Interconnect ED

'Only connect...' E.M Forster

Tag: Churchill Fellowship (page 1 of 2)

Fear Itself – a Churchill Chat

This is a Vimeo video of the recent Churchill Chat for the NSW Fellows.

Fear Itself – a Churchill Chat from Steven Caldwell on Vimeo.

Virtual World’s Best Practice in Education conference – reflections

Below you will find a brief overview of some sessions I attended at the VWBPE 2011 conference. One highlight not mentioned in the Voicethread was Botgirl’s discussion of how we construct identity in online spaces. Whilst I found the cheesy ‘reveal’ that Botgirl was actually a man, ‘hir’ comments were extremely intriguing and I hope to look into that in more detail later.

So, below you will find a brief summation of some of the conference including an audio of a pre-presentation discussion I had with Marianne Malmstrom (aka Knowclue) about our session together. Whilst I was not altogether pleased with how our sessions went, I think this conversation captured the essential elements we wished to convey.

iCare: summary of Churchill Fellowship final report

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Winston Churchill


It’s been a while since my last blog post: it being a lengthy, reflective and sentimental walk-through my Churchill Fellowship. In essence, I learned a lot about the effect of fear and negative mind sets around the use of technology by young people. The most inspiring people were those educators who embraced the possibilities rather than the problems that present themselves in todays tech rich environments. You can read more about my encounters with Knowclue and Peggy Sheehy and Barbara Stripling and the amazing Quest Atlantis team in my full report set out below.

You can access the full report, some of which is based on previous blog posts though most is original, in the embedded ISSUU below. For those who may not recall the purpose of the Fellowship, you can read my proposal here. To save you time, dear reader (should you like so many of us living in the ‘Pace Age’ and have only a nanosecond of personal time) I have placed the recommendations from the report in the following screencapture.

Screenshot of recommendations

Screenshot of recommendations

For those of you with more time, I invite you to read my full report below. I welcome your feedback and comments.

Voicethread postcard from America

This is a Voicethread that looks at both the work and the play I experienced during the Churchill Fellowship.

The Legacy

‘Words have a great deal of power. They have a power to lift people up, to give people courage and strength, to make it a better world and they have the power to break down, be hurtful and destroy.

We want our words to build and lift and bring up to the light.’

Peggy Sheehy, spoken to a Grade 7 class during a ‘teachable moment’

Why Suffern Middle School?

Suffern Middle School is a pleasant hour’s train ride from New York City. It is a co-education public school that caters to just over 1000 students. Students at Suffern have access to both a diverse sporting and musical curriculum and are clearly successful in both as well as in academic pursuits.

Suffern is proud of its Full Value program which consists of seven core values. These are proudly displayed and were frequently referred to during my visit. These values are not school rules to be obeyed but rather qualities to enact which will enhance their experience of learning and assist in building positive experiences for others. The seven Full Values are –

  • Be Here
  • Be Safe
  • Be Honest
  • Have Fun
  • Care for Self and Others
  • Let Go and Move On
  • Set Goals.

Like many Middle Schools, there are numerous clubs, societies and other affiliations to stimulate student engagement.  Regarding clubs, Suffern was the first school to begin a learning presence in Teen Second Life and is presently championing the role of World of Warcraft in learning.

I came to Suffern with a big question – do massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) promote positive values and build connections between young people and the world? And who better than to ask that question of than the one who first brought virtual worlds to Suffern than Peggy Sheehy.

Who is Peggy Sheehy?

Peggy is more than a teacher. She is an inspiration and an educational force of nature.

IMG_0466

Following 25 years as a professional vocalist, Peggy pursued further learning in education that led her to receiving multiple Teacher of the Year awards in multiple counties. In her role as a ITF/Media Specialist at Suffern, she is dedicated to integrating technology in the curriculum in meaningful ways. This commitment led to the creation of the first learning space for middle aged students in Teen Second Life. Peggy is a popular presenter at national technology in education conventions and district wide teacher training. Her clear, informed, no nonsense approach on the future of education is sought out by educators around the world.

