Listening Session Paintings

Monday, November 10, 2008

2nd Invercargill Listening Session Tests Us to the Limits

This blog is a chronicle of our efforts to create an educational experience for young people that enables them to thrive in a world of possibility. On Friday, October 31st, we met in our second Listening Session with young people in an educational program sponsored by the Invercargill YMCA, called Alternative Education. For one reason or another all of these young people had been asked to leave school. Their days now consist of free time to do what they want, working and attending the Alternative Education program run by a former troubled student who figured things out named Jay.

The first few questions in the Listening Session are relatively easy we think. They are questions like "List three positive words that describe you", "I am passionate about," I am challenged by", etc. In every Listening Session we have had to date, these questions have proven simple for the participants. But not for this group. The very first question about three positive words had them stumped. They were so shut down and closed off that they were unable to answer the questions without Stella and I walking around the room and prompting them with statements like, "Are you nice?" As they went on through the questions, it became apparent that we had hit a wall we were not going to get over.

It was a moment of revelation. Our process did not include everyone. So for more than an hour we helped them with the first eight questions. When time came to share there were many who said pass as we got to a certain question they had no idea how to answer. It was an excruciating time for me as I led it. They did not feel invited in by the process and they did not feel good about what was occurring. I tried to be as upbeat as possible and help them through it, but it was rough. One of the students journal sheets had a few answers on it and then all the way across the bottom was written a very telling LaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLa.

At the end of the first eight questions, we took a break and reconnoitered. It was clear they would not be able to paint for their conceptual abilities were not there. It was clear also that to put them through any more questions would be even more frustrating for them. So we decided to divide them into groups and ask them to share about their educational experience and what they would do differently to help themselves or a younger brother or sister if they were in school.

This produced a little bit better results as some of the responses were things like: make school more relaxed, pick your own time to go, work in smaller groups or give the option to work by yourself, younger teachers (aka cool), lots of hands-on activities, special camps off site that you go to on certain subjects for a few days at a time, an exchange program to other interesting programs.

I never even took a photo until the end because getting signed permission slips would be impossible to acquire. So after it was over and I hung out with the kids, I took photos as a reminder that the circle has to be able to hold everyone and that these are who the educational process and their communities have struggled with the most. I left even more resolved that we are on the right track, but need to be able to have a listening session that is flexible enough to get all young people involved.

This led to lots of discussion as we headed for Aoraki (Mount Cook) and Mount Sefton the next few days.

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