Summary of the Five Disciplines of a Learning Organization by Rea Gill
Detailed in The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge (1994)
1 Systems Thinking
Senge (1994) describes systems thinking as a “discipline that involves approaching problem solving and addressing issues, not by focusing on isolated events or parts of the whole but rather by looking at the patterns and events as interrelated parts that effect and are affected by each other and that collectively make up a unified and inseparable whole .” (p .7)
2 Personal Mastery
“Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our [the members of the organization’s] personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively .” (p .7)
3 Mental Models
“Mental models” are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures
or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action …
The discipline of working with mental models starts with turning the mirror inward, learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny . It also includes the ability to carry on “learningful” conversations that balance inquiry and advocacy, where people expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others . (pp .8–9)
4 Shared Vision
The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared “pictures of the
future” that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance .
The discipline of team learning starts with “dialogue,” the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine “thinking together .” … The discipline of dialogue also involves learning how to recognize the patterns of interaction in teams that undermine learning . The patterns of defensiveness are often deeply engrained in how a team operates . If unrecognized, they undermine learning . If recognized and surfaced creatively, they can actually accelerate learning . (pp .7–10)
From A School as a Living Entity by Rea Gill
Basic Principles of a Living Organization by Rea Gill
There are two major challenges to the ongoing creative activity of an evolving organization, much like there are two elements to managing our individual lives. We have to deal within each moment and each day with what is living growing and evolving immediately before us and widely around us. We also must look at the present moment in relationship to the whole of our life and our life in the whole of culture and humanity’s evolution.
It is actually easier to perceive and understand the form, processes and evolution of a human being than it is an organization. The principles of human development are a part of us and as educators, it is something we have trained ourselves to perceive and that we continue to develop with our colleagues every day. We experience theses principles through our life. In our organizations, especially in schools, the principles of organizational development can also be evident but because organizations are social creations involving numerous people and have greater levels of complexity, it is harder to see and work with the processes that guide our organizations. Whereas in education, though we have classes and a student body we are a part of, students stand before us as objective reality and we are outside them. With a school, it is harder to see the whole life of the organism as we do not stand outside it in the same way. As teachers, we know it can be helpful at times to try to enter into the beingness of the student to gain insight about their nature. As social creators, it is equally as helpful to try to step outside the organization to gain perspective.
Once we step outside, we take a step towards becoming social scientists.
Here are basic principles related to the school as a living entity with thoughts on how the ideas can be practically helpful:
The school is a living entity:
Just like our approach to the nurturing of the students in our care, it changes things to think of the school, not as a problem to solve, but as a mystery that is unfolding. Once we start to see the school as a set of problems to be solved, it is easy to forget that it is the wholeness of the being that must be the place of our attention. Diagnosing and trying to solve school problems is similar to diagnosing and trying to change the behavior of the students. We need to consider the whole being. It is much more effective to look at the constitution and development of the student or the school. The use of metaphors is most helpful in this realm. How would you describe your organization if it were a person? How would you draw a picture of your organization as a landscape? Often a creative approach helps reveal insights about the quality and nature of the whole school.
The school has a biography
The founding gesture and impulse of the school, much like the conditions around the birth of a child, provide a signature to understand and provide insights into the unfolding life of the being. Every beginning has three basic elements: parents (or founders), family heredity (or culture), and the individuality/or vision. It is important for those in leadership positions in an organization to regularly reconnect with the founding (celebrate founder’s day, recognize founders, retell the founding story) for the signature of the organization will be discernable and shared. In addition, the significant turning points in life whether they are accidents or growth opportunities, have an effect on the growing being. So too do the major events in an organizations life: major crises, conflicts and cultural shifts. I have worked with a number of schools where the lack of resolution or healing of a past crisis was actually holding the community back, and where a conscious effort towards healing/resolution/understanding allowed the community to move forward with more trust and unity. Annually, there are times when a review of the year and how it fits into the ongoing biography can yield insights into its next steps in development.
The school grows and develops through phases in relationship to social laws
While each school is a unique endeavor, (not like a franchise that is intended to be exactly like its siblings) the school moves through phases that can be observed and understood. The character of these phases is both general and uniquely connected to one institution. A good description of the phases and their qualities, challenges and opportunities, is offered in Chris Schaefer’s Phases of School Development posted in this newsletter. A school, like any organization, is a social creation made by people that follows social laws. (It may be creative but in the end not helpful to try to depict the relationship between the years of a humans life and the organizations life. It often become too conceptual and leads people away from a deeper observation and understanding of the organization’s life and of the underlying social laws that govern its growth and development.)
