Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Collaboration, Connection & Reflection

Promising Practices Conference 2013

As I took my seat at one of our class’s circle of tables, I couldn’t help but feel like I was part of a bonded group. We all sought each other out and even those of us who sat with other friends, sat close by. I’m sure part of the bond came from our Thursday class supportive discussion on college and our teaching professions but as we learned at the conference, a foundation must be laid before you build upon it. Attending this conference together was a way to add to the strong foundation we have collectively built in class all ready.
I noticed how we all jotted down notes and kept our reactions to our self for the first hour. Perhaps it was because we were getting restless or because the Mayor said the hot point words that hit a chord with us, but an hour into the panel, we were all starting to show our feelings on what we were hearing and experiencing. All we had to do was make eye contact with one another in order to understand that the told Dr. Bogad had given us in class where at work, applying themselves as a way to connect what we were hearing to what we were feeling.
I have lot of random notes from this panel, which can be read out like a beat poem. In order to hone in on some ideas, I went through and highlighted aspects that jumped out. These notes are a mix of what I was hearing and the connections I was making to what I was hearing. Here they are: cohesive collaboration within the community, show them a better logic-build the ground-now secure it, take ideas and actually put them into action-real purpose in the real world, needs are connected, can’t just fix one-must fix all-only way to prevent the band-aid (Kozol-Mott Haven), don’t use socioeconomic achievement as an excuse BUT you must guide them through-they can’t do it alone, whole needs of a family-not just teaching but food and housing too, America isn’t the best anymore-we need incentives to be the best (Kohn-Good Job), stop changing theories and foundations every 3-4 years-look at basics and bring them into the digital future, take the parents and encourage them to exceed and then their children will want to do the same-show by example.
I just delivered those ideas to you in the order I heard them. I’d like to point out the first and last idea. It starts with a cohesive collaboration in the community which is how we can help to encourage parents to strive for a better life by going after a better career. Then their children will see them as an example and follow suit. The point I’m making in joining these two ideas’ together is that in order to put the parent in a position where they can change their socioeconomic status and be a good role model for their children, we must collaborate ideas together in order to connect with them so we can give them guidance and help lead them to better opportunities. Show them a better logic model, build from the ground up. Stop changing theories every 3-4 years and look, focus, on the basics. Take ideas and actually put them into action. See a pattern here? The observations are in place. The ideas are swirling. Now it’s time to add a bit of action to them, like our good friend Benjamin Franklin suggested centuries ago!
This pattern of collaborate, connect and reflect continued throughout the sessions I took and key-note address. In Artistic Approaches in Cultivating Community the instructor gave us an artsy model of civic pride through collaborative work.  A 6th grade class in New Bedford, MA studied the history of their area and then brainstormed on what they learned. In their conversation, they created a list of pictures from the past, present and their hopes for the future that they joined together with a common element for a mural in their cafeteria.  This helped the students to not only feel proud of where they came from but also build a personal sense of ownership to their part in the community. Even the parents got involved, prepping the panel with whitewash and painting alongside their children. They were given enough patience, persistence and time to complete the project, which garnered the attention of the Historical Society. They students were given an opportunity to look around and notice the place they came from and then to make changes in their environment.
The group that presented The Community Lens showed their students civic engagement through collaborative engagement. They asked their students to visualize peace and justice and to write, talk and capture through photographs what that looked like to them. In working with kids from Providence through City Arts and from Ecuador they were able to show how similar the ideas around peace and justice were. They showed that through reciprocal and enduring relationships, there could be conflict resolution. By using photographs, you didn’t have to speak the same language. Instead you could use non-verbal’s to be together, to communicate together. Stereotypes could be squashed, like they were in the Kahne and Westheimer piece, once the students were able to see the existing humanity in other countries. They discovered that peace and justice looks the same in all places. Perhaps this is a great way to actually help peace and justice on earth come into fruition.
During the keynote address, our presenter focused on the charity versus change model that Kahne and Westhemier shares with us. He does this by flipping the idea of service learning on its head by titling his presentation “Why Service Learning Is Bad.” He spoke about how we needed to engage with our communities again and that service could “solve” that need but only if we started to focus on the whole of the problem instead of the individuals within in the problem or, just as Kozol pointed out, we are only making a temporary fix. He said that we need to change the oppressive elements of reality by redistributing the power because right now we are living in an economic contradiction. McIntosh and Johnson also point this out when they talk about white privilege as well as Delpit in her culture of power. Well-being in the way of success is based on your zip code because those zip codes are often zoned by race and the minorities are always left with the bottom of the heap. The presenter recommended that we combine the work of anthropology, sociology, geography and community studies in order to focus on the whole problem.
My last session was a combination of two subjects. The first was a quick study in Service Learning. They used a design, implement and assess model. Just like in Kahne and Westhemier, the focus is not only on the actual volunteer work but the reflection of it as well. The presenter adds education to the community service umbrella and focuses on two needs; that of the community and that of the student. He shared a story about a student’s experience who discovered that the water in town was toxic so they did further investigation, brought up the issue and worked towards cleaning it up, which they did. But connecting service, education and community they were able to fix a problem that mattered.
The second part of the last session was probably my favourite. In Critical Stance or Critical Dance we learned how to evaluate possibilities and envision alternatives. To take a stance means to speak your opinion at another person and then moving on-it’s not a conversation, instead it’s just spewing out words. While dancing is a form of collaboration where something is created together-it’s a relationship that acts. Dance has elements of fluidity, variation and improv. So a critical dance is a way to share out in the open your opinions and then listen to other’s view as well. The presenter shared a story from the school she works at called School One. A few years ago students had put up posters in the hallway advocating for equal marriage rights. One female student was very upset about and took it up with the Principle. The Principle said that she had every right to her feelings but that a discussion had to take place in order to discuss how they would handle the struggle between her feelings and the students who put up the posters as well as the rest of the student body. Upset, she left the room and ripped down all the posters.
The school had an assembly where they discussed how to handle the subject of hanging posters and also the disciple that should be given to the girl who pulled the posters down. The treated the school as a democracy, one where the students had a say. They decided that the student should make a hate speech poster to show how she made the students who put up the posters feel when she ripped them down. They then discussed how to handle political speech and put rules into place. They would designated an area where students could put up any message they wanted as long as it only focused on your opinion. No words of opposition from the other side of the issue were allowed on the poster, it had to remain positive. The girl saw how her actions affected others and learned from her punishment. Later on she ended up coming to terms with her sexuality and came out. This story showed how to deal with an unavoidable dance through care ethics that ended up transforming the entire school!
As I have mentioned above the themes I saw throughout this conference are collaboration, connection and reflection. I believe these themes have also been prevalent in our classroom throughout all of our discussions on the texts we have read and the experiences we’ve had during out service learning. Topics we have covered in class also came up throughout the conference. Ideas on white privilege (Johnson and McIntosh) and the culture of power (Delpit). The change vs. change model of service learning (Kahne & Westhemier). The look of education and life of those in the low class (Kozol). The safe spaces we can create for LQGBTV students (August). And actually tuning our minds in order to notice and analyze all of this (Christensen). As Dr. Bogad pointed out in the beginning of the semester, if you had bad eyesight, why wouldn’t you want to wear glasses so you could see better? Through the topics we have worked on in class, we now have super charged glasses which give us the power to see clearly what is really going on in our country. Together through collaboration, connection and reflection, we can make the changes we truly wish to see!

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