Friday, March 17, 2017

Terese Jurgensen ~ Director of Student Services/Special Education ~ March 17, 2017

Margaret J. Wheatley

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope...

 Berrett-Koshler Publishers, Inc., 2002

Since 1966, Margaret Wheatley   has worked seeking to understand ways of perceiving and working that give us the capacity to deal well and sanely with an ever-changing world. Her work, writings and teachings are a constant and consistent invitation to see the world with new eyes. One of Wheatley's well-known books is "Leadership and the New Science," where she seeks to challenge her readers to leave the "Industrial Mode of Thinking" (Top-Down Leadership) and to understand that relationships, collaboration and change are the only route to transforming our lives and bringing peace to chaos for our world. As we read today's news it easy easy to see that education "as we once knew it" is changing. I am excited for these changes. I believe they are necessary and transformational. 

It is my thought, and supported by Wheatley, that change, although most people do not like it, is necessary to prepare to lay the groundwork for great things to happen and for education to finally break free of its outdated industrial mode of thinking. This change in order will truly prepare students to be successful in the 21st Century. I have thought a lot about this fact over the weekend and reread an article written by Margaret Wheatley that she presented to business leaders in San Francisco fifteen years ago. Much of the article that I have included here is from this article. These sections are written in bold print ~ italics are my words. 

“Willing to Be Disturbed”
As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally—our willingness to be disturbed. Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think. No one person or perspective can give us the answers we need to the [educationally] problems of today. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don’t know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time. I see this as one of the greatest challenges in education. My passion and my purpose is to help students to overcome the hurdles of challenging behaviors: executive functioning deficits, social thinking/perspective taking deficits and social/emotional challenges caused by trauma. The greatest hurdle to overcome is to support educators in understanding that students aren't doing this on purpose and that these challenges are first tackled through understanding students' brains and their functions. This challenge is not unique to all teachers (certainly not at Howard-Winneshiek) ~ however, it is an outdated and painfully misguided mindset. 

We weren’t trained to admit we don’t know. Most of us were taught to sound certain and confident, to state our opinion as if it were true. We haven’t been rewarded for being confused. Or for asking more questions rather than giving quick answers. We’ve also spent many years listening to others mainly to determine whether we agree with them or not. We don’t have time or interest to sit and listen to those who think differently than we do. In education there are many reasons for this, but one of the greatest challenges from a personal perspective is that we are so busy testing kids, that we forget that they are people first. 

But the world now is quite perplexing. We no longer live in those sweet, slow days when life felt predictable, when we actually knew what to do next. We live in a complex world, we often don’t know what’s going on, and we won’t be able to understand its complexity unless we spend more time in not knowing. It is very difficult to give up our certainties—our positions, our beliefs, our explanations. These help define us; they lie at the heart of our personal identity. Yet I believe we will succeed in changing this world only if we can think and work together in new ways. Curiosity is what we need. We don’t have to let go of what we believe, but we do need to be curious about what someone else believes. 

We live in a dense and tangled global system. Because we live in different parts of this complexity, and because no two people are physically identical, we each experience life differently. It’s impossible for any two people to ever see things exactly the same. 

To be curious about how someone else interprets things, we have to be willing to admit that we’re not capable of figuring things out alone.  This goes back to Wheatley's base belief and one that I have had an opportunity to experience as a social worker, a missionary, a parent and as an educator ~ collaboration is key to effectiveness. I recall an experience I had as a parent for my children when I asked a question on the culture/community of the school they attended. The response given to me was, "I don't know - I just shut my door and teach!" Wow! John Carver, Superintendent of Howard-Winneshiek CSD has stated time and time again, "Silos must come down. Great Educational opportunities occur through collaboration." 

If our solutions don’t work as well as we want them to, if our explanations of why something happened don’t feel sufficient, it’s time to begin asking others about what they see and think......I can’t understand why we would be satisfied with superficial conversations where we pretend to agree with one another. The industrial mode of education is riddled with superficial conversations. From my perspective teachers are afraid of honest ~hard~ fierce conversations. Over the years, I have had countless conversations with educators helping them to speak the truth to their co-worker and not to avoid the hard conversations that are educationally imperative to the lives and education of our students. It is so important in education (actually in life) to be assertive and not aggressive. To speak the truth in love with the end goal of challenging each other to be better teachers, better people and ultimately to be more effective in the most important profession in the world. The education of the next generation ~ "These students are our countries future" (Max Garcia, Holocaust Survivor). 

There are many ways to sit and listen for the differences.... If what you say surprises me, I must have been assuming something else was true. If what you say disturbs me, I must believe something contrary to you. My shock at your position exposes my own position. When I hear myself saying, “How could anyone believe something like that?” a light comes on for me to see my own beliefs. These moments are great gifts. If I can see my beliefs and assumptions, I can decide whether I still value them.....When we listen with less judgment, we always develop better relationships with each other. It’s not differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do. A personal and professional goal that I have for myself is to become an educational leader that has the ability to understand more of the issues that cause the FEARS that disturb educational institutions create resistance to change. It is my hope that in understanding the basis for these fears will enable me to be a leader that can encourage and support Second Order Change that the students in our country so desperately need. Curiosity and good listening bring us back together. 

Sometimes we hesitate to listen for differences because we don’t want to change. We’re comfortable with our lives, and if we listened to anyone who raised questions, we’d have to get engaged in changing things. If we don’t listen, things can stay as they are and we won’t have to expend any energy. But most of us do see things in our life or in the world that we would like to be different. If that’s true, we have to listen more, not less....

We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new. Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives. This Great Abyss is a vital part of the Hero's Journey. In order for education to make the heroic change that is critical ~ The Abyss ~ must be something craved and indeed sought for. Great ideas and inventions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing. If we can move through the fear and enter the abyss, we are rewarded greatly. 

We rediscover we’re creative
As the world grows more strange and puzzling and difficult, I don’t believe most of us want to keep struggling through it alone, I can’t know what to do from my own narrow perspective. I know I need a better understanding of what’s going on.....

In Conclusion....
Margaret Wheatley's Words...Mirror My Thoughts Exactly:
I need new ideas and solutions for the problems I care about. I know I need to talk to you to discover those. I need to learn to value your perspective, and I want you to value mine. I expect to be disturbed by what I hear from you. I know we don’t have to agree with each other in order to think well together......

There is no need for us to be joined at the head. We are joined by our human hearts. 

                                 Have a great week!
              If you need to reach me ~ Terese Jurgensen,

                      Please do at (563) 929-6344

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