various parts of Canada and the US. These companions complement the ones I have at home.

Companion and company come from an old French word (compagnie) meaning to break bread with others, usually on a journey. We accompany one another and share what we have, including conversation and care for one another.

Beloved community,

Inviting, one another,

Sharing more than a moment.

For alone,

Troubles weighing heavy us down

Each step, we struggle.

Gathering together,

Enlightening–

Feeding each other’s souls.

Backs straightening–

Shoulders squaring–

Holding heads higher.

Journeying, sharing, entrusting–

Becoming together,

Breaking bread.

I took this picture several years ago of Kathy just above and around the corner from some serious waterfalls on the Fraser River.

Just Being

Sometimes as I write one poem, another emerges in the tangle of thoughts and words. This happened with the post Transforming. One poem gave way to another. Both poems remind me of the unnecessary chase in life. Life is not a race or hunting trip in which I seek the biggest prize. What I need is patience with life arriving fully in each moment, revealing itself in  extraordinary ways.

There are quotes that are on the tip of tongue at all times. Alfred North Whitehead wrote the present moment is holy ground. The  past and future meet in each present moment, making it whole. Some humans tend to see life as a competition and end up running in one spot. This contradicts being present and patient, echoing Matthew 6:28: consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. To flourish and experience good health, one has to reduce the stress of spinning in one spot.

Seeking,

Chasing,

Competing–

Failing.

Patience calling,

Just sitting,

Cooperating–

Life discovering.

Life revealing itself,

In its good time,

Arriviving–

Right on time.

I know these are not lillies. Kathy took this picture hanging out the window of her car while driving on the Highway to the Sun in Glacier National Park. Elements of nature complement one another, forming the whole.

Adventuring

When I write and post, I do not know where I go. Each step is its own process without rehearsal. Life is much the same, a process. We continuously transform: shedding cells, body parts atrophy, slow down, etc. Of course, children go in the other direction in some of these processes as they become quicker and more stable with time.

We often treat change as if it is something we can control. The truth is change always happens in overlooked and taken-for-granted ways. Living and writing are complex processes. The adventure is in the unpredictability of living and writing, not in unattainable certainty. We do not know what will emerge in the adventure.

Step at a time;

Moment by moment–

Without realizing,

Change happens.

Changing ever so gradually;

Gracefully–

Imperceptible,

Seeking no material reward.

This dancing,

Unrehearsable–

Hearing unheard music;

But, no sleight of hand.

Light radiating;

Illuminating this step–

This present,

A gift.

I took this picture in Quebec City several years ago. We saw Les Chutes de Montmorency during the summer, as well. What the picture does not reveal in summer or winter is a few hundred metres of the waterfalls the water appears calm and flows into the St. Lawrence River. I say calm, because we cannot see below the surface and know what is happening. Change acts this way. There is always something below the surface.

Life’s Calling

Originally, I called this life’s mission, but that seemed to neo-liberal and neo-conservative for my liking. I subscribe to life as a calling and vocation based on the writings of Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer. Vocation comes from the Latin meaning voice, so a calling and vocation gives each of us voice in living and has an essential spiritual aspect to it. What calls each of us animates and we respond in ethical and moral ways. I think we have lost much of this in our current world. Although John Dewey did not write from a spiritual context per se, he wrote about self-interest as words meaning the same thing. What interests me? Interest comes from the Latin esse, which also is the root of essence, which is related to spirit. What inspirits me?

I wrote the following poem after a professional development day. I found inconsistencies revealed in those days fascinating. They were uninspiring, exhausting, and counterproductive. They lack personal, responsible choice. Too often, adults are dependent on others to make their decisions, hence the concept of accountability overriding responsibility. It is hard to believe we think these adults can engage in educating children, youth, and adults in any meaninful ways. Our voices are repressed, suppressed, and oppressed.

At the end of that day, I wondered and reflected on the following questions: “Am I seeing this in a proper light? What can I do to further the process of learning as a role model for students and other adults?” Learning and teachng are relational processes between people and subject. Parker Palmer argues we put the subject of our learning in the middle of pedagogic conversations. In this way, we acknowledge each human present has a different perspective of the same subject.

