Which of these systems is not like the other, Part 1

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about systemic change lately. While it may seem counterintuitive, a few experiences I’ve had recently have started me thinking that the church in which I advocate for change is changing faster than the education system in which I do the same. This will probably be the first post of a few, as I work through what I’m learning and feeling.

We call our worship community The Open Circle. Photo credit: Flickr user Thomas Hawk via cc

I have the privilege of being part of a worship community that has managed to create the kind of accepting space that I strive to build in my classroom. Our group includes people who might be marginalized anywhere else. We have adults from community living environments, those living with dementia, the under-housed and under-employed, along with a smattering of retired academics and university students. The liturgy, such as it is, includes reading of scripture and prayer but also a piece of secular writing (poetry, rap, song, essay) (an example: An indiscriminate act of kindness) on the week’s scripture theme. The reflection, or sermon, might be led by a clergy or lay person and always includes the opportunity for discussion and exchange of ideas. One reflection strategy we use which I find particularly meaningful is called lectio divina.
In lectio divina, the Gospel is read, and then each person in the circle (yes, we sit in a circle) who wishes to participate speaks the word or phrase that most stuck out for them in the reading. After everyone has had a chance to speak, the scripture is read again, and anyone who chooses to can share why that particular word or phrase was what spoke to them – or they can decide that the second time through, something else drew their focus.

Lectio divina offers me a variety of lenses on the week’s reading. Photo credit: Flickr user Yuma Abe via cc

What I love about lectio divina is the chance to hear the different perspectives of the astounding collection of people I worship with. A community activist in her 80s may respond quite differently than my 16 year old son, or they might discover that the same thing called to both of them. There are no wrong answers, there is no judgement, everyone’s voice is valid. It is, for me, an experience of overwhelming mutual respect and I am humbled by it. It also always leaves me struggling with why this environment is so hard to build in my classroom.
Why does this unconventional worship space work? Because it is driven by the community it serves. It was created because people were looking for a more interactive worship experience, a Sunday morning experience with a facilitator rather than an instructor, a community of co-learners. A traditional church took a chance on running two services at the same time to allow people the opportunity of choice, and to meet a variety of needs.
I know that one big difference between my worship environment and my classroom environment is that I get to make that choice. There is no “religion act” in Ontario that says I must have my butt in some form of pew for a set number of hours per week. The community I worship with is there because they want to be, and many of my students this year make it abundantly clear that they don’t want to be at school. That breaks my heart, and spurs me to continue my efforts to create a space as safe and engaging as the one that welcomes me on Sunday morning.
Which brings me to some of my first questions. If an institutionalized system like the Anglican Church of Canada can start to read the writing on the wall and know that it must adapt or die, why does it seem so hard for the education system to read the same graffiti? How do we work to build a learning space where it is safe to be yourself, and not worry about being marked as different – where all are valued for what they bring to the community? What’s worked for you, in trying to create that kind of space? Your thoughts and ideas, as always, are welcome.

Let the sparks fly.

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6 thoughts on “Which of these systems is not like the other, Part 1

  1. Lisa, thank you for this post. I loved reading about the adaptations that your church has used to meet the needs of your community, and then thought about the temptation for someone else who may think that, because it’s working for you, would introduce it to another community. Sometimes this happens in education — a particular practice is used, then shared — but without meaning or context, can backfire in wrong situation.
    Change can be transformative when it is truly – and thoughtfully – responsive to people and their situation, but there is a fine line between wanting change and introducing a new system or practice that is an imposition or band-aid solution. Change is personal. I wonder if change can be implemented in education if the changes are made in isolation, from the Ministry — or if remedies are needed at the school level instead. The more I think about it, the more complex it becomes.

    • And that’s one of the dilemmas with systemic change. One of the things I’m admiring as I see churches adapting is a willingness from upper levels to let congregations figure models out for themselves, and be responsive to parishioners. We are encouraged to share different models to see what we can learn from each other, but cookie-cutter is not expected or desired.

      I’m starting to see more willingness to look at classroom design on a class by class basis. That’s a step in the right direction. I’d love to see more of those.

  2. Hi Lisa; thanks for tagging me so I could see and read your reflections.
    You asked:
    1) why does it seem so hard for the education system to read the same graffiti?
    2) How do we work to build a learning space where it is safe to be yourself, and not worry about being marked as different – where all are valued for what they bring to the community? 3) What’s worked for you, in trying to create that kind of space?

    You answer the first question earlier in your post. It’s “driven by the community it serves” and involves lots of choice. In education, who is the true community? Teachers? Students? Parents? Or a combination of these and more? Is what we want at the beginning of our careers (if we are focusing on teachers) what we want later on? Is what a JK wants similar to a Grade 8 or 12? How quick are we to pick up the “culture of school” so much that we ignore what we might truly want and select the reasons and purposes already laid out by others before us? And if there’s so much choice and variety, how do the other community members (e.g. parents) choose? One of the ways my principal tries to alleviate the advocacy that comes around May and June when parents try to request specific teachers for their children is that the experiences will be similar because the teachers are “on the same page”. And then, how much do adults truly want to listen to young people? My own students are quick to answer when I ask “why do we come to school” with the single word LEARN. Do they always? Or is it more about play, or socializing, and how do we honour that and the possibly competing purposes of parents, administrators, etc.?

    For Q2 (and part of Q3) I really liked the book (and the training) for Tribes TLC (c). It used to be a 24 hour class (usually spread over 8 sessions). It is a magic wand? No, but it helped me develop some tools.

    I should stop procrastinating and return to my pile of marking (*grumble grumble*) Thanks for giving me something to chew on mentally.

  3. Oh, you are amazing! Thanks so much for giving me a ton to chew on. There’s so much in your questions, and I am looking forward (after I deal with my own pile of “grumble, grumble” and write a proposal or two for BIT) to diving in.
    You are so right that one of the big differences between the system I work in, and the system I worship in is that “being driven by the community it serves” is somewhat simpler in the church context. I really want to focus on the student part of my community. I want to create a space that has comfortable room for those who may not want to be there, as well as those who really, really do want to be there. You really made me think with the parent request piece….I know at a previous school, parents of students going into Grade 8 strongly advocated for one teacher. We puzzled and puzzled about it (the teacher included, who was an excellent teacher). After talking to some parents and students, the realization came that this teacher’s style was very comfortable for parents because it most closely resembled their own Grade 8 experience.

    That has me thinking, as I often do, that we need to bridge the parent-classroom gap better (as well as the Grade 8- Grade 9 gap). Thanks for reminding me how many stakeholders there are in my community.

    I’m off to church to charge my batteries! Have a wonderful day.

  4. Pingback: This Week in Ontario Edublogs – doug — off the record

  5. Lisa, once again, I look to the new K Program Document. It is fascinating reading that I would recommend educators in all grades read. What comes across loudly in this document is to really focus on the whole child and meet the diverse needs of each individual child. When I look on Twitter, at blogs, and in classrooms around our school, I see people making these changes. Even just all of the discussion about self-regulation tells me this change is happening. I think that we’re looking more at what individual students need and trying to meet this need. Could it be that systemic change takes longer? Could it be that these differences seem easier for children to accept at a younger age than an older one (I’m not so sure everyone agrees with me on that)? Maybe it’s something else altogether. Thoughts?

    Aviva

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