Peggy Sheehy is a notorious figure in the American Computers in Education community. I use the word notorious affectionately and with respect for her fierce defense of freedom, of inquiry and the rights of young people to negotiate their own learning. She is an inspiring leader who is now leading the field in using the commercial World of Warcraft as a learning tool.

What is World of Warcraft?

WoW (as it is most commonly called by players), is a multiperson online fantasy role playing game in which individuals and groups (Guilds) complete quests in order to gain skills, equipment and points. Their trajectory through the complex narratives is dependent upon their success with this individual and group tasks. It is an engaging allegorical vehicle for young people to explore a number of issues and concepts in a relatively safe environment.

‘Relatively safe?’ Online role playing is violent. Doesn’t it inspire violence?

In the US alone, Peggy cites research from the US Department of Justice and the Bureau of Statistics that indicates juvenile violent crime is at a 30 year low. The graph she shares in presentations which is copied below shows the advent of some signficant consoles and games that have at one time or another been used to link gaming to violence. But the facts just don’t add up as you can see.

videoviolence

Kids have played violent games of one sort or another prior to the creation of computers and adult fears of growing violent streaks in young people are constantly raised but frequently unfounded. They are more likely to be exposed to real violence on television, cartoons, fairy tales and in sporting competitions.

So why are these spaces only ‘relatively safe’? These spaces can be unpredictable and as such are hard to completely control. It is the open possibilities that attract young people and encourage exploration and experimentation. It should also be argued that, as Helen Keller remarked in a quote I have used earlier ‘safety does not exist in nature.’ Our streets are only ‘relatively safe. That meal on our plate is only ‘relatively safe’ depending upon, for example, your relationships to nuts or shellfish. Even one’s opinions are only ‘relatively safe’ depending with whom you share them. Relatively safe is utterly normal.

Ok, not violence inducing then, but it sure is socially isolating!

Sorry, but once again the research does not back up that assumption. Peggy cites data from a number of researchers which states –

‘Almost 60 percent of frequent gamers play with friends. Thirty-three percent play with siblings and 25 percent play with spouses or parents. Even games designed for single players are often played socially, with one person giving advice to another holding a joystick.‘ Peggy Sheehy, World of Warcraft in Schools ppt

She goes on to cite those games in which young people pit themselves against each other in combat, attempted to destroy the other and in the process forge stronger friendships in the real world.  Gaming is simply not the individual opportunity for personal point collection that many of us first experienced in the 1980s with Galaga, Frogger and the ubiquitous Space Invaders. Games are social but challenge our definition of what socialising looks, sounds and feels like. Games like WoW build into their game-play the opportunity to form groups or Guilds that can function in a number of ways.

What exactly is a Guild?

Peggy argues that Guilds are the Bowling teams of the 21st century (not to suggest that ten pin bowling is an outmoded form of social interaction by any means.) A Guild is a Community of like-minded yet diverse individuals who meet for a common purpose. They form relationships with the Guild as a whole and with individuals within the guild. Guilds also become a collective, a library of stories and remembrances where favourite and not-so-favourite moments are recalled and shared.

Guild Case study: ‘The Legacy’

Although I had the opportunity of sitting in on several classes during the day and speaking with teachers, the highlight came after school when I met members of The Legacy. These five students were experienced WoW players and were the subject of a trial carried out last year. Whilst in some respects they matched my preconceived expectations of ‘Gamers’ that don’t bear repeating, they completely floored me with their level of self knowledge, their ability to articulate and their sound understanding of that it means to be part of a community.

I took a ‘Devils Advocate’ approach with ‘The Legacy’ and asked them, ostensibly, to defend this program on educational grounds only. It must be said that they were not coached or prompted by Peggy. Their responses were delivered with honest conviction and passion. I’ve adapted their responses below.

Mr Caldwell: So, guys, this is it… Just five of you?

Legacy: Oh no, more are joining the Guild next week. We have some trouble with time zones so its hard to get us all together.

Mr Caldwell: Sorry, time zones? What do you mean?

Legacy: Well, we’re just part of the Guild. There’s a school in North Carolina and a new one just starting up in Florida. It’s gonna be a busy time training and supporting them so they can join us on quests.

Mr Caldwell: Train them? So you’re the leaders, then?