For me, going to an event based on Parker Palmer’s work, a poetry workshop with David Whyte, an assessment workship, etc. were and are exciting. It animates. When I obtained my Master’s of Education and PhD, it was not to earn more money or move up some fictional career ladder. Education was and is essential. In the midst of a pandemic. I am exploring how we can return to the roots of educating for life, as opposed to schooling to produce a compliant and conforming workforce. I think the latter emerges from the former, rather than the other way around

Living fully,

Sharing fully,

(Ex)pressing one’s voice–

Singing one’s song.

Whetting wonder,

Planting seeds of awe,

Lighting fires–

(In)spiring to dance one’s dance.

Watering, feeding, nourishing,

Enriching, emboldening, becoming–

Embracing what brings life and joy–

(In)spiriting.

Civil Conversation Circles

In a world with a shortage of civil discourse, we have reduced talking to talking at people. There is a binary process where we say yes or no, turn on or off, incude or exclude people. This leads to thinking in limited ways about choices we face. In fact, I think we end up dependent on those we perceive to be in charge to make decisions on our behalf. This is happening in education as we try to figure out how to get students back in class. As I listen to politicians, educationalists, teachers, parents, etc., what impresses me is we have limited our choices to re-opening schools completly, often without adequate resources and human capacity. or some form of remote learning, as if these are the only two choices. Other choices e.g. home school seem to be excluded, understood as marginal.

Quite a few years, I introduced daily conversation circles. We used them to clarify from my perspective, Also, students shared what they wanted. At the beginning of the school year, each student introduced themselves. It seems small, but this often goes unattended in groups, regardless of where they exist. In my experience, each student, humans in general, want a voice in their learning and work; a voice often cancelled.

In our conversation circles, we used a ‘talking stick.’ The person with the ‘talking stick’ is the speaker and others listen. The ‘talking stick’ was a gift from a parent who was a member of a First Nation. It had some traditional meaning attached to its design. In an era of digital technologies, the talking stick reinforces a civilty of face-to-face conversation which we increasingly need in our world.

In our small school, parents played an integral role, including and not limited to meaningful teaching in the classroom, teaching complementary courses, teaching at home, etc. I shared about our small school in a post called Soul’s Choice, so won’t add more here. My experience and research suggests, after Kindergarten, parents and teachers are somehow on a different team. But, as one teacher proposed, “We share something; the love of a child.” In bringing children back together, we need to hear from two essential voices, often excluded from the conversation about teaching, parents and teachers.

The following is a poem that rattled around for a few days. It might be a bit rought around the edges, but I thought it needed to see the light of day.

Reducing to binary,

Simplifying choice–

0 or 1,

Silencing others.

Inserting ‘and’ in conversations,

Accepting ambiguity–

Listening with one’s heart,

(In)forming community.

Embracing each child,

Loving without conditions–

Parent and teacher raison d’être,

Centring our calling.

Educating,

Sharing purpose–

Making whole,

Caring and healing together.

The picture is the talking stick, which I still have. The following is a short description of the symbolism of the talking stick. The wood is driftwood which came from a local lake and reflects nature’s contributions to conversation circles. Someone carved a bear head into the top of the stick. In some traditions, the bear symbolizes courage, freedom, and power. The feather is from a hawk. Hawks are visionary and guide the person. The coloured ribbons represent the four directions in the circle. The parent attached a medicine bag. The medicine bag heals, guides and protects, and has materials or objects of value to its carrier.

The Establishment

I wrote this poem when I was in high school, so some 50 years ago about the time I wrote Angry Young Poet. I updated both poems several years ago, but the underlying theme was evident in the orginals and I tried to keep that in mind in editing.

I found both poems as part of handwritten notes I dug through one weeked while Kathy was away. What struck me was how little things change. In fact, I might argue things are more entrenched than ever; the rich got richer and the poor poorer. One only has to consider the enormous wealth being accumlated by billionaires during the multiple crises we are experiencing.

