Organizing for Change, by Laureen Golden
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” - African Proverb
Montessorians are organizing for change (there are 7 pilot states that have formed statewide advocacy groups, with an interest from 12 more) and they are aiming to go far together! (“Bringing a unified Montessori voice to the national policy table” is the shared vision of Virginia McHugh Goodwin, Executive Director of AMI/USA, and Richard Ungerer, Executive Director of AMS, who are coordinating and supporting these efforts).
Working together is indeed powerful ... but it can also be quite difficult, especially when we consider the complexity of the problems we seek to address, and the diversity within our community. Our ability to aid life and transform society hinges on our ability to stay cohesive despite these challenges.
When working together to create change, it is helpful to consider:
Tap our Collective Intelligence: A group can be amazingly intelligent -- smarter than its smartest members -- IF we maintain:
*Diversity (in approach, thought processes, experience and resources),
*Independence in thinking (ensuring that no one is dominating others), and
*Decentralization (“flatter” network structures tend to be more flexible and innovative). [The Wisdom of Crowds]
Anticipate Crucial Conversations: A Montessorian’s task to “aid life” touches on the sacred. So although diversity can increase a group’s intelligence, when it comes to the ideas we care most deeply about, diverse opinions can feel profoundly threatening and trigger our “fight or flight” response, causing us to respond with violence (by attacking each other’s ideas and feelings), or silence (disengaging from the conversation). By anticipating crucial conversations as part of our process, we can better prepare ourselves, and effectively manage these moments. [Crucial Conversations]
“Go Slow To Go Fast”: There is part of us that wants to see change happen QUICKLY! so we are eager to “get down to business”. However, investing time and energy to make sure the entire group is looking at the same thing (problem) in the same way (all perspectives are expressed and understood) by (1) making all information explicit, (2) giving as much attention to the process as the content, and (3) fostering a “win-win”, “both-and” culture, can embed ownership and alignment within the process, ultimately making the group more coherent and effective. [The Collaborative Operating System]
SAFETY & INCLUSION
Prioritize the NEED FOR SAFETY: How can groups leverage the power of diversity, even when the stakes are high and emotions are running strong? Monitoring feelings of safety enables us to recognize when we are in the midst of a crucial conversation. In “real time”, we can make “repair attempts”, by letting the other person know we care about his/her best interests and goals (mutual purpose), and that we care about him/her (mutual respect), thereby reestablishing safety so collaborative work can continue. [Crucial Conversations]
Invest in Building a “Pool of Shared Meaning”: When ideas, feelings, and opinions are openly shared, a group develops a “pool of shared meaning”. The more information that is in that pool, the better decisions the group can make. Developing a rich pool of shared meaning requires an investment of time, but it ultimately serves the group’s effectiveness and efficiency, by helping us move beyond “your way” and “my way” so that we can discover “our way”. [Crucial Conversations]
Create a Community of “Fearless Learners”: To accomplish something we have never done before, requires us to travel through “the land just beyond proficiency”. Whether it is struggling with a camera during a videoconference, having difficulty accessing google docs, or stretching ourselves to stay engaged in a conversation that feels threatening, we will need to grapple with feelings of incompetence, frustration, and vulnerability. Anticipating the learning curve normalizes and depersonalizes the awkwardness. Establishing a culture where learning is supported and mistakes are embraced will nurture personal and collective growth, as well as group cohesion.
Define Who “We” Are: In her book, Children Who are Not Yet Peaceful, Donna Bryant Goertz illustrates the healing power of inclusion. The mindfulness community considers lovingkindness/compassion to be a skill set we can develop by reflecting on: What are we paying attention to? Whom are we paying attention to? Whom becomes the other? Whom do we ignore? By observing and being aware, we train our attention to or includeexclude. Improving our ability to monitor our attention gives us the potential to harness the healing power of inclusion.
Leverage the Power of Systems Thinking: Dr. Montessori understood systems! (The power of Montessori education lies in its totality and interrelationships; it can never be replicated by piecemeal copying because the synergy of Montessori education is created by the way all the parts work together.) Montessorians can leverage the power of systems to shift our community from fragmentation to cohesion (until we do, time and energy shortages will remain one of the greatest obstacles to collaborative work), anticipate “delays” (collective work to promote public awareness and affect policy will ultimately lighten our individual loads, but there will be a time lag between these actions and their consequences, which, unrecognized, might lead to discouragement), and harness collective impact efforts to create a unified voice for policy change. [The Fifth Discipline]
Welcome Chaos: Today’s rate and scale of change, and degree of complexity, require more complex, adaptive and self-regulating systems. There are many organizational tools and structures that harness the group’s dynamic capacity to self-organize (a concept that has many parallels to the child’s drive to self-construct), including Dynamic Governance/Sociocracy, Open Space Technology, World Cafe, and Appreciative Inquiry; by inviting in chaos (in the sense of “having many possibilities”) they allow innovative solutions to emerge. [Mapping Dialogue]
“Begin with the End in Mind”: We will be most successful in creating a harmonious world in which everyone’s needs are considered if we align our process with our desired outcome. How can we “prepare our environment” so that we can absorb, practice, and eventually embody the necessary skills to tap our collective intelligence, foster safety, manage crucial conversations, build pools of shared meaning, cultivate a learning culture, harness the healing power of inclusion and systems thinking, welcome chaos, and develop a “win/win”, “both/and” approach to decisions-making? Dynamic Governance (a/k/a Sociocracy), offers a communication/decision-making/governance structure, that ensures that the needs of ALL members are considered (not just the majority), and creates harmony among members, while cultivating innovative thinking and leadership throughout the organization. Similar to Montessori education, Dynamic Governance was developed by a scientist who viewed his workplace as a laboratory and believed development is driven by purposeful engagement within the environment. Both Montessori education and Dynamic Governance incorporate cycles of work and self-correcting processes, encourage creativity, promote lifelong learning, harness the power of self-determination & self-realization, support complex development by allowing for differentiation and integration, and have a larger vision for the betterment of society. [We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy]
Humanity is grappling with the limits and potentially dire consequences of our current model of competition, conquest and consumption, and desperately needs an alternative vision. Dr. Montessori provided a vision for a global community and a peaceful world, as well as a method to bring this vision to fruition! What remains for us, is to organize our community and cultivate the unified cooperation required to bring this transforming education into the lives of more children!