Stories from my Experience
Script of a presentation given on Zoom to a group of teachers and facilitators in China on June 29, 2021
I grew up on a farm in Iowa.
I was a teacher from childhood – I taught my sister to read when I was 6 and she was 4. And I used to gather all the neighbourhood kids to do science experiments.
My mother was a teacher, my father had a strong global awareness – both shared these with us.
I have a BA Degree in Education and Anthropology from the University of Iowa.
I joined ICA the same year I started teaching school, right after graduation.
Washington, DC – 1970
How to be respectful and fair, yet firm
This was my first experience in a culture not my own – Black inner-city, grade 3.
Given the history of blacks and whites in the US, I struggled with how to do fair and respectful discipline in my classroom. If the kids were disruptive, I didn’t know how to be firm and respectful at the same time.
Eventually I was given an ultimatum from the principal: manage your class or you are fired– my transformation was the same afternoon. I couldn’t afford to be fired!
That year I discovered learning from the students – there were 2 boys named Emmanuel.
They were in Grade 3 and neither could read
I developed a way of learning to read adapted from Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s work with Maori kids in New Zealand.
They asked for words they wanted to read,
I wrote them on cards,
They traced them, said them out loud, wrote them.
The next day, if they remembered the word on the card, they could keep it.
If they didn’t, we threw it away, and said it was the wrong word, not that the child was wrong for not remembering.
After a few words, we built sentences.
Forming curriculum around what the students need – facilitating their voices
Black inner-city, grade 7-8 – 7 classes of 30 kids every day – taller than me
Assigned to teach music – kids needed to learn to read
First year – disaster – kids out of control – again a principal gave me an ultimatum to improve
Second year – on the first day, I had each student make a private 10-year life plan.
How old are you now?
How old will you be in 10 years?
What do you want to be or be doing in 10 years?
What are 10 things you need to do to get where you want to be in 10 years?
What are 10 things you need to do this year to get to where you want to be?
And finally, what do you need from my class?
Their plans were private – the only thing I asked them to share was what they needed from my class. I wrote every one of them on the blackboard and had someone copy it. Then I clustered it all together along with the curriculum I was given, and what I knew they needed – to learn to read and believe in themselves.
This foundation became the creation of Black Music History course – I learned a lot!
Transformation of kids – they were eager participants in my class
Transformation of me – I realized that I was successful when I could relate what I was teaching to what the students needed for their own lives
Commendation from the principal
Grade 6 Rite of Passage Journey, Summer 1974
Transforming children into youth
35 6th graders, children of staff and colleagues
Camping in tents for 6 weeks, mostly in the wilderness
Intention was to provide a rite of passage from childhood to youth, with greater responsibility
Challenging activities, such as a week-long hike, carrying all camping gear
An overnight solitary vigil for each student, with some questions to ponder
Watching the Northern Lights one night until very late – awesome
Facilitating mutual learning
Group facilitation started to be known – we started to use it in facilitating community planning meetings
From facilitation and my experience in Chicago, I stood in respect for the students – they learned from me and I learned from them.
Lesson plans became session plans – a way of putting an agenda together
The long-term value of building on what the community needs, creating personal and community transformation
Facilitated community planning – including all villagers
Community wanted good education in the village
Started the preschool – facilitating young non-literate village women to plan and teach
Demonstrated how to build curriculum and lead conversations
Encouraged the teachers to take literacy classes
The next year – community teachers running the preschool
Kids on the first day in the public school were not afraid
45 years later there is still a village-run preschool in the village
There are university graduates from the community, and several still doing participatory community development
Facilitating as creating bridges of understanding between groups in a community
Two cultures not my own simultaneously – Mexican and Texan
In the school I did informal facilitation – creating bridges of understanding between cultures
Facilitating on-going community planning
I built the remedial reading curriculum on what kids needed – testing, talking with them – addressing underlying contradictions where they were blocked rather than creating a set lesson plan
Murrin Bridge 1981-83
Facilitating as cultural reconciliation
I took aboriginal elders into the schools – since I was neither black or white Australian, both sides trusted me and I was a liaison between the teachers and the Aboriginal elders
The community wanted to preserve language and culture – the elders were the only ones who spoke the language – they taught black and white kids together to create self-confidence and respect.
When we did this, I facilitated conversations on what students were learning
My work was to create bridges of understanding between cultures
Supporting youth to thrive
Student house – place where Grade 7-8 students lived while their parents were working overseas
Supporting local leadership
Worked with village preschool teachers again, and trained school teachers on request
Canada, 1986 – 2021
Facilitation as a way to change school systems
Regina Public Schools
I trained 10% of the teachers and principals in facilitation – Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop Method. Many of them used the methods in their classrooms and in teacher’s meetings. They also facilitated input into a school reorganization plan.
Eeeyou Istchee (James Bay Cree) School Board – Quebec
I facilitated strategic planning for the schools in 10 remote indigenous communities.
Then I facilitated the leadership team to bring the plans from the communities together for the whole indigenous school board.
This created a school board plan that held indigenous values.
This plan guided the school board’s decisions for more than 5 years.
Treaty 4 Education – Saskatchewan
I facilitated a strategic plan with the school board and leadership (several indigenous communities).
This facilitation included community consultations.
They created a school board that met their values as an indigenous board.
I continue to do follow-up and train staff in facilitation.
They use facilitation in all their interactions with community.
OISE – Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
OISE is the education department at the University of Toronto
The new dean wanted participation in decision-making, not something often done in universities.
500 people – faculty, staff, administration, and students participated in small groups to create values, vision, obstacles and strategies, and then representatives of those groups clustered all the results together to make one strategic plan for the department. For each strategy, there was an action planning team to make plans for how to move forward on the strategies.
This project won an IAF Facilitation Impact Award.
The university provost commended the department for its planning, and suggested that other departments do something similar.