Multiple crises, health, economic, and social justice, might give us room to re-imagine the world we want for our children and grandchildren. Instead, I am afraid we are more entrenched in our binary positions. Despite this, I hold out hope, not optimism and positivity, that we can begin the process of transforming the world to make it more democratic, socially just, and equitable. Part of my writing is revisiting an article I published in 2012 called Rocky River: Building a Learning Organization to re-imagine how we might educate children, youth, and adults. I begin re-imagining with a simple shift in language and call those engaged in teaching and learning educands a word Paulo Freire used in Pedagogy of Hope: Revisiting Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

More broadly, we can apply the learning organization’s principles to other institutions. Peter Senge cautioned it is hard work and takes time. Unlike other revolutionaries, Freire stated incremental change, based on dialogue between humans, was essential to transforming the world. Although Senge does not draw on Freire’s dialogic model, he suggests dialogue, with deep and caring listening, is at the heart of transforming institutions.

They know best for the rest–

Indoctrinating,

Not transforming,

Recalling non-existent good old days.

In disagreeing–

Simply wrong-headedness,

Daring to rebel:

Who are we to question?

Having it made–

Hunting and gathering,

Material wealth signaling success,

Repress, suppress, oppress.

Depending them to know best.

Maintaining existing order,

Demanding blind loyalty,

Failing to practice what preach.

I re-worded the poem again. I see how little changed in 50 years. Without a picture, I thought of which blues musician might best convey my message. I immediately thought of Nina Simone, who sings with edge. When I play her songs for undergrads, those with backgrounds of privilege demonstrate a visible level of discomfort.

 

Sun Set Tree

The same day Kathy took the picture for my post Time to Rest she took this picture of a single tree standing against the horizon as the sun set. She called it the sun set tree.

This spring and summer has been cool and dreary with many days below average for temperature and with. Yesterday, we began to turn the corner with some heat that is supposed to continue for at least a week. If we wait, the sun comes out and warms things up. For growth to occur, we need rain. As the heat takes hold and the sun does it job, a little rain must fall.

The same applies to our lives. We conflate passion and love. Passion contains love. It also holds moments of sorrow and pain. Compassion is sharing the good, the not-so-good, and refraining from doing harm to other sentient and non-sentient beings. We cannot go it alone. Nature teaches us about the essential idea of inter-being, a concept Thich Nhat Hanh writes about. Being mindful of Nature’s teaching gives insight into how we might inter-be with and in the world. It is not always clear. Into our lives a little rain will fall and there will cloudy days to help produce the sun and growth.

 

Sentinel stands guard;

Blurry silhouette.

Against leaden backdrop;

Appearing lonely.

Gently smiling sun;

Sharing tentative rays.

Receiving warming glow;

Gathering to grow.

Revealing that hidden by shadows;

Stretching boldly.

Smiling with Brother Sun;

Sharing sacred moments.

In a time where social inequity has been laid bare in incredibly visible ways, brought out of the shadows, we need to think, not about what privilege we might lose, but about how we can help each other be lifted up, particularly the most oppressed amongst us. I listened to Simon and Garfunkel growing up and enjoyed The Sound of Silence. This cover is my favourite version and reminds us we need prophets to write words on the subway walls.

Sweet is the Oneness

I just finished writing the first draft of a short paper on complexity and the teacher’s practice. Much of this is not new. A classroom has the potential to become a community. It is about the needs of each student within a classroom and their personal lived histories. Around that community has the potential to emerge. I cannot plan for it. I can wish for it. Community grows out of the livingness of our lives when we linger on bridges that link us and we while away time in those moments. This is different then when someone chooses a team with a specific goal in mind.

Those are not my thoughts. I added to the thinking of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Max van Manen, David Jardine, and Ted Aoki. I found  complexity is something we have talked about throughout history, yet we it treat like it is new. I looked for a poem that fit my writing. The first poet that appeared was Rumi and he led me to this beautiful poem about the oneness of community.

If ten lamps are in one place,

each differs in form from another;

yet you can’t distinguish whose radiance is whose when you focus on the light.

In the field of spirit there is no division; no individuals exist.

Sweet is the oneness of the Friend with His friends.

Catch hold of spirit.

Help this headstrong self disintegrate;

that beneath it you may discover unity,

like a buried treasure.

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