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A letter to disruptors.

Dear colleague, teacher, disruptor, innovator,

I love that you are a proponent of “relationships first”.  Yes, relationships can be built through formative assessments, which are, in my opinion, a constant presence in an effective classroom.  Formative assessments are as simple as using one’s intuition to read an expression on a student’s face or watching the demeanor as he or she walks in the room.  Formative assessments gauge understanding, sometimes in seconds.  Formative assessments include listening to students and allowing for them to give feedback to one another.  Formative assessments create space for the facilitator to change direction of said lesson to ensure that each student is appropriately challenged.  And that takes humility.

Here is where I think we often lack in education and in society in general:  We talk about “building relationships” and “effective communication”, but we are rarely taught the skills we need and for some, developing relationships isn’t intuitive.  “Radical candor” can only be established once the foundation of the relationship is present. The foundation takes time, effort, vulnerability and a toolbox for myriad circumstances.

Design thinking falls short in the same way.  The first step of the design thinking process is empathy, but facilitators don’t discuss checking in with our own stories first. Instruction doesn’t describe how to embody effective empathy, it only assumes such an experience will ensue.

Facilitators, (I stray from the word “teachers”), must be conscious of the feedback they are giving.  Certain types of feedback will, indeed enhance relationships and certain feedback is simply to appease technical standards.  Self-assessment and peer feedback are the most authentic assessments.  Students often challenge themselves and each other more effectively than facilitators do, probably because of the pre-established relationship they have with one another. They already have built-in empathy because they’ve had time to understand one another.  Candor ensues based on inherent trust.

So maybe that’s where we need to focus: On the tools to build effective relationships first, knowing that they take time and knowing that we cannot know the outcome.  From there, we can develop formative assessments that cater to each individual.  In fact, why don’t they create the assessments and we’ll guide them along the way?! That is, in essence, accompaniment.

Susan

 

Leadership. How to.

“Leadership” has become a word whose frequency buzzes to the point of not being able to hear the word at all. Close seconds in our world of oft-used, sometimes-fulfilled buzzwords in global education, travel and group facilitation are “design thinking”, “paradigm shifting” “innovation” and “sustainability”. Up and coming words like “accompaniment” and “meaningful” will soon take the place of “service” and “empowerment”. Words are simply that. They convey messages to make the non-tangible tangible. And as we attempt to discover the newest and greatest and most grandiloquent means of expression, it is important to instate action that can defend the words we try to embody.

On voyages to other lands and in classrooms, schools and businesses, I have done my best to “facilitate” as opposed to “teach”, to be humble enough to invite varying opinions and perspectives in order for our group or team to create the best possible experience or solution. It is only when we can “walk the talk” that we will be able to become true leaders, people that are willing to see our own strengths and be vulnerable enough to recognize when others can compensate for our limitations. We all have talents that deserve to shine and if we try to “go it alone”, our talents are easily masked by the minutiae of where we don’t excel.

Below is a leadership tool you are welcome to adopt. In the classroom and in the world, I have used this tool, or some variation of it, to elicit accountability and group buy-in to our process, to allow me to step back and others to step forward. Each day, there is an individual or team that is responsible for different aspects of our experience. The below list was created with student travel in mind, but can certainly be adapted to any team scenario. Use it in your classroom, your home, your office, or on your next global adventure to enhance empathy, collaboration and effective leadership.

Use this tool and avoid the urge to uphold the popular terminology that will forever change. Your actions are what will remain in-style. By facilitating true leadership, the positive results on our world will be permanent.

 

Leader(s) of the Day Responsibilities:

Daily Schedule

  • At the beginning of the day, display the daily schedule, goals and activities and review with the group

Group activity

  • (At the beginning of the day and when needed)

Choose a ‘word of the day’

  • This word can be intention-setting or something helpful in the host community or new setting

Choose a ‘question of the day’

  • Choose a question that will elicit thought and can be referred at any time, particularly when reflecting

Group check-in

  • How is everyone doing?
  • Hold up fingers 1-5. If you are 1-3, look to 4-5 to uplift you and vice versa
  • Thumbs-up scale for good, somewhere in the middle for not so good, down for not well

Prepare

  • Review daily activities, what could happen and how to be prepared for any potential situation
  • Make sure everyone has what they need for the day’s activities

Time keeper

  • Help to keep us on time and round up the group when its time to go

Thank and greet whomever is hosting us

  • We often have to “say words” when we arrive and depart any given place. This is a great chance to practice speaking in front of a group and speaking from the heart

Help to organize/clean

Make sure everyone in the group is present, on time and healthy!

Sweep

  • Check the premises of wherever we are to be sure we have everything/all trash is picked up, etc.

Write blog

Lead Closing activity

  • Choose next day’s leaders
  • Answer ‘Question of the Day’

 

Dreaming of Utopia

“We are not handing out gifts, but we are brining forth the gifts inside the people themselves.”

—Jacqueline Novogratz

A persistent conversation and conundrum in the international travel and education field is with regard to “service” and “helping”.  We are beginning to see shifts in our practices and our values, recognizing sustainable, global change depends our commitment to simultaneously learn from one another.  We dream of a utopia where poverty, malice and war cease to exist.  I wrote this in India recently, while pondering this great value transition I am witnessing around the world.

My utopia is to relinquish the word “help” under the pretext of superiority.  Can we change this word to “support,” “facilitate,” “learn from,” “be with”?  It is difficult to understand, especially as this paradigm of “service” (a word often utilized and brutalized to the precipice of our benevolent demise), gains popularity.  Intentions are pure, clean, just, positive and good.  Yet rarely are we privy to witnessing how often our good intentions are undone and redone only to one day cut the ribbon, exposing the facade of what wasn’t needed, but extremely well-intended.

