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edu180atl: bob ryshke 9.10.12

Today we’re working at Serenbe as part of our administrative retreat.  Serenbe, a community of roughly 1,000 acres located near Atlanta, is a superlative place to be thoughtful.  Serenbe is a model for a sustainable community that is focused on land preservation, balanced agriculture, energy efficiency, green building, and community living for diverse people.  Being immersed in this reflective space helps me connect to the importance of PLACE or SPACE in our work with one another. 

For our work to invite thoughtfulness, we should carefully consider the PLACE in which we gather and work.  While I understand it is not always feasible to travel to a place like Serenbe, we can create a space, even in our schools, that is more conducive to generating dialogue that is reflective.  I believe this is important. Our team is at Serenbe on a brilliantly sunny, warm and wonderful day, but we are meeting in a room with dim lighting and only a few windows.  Why aren’t we out in the space that invites contemplative thinking?  I think the answer to the question is that we aren’t used to taking important work into PLACES and SPACES that invite reflective, quiet contemplation.  Do we need to learn from experts, like practitioners of meditation?

In ecology, we define community as a group of interdependent organisms growing or living together in a place, space or habitat.  What qualities do these PLACES possess that allow for interdependency?  What common elements should we consider?  Please respond to my thoughts for the day with suggestions for how to make PLACES in our community contemplative?

About the author: Bob Ryshke is Executive Director of Center for Teaching at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta.  He enjoys working with faculty on issues that matter in good teaching.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bob, I enjoyed your post, and I enjoyed seeing you at EdCampAtl. I agree with you completely about the power of space and place. In my new work place, I have benefitted mightily from seeing how my team chooses the spaces in which we engage different kids of work. There is very purposeful selection based on a number of factors, and there is an understanding from all that movement and surroundings can significantly influence outcomes. Virtual space, too, plays an important role.

    Best wishes on your retreat. All the best to you and the admin team.

    September 10, 2012
  2. Reading through the lens of a high school teacher, I think there is a certain amount of classical conditioning that takes place for students in traditional classrooms… (we even use bells just like Pavlov did!). Teacher up front, white board on the wall behind the teacher, desks arranged a certain way, etc. Over time these things teach students to behave in a certain way. So, when we keep the space the same, it’s hard to ask for a change in behavior… conditioning is powerful stuff, for both students and teachers. How can we ask students (at least the high schoolers I teach) to be contemplative if they’ve spent the past 10 years in settings that ask them to walk in straight lines, whisper in the halls, complete problems 1-20 every other night on wide ruled paper with only blue ink, etc.? I’m not trying to slam hallway etiquette or the discipline of study, but I’m just pointing out that this is a systemic issue from K – 12 (and beyond?). I don’t have any good answers to your questions, but I really like the questions. I will say I have minimal data to throw at the questions above… I use meditation in my classroom. I don’t do it all that often, but I do some meditation sessions with my students. I teach biology and anatomy, so it’s an easy link to make in the class because of the clear data establishing mind/ body connections. I can illustrate that point to my students in a far more obvious way than any diagram or book excerpt. The first 60 seconds of the first session is always the hardest. Some giggles. Some folks who have to peak open their eyes and see if everyone else is really participating. But, after about 60 seconds.. things change. Dramatically. The kind of attention, participation and engagement I see in those students after even 5 minutes of meditation is noteworthy. I wish I had a way to measure galvanic skin responses in those moments. I’m sure I’d have publishable data! My students ask for meditation during mid-terms, before big assessments, and during those weeks of long stretches with no holidays to bring some needed relief. They tell me stories of having moments from meditations come back to them when they are stressed out of feeling overwhelmed. The art of meditation clears the clutter, if even for a moment, from the mind, leaving it open to creativity, new learning, and growth. Even when the bricks, mortar, and smart boards make it hard to alter our physical space, we can change the psychological space in which we move. I know we can change the physical space, too, but this reply is long enough at this point!

    September 10, 2012
  3. Great post, Bob. We so often focus, sometimes obsess, over the “what” and “how” of instruction, we often ignore the “where.” I think the people tackling these issues are a cottage interest that’s gradually growing into a full fledged movement. The question is, will we help build the cottage, or jump into the tail end of the parade?

    I hope that day two of the retreat finds you in a space that inspires reflection.

    September 11, 2012
  4. Hi Bob,

    Last night I attended a dinner hosted by the local public high school. They had gathered professionals from the community to engage in a forum to help them better understand how to prepare students for the future. They wanted our input. We sat at six tables, and the administrators and teachers from the school, guided by the principal, each asked for input regarding a single issue. One table discussed the nature of critical thinking. Then that facilitator moved on with that same question to the next table. There were six questions in all: collaboration, space, technology, etc. The question of space asked us to imagine the best use of space in a classroom. Our group discussed the structure of desks in rows. I’ve been in the working world for over 20 years, and never have I been asked to sit in a row to learn or engage. It doesn’t happen. We suggested that the school consider creating an environment for learning that mirrors how real learning takes place in the world. Then, we each shared where and under what conditions we learn best.

    I hope we helped the school who was eager for input and who honored the participations’ time and perspectives. But I was reciprocally grateful. I was able to listen to other professionals (doctors, lawyers, city council members, agency directors, non-profit presidents). The room was rich with experience and wisdom. I was not expecting to find myself among such a contemplative, engaging crowd. It was a unique experience and one that schools should perhaps seek to replicate. We educators often look very narrowly at how and where learning can take place.

    Thanks for sharing. Serenbe looks lovely. Hopefully, you and your team were able to take advantage of more of its space.

    September 14, 2012

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