The school is a social organism made by people.
The founders of the school and their ongoing relationship to the school has a profound impact on the unfolding life of the institution. The relationship between founders and organization and its challenges is well documented in non-profit literature. But the school also grows gradually through the gifts of those who are involved over time. As a social creation, it is important to understand that the entire organism changes (to a greater or lessor degree) with the addition of one new member. As teachers we know this is true in our classes – the addition of one child changes the entire configuration of the class in subtle or not subtle ways. With this imagination, it becomes more important how we incorporate (orient, invite and socialize) people into the organization and how we support and encourage their development and participation in the organization. As organizations grow in size, it is helpful to consider forming a group or organ that has as one of its primary responsibilities the incorporation of new families in to the school.
The school has body, soul and spirit
All three aspects of the being of the school need attention and behind each aspect there are principles that are uniquely important – it has physical structures and resources needing to be sustained; it has people and relationships woven into a community and culture needing to be nurtured; and it has ideas, principles, policies and processes that need conscious attention, ongoing renewal and re-creation. It is important in the ongoing renewal of the organization that the spiritual dimension is attended to regularly – a little in each meeting through developing a culture of inspiration, and more fully annually in reviewing the mission and vision. Staying connected to the vision is key to organizational harmony.
The school is part of its environment and the greater culture
Like any being, the school is an integral part of its environment and has an ecological importance. The health of the organism is related to the quality of the relationships it has with the world around it. How an organization participates and takes an interest in the community out of which it was born contributes much to its success. Unfortunately, this aspect of board work is quite often the one most frequently moved aside to deal with more pressing issues.
The school has a physiology
The school’s physiology includes a physical form and substance, a set of processes connected to its life in the world, organs for supporting the processes, a set of ideas and principles that continually shape and recreate it and a purpose/individuality that guides it. And all of these elements of the physiology are created by people and thus reflect social ideals. Torin Finser explores these relationships and qualities in depth in his book, “Organizational Integrity.”
A school learns as it grows
Over time, a school can take its experiences and learn from them, turning the lessons in to institutional wisdom. The wisdom lives both in the individuals and in the policies and procedures established. Like all life, the challenges that come from the future as opportunities for change test our core beliefs. It is very helpful for the community to commit to articulating their core beliefs/values and to regularly come back to renew and evolve them. The way that the school gathers its wisdom has a significant affect on the parents and the students of the community.
It has a lifespan
An organization’s lifespan is affected by the initial purpose and the changing nature of the culture. Ecologically if there is no longer a need for or support for the organism, then the organism cannot continue. This is important to keep our eyes on as we look into the future and explore aspects of sustainability. We already see a change in the culture of education since 2000. From 1980-2000 almost 100 new schools were founded. Since 2000 there have been, in North America, relatively few.
|Every organization is a social creation with a unique purpose||The ongoing role of founders has a significant effect on organization.|
|Every organization has a biography||The biography of an organization does not follow the life phases of a person. It has unique patterns and transition points.|
|There are social laws that govern the life of organizations|
|An organization is born out of its surrounding community||Its relationship with the community determines to a great degree how strong its roots are.|
|An organization grow, lives and learns in relations to its leadership|
|It has a physiology of structures, ideas, principles, and processes|
|An organization has a relationship to the threefold nature of social life|
|An organization expresses healthy or not so healthy effects.|
|It grows and learns through mistakes and crisis||It experiences the equivalent of inflammation (heat) and Sclerosis (hardening, or being overly fixed) Both sclerosis and inflammation are important aspects of its healthy life.|
This article was published in the British journal, Kindling. Contact information is at the end of the article.
Chaos in everyday life – about cleaning and caring
When it comes to housekeeping, the concepts of disorder and chaos often get confused. In our households, order is often related to a certain regularity and clarity. I call a room orderly, when everything is in its place and I can easily orientate myself and find my way around without fuss. However, as soon as I start working in the room, or the children start playing around in it, the order very soon turns into disorder. Order seems to have this special quality of merging into disorder without much effort, yet the opposite never occurs. I have to consciously intervene in order to re-establish the lost order.
In the Kabbalah, the story of Creation tells us that God withdrew Himself, thus producing a void. The chaos that arose within this void formed the substance from which the world was then created.
