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Week 8: Teaching Hope

November 16, 2011

This week, we were given the job of organizing a chunk of a Teaching Hope meeting.  We were supposed to facilitate discussion among the students and teachers who were there in order to help them understand what the Freedom Writers program did and how they could improve the program at their own school.  We generated quite a lot of interesting discussion, but it didn’t always go in the direction we intended.

The problem I remember most vividly was that the goal of keeping it positive which drove our choice of questions didn’t translate too well into discussion.  When we asked “What needs changing?” to our combined group of students and teachers, we ended up with nothing but complaints about the school administration.  While this was occasionally informative, we spent far too much time on a single problem, in an already tight schedule.  We should have been more proactive in moving the discussion around to generate more ideas – the group we merged with hadn’t even finished the “What would you change?” question in the small group.  This problem of having some dismal comments drag down the discussion cropped up to a smaller extent in the small group:  One girl was in a neglected pre-STEM class at Hughes, and another found Tallawanda so boring that they hardly had any suggestions to contribute.  I have a feeling that despite what Block says, some problems are big enough that you just have to solve them before you can start building up your grand, ideal vision.

Our definition of community (a source of identity and interaction for a group) also has some interesting applications here.  Our small discussion group was an impromptu community, with a common identity from the Teaching Hope program and a common interaction from our facilitation.  Sometimes, we were able to easily spot common themes and add them to our notes (as I mentioned, everyone hated the administration), but other times the results seemed very scattered, so it was hard to find examples from one school that applied to another (Arlington Academy, with just 40 students and 4 teachers, was a serious wrench in the works here).  Nearly every program seemed to provide different services, so the umbrella of “Teaching Hope” wasn’t a strong identity (Palen would call this a “contrived community”).  However, when we managed to get commonalities, it was easy to segue between topics and think of comments for both.  Even if the commonality was something like “Both your teachers promised you X and didn’t deliver, do you know who to nag?”  So it’s difficult to foster connections within a community out of nowhere, but there’s a visible payoff.

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One Comment
  1. Jessica permalink

    Good reflection on your experience and interesting connection to Palen’s notion of contrived communities. How do you think the session could have been improved, overall? Could it have been a function of needing added time — would that have solved a number of issues? In retrospect, what facilitation strategies may have proved more effective?

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