The estimated reading time for this post is 3 minutes
I value clarity highly in my work, and find that the clarity of vision, meaning and purpose changes dramatically, even exponentially as we increase the size of a group by one. We can achieve clarity by purposefully practicing reflection, intentionally using debrief strategies or protocols in our times of collaboration and learning together. Think of a single person, living alone, negotiating life with all its challenges and opportunities; it’s never simple or easy. Add a mate and the formula doubles in complexity. Add a child and now how much more rich, complex and challenging are our considerations of how to spend our resources and how to navigate life? You may see where I’m going with this, or maybe not. Systems and organizations as big as schools and districts have many rich, complex and challenging opportunities before us. How can we gain clarity to support our important work?
I invented a way to produce powerful insights and deep emotional resonance with school staffs and I’d like to share it with you. First of all, let me be transparent about some of my thinking. I can count the teacher education and education books that live in my heart on one hand. Two of the most influential are Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Roland Barth’s Improving Schools from Within. Both embrace an assets-based approach and both are in sync with the SAUSD Framework for Teaching and Learning. So, that’s me.
I have learned to rely on a suite of activities and protocols informed by principles of social and emotional intelligence to generate effective professional learning environments and experiences, and one that I strive to always make time for is the FIND debrief, which I use as a concluding activity and processing experience.
The essence of the physical setup: use a circle, if at all possible. Setup chairs in a circle, pull desks into a circle, have people stand in a circle. The key is to remove physical barriers between people and to give everyone a place in the perimeter of the circle. Don’t let people hide or minimize their belonging by being in a secondary ring.
The impact of the whip around: give everyone a moment to share with the entire group when it is their turn. Time is precious, I know, but investing this time in allowing every voice to be heard by the group generates an authentic presence and engagement which yields returns in group identity and commitment to future action.
The importance of “slowing people down” and insisting on accuracy according to the step of the protocol: If you are asking for people to share facts, don’t let them share opinions, judgments, or lessons. Insisting on accuracy helps people feel “safe” in that there is no “right” answer in the content but communicates a commitment to sharing the accurate “type” of information. People feel that they belong and fit in when it’s clear what they are being asked to share, so uphold your commitment to the group and present clarifying questions if the type of information is not a fact, emotion, insight or decision when those are called for. It’s also a way to build your integrity as a facilitator and communicate that you are listening to each person.
Let painful or awkward moments be. Sometimes life is painful or awkward. Be ready to hear people say, “I felt frustrated,” or “I felt confused,” and don’t need to try to fix it or defend anything. Simply saying, “Ok,” “Thank you for sharing that,” or paraphrasing back what they have shared is an effective way of letting them and the group know you heard them and that their input is valid.
It’s quite a magical experience. I talk more about sharing facts and emotions in this post, if you are interested.