Legacy: No, we had elections but decided against having one leader to boss us around, rather we are all we have office bearers in each of the states. We talk in chat and on Skype to make decisions for the Guild.

Peggy has supported these young people to reflect on leadership and to reach out to other schools to join the guild. The students manage a Guild Wiki and share their adventures – often writing narratives based on their avatars or sharing game tips. The game itself has a number of structures that support community. Besides the narrative in which one sides with one of two groups striving collectively against foes, there are opportunities to trade and store communal items.

Watching them play and talk was a lot of fun. Yes, they were defeating monsters but they were also engaging in narrative and helping others to succeed. They have learned some useful groups management skills and grown familiar with the tools that make long distance team work possible. But what have they taken away from the game that has been applied to their daily life?

This Youtube video made my members of the Guild from another school and, indeed, another State says more than I could about the value of their time in WoW.

The legacy of ‘The Legacy’

The skills WoW exposes students to are the skills we need in the twenty first century. Teamwork, communication, social responsibility, map reading/orienteering, goal setting, resource and time management, new media literacies and traditional text-based literacies are all developed within the game platform. Employers are acknowledging the team skills consolidated in gaming environments to the point of asking if prospective employees are gamers.

But it goes deeper than this. Peggy is unequivocal about this next point – this is a program for character development. It’s not just character point development, as in ‘I have more strength points than you’, but moral development and values formulation. Our avatars allow us to, in her words, ‘Put our best faces, our best thoughts, our best ideas, our best dream and our best honour forward’ into the world. As a reinforcement, she addresses the Guild not as students, not as kids but as Heroes – affirming them with agency and noble ideals.

Members of the Legacy who may once have been social isolates are now effective, collaborative team members communicating purposefully between state lines in an attempt to make their communal fantasy world a better place by contacting that which is noblest within them. In so doing, they are learning skills and life-affirming qualities that, in the future, just might save ours.

The School of (Web 2) Morrow

‘I am reluctant to decide by myself what is important for you to learn because I believe that the most important aspect in learning is to choose what is worth learning. If I alone make that choice, every day I would be reserving the most important part of learning for myself.’ Dr Marshall Rosenberg – Life Enriching Education p 81


Visit to the Elisabeth Morrow School – September 27, 2010

In an affluent wooded suburb of New Jersey only a short car ride from the towers of New York City, is the Morrow mansion. Since 1930 it has been known as the Elisabeth Morrow School. The ancestral home of the Morrow family is now at the centre of a complex of specially outfitted school buildings that cater to the needs of 460 co-education students aged from 3 – 14.

It is a remarkable school in many ways. The facilities are outstanding, despite the necessity to adapt a sprawling ‘country house’ into assorted classrooms and offices. Their experiential science space is a notable highlight – it invites play and personal inquiry across multiple scientific domains. Not least of the reasons the school is remarkable is that it bases its entire philosophy on four keystone concepts that it terms ‘The Four Cs’

Consideration

  • consider other people’s feelings
  • help others when needed
  • invite others to join activities

Cooperation

  • work together as a team
  • practise self control
  • follow directions

Courtesy

  • Be kind
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated
  • Have good manners

Compassion

  • Be tolerant of small annoyances
  • Accept apologies
  • Be understanding of other’s feelings and needs

Learning from the wise

Marianne Malmstrom (aka Knowclue) is a technology teacher committed to engaging students in dialogue between these Four Cs and access to emerging social technologies. (I have written about her before in a previous blog entry.) She empowers her class to use safe and proactive practices online. Her method is simple – let the young people share what they already know and deeply value their contributions. In essence, she impeccably models the Four Cs in her interactions with young people.

At the time of my visit the school year had only recently commenced, so there was still much to learn about the students’ Internet use. Marianne surveys the class’s opinion and experience: on this occasion, she allowed me to frame the questions. Whilst the questions themselves, based around their online identities and eCitizenship, produced some interesting responses, it was a rare unplanned discussion that gave us a startling insight into young people’s attitude to online safety at school and at home.