In our homes, we very often face chaos. The mere fact that we have countless ways and means, in which we can structure our daily lives, puts us face to face with chaos. We have the opportunity of purposefully re-establishing order and structure where formlessness and haphazardness have taken over.
When I clean, I do not simply want to remove dirt, I consciously try to create space for something new. Removing dust and dirt, results in a void – this void I put at the disposal of helping spiritual beings who are linked to the place I am cleaning, that something new and positive may come about.
About fourteen years ago, I started an ecological cleaning company, in order to be able to finance the Waldorf School tuition for my children. In the very beginning, I was not only the “boss”, I was the only employee and also apprentice. I had so much to learn, not only about the right equipment and cleaning agents; it was important to learn how to conserve my strength, how to protect myself, and most of all, I wanted to learn how to respect the space of other people.
The attitude that we have, regarding the work we do, is of the utmost importance. If we are unable to lead the meditative spiritual life we wish to lead, we can try to find a spiritual attitude towards everything we do in our daily lives. In other words, if you are not able to do what you love, you should try to love what you do. Things that repeat themselves constantly either turn into routine, which can have a very dulling effect; or you can try to make an exercise of awareness out of the most menial task, and already you are starting on your spiritual path.
I found an anecdote I heard a long time ago, very helpful in this regard. In a monastery, there lived a monk who was quite simple and all the menial tasks were given to him, such as washing the dishes, sweeping and scrubbing the floors and so on. He did not mind this, did all his chores lovingly while always pronouncing little prayers while doing his work. “Dear God, as I wash this dish, please send one of Your angels to wash my heart and make it pure” or “Dear God, as I clean this floor, please send one of Your angels to help me, that every person who walks on this floor, may be touched by his presence.” For every chore, he had a prayer and he continued working in this way for a great many years. The legend says that one morning as he woke up, he was enlightened and people came from very far to listen to his wisdom.
Many memories of things my father and mother once said have come back to me. We are seven brothers and sisters, and one of my brothers often came to the breakfast table in a very bad mood. My dad used to ask: “Did you get out of bed with your left foot again?” Many years later, I turned this remark into an exercise. When I wake up in the morning, I try to put myself in the upright position straight away and then very consciously, I try to always put my right foot forward when I get out of bed, thus doing something positive to start my day.
I started doing things in this way, and after a certain time, I made a very important discovery. There exists a great difference between cleaning and caring. When we clean, we remove dirt, and the result of cleaning sometimes does not even last five minutes. At the Goetheanum, you have barely cleaned the hallway, and already someone walks over it, leaving footmarks everywhere. The same goes for parents with young children. For this very reason, many people consider cleaning a frustrating and unrewarding activity, a troublesome necessity.
Yet, we should try to do this task with our full awareness, with all our love. Once we learn to consciously penetrate each little corner with our fingertips, then cleaning takes on a nurturing aspect and becomes caring. And what is so wonderful about it, is that the result of caring, lasts considerably longer than the result of removing dirt! When we have taken special care of a room, the little bit of fresh dirt which is brought in, is barely disturbing, one can live with it. The radiation is totally different from areas where layers of dirt and grime have built up......Lately a new cleaning culture, which we should really try to prevent, is trying to establish itself. There is supposedly a spray for everything – you spray and you wipe away – not much water is needed! One does indeed remove a small quantity of dirt, but instead of caring for a surface, you leave a chemical layer behind, containing quantities of dissolved dirt.
While caring for a room, we do not only come into contact with the physical world. The whole atmosphere changes, the room is filled with light. Especially children react strongly to this transformation and they also seem to perceive the change directly. We once gave a big house around here a very thorough spring clean. Returning from school, the ten year old boy immediately wanted to know whether the walls had been painted, as the house seemed so bright and shiny.
Only we can decide how seriously we take this occupation. For me, caring for a space is very fundamental. Every living organism thrives on caring, be it a child, a plant, an organism like the Goetheanum, a school, our personal household and very important, our relationships. After a workshop, one of the participants told me about her experience of the healing influence conscious caring for household can have. She had been married for fifteen years and somewhere along the line the relationship got caught in a rut. Their barely five year old house was already neglected even though it was not even quite finished. No sooner had she started applying what she had learned in our course, did her husband also start finishing things around the house. Later he told her, that as soon as she started caring for the home again, he not only felt respected but he also felt that she was aware of him again.