Rarely do we know the whole story, the real story.  We can’t.  We never will.  What we have to do is continue to ask and listen.

Listen.

There is momentum in our shifting perspective, a shift of questioning who is served, who the desired recipients of “service” are. 

So let us absolve “help” and “service” and “doing for,” and embrace “join” and “togetherness” and “walking with” as we build relationships and sustainably innovate to allow communication and creativity to be the driving forces of impactful change.

 

Una respuesta.

This is for Spanish speakers and poetry lovers and those who connect with self in order to consciously connect with others.  This is an answer to one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite authors.  It addresses the contention, and further, the acceptance of the images we see in the mirror which are actually images of people we see in front of us, on screens, on the street, in our homes.  First and foremost, we must accept what is, so as to move forward into the greatness that can be.  Enjoy!

El poema que no digo,
el que no merezco.
Miedo de ser dos
camino del espejo:
alguien en mí dormido
me come y me bebe

–Alejandra Pizarnik

Una respuesta.

Alguien en mí dormido
me comía y me bebía

Pero ahora, después de conocernos,
no nos comemos,
nos damos de comer.
no nos bebemos,
nos damos de beber.
Después de vernos y saludarnos
y vivir juntos,
nos divertimos.
exploramos.
buscamos los mismo.
ahora viene y se queda.
me quedo y viene hacía mi.

¿Y yo?
Estoy orgullosa de haberlas conocido.
De enseñarlas y aprender de ellas.
De observar, más que nada,
lo bonito
de esta etapa
de esta fase
de lo que conozco
y de lo que nunca conoceré.

Orgullosa
fortunada
bendecida
alegre e
inspirada.
motivada y
dispuesta a lo que nos trae.

The Experience of a Lifetime

In December of 2104, three women, Molly, Nancy and Ruthie visited Nicaragua with Away 2 Be.  This is what they had to say about their experience:

It was a dark day on December 1, 2014 when three women (three friends) from Vermont gathered their carefully packed bags and their courage to begin a ten day adventure in the warmth and beauty of Nicaragua. We would meet our trip leader, Susan Lambert, when we landed in Managua International Airport. And, so the adventure of a lifetime began.

The hugs, tears and laughter that were exchanged with Susan upon our landing were followed by loving messages of welcome she had created and left on our pillows.   She gently and skillfully oriented us to our surroundings and prepared us for the days ahead. We were like sponges – willing and anxious to absorb whatever lay ahead.

Our itinerary, full of beauty, wonder and time for reflection, was beginning to unfold. We were immersed in the remarkable geography and history of the country.   For two days, we stayed at a resort bordering a volcanic lagoon and explored the surrounding villages. During the next several days, we toured a family-owned coffee farm, a weavers’ coop, a chocolate factory and a children’s library built in one of the barrios. We shared time with local potters and restaurateurs and spent four days at the Casa Materna MaryAnn Jackman in Matagulpa.   Through Susan’s interpretation skills, we were quickly able to understand the roles of those we met and they learned a little about us as well.

All of our experiences were exhilarating but the time at the Casa Materna absolutely filled our souls. The staff, each and every one, was so genuine in their welcome. Though we did not share a language, we were able to communicate heart to heart very quickly. Eight mothers-to-be were in residence on the day we arrived and by the next afternoon, there were thirteen. The women were, of course, shy but curious about us. During the next four days, we were assimilated into their lives and those of the staff with extraordinary generosity and graciousness.   Our Susan, a long time board member and liaison for the Casa, facilitated those interactions with such grace and joy. We soon felt like we were part of the fabric of this incredible organization and the lives of the women they were serving. We were sharing meals, dabbling in crafts, making tortillas, taking walks, trading family pictures, exchanging gifts, celebrating festivals, laughing and communicating as if we had known each other for months not days.

How did this happen?   How did differences dissolve and get replaced by kinship in such a short time?

So much of the bond we established during our time at the Casa was based on sharing the privilege of motherhood – the anxiety, challenge and wonder of it all spanned our cultural differences. Ruth, Nancy and I took time to think about our own journey as mothers, as we reflected on the experiences we shared with the women at the Casa. During our group yoga exercises filled with laughter and some tears, we learned of each other’s hopes and fears related to family and parenting.

As Susan’s Mom, I reveled in the woman she had become. My heart was bursting as I watched her interactions with her Nicaraguan family and the skill with which she wove Nancy, Ruth and me into this life. She lit up the room with her joy, spirit of adventure, compassion and caring.   She has chosen to be a “giver” to our world, who has already made an enormous difference in the lives she has touched. What a privilege to be her Mother!

The lives of the mothers-to-be at the Casa, are enriched by the love and caring of the staff members who have given their hearts and talents to ensure that the journey of motherhood gets off to a good start for those who come through their doors. They share the most intimate days and hours before new life begins. They laugh, cry, learn and love during the short time that they spend in each other’s company.   Each clearly considers it a privilege to be present to one another during this momentous time.

We left the Casa with tears, hugs and the memories of a lifetime tucked into our hearts. In the kindness that surrounded us during our time there are lessons for our planet. Nancy, Ruth and I experienced the hope and optimism of people who know the importance of treating people as they would like to be treated.   We watched in awe, as one person after another, welcomed us into their lives with open arms and huge smiles, rather than fear and misunderstanding. Imagine an international community where such behaviors were commonplace!

Our best wishes and Happy Mothers Day to our new Nicaraguan friends and soulmates!   Many thanks to all of you for who you are and the work you do that makes this world a much better place.