As we were conducting the survey, it struck me that these students had no idea who I was or, for that matter, could I be trusted. I interrupted the survey and asked them, ‘How do you know you can trust me?’ They were initially troubled (one student said, ‘Oh, you are creeping me out!’) but then increasingly engaged as they explained why they felt I could be trusted. I scribed their responses in a diagram so that I, a visual learner, could best understand the data. This is a more refined version of the same diagram.

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 9.21.47 AM

The students identified that they possessed specific Knowledge about online safety, Skills with the tools and, most originally, ‘Wit’ which I took to mean cleverness, humour and a sense of perspective. I suggested, and they agreed, that they also had the benefit of Experience. In turn, they knew that their teacher also possessed Knowledge, Skill, Experience and Wit which informed her choices. This understanding was then extended to the school. In summary, the students could trust me because all these factors would have filtered out anyone undesirable from entering the environment.

We then turned to look at the home environment to see if there was any difference in their perception of safety.

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 9.24.06 AM

This diagram had less layers, more components and more ‘holes’ as one student put it. Firstly, the students identified differences between Face to Face (F2F) friends they also meet online and purely online friends (their ‘Peeps’) which was revealing. Interestingly, they cited Gaming Friends (World of Warcraft Guilds were mentioned specifically) as a separate category. Membership to these groups, it must be said, s not mutually exclusive. Siblings, they noted, had differing degrees of understanding about online safety practices due to age and education. Parents seemed to monitor their Internet use less than teachers did at than school. The lack of connection, as indicated by the orange highlighted gaps in the model, is indicative of the lack of communication or even exposure to the various aspects of a student’s online presence. Do parents or siblings know to what extent a child participates online? Is there open discussion and sharing? For that matter, do teens invite such interest from family members?

My reflections on this diagram are in accord with the recommendations put forward by Susan McLean in Australia. Four of her five top tips for safety online relate specifically to the whole family being united in discussing, knowing and planning for how the Internet is to be part of their communal and private lives.  (see previous Blog post Generation Next – the Next Menace.)

I then asked the students to tell me the questions they should have been asked in the survey. Their questions were insightful and reflected their need for guidance and support. Here are their unedited questions –

  • Do you think school should be involved in social networking?
  • Have you ever been in a fight on a computer?
  • Should some Internet content be prohibited?
  • Is it easier to chat with people online than with friends F2F?
  • How old or what sex are the people who IM or text?
  • Is it safe to friend anyone on FB or social networking sites?
  • Where would you go if you have a problem online?
  • Would you say stuff online that you wouldn’t say in person?
  • When you post something bad about other people do you think about your future when you post something bad? Do you consider the consequences of your actions?
  • Do you save your chats or do you delete them?
  • Has someone in a chat ever changed your emotion, for example made you sad?

These questions prompted the following interchange between  myself and a student that is worth reporting.

Mr Caldwell: Young people don’t really need teachers at all; they just know so much anyway. Young people like you, you are so wise –‘

Student: ‘So, then, why do we go to school?’

Mr Caldwell:To help…so we can help you see your own wisdom.’

Student: ‘Oh!’ *realization dawns and the student smiles*

What an amazing opportunity to hear the voice of young people and learn from their wisdom!

Conclusions and Recommendations

 

In a world in which children and young people are increasingly part of global online communities, a school’s Student Code of Conduct is being rewritten to reflect that shift from a purely school based environment. The Four Cs at Elisabeth Morrow School are increasingly becoming the ‘portable property’ of each student wherever they travel – whether in the physical or virtual world.  Whilst the reality of the Four Cs implementation is clearly apparent in the technology rich classrooms, the written policies have yet to catch up but are on the revision agenda.

Elisabeth Morrow’s Four Cs could be a global template for building positive connections online. For this to occur, however, schools may need to revise student Codes of Conduct to reflect the undeniable fact that students have existing online identities with associated behaviours. The Internet is no longer just an electronic library – a respository of facts. The internet is now an interlinked series of Places of Participation that encourage the creation of online identities through which one can gain and add information an any number of ways.