Consciously caring for the home enhances our sense of perception and this is what enables us to release the elemental beings, thus creating space for something new. We are constantly surrounded by and in contact with elemental, as well as countless other invisible beings. We release the elemental beings by consciously perceiving that which surrounds us – when we remove dirt, wash our hair, air the room or light a candle. A totally different atmosphere is created when we leave the burned porridge pot overnight on the stove, or when we choose to ignore the specks of cream that remain on the wall after whipping it.
We release other elemental beings through diligence and gayety, through contentment and composure.
All elemental beings can not be treated in the same way. In a school where we cleaned, there was one room with a particularly bad smell. I tried everything to get rid of the smell: my ecological cleaning agents, chemical agents, with my steam-cleaner I tried to clear even the smallest crevice. Nothing helped, the smell remained. I then assumed that I was not kind enough to the room. With loving care I again went through the whole procedure, even singing whilst cleaning. As there was still no improvement, I accepted that I would have to learn to live with it. I few weeks later I arrived at the school feeling hot and tired, and as I opened the door to the room, the odour was so intense and seemed so aggressive that I became furious. I ripped the window open, stamped my foot on the floor, shouting: “I have enough of you! I AM HERE, and there is not enough room for all of us – get out!!” Like a fury I went through the room, angrily cleaning it from top to bottom. The odour was gone! A few months later a colleague took over the job and after explaining the attitude to have toward these beings, she also managed to keep them away.
The opposite of caring is neglect. I perceive neglect as something creeping. It starts in all those little corners we do not penetrate. It comes creeping from behind the cupboards, from under bed and behind the curtains where we find so many cobwebs.
Then most houses have certain drawers......There is the oven, the vent above the stove, the windowsills where we have our collections of stones and plants. By and by it seems to take over until we can no longer stand it. Then, like a flash we speed through the house in an attempt to put everything back in order.
Many mothers and fathers feel overwhelmed and under pressure to keep the house tidy and clean. A young mother once told me: “I have been working hard the whole day, and by the time I finally had the kitchen cleared after supper, nothing seem to have been done at all. We tried to reconstruct the day, and this it what it looked like: She intended cleaning the parents’ bathroom upstairs. Just as she wanted to start cleaning, she remembered that she used the cleaning agent to clean the basin in the laundry in the cellar three days ago. So down she went to the cellar, only to discover a very smelly cat-litter box right next to the washing machine. Of course that had to be cleaned and refilled immediately. She closed the soiled litter in a bag which was taken into the garage. There she discovered piles of old newspapers and other paper, which needed to be bundled for the paper recycling which was to be collected the following day. After looking for the string for a while, she remembered that her son and his friends used to it build a cable car in the attic. Up the stairs she went and fortunately, as a bonus, she found a pullover, which has been missing for several days, next to the string... By the time she had finally bundled all the paper, it was time to start preparing lunch. Then followed a dentist appointment and music lessons. That evening, when she finally stood in the bathroom to brush her teeth, she remembered that the cleaning agent was still in the laundry.
Often it is not the work we have done which tires us, the mere thought of all the things that still need doing really exhausts us.
I know that it is not always possible to plan things in advance, because there are always those unforeseen things that happen. Yet it can be a great help, once we have decided to do something specific, to prepare everything we will need for the task the evening before. The will is activated in a totally different way once we have made up our minds to do something and then sleep over it. The household should not be a compulsion. Men and women should be master of their household and not the other way round. Yet it is important that we do not try to fool ourselves. It is the way a task is fulfilled that distinguishes the maid from the princess.
The image of the equilateral triangle helps me a lot when it comes to balance. There is thinking, feeling, willing; you, partner, children; time for work, family and yourself. The only person that knows what that triangle looks like is you.
We so often say, “I must do this, I must do that, that absolutely needs to be done….says who? You say it and I say it. We are the ones who overtax ourselves with those high expectations and demands we set ourselves. Another reason for being overwhelmed is that we do not have enough faith in all those invisible helpers who surround us. There are angels, elemental beings, the spirits of our homes…..When we get up in the morning and greet the day, nothing prevents us from asking the angels to help us to at least spend part of our day in harmony. (Perhaps until 8am, just to ensure success!) When I was in Sunday school, the pastor told us that the angels up there in heaven are totally bored because they do not have enough to do. So many requests are addressed to them which they are not allowed to answer. And then all of a sudden there is a child, or in our case, an adult who stands by the window requesting help to create harmony in the home. FINALLY! We have something to do, they say, and rush in to help us!
