I am reading, The Constructivist Leader, recommended to me by Linda Henke, superintendent of Maplewood Richmond Heights School District. Linda Lambert writes the introduction and she begins with a list of themes that will recur in the book. The first: The lives of children and adults are inextricably intertwined. Democracy must be experienced by both children and adults as must trust and positive regard. Authentic work must be experienced by adults as well as children, as must authentic relationships and possibilities. I love this powerful statement. It seems obvious though it is not a common occurrence in schools or in life. One of the tenets of Sustainability Education is Authentic Youth Engagement. This means that young people are doing real work that matters in the real world. It also means that they are experiencing as well as creating positive regard, possibilities and democracy. At Maplewood Richmond Heights, leadership is one of the four cornerstones, for all ages. There, leadership is understood as: Bringing people together to accomplish important work. (At Maplewood Richmond Heights aspirations and inspirations are written beautifully on the walls of the school.) Leadership skills in students are nurtured through authentic relationships and shared leadership with adults. One of the ways that leadership can be developed and shared is through the practice of structured conversations where participants listen to one another's reflections on past goals and hopes and dreams for the future.
As we have turned into a new year, I have been reflecting on practices that cross over from my personal life to professional life and visa versa. I realize that our family's practice of family meetings is one of those cross overs. Our family meetings started many years ago when Ashley and I attended a class called Parent Effectiveness Training. One of the rituals that they recommend is a weekly family meeting where honest, productive and clear listening can occur between children and adults and shared responsibility and leadership dispositions can develop.
When we started, our youngest son was 5; now he is 28! As our sons have moved into their own homes and careers and families, our family meetings have moved from weekly to yearly. We hold these family meetings some time during our winter holidays together. And now, we look forward to them as times to support one another's goals and dreams year in and year out. We still start by reading the notes from the last meeting, now a whole year ago.
With this ritual and practice, we are bringing together a group of people, in this case our family, to support authentic relationships and all of our best work in the world. I am grateful to my family members as I am grateful to the students and educators with whom I work from Portland, OR, to Indianapolis, IN, to St. Louis, MO, to Middlebury, VT for authentic dialogue with people who work to create more and more possibilities to build a healthy, hopeful future.