Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Learning From Spence Kagan

I finally went to The Glacie Conference that happens annually in Toronto. The Glacie conference features Spence Kagan and is two days full of information and networking with teachers. The topic is cooperative learning, but I always think of it without the learning part. That would make it about cooperation. For me, the question becomes “How do we make cooperation more attainable in our world?” What skills are necessary to make sure that we all cooperate whether it is in the nursery school classroom, the sports fields, the university lecture halls or the corporate boardrooms?

For me, the educational environment is a perfect laboratory for how we want to be behaving in real life. If we practise enough in the comfort of the classroom, we’ll get good enough to be able to do it out in the real world. Wouldn’t it be great if we cooperated in the real world?

I read something lately that talked about the difference between group work and cooperative work. It referred to two sports figures to illustrate the concept. One was Tiger Woods. The other was Michael Jordan. The writer said that if your pursuit is to be the best individual, you can work in a group but you probably aren’t working cooperatively. Michael Jordan, as good as he is in basketball, is only as good as his team allows him to be. Tiger Woods, although he plays with many golfers, can shine. Tiger plays in an environment where there is no interdependence.

Interdependence is the key to a cooperative environment. Members of the team who feel respected and useful, contribute more. They are more enthusiastic and motivated to participate. The more active participation from members the more chance for success results.

Research (David and Roger Johnson) supports the idea that groups excel when there exists a sense of interdependence. That makes sense to me. If we are taking care of ourselves first and then taking care of our neighbours, chances are we all prosper.

In the winter months, I volunteer weekly at a church where I serve dinner to homeless and hungry people. I’ve been doing this for 12 years so I have become quite close with some of the people who are guests at the dinners. Recently one of my friends from the church was diagnosed with cancer. Last month he had serious surgery to remove a cluster of intestines and some of the malignancy. He’s been in the hospital since the surgery (June 8). He has no family and no friends that I know about. There are about 8 of us from the church who have been visiting Derek and advocating for him while he is recuperating and in convalescence.

It is inspiring to be part of a group that works so diligently to care for others. There are many of us so we don’t tire. Although I am away for the summer, I know the rest of the group picks up the slack that my absence leaves. There are times when I work more to pick up the slack of others. Imagine a world where everyone took care of themselves and even had enough energy left over to give to others.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Taking Care

I spent last week in Houston, Texas attending the biennial International Tribes Trainers Conference. It was a great week!

Tribes conferences are different from any other. The process of Tribes emphasizes the practise of appreciation, mutual respect, attentive listening and inclusive participation. Tribes people are genuinely kind and compassionate. At this conference the people are also smart, enthusiastic, and committed. They are people who genuinely care about teaching and learning and about making the world a better place. They are really, really, really nice!

I think I’m usually like that too. I like people! I’m the kind of person who makes my way to the kitchen in a restaurant to say thank you to the chefs after I’ve eaten. I initiate eye contact with strangers so they see me smile and hear my “good morning.” When a panhandler on the street asks me for ‘spare change’ I don’t ever ignore him/her. I respond. “No….and please, have a nice day anyway!” I try to do good things in the world and I remain open to know what more I can do.

I do love people, and I would never not be nice. although sometimes it's hard to maintain a smile and a positive disposition. I manage to do it though....almost always. I feel responsible to model appreciation and optimism. I believe that one person can influence others to be positive and affect change in this world.

When I’m with Tribes trainers, it seems like others feels similarly. Thank you’s are abundant. Compliments flow between people. Hugs, high fives, ‘pats on the back’, words of encouragement, and positive affirmations are the norm. I begin to notice the behaviours and I think, “Hey, with everyone else being nice and kind and compassionate, I don’t have to try so hard. I can just be natural. Natural is good.”

It reminds me of the David and Roger Johnson’s elements of cooperation. When we have a culture that is functioning ideally there is a comfortable balance between individual accountability and positive interdependence. If each member is actually behaving responsibly, then no one has to work too hard to compensate for those not working. Think about it in the context of our global environment. If each person in our universe did what simply needed to be done for the health of our earth (energy reduction, responsible use of plastics and non compostable products, reuse of materials, etc) we wouldn’t have to rely on the energies of the few. No one would get ‘burnt out’. Our world would maintain the richness and fertility with which it was lent to us.

Just imagine if each of us smiled throughout the day, generated positive energy, and accepted with love and compassion all those in our immediate community. We would have so much more energy and spark to give to those who really needed it. There would be fewer of them too. Our world would be a better place to be!

Margaret Meade says Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Thank you Jeanne Gibbs, Centre Source, and all the Tribes trainers this weekend. Let’s keep working towards a better, happier world. See you in two years!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Whole Is Worth More Than The Sum of It's Parts

I don’t get the drama about Luiz Suarez, the soccer player on the Uruguay team who is being criticized for ‘cheating’ in the World Cup Soccer Championship.

I actually consider myself to be a pretty ethical person. I stopped watching basketball games because I don’t like the way the opposite teams’ fans wiggle furiously, long colourful balloons, to distract the player from achieving a successful foul shot. I encourage cheering at baseball games and “tsk tsk” those around me who are booing and shouting profanities to the players on the field. I applaud regularly regardless of who scores at hockey games and shout positive encouragements to those in the spotlight. I usually root for the underdog, and I fully participate in the excitement and glory of the game; including the win.

Suarez did something that apparently is a moral sin in soccer. He used his hands to stop the ball from going into the net. Now, Luiz admits that he knew exactly what he was doing. It was not unconscious or inadvertent. He knew it would get him thrown out of the game and suspended from the next game his team played. Everyone knows in soccer YOU DON’T TOUCH THE BALL WITH YOUR HANDS!

But in answer to the Globe and Mail’s question “So how do you explain that one to the kids?” here’s my answer:

I don’t consider Suarez to be a cheater at all. I think of him as a quintessential team player. Soccer is a team sport. Luiz was thinking as a player in the team. If the whole is worth more than the sum of it’s parts, Luiz comprised a very important part. Ghana would have won the game had Luiz not prevented that goal! But he was not thinking about himself. He didn’t have his own glory in mind. He was thinking about the whole team. He did it for the sake of his team’s success. That’s cooperation!