Before I started being the housemother of the Goetheanum, I use to regularly stand in for the person who was responsible for cleaning the toilets. I used to start at 6 in the morning, cleaning 64 toilets every day, often singing to make the job easier. For cleaning the toilets, I have my own method. There is the daily care, and then the thorough cleaning once or when necessary twice a week. Then the toilet gets cleaned from top to bottom, the whole bit. This of course requires a little more time. As the bending, cleaning, turning, bending again use to make me quite dizzy, I decided to clean the toilets kneeling down. Once you kneel down in front of a toilet, something changes. It is quite subtle, there is a change in attitude, the way one perceives it, the way you do the work, the encounter with the elemental beings. Once the job is done, I have to get up again…..I tried to also change this into a conscious exercise of putting myself in the upright position. This experience was so rich and fulfilling, that even today, if I have the choice, I will rather clean 20 toilets than vacuum clean a carpet. I love this work also because I always consider it a special gift when I am able to use a toilet that is clean and well cared for.
Last year I was in Norway to give cleaning workshops. The morning courses were in English and in the afternoons they were repeated in German. The first afternoon a woman came to me and asked me if she could still participate, as she had not signed up for the course. She mentioned that she really considered it quite a cheek that someone had to come from Dornach to tell them how to clean. Yet when her husband came home from the course and announced that she had to wait with the dishing up as he first wanted to clean the toilet, she simply had to come and see who had caused such a miracle. Her husband had never cleaned a toilet before….
Once I start talking about cleaning, I can continue for hours. And it truly is a never-ending subject. How do we clean? With what do we clean? How can we learn to discover the deeper meaning of cleaning and learn to love it? How can we educate our children (and sometimes our partner!) to pay attention to the small things and to carry an action through to its end? For instance, how do we teach them that, after wiping the table clean, the cloth needs to be rinsed, wrung and hung out to dry, rather than just dropping it into a heap in the basin, still covered with butter and bread crumbs.
This reminds me of another anecdote. A few years ago I was asked to give a lecture about my work here in the Goetheanum. The day before the lecture, an elderly gentleman phoned me to tell me how happy he was to hear that I was going to talk about something as practical as cleaning. He personally knew Hanny Geck (who helped Rudolf Steiner with the carving of the Representative of Man) and she had told him this story: Whenever Rudolf Steiner was called away from his work on the statue, he would always sweep up all the woodcarvings and chips lying on the floor and place them in the garbage can. Although she had often offered to do this, he insisted on doing it himself. One day she asked him why he took the trouble to sweep up everything even if he had to leave for only a few minutes. His answer was something like this: “While I am working, everything I work with is part of my working material and I am master of the situation. As soon as I stop working and leave the studio, everything that lies on the floor is garbage and therefore belongs in the garbage can, because the beings who feel at home in garbage, are not the kind of beings we want around when working artistically.
Finally I would like to tell you about an experience which showed me, that we should never underestimate the importance of lovingly caring for our surroundings, and the opportunity it can give us to create space for something new. These are the precious moments that enable us to constructively contribute towards peace and renewal.
I was requested to do a thorough cleaning of a home for juvenile delinquents because they were planning an open door day. As I was shocked by the state of extreme neglect and filth the house was in, I wanted to know who was responsible for the upkeep of the place. “The youths” replied the educator. “But who teaches them how to do it?” “The educators do that”. I then wanted to know if there was an area that was cleaned by the educators, and he showed me the rest quarters for the people in charge of the nightshift. Of course this was no better and I told him so. It annoyed him slightly and he wanted to know whether I wanted the job or not. I said that I was very eager to do it, but not with my own employees. My offer to come with all my equipment and material, but to clean with the youths and educators, came as a bit of a surprise. As this had never been done, he had to consult with the board first. I incidentally mentioned that the charge would be Fr. 3000.-if I came with my employees and Fr. 600- if I came on my own. The offer was accepted but then I had yet another condition. Because I have never worked with youths and I am neither a pedagogue nor an educator, I believed that I would need the support of their guardian angels. Therefore I wanted to meet the youths and learn their names before working with them. I was invited to have breakfast with them.
There were ten young boys aged 13 to 18 living in this house, and as five of them spent weekends with their family at a time, the work was planned for two weekends. The house has three stories and the whole stairwell was painted with the most horrific, demonic pictures in black and very bright colours.
