Action, Adult learning, Nonprofits

Wonder Woman needs her shield.

 

It is kind of like Wonder Woman leaving her lasso of truth around a rock on Themyscira. It’s as if she forgot her vibranium shield in that tower before setting off for London.

And her bracelets of submission? Back in the Paradise Island bathing grotto.

Diana still has her cunning curiosity and empathetic outlook. But her tools of the trade aren’t there to help her take action on saving humanity. She can stand nobly in that foxhole telling Steve Trevor everything she knows about rescuing women and children under siege over yonder. But knowing isn’t doing. The only way this woman can cross “No Man’s Land” is with the full package of knowledge, skills, tools, courage…. and a shield.

This is what comes to mind when I see leaders talk about the big changes they want to see in the world and then organize the same activities done for years. They call together the same people who have been called together before. They lean on experts of the topic of concern  to share what they know.

Here’s the thing. We know so much about adult learning, psychology, behavioral economics, and human development. We know about strategy and outcome-based planning. We have at our fingertips really talented people who know the process to get results that reflect the interests of others.

Our system respects the knowledge of experts and not the experts of knowledge. Paradoxically it relies on content experts and not experts in transferring that content to others.

Too often our lassos and bracelets are left in the closet. Its time to take them out.

Action, Adult learning

Our Learning Pledge

“What’s the ‘big idea’ for our conference?” Jim asked.
“That kids need to be more engaged… actively involved in learning activities.”
“And how are we starting?”
“With your 90 minute keynote speech…”

-Opening page of 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong
by John Antonetti and James Garver

Last year, I attended a webinar on micro-learning… that was delivered over the course of an hour without break.

Last week, I attended a workshop on strategies for a highly engaged nonprofit board. The speaker took his first break for audience engagement after 60 minutes.

I do wonder if these presenters have any inkling that their dramatically ironic delivery drives people to their devices in ways that directly defeats their message.

pledge.jpgSo it may be time to reaffirm our solemn pledge as people offering learning experiences to busy people.

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

  • I will respect the hard-won scientific research of people who study learning, behavior, and psychology in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
  • I will apply, for the benefit of anyone listening to me, all measures [that] are required, avoid those twin traps of talking too much and sharing too little reflection time.
  • I will remember that there is art to learning as well as science, and that an emotional connection outweighs excessive outlay of content.
  • I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the teaching skills of another are needed for someone to learn.
  • I will prevent inaction whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to having to call a consultant in later.
  • If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the job of teaching those who seek my wisdom.

Together with colleagues, I’m working on making sure every nonprofit learning event in Washington is awesome. Let me know if you want to join us.

Action, Reflection

Reflections on a Graduation

CaeMy daughter graduates from high school this week. Nearly 18 years anticipating what she will become, and now she is.

It seems like just yesterday that we sat at the dining room table, me sewing on my machine surrounded by shapes of fabric, she leaning over her textbook swearing that geometry had no practical use in real life. Much of a child’s education is focused on amassing knowledge for a future that is impractically elusive. In many ways it is like the other class about which we argued its practicality, physics. Our kids gather potential energy to one day to shift into the kinetic energy of doing something bold and important. That day always seemed far in the distance.

Being a parent during a child’s graduation year is like observing the water’s edge as the tide recedes. First one spit of water, then a second, a hermit crab pokes out of a hole, and then the whole beach quivers with movement. Within a year, our transition started with a college application, then drivers ed, soon moving out, voting, and getting a first job. A new anticipation sets in as we see our child’s learning turn into practiced, practical action.

Action, Emotion

Press 1 for Action

Press 1 to pledge calling your congressperson next week.
Press 2 to invite a friend to attend a local meeting with you.

imagesThose are your choices. Twenty minutes of stories from the field have primed you to care and want to act. Something has to change. You press one of these numbers to commit to doing something within the next week.

Since the inauguration, I have attended a few MoveOn meetings and nationwide action calls. Wearing my nonprofit hat, I have found it interesting how MoveOn (an established voter engagement organization) and Indivisible (a new movement that arose out of the publication of the Indivisible Guide) have jostled and found their unique brand and purpose within the social change marketplace. Wearing my educator hat, I have to say “Hat’s Off!” to both for showing us how to move people to action.

Some lessons from the Resistance:

Emotions drive people to act. Each call starts with stories from people doing some pretty heavy lifting in communities across the country. We have heard from Latino community organizers, women’s movement marchers, and first time leaders from both red and blue states. I carry with me the story of one woman—seemingly older from her voice, seemingly working class from her language, calling from West Virginia where she finds herself the only progressive among a sea of Trump supporters. She asked for any help that MoveOn could provide to sustain and connect her. Immediately following, we were asked to press 1 to pledge to call our congressperson, or 2 to invite a friend into the movement.

Information allows people to act. Within five minutes, a MoveOn representative answered her plea. There were several activist chapters in the area, and she gave a website on how to find them. When people get stuck, it is often because they don’t have information. They know they need to connect, but in this sea of data and desert of trust, how would this woman find the right people? The organization asking her to take action took action and gave her what she needed.

A simply-written manual guides people to act. The Indivisible Guide has become the go-to manual for the progressive movement. Its crisp directives make it easy for any new activist to step in and do something for the first time. Its availability in multiple formats and in Spanish make it accessible to people who don’t live and breathe activism. It gives us easy to follow steps that the target audience –everyday citizens— can follow.

A simple choice moves people to act. We were given 2 choices. Bam. None of this 33 ways to engage, 27 opportunities to learn, 10 things you should know. Two. We know from research that the human brain can only handle up to 4 things at a time. Folks who study choice and decision-making tell us that someone is more likely to choose if the number of choices before them doesn’t lead them to paralysis. Parents know that our kids will get dinner faster if we offer pasta or tacos, not instruct them to open the refrigerator and stare into the abyss.

We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to move people to do things differently. The resistance is succeeding to moving a whole lot of people to do things that they weren’t doing in October.

Press 1 to commit to finding one story that would move a key person in your work to action.
Press 2 to create information that help that person take one action.

 

 

 

 

Action, Reflection

The Inseparability of Reflection and Action

reflection“We find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed—even in part—the other immediately suffers.”
– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Sometimes you give people time to think about something, and things get a lot deeper than you were planning on. You stop for reflection, and they dig into something so deep that even they seemed surprised. As much as you might prepare, you can’t anticipate when this is going to happen. And when it does happen, it is very cool.

In a session on turning learning into action, I asked people to think about a time that they had reflected on something. What was that like. They thought silently for a minute then shared with a neighbor. One woman had journaled about a newspaper headline and ended up writing a book. Several women talked about the reflection that comes from loss, driving them to start a statewide advocacy group or make serious life changes. Across the board, people recounted experiences that showed how a time of reflection yielded a time of change.

“Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.”
– Paulo Freire 

Silence was not an option for the author driven to write a book. She said that she couldn’t stop herself once the idea took hold. She described the fear that comes from taking on a project that involves new skills showcased in a public way, and yet that fear wasn’t enough to deter her. The resulting book is the only documentation of a local asylum that defined that era of mental health services.

Reflection and action are inseparable. Each is needed to keep the other on track, and yet too often we rush to action because so much needs to get done. What if we stopped– and those supporting us funded us to stop– so that we could reflect alone, with colleagues, and our community?