NEWSLETTER Message December | 2020
2020 has been a year of profound disruption. But amidst the disruption and suffering were also extraordinary opportunities. More than four hundred of you participated in virtual foundations workshops, starting in June and then almost every month thereafter. You came from around the globe and learning with and from partners in diverse cultures and education settings – even remotely – was a powerful reminder of how the compassionate systems tools and framework connect people across education contexts. We completed the first cycle of a new dream – an organized process for developing master practitioners, which was concluded in an amazing 5-day gathering in July. A new cycle of the Certification Program for Compassionate Systems Master Practitioners was launched in September. And, we have begun the process of studying and sharing the extraordinary work of this practitioner community, a step toward our 2021 goal of establishing a more formal research hub at MIT.
Progress within Hubs
Our core strategy for growing this work globally is to concentrate in a small number of geographic hubs which embody key challenges and opportunities in the unfolding global renaissance in education. This past year, and especially with the expansion in access to the now online Foundations for Compassionate Systems Leadership Workshops, the growth already occurring in key hubs and sites has accelerated.
States and provinces like British Columbia and California have taken major strides toward large-scale engagement. In the latter, many hundreds of key leaders at all levels throughout the state have now participated in introductory and advanced workshops, as the work spreads from state to county offices of education and into school districts. With almost 5000 providers of out-of-school programs, the California “expanded learning” network is at the heart of the state wide growth, which is strategic because of the disproportionate impact these mostly community-based organizations have in reaching the most at-risk learners. In B.C., we have had the good fortune of building on two decades of work connecting education, health and community services around the well-being of children and young people. A recent report by the B.C. Ministry of Education featured “compassionate systems leadership” as a central first feature of the Province’s mental health strategy.
Similar progress has occurred in the Denmark hub, where a second municipality is also now leading the work and the ASEAN network centered on Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Hong Kong are also well represented in our current master practitioner certification cohort. The work in Jordan, to which we are also deeply committed, has been more challenging, but the teacher training around well-being continues to grow, and we hope that a critical mass is building despite complex political dynamics and dire circumstances caused by the pandemic.
As we look forward, we are very mindful that our aim to develop a globally meaningful community of initial hubs is limited by the absence of hubs in Central and South America and Africa. We continue to explore opportunities in both.
The Shift to Virtual
In retrospect, though there is still a lot to learn, our experience in face-to-face practice centered (versus lecture-centered) workshops, organized around tools from the compassionate system toolkit, made for a natural transition to virtual workshops. People often report being amazed at the depth of conversations in a four-person virtual breakout room, but tools like the ladder of connectedness and ladder of inference, systems archetypes and the iceberg have been in development for decades, and we have learned a lot regarding how to use them as vehicles for individual and collective reflection. We have also had the good fortune of a wonderful ‘back-end team’ – Miho Kito, Julia Ross, and Antoine Béland – who have rapidly translated their experience in “creating the space” for effective face to face workshops to the universe of Zoom.
Last, we cannot help feeling that there was something providential in all this. Had there not already been a critical mass developing in these hubs, it would have been impossible to have so many committed and accomplished practitioners in these workshops. It is remarkable, in this age of never-ending zoom meetings, that after four full (5-hour) half days, virtually all of the 80-100 people who signed up for an introductory workshop are still there. But that is what happened, again and again. While the workshops are effective, this is every bit as much a reflection of the perceived relevance of the work, a perception that goes beyond the workshops themselves to the work happening “on the ground” in these hubs. Last, had all this been just five, let alone ten years, earlier, the breadth of internet access and existence of a well-functioning and reliable platform, Zoom, would have also made such in-depth distant capacity building impossible. So, like so many things, timing is everything.
We have expanded our efforts in continuing the development of participants after they attend our workshops via learning partners and our virtual community calls. Both Roger Burton and Jane Drake have been instrumental in these activities.
The Master Practitioners
We had an amazing group of people in the first cycle of this process, which began in July 2019 and culminated in July 2020. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the progress in the hubs, for example, in this past year without their leadership – and that of the dedicated talents of program manager Julie Diaz. The same appears true for the second cycle, which launched September 2020. The program is organized around each practitioner’s project, and the e-portfolios they assembled contain diverse artifacts of their work, from personal reflections and videos, to curricular and leadership development innovations. A feature of the process was an outside review of the e-portfolios by a wonderful group of eminent education leaders, which, in turn, exposed many who had been supportive of compassionate systems to the extraordinary impacts of this work “on the ground.” One of the reviewers, Diana Chapman-Walsh, a former college president and member of MIT’s board, pleaded with us,
“You must find a way to get these stories told – they are so inspiring at a time when people really need inspiration.”
As we said, the master practitioners are playing a key role in growth of the hubs, shepherding diverse capacity building, community building, research and practice. But beyond their local accomplishments, the hubs are now part of a remarkable global community grounded in the quality of relationships they have built. When it came time to figure out how to do a virtual redesign of our closing week-long “gathering,” where all the reviewers were to come together with their respective reviewees, scheduled to be at MIT at the end of July, the group elected to ‘travel in time rather than in space’ and follow the originally planned schedule of five days. This meant 8:30 am – 5:30 pm east coast time each day, even though that meant 5:30 am starts for the dozen on the American west coast and ending at the beginning of the next morning for our Asian partners. Amazingly, the whole experience worked, and, as we wished our Asian colleague “Good Morning” at the end of each day, we all knew we had been part of something special.
Our work in the Youth Ambassadors program, perhaps less surprisingly, has likewise continued to grow in the virtual world. Gustav Böll and Antoine Béland have continued to train middle- and high school students, in Denmark, HK, the US and Indonesia, in the basic tools and practices and worked with some, on more ambitious projects, like creating a new well-being curriculum for their student peers in the British School of Jakarta. At the end of the year, we launched a new project, to reach into this budding network to find those interested in becoming certified “climate ambassadors” with Climate Interactive, developing the skill and knowledge to lead workshops using the complex “En-Roads” simulator, the state of the art in climate simulations for policy makers and the public at large. Our hope is that students trained in the compassionate systems tools will bring a unique approach to this process. Testing this assumption will be a key focus of the first half of 2021.
New Center Board
Internally, at the Center we have spent time establishing a Governing Board this year, in supplement to our Advisory Board, and we are grateful and delighted to announce that our dear friends and co-conspirators for global compassionate systems transformation Kim Schonert-Reichl, Michael McAfee and Steen Hildebrandt have agreed to take on the formal positions of governance and support of the work. Our inaugural Board meeting is scheduled for January 2021 and we cannot think of a better way to initiate a new year and – hopefully – a change of times than getting grounded in our new identity with a formal governing structure, made up of remarkable people who have in each their distinct ways shaped a path for bettering the conditions for us all.
Our aspiration for 2021 is to see the compassionate systems approach grow and develop, nurtured by an extraordinary global community of caring and dedicated citizens who truly care about our children and the state of our planet. Despite the challenges, our sense is that 2020 will prove to have been pivotal in letting go of things that no longer serve and embracing new possibilities – like the ability to gather a hundred people from around the world in deep conversations at a fraction of what it would have cost to bring them together physically.
May we all join together on this New Year, through the final days of an intense and challenging year to wish for love, interconnection and joy to grow for the benefit of all beings and our beautiful home.
We will look forward to continuing our collaboration with you all into this new decade.