Our job was to clean windows, heaters, doors, floors, showers and toilets. Yet once they started, they wanted to clean everything. They started removing posters and stickers from their walls and wardrobes. One boy even took his whole bed apart and in the process found a whole pile of missing clothes. Another wanted me to show him how he could clean his hi-fi set “ecologically”……Of course they could not work without music, and some music it was! To me it sounded like a mixture of an express train and a machine gun. The boy who chose the music actually told me it filled him with energy, although I could not see a trace of it. He wanted to know what I like listening to and I told him that I still liked listening to some of the old sixties’ music that I listened to when I was his age. All of a sudden I heard Cat Stevens’ “Morning has broken” and it sounded like a symphony in comparison to the earlier “noise”. I was even able to convince him that it was easier to clean a window to the rhythm of “Morning has broken” than to the “tu-dum, tu-dum, tu-dum” we heard before.
There was a wonderful working atmosphere and we managed to get a lot done.
Upon my return the following Saturday, the most wonderful surprise awaited me. The five boys who had cleaned with me, asked permission to take Monday off and with their own money they bought paint and repainted the stairwell from top to bottom, thoroughly covering the walls with white paint. But they did not leave it at that. The complete surface was covered with naïve childlike pictures - houses with green doors, pink curtains and smoking chimneys.
Trees covered with red apples and cherries. There were daffodils and tulips and children flying kites under a beaming sun. There were even birds, butterflies and tiny little snails crawling in the grass.
These “tough”, severely socially damaged young people felt the need to create a world of beauty and harmony on those walls, filling void, the space created though their own efforts.
Kindling, the Journal of the Early Childhood Group, Steiner Schools Fellowship
3 Church Lane, Balsham
Cambridge CB1 6DS
Tel/Fax: 01223 890988
E mail: JanniSteinerEY@aol.com
Understanding and Redefining Transparency and Accountability
If I had a nickel for every time someone said the phrase, “We need more accountability and transparency in our school!” I could buy a lot of lattes for my wife! Instead I am launching a campaign to rid our organizations of both words. I can’t remember when either word was mentioned in a positive vein or without someone cringing. Besides being quite negative. These terms have become intelligent-sounding catch phrases for things that people little understand.
The demand for transparency usually means “ Quit being so sly and secretive and withholding information from others.” The real issue is .are we communicating in the right ways about the right things? How are we communicating overall? Can I trust that you will tell me what I need to know when something affects me?
We would do a lot better to explore the questions of communication and information sharing. “There is a lack of transparency” is already an accusation of villainous behavior. Wouldn’t it be better to agree on what kind of information should be shared in what situations? There is also the aspect of transparency relating to whether someone is being honest. In this case we should focus on honesty, rather than transparency
Transparency is not a virtue. It is not even a healthy organizational practice. Good communication is an admirable quality in an individual and an organization.
With accountability. the situation is similar. When someone mentions accountability, it usually comes with a hard edge and a cringe or shrug of the shoulder. It would better if we could speak honestly about issues of quality and commitment to core principles and how we hold one another other to those expectations in our organizations. Accountability is never listed as a desirable human attribute. On the other hand, a highly-principled person committed to quality is looked up to and is an asset to any organization
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Only in this case we have the wrong name for very important characteristics and principles that can guide, inspire and lift us up in our work. I cast my vote for referring to “good communication” and “a commitment to quality.” Let’s let the terms “transparency and accountability” wither and fade on the vine of vague negative concepts.
We are currently working on the theme of, yes, Accountability (how to maintain agreements and quality) for one of our next newsletters. If you have something to contribute let me know.
“Let your loyalty to another human being come about in this way: there will be moments — quickly passing by — when he will seem to you filled and illumined by the true, primal image of his spirit.
Then can come, yes, will come, long stretches of time when your fellow-being seems clouded, even darkened. But learn at these times to say to yourself: The spirit will strengthen me; I will remember the true, unchanging image that I once saw. Nothing at all — neither deception nor disguise — can take it away from me.
Struggle again and again for the true picture that you saw. The struggle itself is your faithfulness.
And in those efforts to be faithful and to trust, a human being will come close to another as if with an angel’s power of protection.”
Last week our school completed work on a new grievance policy. In our discussions we explored what constitutes a grievance, what is the difference between a grievance and a complaint, and what principles should guide us in dealing with them.
We came to a simple definition that a grievance is a formal complaint usually lodged by an employee, related to an action that was taken (or not taken) that affects the rights of the employee. Something is perceived to have happened that violates the law or the policy of the organization. So a grievance is a specialized complaint. How one responds to a grievance is important because it generally has legal consequences for the organization.
