update: evening opening at school

Michael Herman mherman at globalchicago.net
Fri May 14 11:15:16 PDT 1999

hello all,

thanks to those who helped out with so many questions, ideas and
confirmations regarding my recent query about opening the space on a
friday evening.

you may recall that this is a two-school high school district,
immediately west of chicago, serving kids from all kinds of ethnic
backgrounds, economic levels and academic skills.  some kids go to top
colleges and do very well.  others never read better than 2d grade.
this was their first brush with OS, after one principal's husband heard
anne stadler speak here a while back.  (go anne!!)

the purpose began as "define the high school graduate" and over the
course of preparation we stretched that ever so slightly to "a high
school graduate should have...  ???"  the important part of this shift
is that the students became subjects instead of objects.  important, i
say, because students were to be participants in the event.  invitations
were posted in the local newspaper, sent to students homes (though they
were mistakenly sent to the students instead of "the parents of: " ).
all staff from both schools and the school board were invited.  the
schedule was friday evening, all day saturday and then converging again
on the following thursday evening.   dinner was served on both evenings,
b'fast and lunch on saturday.

we started friday night with dinner, about a half-hour of review of the
illinois state standards, and then jumped into the opening and the first
breakout session.  we had 65 folks (about half of what they expected as
an absolute maximum, in part because many parents didn't see the
invitation) and the group included parents, students, graduates,
teachers, administrators, board, and community folk.  we posted 20+
topics.  initially, these we all posted for saturday.  when i explained
that we needed something to do for the rest of the evening, conveners
jumped up and quickly filled all seven spaces.  so we started very
quickly and easily on friday night!  one-word evening news at 9:00 was
VERY positive all the way around the circle.

saturday got off to a bumpy start with questions about why the
invitation hadn't gone to parents and why more folks weren't in
attendance.  was a good chance for the planning group to explain their
efforts and intentions, folks to remind themselves of the four
principles and we were off to work again, with a few more topics posted,
too.  we'd scheduled 5 sessions (1.5 hours each), but we ran out of
topics after four sessions, in part because it turned out to be one of
the nicest sunny days we've had this spring.   so we started the closing
1.5 hours early, but hit another speed bump.

you may recall my mention in earlier postings of the divisions among
staff and talk of boycotting the event and other resistance.  the union
folks had actually posted an newspaper article about smaller class sizes
all around the meeting spaces (we met at one of the high schools).
because i saw the establishment of an ongoing invitation and opening
process as critical to the success of their efforts, i had suggested to
the prep group that they might want to open up the thursday convergence
session to everyone again.  in line with advice i received here on the
listserve, i also suggested we not make the final decision about this
beforehand, but bring the question to the group at the end of

well, by the end of saturday, it seemed a bad idea to bring in new
folks.  can't say why, just seemed that this should run its course as
is.  so i was prepared to let it slide off the table, as it were.  one
of the students in the planning group, however, mentioned it (in a
wonderfully innocent way) and voiced support for inviting everyone to
the thursday eveningn convergence.  others in the planning group voiced
different opinions, more forcefully, which made for a very interesting
closing circle that seemed to open more than it closed.  so by the time
the talking stick came back to me, i proposed three options everyone
invited, no one invited, or everyone bring some one or two people you
want to share this space with.  so we were opening again, even as we all
wanted out and into the sunshine!

the whole question raised a number of issues about inclusion and
decision making power, also some clarifying questions about the 'voting'
process and what powers were at work with that.  strong emotions, too,
in some cases.  in the end, we went with a totally different option of
doing dinner and voting, followed by action planning work, with
newcomers welcome for the action part.  (they really didn't want the
newbies voting, because they didn't think they'd understand the issues
well enough -- and because many felt they'd sacrificed their sunny
saturday for voting rights!!)   in the end, the discussion that took
place did a really nice job of honoring the specialness of the intimacy
of this group/space, focusing attention on the real need for and
challenges of inviting others into the energies and spirit raised,
testing the trust and openness and deeper listening built up in this
group, and getting them past the first sort of decision-making crisis in
one piece.

when thursday came round, we'd dropped to about 50 folks, with only a
few newcomers.  we'd been meeting in a room that has a lot of faculty
and student traffic in it all day and we'd left all of the bulletin
board, news wall, circle and other artifacts in place.  many expected
lots of tearing down and/or graffiti, but everything was in pristine
condition four days later.  turns out it did a nice job of reinforcing
the positive stories that floated around all week...peolpe saying things
like "it reminded me why i wanted to teach in the first place" sorts of

we did use computers to capture proceedings and for voting.  beware the
software security systems in schools if you ever use a student computer
room for documenting one of these events!

thursday night, i had some great conversations with folks
about how selected issues and groups of issues could be taken up again
in the fall, in OS.  many are looking forward to this.  also, i stressed
that a key piece of action work on thursday was the next invitations,
that would welcome others into these conversations.   in this way, the
thursday session was framed as 'coming full circle', converging and then
starting again, on a more pointed issues, to ask the basic prep questions
that the planning group had wrestled with:  who do we need,
what's the purpose/theme/focus/content of our work, what resources are
needed, and how will we document our followthrough (or in this case,
restart our story in september).

didn't realize that this story would be so long -- hope there's some
news you can use in this rambling!!  and thanks again!!  m


Michael Herman
...inviting spirit AND results in evolving organizations

Michael Herman Associates
300 West North Avenue #1105
Chicago IL 60610
312-280-7838 voice
312-280-7837 fax
mherman at globalchicago.net

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