This brings us to the issue of control and security. At Elisabeth Morrow, the students feel safe and supported but want the opportunity to explore further. We need to respect that request. In order to enact the Four Cs fully we need to be understanding of the fact that young people need to take risks and that they need to make mistakes, but do so in a supportive environment. This shows consideration for their adolescent need to push boundaries. That said, no one would argue for putting young people in significant risk: I am not an advocate for no filtering of internet content; that would be akin to putting your child in the drivers seat of a Ferrari without a seat belt, license or driving lessons and handing them the keys. Instead, Marianne Malmstrom and I argue that if we do not engage students in active discourse around controversial content we are not making them more secure, rather we are enfeebling their ability to make informed choices apart from adult intervention.

I would suggest that schools take a more relaxed approach with regard to network administrators blocking Internet content but at the same time, increase the implementation of programs that empower students to critically evaluate content and engage in more proactive self-monitoring. This is a trend that is emerging at Elisabeth Morrow and, as such, is setting a standard in the United States.

Lastly, if students were to enact the Four Cs online they will be, in turn, adding to the societal norms of online spaces. By keeping them out we deny knowledgeable, skilful, experienced and witty young people the opportunity to challenge the existing paradigms. Were young people to bring the Four Cs to bear in online spaces with commitment and consistency, we may, in time, have a very different Internet. This would be the lasting legacy of the true School of Tomorrow.

Reactive -> Creative Part 2 – Reconnection

Knowledge of other people’s beliefs and ways of thinking must be used to build bridges, not to create conflicts. ~ Kjell Magne Bondevik

The last posting recounted the general situation in which many find ourselves – despite best attempts at trying to live a fulfilled life, there are times when our actions don’t connect us to our deeper ideals or deeper ideals that others hold. In that posting I summarised the universality of human needs and the way in which we strategise to meet them, often with undesirable results.

The practise of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) suggests that we need to contact our true needs in any given moment of conversation so that we speak from them. Drawing attention to our feelings, those responses to needs being met or unmet, we can then amend our course so that we can be more fulfilled. Much of what we do in conversation can be judgemental – building barriers rather than bridges between people.

This posting will examine how we might best forge connections and assist others and ourselves to meet needs. To start we need to generate Empathy.

What is Empathy?

Let’s start by saying what Empathy is not. For a start it is not a synonym for Sympathy. Sympathy arises when we encounter another’s difficulty and imaginatively co-experience what it might be like in their position. So, when someone says they feel miserable because nobody listens to them, we might adjust our volume to be parallel with the speaker and adopt a tone based on how we might feel in the same situation. ‘Oh, you must feel awful, you poor thing…’ we might even say, thus assuming and pronouncing a judgment on their inner experience. Thus, it becomes about us commenting on and approximating their moment. Essentially, when we are sympathetic, it is about us. This is not to say that sympathy isn’t useful overture to empathy – it can help draw people closer together, but it can involve the listener colluding with the speaker’s situation and not necessarily assist them to move beyond it.

Empathy is a subtly different but altogether more profound option. Empathy provides an opportunity for the listener to help the speaker come to know his or her own feelings and needs while concurrently affirming their own need for connection.

Empathy, when practised effectively, embraces all the people present in the communication. If not, it can give the impression of being akin to a therapy session. Therefore it is important to frequently touch in with one’s own feelings and check to see what one’s own needs might be when offering Empathy.

How do you offer Empathy?

Firstly, for people unfamiliar with this model, it might be best to ask permission to try it before launching in, as it is rather like switching into another language in the midst of a conversation and, as such, it can be bewildering. Also when starting out with NVC, there is a standardised way of phrasing empathic speech that may appear stilted or unnatural. Over time, through extended practise, people tend to find their own more intuitive voice to communicate empathically.

Empathy begins by listening to both what is alive in you at the time and to the other person as they speak. As mentioned above, most important of all is to know what is going on within yourself- you cannot offer Empathy if you are wanting Empathy yourself. When the person is speaking, pay attention to more than the words – observe their behaviours and mannerisms with a kindly intent. Then begin by asking questions, not out of a desire to guess correctly so as to appear wise and ‘Empathic’ but rather as a gift to the other person that will help them unlock the secret of their unmet needs. The questions asked have two parts: you identify what they might be feeling and then suggest why they might be feeling this, though we need to phrase this in terms of their need rather than on any storyline or strategy.