Complaints, on the other hand, are types of feedback provided by anyone in the community who thinks or feels that something isn’t right. Complaints might include “too much homework,” “tuition is too high,” “meetings go too long,” “the place is messy,” “communication is sloppy,” etc. A complaint generally includes two wisdoms – it tells us something about the person complaining (what they are aware of and what they would like to see improved) and something about the organization. While sometimes a complaint is entirely the personal opinion of an individual (“I don’t like the color of the walls”), usually a complaint contains some bit of helpful reflection to be attended to. And it provides an opportunity to strengthen relationships by being responsive, timely and direct.
There are a few core principles for dealing with complaints in general and for dealing with complaints in a collaborative community.
- Understand that all complaints contain some insight, either about the organization or about the person complaining or both.
- Have clarity as to what types of complaints should be addressed to different leaders.
- Provide every complainant with the opportunity to share what he or she wants to see done.
- Create an environment that embraces and accepts complaints without resistance.
- Assure there is a clear visible process for dealing with complaints that provides
- immediate acknowledgement
- quick response
- timely follow-through
- clear communications and
- thorough documentation.
- Develop a process so that everyone clearly knows what to do with complaints.
- Analyze complaints to look for themes and bigger-picture problems.
Here is a checklist developed by One World Trust for NGO’s to assess the strength of your organization’s complaint process. (LINK)
Every complaint is both an opportunity for the organization to grow and for the relationship of the complainant to the organization to develop. This requires active, open and non-judgmental listening and honest reflecting. It is an area where we have a lot to learn in our communities.
Keep in touch,
A good mentor is one who can help his/her advisee develop as a teacher and to find his/her way to manage and master the tasks of teaching, including working with the students, parents, curriculum and school. Because all development is self-development, a successful mentor also needs to help his/her advisee develop the capacity for self-reflection and self-discipline. To do this, a mentor must continually work on his/her own self-reflection and self-discipline, while continuing to practice the art of turning experience into wisdom. Finally, a mentor has the opportunity to learn and grow through the mentoring relationship.
The three essential tasks and tools of the mentor are observation, contemplation and conversation.
Being able to observe the dynamics, principles and wholeness of a situation while keeping the parts in focus is the first essential task of a good mentor. In the article by Craig Holdrege on “Seeing the World Whole”, we can gain keen insights into the mindfulness needed to find the principles and meaning in what we observe.
Being able to work with one’s observations with an open mind and to practice withholding judgment are two parts of the second essential task – contemplation. The excerpt from More Precious Than Light, a book on community building by Margreet Van Den Brink, provides a good description of the relationship between mindfulness and what Rudolf Steiner described as the three higher soul capacities. While things are not always what we think they are, when one thinks about one’s observations, what we have observed begins to show us more of its true nature. The article, “From Observation to Conversation,” shares insights gathered from the participants in the NW Mentoring Seminars held in Seattle by Sound Circle Center.
Being able to enter into conversation with one’s advisee in a creative way that meets his/her soul character is the third essential tool. Here there are many resources available, from Marjorie Spock’s essay on Goethean Conversation in Group Moral Artistry (in our resource library) to the suggestions in articles above. The article, “Conversational Wisdom,” explores five aspects of conversation applied to mentoring outlined in the book, Winning Wisdom, by Robert Aubrey.
These notes are the result of discussions among colleagues in the mentoring seminar held by Sound Circle Center in 2011. We explored three steps in the mentoring process – the observation, the inner work of the mentor in processing the observation, and the conversation between the advisee and mentor.
- Acknowledge the inevitable separation between the observer and observed.
- Let go of personal agendas and fixed ideas, look with fresh eyes.
- Be aware that you are seeing a specific moment in time.
- Be open to observing a class in a particular context, as a single gesture in a larger picture.
- Look for something the teacher does better than you.
- Be flexible in your thinking. A good mentor practices and attempts to help the teacher practice the art of characterization. Through characterization, one can connect with and be aware of both the archetypes and the specific individualities in a situation.
- Look for the gift of the teacher.
- Try to imagine the genius, spirit or angel of class and teacher.
- Remember that in all your observations, you are in the picture, too.
- Take good notes.
- Encourage the teacher to share his or her observations so that you have different points of view on the same situation.
Between OBSERVATION and CONVERSATION: Contemplation
- Reciprocity is powerful, and has spiritual activity in it – try to see things forward and backwards
- Try on the habits of the teacher (i.e. speaking and walking).
