Byron's Babbles

Conversations About Possibilities

IMG_2575As I write this post I am literally about 488 miles into my flight from Dublin, Ireland to Chicago, Illinois – USA. I am returning from an outstanding education research trip that started in Berlin, Germany 12 days ago with stops also in Paderborn, Germany, Bern, Switzerland, and finally Zürich, Switzerland. This was an incredible experience and I was proud and honored to be a part of the Indiana delegation that included Governor’s office officials, state legislators, business/industry leaders, higher education leaders, k-12 school officials, community partners, state government officials (myself as an Indiana State Board of Education member), and organizers from Horizon Education Alliance.

My goal was to write a post each day of the trip and I believe I have accomplished that goal with this post. Including this post, I have posted 11 different posts about my journey of learning on this trip. If you want to follow along with the learning I have put links to all the posts here for your convenience:

Reaching For New Heights In Talent Development

Application of Practice & Theory

Learning 4.0

Fully Qualified Worker

Leading Work 4.0

Leadership To Tear Down Walls

From Best Practice To Next Practice

What Does Industry 4.0 Mean?

Learning to Do, Doing to Learn!

Focus On The Wider World

As I continue to write this post, I am now 1,778 miles into the trip home I am reflecting on what the gains were from having had these 12 days together with my colleagues. As I reflected I believe the value of this experience was in the convening of over 20 stakeholders who came together with the intent of making the lives of Hoosiers better and in the process making the economy and education system better in the state of Indiana. This study trip gave us the opportunity to shift our attention from the problems of the community to the possibility of community. To do this, however, we must be willing to trade our problems for possibilities.

There was tremendous value in the apprenticeship and training models we visited and experienced first hand, but the real value was in the conversations we had during this experience. There was value in having a conversation that we’ve not had before, one that has the power to create something new in the world. That is truly what I believe we did on this trip. On this trip, all members of the delegation became citizens. This was a very important shift. A shift in the thinking and actions of citizens is more vital than a shift in the thinking and actions of institutions and formal leaders. We were all learning through the lens of a citizens wanting to make the world a better place for our state’s students and citizens.

Citizenship

Citizenship is a state of being. It is a choice for activism and care. A citizen is one who is willing to do the following:

  • Hold ourselves accountable for the well-being of the larger collective of which we are a part.
  • Own and exercise the power we have rather than delegate it to someone else and expect them to act.
  • Develop a shared community of possibilities – always asking, “What can we create together?”
  • Remember that communities are not built by specialized expertise, great leadership, or more/improved services, but by great citizens.
  • Attend to the gifts of the citizens and bring the gifts of those on the edges to the front and center for the betterment of the community.

One thing I have learned for sure: we cannot legislate the future. We visited countries on this trip who have been doing apprenticeship and vocational training for a long time. In the case of Switzerland, their current Vocational Education and Training (VET) system has been in place since 1932. As our group considers next steps, we need to remember that something shifts on a large scale only after a long period of small steps, organized around small groups patient enough to learn and experiment and learn again. If we want to make meaningful and transformative change to our education system we cannot command speed and scale. If we do that we are created an environment that will work against anything important being any different.

I really believe that a leader’s role is not to develop better models, or even to necessarily drive change. The leader’s role is to create the opportunities that bring the citizens of communities together to identify and solve their own problems. I really believe that is what Horizon Education Alliance has done in Elkhart County, Indiana. That organization has become masterful at focusing on the structure of how we gather and the context in which those convenings take place. The study trip that I am returning from is one such convening. The context was being in schools, training centers, and manufacturing facilities and having the opportunity to keep our own points of view at bay, leave our self-interests at home, and be present in the moment to learn rather than advocate for a certain position.

There will certainly need to be lots more conversations and work following-up from this trip, but I do believe we have all truly thought about the question: “What can we create together?” I believe we all want to be a part of transforming education in Indiana to a place where a student’s education does not define them for life, but prepares them for life. In turn, this should have our students ready to enter the workforce with a growth mindset ready to be engaged employees that are lifelong learners. Even so, the challenge is not to create a shared vision or plan (both important to the process), but the real challenge is to discover and create the means for engaging citizens that brings new possibility into play. We need our citizens to be the authors of this change.

I will close with this, as my plane completes the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean and is now over North American soil; transformation is about altering the nature of our relatatedness and changing the nature of our conversations. This study trip experience abroad certainly did that for this group. I believe this journey shifted the context and language to thinking about possibilities. We owe it to our k-12 students and incumbent workforce to get this right!

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