In many cases, NVC is employed as a mediation tool where a third party might intercede and assist others to reach some form of mutuality. Thus, using the previous example of the person who does not feel heard in meeting I have brought in a person practising NVC – let’s call him Marshall.

Brad: “You don’t listen to my opinions. Clearly, you are not interested in what I have to say.”

Marshall “Are you feeling frustrated because you value appreciation?’

NOTE: This is not an opportunity to affirm the storyline for the person and side with or against their antagonists so one doesn’t offer…

Marshall: “Are you feeling frustrated because you value appreciation and you believe Janet is am not capable of seeing you?’

The underlined section is an analysis and a judgment which blocks Brad from connecting to his core need and draws him into the situation, into the troublesome narrative. We do not need take Brad into the conflict, but rather into what he needs.

Again, it must be highlighted that this is not an opportunity to be clever and ‘do’ NVC on somebody so that we might guess their states correctly like some perverse game. We are not reducing another’s experience to point-scoring, rather we are assisting the other person to come into contact with what lies at the core of their pain. Sometimes we do not touch on their feelings accurately, and that is perfectly acceptable, in fact, it might assist the person to look for themselves to see what they are actually experiencing.  So, for example-

Brad: “Janet doesn’t listen to my opinions. Clearly, she is not interested in what I have to say.”

Marshall: “Are you feeling embarrassed because you believe in working in  partnership?

Brad: ‘Um… not, not embarrassment exactly but more feeling agitated or, exasperated that Janet doesn’t take my ideas seriously.’

Marshall: ‘ Exasperated. Ok. (pause) Are you feeling exasperated because you value acceptance and would like to have more appreciation in your life?’

Brad: ‘Yes! I’d like to be appreciated for what I say. Actually, I do just value appreciation – its important to me. ’

At this point it could be valuable for Marshall to approach Janet and see if she would be willing to accept some empathy.

Marshall: ‘Janet, can you tell me what’s going on for you in your relationship with Brad?’

Janet: ‘He’s a pain! Well, it’s not that I don’t appreciate what Brad has to say, it’s just that he takes so long to say anything of value. I get lost in all the stories he tells that I lose the original point.’

Marshall: ‘So, Janet, do you feel confused when Brad shares his ideas because you value clarity?’

Janet: ‘Exactly. If he could just get to the point… I mean, I’d say something to him but I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but clearly I have by doing nothing. He’s so needy!’

Marshall: ‘I guess that you are feeling irritated because you value independence and efficiency.’

Janet: ‘Yeah… why doesn’t he have confidence in himself? People like that frustrate me. I like working with confident, self-actualised people.’

In this example, drawn from practice sessions during the course, Marshall has been able to allow the combatants to access their core needs through skilful observation of their behaviour, through reading their tone, listening to their words and reflecting on what might be alive in them at that moment. We have ascertained that Brad has a need for Acceptance, Appreciation and Mutuality, whereas Janet has a need for Clarity, Independence, Efficiency and possibly Community in as much as she wants to be with like-minded self-actualised people. Are their needs in conflict? Both have a need for Connection that is not being met in their relationship. At this point the conversation with Marshall needs to take a different direction and move into the participants making requests.

What is a request?

Requests are a do-able, realistic, positive action that one asks of another in order to assist the meeting of a need. Requests are not demands but negotiated suggestions for future behaviours. They are always specific so that there is minimal room for ambiguous interpretation.

Marshall: ‘Janet, I wonder if you would you be willing to ask Brad when he is speaking if you are confused about the point he is trying to make?’

Janet: ‘Isn’t it rude to interrupt someone when they’re speaking?’

Marshall: ‘When I hear you say that, I hear that you value respect for other’s feelings.’

Janet: ‘Well, yes. I do. I don’t want to interrupt him because it might hurt his feelings.’

Marshall: ‘Brad, I wonder if you would be willing to accept an interruption from Janet when you are communicating your point of view?’

Brad: ‘If it helped Janet hear what I have to say, then, sure. How she interrupts would be important to me, though.’

Marshall: ‘Janet, would you consider saying to Brad that you are lost or confused and that you need some clarity?’

Janet: ‘Sure. (smiles) I could say, maybe, “Skip to the end…?” ‘

Brad: (laughs) I think I’d get the point if you said that.’