- Naming can be limiting; staying in the unknown can be helpful.
- Take impressions into sleep life along with a question to seek new inspiration and insight.
- Let go of what you think you know – practice open-mindedness.
- Be interested in the whole life of the teacher - their biography, their individuality, their teaching experience and their capacities – and how these all affect their teaching.
- Commit to doing your own inner work with your advisee over time.
- Be aware of and sensitive to the most effective communication style and be willing to work in that style (i.e. know the temperament of the teacher and what they are struggling with).
- Do not be invested in an outcome – be willing to enter into an exploration together.
- Know when more help is needed, or another perspective could be helpful.
- Build a safe space and trust between mentor and advisee (withhold judgment, don’t be in a hurry, really make it a genuine conversation and partnership, not a view from outside).
- Use questions. Listen attentively.
- Begin positively and speak specifically about effects and results of teacher’s actions – practice good feedback (see feedback article).
- Be willing to share your own struggles and how you were able to make changes.
- Be flexible in your own thinking.
- Pay attention to when the teacher is open and when he/she begins to move inwardly or change outwardly in a positive way.
- Remember the process is not about “fixing” a problem but about gaining insight.
- Create a sense of direction together rather than fixed expectations.
- Consider bringing a question from the conversation with the teacher to the whole faculty to explore.
- Document the conversation.
- Anticipate – look into the future together.
In the book, Working Wisdom, Robert Aubrey outlines five key aspects of the work of mentors. We have borrowed Aubrey’s strategies and annotated them for relevance in mentoring teachers. -ms-
The basis of good mentoring is the commitment of the mentor to be aware of and support the teacher on their path of development. This goes beyond offering advice, suggestions or asking good questions. It requires the mentor to be willing to step inside the context and the story of the teacher and class, and be willing to become a co-journeyer. It also requires the teacher being mentored to be open to being a co-journeyer with his/her mentor. This commitment should be clear up front and the mentor and teacher should have a conversation together about what this means to each of them when they begin their process. This relationship will help the process maintain balance and strength over a longer time. The teacher, mentor, students, class, parents, school and world are all on an unfolding journey. The mentor and teacher can be mutually supportive on this journey so that at any given moment the teacher is growing in skill and confidence in his/her tasks.
The mentor by nature of his/her experience, training and selection as a mentor will be aware of deeper aspects of the teaching situation than the teacher. It is important for the mentor to observe the teacher and the class in a way to see the archetypes of what is happening. While a young teacher may be interested in developing skills to improve certain challenging situations he/she currently faces, the mentor can also provide helpful seeds for the future by illuminating the principles and ideals that will eventually lead to better teaching. After these seeds are planted, especially when the teacher is new or untrained, they will bear fruit in the future. Nonetheless, it is important that the mentor provide insights and share principles with the teacher that he/she can realize as experience grows.
While the use of questions is generally the best strategy for a mentor, there are important times when a more direct approach can be helpful. The direct approach is always a more risky path because the resulting reaction of the teacher cannot be programmed. The mentor should only use catalyzing when the situation in the classroom results in a high degree of chaos and when the mentor has not been able to help the teacher gain control. In chaotic situations one may catalyze action through passionate, angry or forcefully direct means, but rarely are these techniques helpful in mentoring. Before catalyzing, it is helpful for the mentor to be clear about his/her strategy and to have thought about how a stronger more direct action might affect the relationship with the teacher.
While the conversation between mentor and teacher is the heart of the mentoring relationship, there are times when it is advantageous for the mentor to demonstrate what they see as happening. It can be beneficial for a mentor to offer to teacher a short lesson in the class to show what he/she is experiencing and to let the teacher observe the class from a new perspective. Another form of showing is to allow the teacher to visit another classroom, especially of an experienced teacher. This is also an important part of the overall development of a teacher. It provides opportunities for the teacher to see in action what otherwise the mentor has described.
As has been outlined in other posts and articles, an essential key to mentoring is the work that the mentor does to gain a deep insight into the style, nature and skills of the teacher. From the mentor’s observation of the teacher, he/she can develop appropriate questions and conversation that can help draw out the genius of the teacher – to help the teacher see his/her strengths and to follow his/her intuitions. Teaching is a continually unfolding and transforming practice and improvisation that over time becomes more and more aligned with higher principles and ideals. The mentor can help the teacher find a stronger connection to his/her own insights and learn how to act on them in relationship to basic principles and goals.
For a look at Aubrey’s book about mentoring for business, click here.