Collective Authentic Learning
As AIW educators settle into a new year of rigorous academic learning, several schools are taking learning one step further by launching collective initiatives for staff and students to grow socially and personally, as well as academically.
I was struck by one urban school principal’s commitment in her welcome back to school letter: “Central to our work this year will be our commitment to a restorative school culture that promotes positivity, academic growth and excellence, personal success, accountability and a safe environment for all.”
Her sentiment, no doubt, represents the voice of every principal hoping to provide a peaceful learning environment as our nation struggles in this tumultuous year of divisiveness and ‘either/or’ rhetoric. Author and activist Parker J. Palmer has offered this observation:
“As we know, we are in the midst of what may be the most polarizing and contentious elections in recent U.S. history. Many observers note that the political rancor and rhetoric has reached all time highs, injecting unprecedented fear, division, and unease into our culture.”
As a mission-driven organization committed to reform that promotes “tomorrow’s leaders thriving today,” we believe in the power of Authentic Intellectual Work and have spent a decade devoting our energy to improving teaching and learning in schools. Yet, this summer, our mission felt limiting. Not two miles from the Center’s St. Paul office, Philando Castile was shot. His death sent shockwaves through the predominantly white, liberal neighborhood, chock full of University of Minnesota professors. The neighborhood listserv provided a needed forum to explore individual and collective beliefs, yet the conversation struggled.
The online discussion grew heated
But, one neighbor had an important insight.
“When we see things that we think are offensive we might respond with curiosity instead of revulsion. Why do you think that? What did you mean by that? Tell me more about that.”
This post resonated deeply with me because there are so few opportunities to explore our own truths. Providing these opportunities is a big part of the Center’s work with educators around the country. When done well, they express gratitude for being given a safe space to connect with their inner teacher and notice their biases. Ironically, much of this soul-filled work of the AIW coach is grounded in Palmer’s 2009 book, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Towards an Undivided Life—Welcoming the Soul and Weaving Community in a Divided World.
So, I took the plunge
I volunteered, not as the Center’s Executive Director, but as a concerned neighbor. In all, I facilitated four 150-minute sessions. They offered participants an opportunity to explore self and reflect on their own racism, bias and white privilege.
To be honest, it was terrifying on several levels. For being a professional risk taker, I came to realize how conflict-adverse I am in my own backyard. Yet, I felt I had to do something. I also discovered an obvious truth. Like with teaching, sessions improved with practice. Ultimately, the personal learning and humility gains made the effort worthwhile.
Parker Palmer is offering a tremendous opportunity
The course, Bridging the Political Divide with Parker Palmer, is designed for small group facilitators and independent learners interested in acquiring inspirational and practical knowledge for approaching deep political division. I’m taking this class because I believe the key to being a better facilitator is challenging myself to have difficult conversations with people with whom I wildly disagree. The opportunity runs through the 19th.
At its core, AIW is all about using prior knowledge to construct our own understanding of key ideas to solve real world problems. In the spirit of authentic learning and living, let’s make this a great school year, and consider incorporating the criteria of Authentic Intellectual Work beyond our professional work to help everyone.
JOIN US AND MAKE THIS SCHOOL YEAR GREAT—FOR EVERYONE!