In this example, we can see that both of the people’s needs can be met. Though Brad’s storytelling is not appreciated, the need for his point of view to be accepted will be, if Janet takes the move to interrupt him. Perhaps a follow up could be for Marshall to check in what everyone has agreed upon so there are no remaining misconceptions. Also, if the storytelling is an important way for Brad to be heard, then perhaps finding others who appreciate that aspect of his communication might be a way to meet that need.

This posting has been an overview of the Reconnection process. We begin by observing our own feelings and needs then observing/ guessing what they might be for others. From a place of Empathy we ask questions, not provide solutions, that allow the other person to contact their own feelings and needs. Once there is that connection, there is an opportunity for correction in the form of negotiated requests.

The next and last posting in this series will contemplate implications for educators and the young people in their care.

Reactive -> Creative Part 1 – Disconnection

‘When we stop competing against one another and choose instead to cooperate., we strengthen the community to which each one of us belongs.’ ~ Craig and Marc Kielburger, Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World

My Churchill Fellowship began with a three-day training course at the New York Center for Nonviolent Communication facilitated by Thom Bond. The course was an effective blend of the theoretical, experiential and the reflective.

Participants were from mixed professions – health care, social workers, teachers, artists, students and it attracted people from around the world. Most participants voiced both professional and personal motivations for attending; some noting that coming to the course was prompted by a need to change dysfunctional relationships. I was there to see if this particular methodology could be applied in online communication- could kids practice nonviolent communication as a way of reducing the destructive relationships that are increasingly found online?

What is NVC?

Firstly, Nonviolent Communication (hitherto NVC) is a process, awareness or way of being that creates and maintains connection between individuals and groups. It is sometimes also known as Compassionate Communication.  It is a methodology that allows effective communication with ourselves and with others in a more compassionate, constructive manner through identifying and articulating core human ‘feelings’ and ‘needs’. Essentially, it asks us to be human in a different, life-affirming way that may be counter to our habitual methods of communication. Some of us have developed styles of communication that are based largely upon judgments and criticisms.

Beyond being a personal development tool, NVC is valued as a mediation practice that is implemented in hundreds of schools worldwide as part of restorative justice programs. These schools report decreases in interpersonal conflicts amongst students and staff as well as improved student engagement, responsibility for their own learning and increased levels of mutual respect. In addition, NVC is practiced globally in assorted projects from as diverse countries as Africa, India and Eastern Europe as a way of helping communities heal.

NVC addresses two key questions –

  1. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively?
  2. What allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature even under the most trying circumstances?

What is the purpose of NVC?

NVC provides practitioners with a shared vocabulary of feelings and needs that goes beyond the limited ‘happy’ and ‘sad’. Knowing feelings and needs more fully then allows us to select from a broader range of strategies that allows us to meet needs in ways that promote connection.

The process draws attention to the extent to which we engage in moralistic judgments in our day to day communication based around whether our needs are met or unmet and offers alternative approaches. Such judgments include making comparisons, denying personal responsibility for our actions – ‘She made me do it..’ ‘You made me feel…’- and affirming certain actions with rewards and other behaviours with punishment.

What are needs?

NVC has, at its core, recognition that human beings have needs. This is a radical notion for some who have been raised suppressing personal needs for the sake of the needs of others. Needs in NVC are not personal but universal. Needs are phenomena that everyone strives and yearn for. Needs or Values, in the NVC sense, go beyond our wants and desires for material goods and even pleasure – they are universal impulses common to all.

Needs are generally listed as abstract nouns rather than as concrete objects. Thus, some common overall headings for human needs are Connection, Play, Peace, Physical  Well Being, Meaning, Celebration, Spiritual Communion and Integrity. Under these there are many subtle variants that we can only discern by frequent reflection. However, it is difficult in some cases to discern needs, particularly when many might be present in any one moment. Needs are at the core of all human action.

Here is an example: When we say to someone, “You don’t listen to my opinions. Clearly, you are not interested in what I have to say.” We may be thinking that our need is clear- we need our opinions heard by others: it is up to others to do what we want. What NVC suggests is that the need is not in ‘being heard’, rather we are over-emphasising the strategy we use to get our needs met- in this case the strategy is to talk about our opinions to certain people. However, a strategy is not a need. In this instance the needs could be a wish for Acceptance, Appreciation or even Mutuality. Indicating that one is or is not ‘being heard’ places the responsibility of the need being met on the shoulders of others.  It also predisposes the other person’s internal response – that they are not interested – which is only an interpretation of their behaviour and may not reflect their true experience. This kind of interaction does not build connection as it based on blame and judgment; it is a strategy that we have habitually employed to attempt to meet out need for, possibly, Acceptance, Appreciation and Mutuality. It could also be the case that this particular listener may not be capable of assisting the speaker to meet that need and that need might best be met in communication with another individual.

What are feelings?

Feelings are the sensations and emotions we experience that arise in dependence on the degree to which our needs are met or not met. Like needs, they are hard to identify; being able to discern feelings is a skill in itself. Feelings are an indication of how our present experience is meeting our needs. Fulfilled and Unfulfilled Feelings have distinct qualitative  tones and, like Needs, are classified under some overarching themes. When needs are met we may feel – Affectionate, Self-Connected, Inspired, Engaged, Refreshed, Grateful, Excited, Joyful, Peaceful or Hopeful. When needs are unmet, we may feel Afraid, Confused, Annoyed, Angry, Embarrassed, Disquieted, Fatigued, Tense, Vulnerable, Pain, Sad, Disconnected.

Referring to the previous example, in a meeting where we interpret another’s behaviour as dismissive of our opinion we may actually feel frustrated, irritable, disappointed and angry which are sourced from a number of the headings listed above. Knowing what we are feeling provides us with a guide, as instrumentation, to then make more informed choices about the most appropriate strategy to meet the fundamental Need.

What are judgments?

Judgments are the comments, either internal or spoken aloud, that cause disconnection or maintain distance. They are an attempt, a strategy to meet a need that does not actually succeed in fulfilling what a person truly values. In essence, these comments tend to block empathic communication. When others speak with us, we can interrupt the speaker’s process in any number of unconstructive ways. It is easy to see that in the illustration above, the speaker is making a judgment of the other person. Using the example above, but from the perspective of the person accused, she or he might respond in any of the following ways-

  • ‘But I do listen to every word you say.’ (Discounting)
  • ‘I feel exactly the same way about you. You listen to me even less.’ (Comparing)
  • You know what you should do? You should stop talking about yourself all the time and start asking about my day for a change when you walk in the door. Why don’t you count to ten before launching into recounting your day?(Fixing)
  • If you talked about something more informed, something more worthwhile then of course I’d be more interested… Try reading this great new book about meaningful conversations called…’ (Educating)
  • ‘Is it only when you talk about that topic that you feel this or is it all the time? Is it just with me or is it more pronounced when you are at work? (Data Gathering)
  • You think you have it bad! No one listens to a single word I say- I may as well not exist!’ (One-Upmanship/Competition)
  • ‘Oh you poor thing. It must feel awful to think you are so insignificant…’ (Sympathy) (More on Sympathy and its distinction from Empathy in a later post)

These statements take away the opportunity for the speaker to forge a connection and actually meet their need for Acceptance, Appreciation or Mutuality. It shifts the emphasis and attention to the new speaker.

In summary

The diagram below models the terrain of human communication. At the core of our beings are a vast set of Universal Needs that, depending on their degree of ‘met-ness’ give rise to certain feelings – some pleasant, some painful and some just neutral. These feelings are indicators of the degree to which our needs are being actualized. Feelings can give rise to criticism and judgments of others that when expressed or internalized build barriers. Now judgments are not the only strategy that can be engaged to respond to feelings and needs. Some more constructive, connecting responses will be explored in the next posting.

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I see all of these things happening in the communication I observe between young people today. They are extremely vulnerable to acting/speaking based on feelings alone. They constantly react to stimuli rather than take a more creative, if time-consuming approach, to forge connections and mutually meet needs.

I’ll write more of this in the next posting which outlines the differences between Sympathy and Empathy as well as outlining the process through which young people might use NVC in communication.

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