Notes from The Sixth International Transformative Learning Conference Michigan State University Oct 6-8, 2005

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Steve L. Robbin, Grand Valley State University, Professor and Diversity Consultant

His mother married an American Serviceman in Vietnam in the 1970’s and came to America. It was a bad time to come from Vietnam. He used to get beaten up at school. She never commented on this but when she would be cleaning him up the tears would be rolling down her face. She had come to America in hope for a better future for herself and her child and this was not it.
One time when he was away at university she called him saying that she had bought new furniture for her house and the store had delivered old furniture to her and refused to take it back. So he made a fake lawyer letter head and wrote a stern letter to the shop and soon after they delivered the new furniture with a dozen roses.
Soon after he married his mother called him and said that you have your wife to take care of you now. One week later he got a call from the police that she had hanged herself in her home.
When he had his first child he started to reflect on these experiences and to question some of the views he had about race and racism. Up to this point he had held conventional stereotypes of lazy Blacks, Hispanics etc.

Are we interested in diversity training or diversity education. Ask anyone with kids which they would prefer for their children: sex education or sex training?

You grow up in a middle class neighborhood with professional parents who tell you that you can do anything if…? “you work hard”. At the conceptual level we believe American society to be based on a meritocracy but at an operational level other realities affect the degree of success a person achieves: wealth, connections and access.

An African immigrant to America (a workshop participant)shared her experience of what the concept of working hard meant for her: a black person can work 10 times harder, losing her soul in the process and for what? To get to the top and be hated by whites for it.

“Truth is the condition that allows suffering to speak.” Cornell West
From the lens of “if you just work hard” truth and suffering looks like whining and complaining.

Sense of entitlement
The same workshop participant told the story of having worked for many years as a nurse and several other jobs at the same time and finally bought a house. She invited her white neighbor who was kicked out of his home to live in her house. After some time of supporting him (cooking for him and cleaning up after him), because of the demands he was making on her she asked him to leave. He refused telling her that she is only an immigrant to this country and that he is entitled to stay in her home because this is her country and she has benefited from this.

The American dream of solving the problem of poverty through material gain (working hard) has become intolerant of suffering and hardship. If you don’t overcome this suffering you should not talk about it.

Attribution Theory
1) We live in a just world and you reap what you sow
2) Fundamental attribution error: internal locus of control (they are there because they did something wrong)
3) Ultimate attribution Error: external locus of control (she got the job because of affirmative action)

People like Condoleezza Rice and Tiger Woods, Opera etc are held up as the rule and not the exceptional successes that they are.

Who here considers themselves nice?
N.I.C.E not inclined to critically examine

What is racism
Racism is a sociological idea
Any ism is a system of values, beliefs, behavior. What do you need to create a system? Power.
A Racist is: racial prejudice + power + discriminating action

Now Orleans situation:

Myopic – view things not in context of historical racism… problem to see things in perspective because people in power explain things away very well
“Racism without racists” De Silva the idea of this book is that you don’t even need racists anymore to have racism because of the systems of society.
“White washing race: the myth of a color blind society.” book to read

Shift from the manufacturing economy to knowledge economy is taking poor people out of the economy. In the past poor people could work in factories, earn better salaries and improve their material condition.

1995 the human genome project- one human race
In America one can change race depending on what state one lives in.
A mathematician spent a lot of time calculation how removed people are to each other and found that the farthest removed one person can be to another is 52nd cousin. Concept of race is very problematic
you can change your race based on what state you live i.e. one drop rule or one eight, or one sixteenth makes you black.

The first case in American history challenging the concept of all white men having rights was a Japanese man arguing that he should have the same rights as a white man because his skin is white. It was ruled that one had to be Caucasian and white to have rights. The next case was brought forward by an East Indian man who said that he was Caucasian but he lost because he wasn’t white enough.

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Authenticity in Teaching

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By Dr. Patricia Cranton

“I value and see myself as an authentic teacher. To me, authenticity means three things: the expression of the genuine self in the community, understanding how others are different from us without attempting to make them into our own image (helping others discover their authenticity as a way of fostering our own authenticity), and critically participating in life—questioning how we are different from the community and living accordingly.”

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Notes from The Sixth International Transformative Learning Conference Michigan State University Oct 6-8, 2005

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From a Talk by Jack Mezirow, Founder of Transformative Learning Theory

Serious shortcoming of our culture is freezing people into positions. I have been a liberal democrat all my life and it’s very reassuring to share those biases with others… the hardest thing to do in adult learning is to step outside of this and to listen to others.

Transformative learning is learning that transforms problematic frames of reference to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, reflective and emotionally able to change. Such frames of reference are more likely to generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified.

Some transformations are out of the realm of understanding or conscious experience. Unless transformation also takes place in terms of critical reflection of epistemological issues it is not transformative learning.

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Notes from The Sixth International Transformative Learning Conference Michigan State University Oct 6-8, 2005

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Debra Langon and Ron Sheese Professors at York University

They have a transformative learning research project with their first year sociology and psychology students. Their focus is on incorporating transformative learning into their practice as educators.

Engagement, deep learning v.s. surface learning, reflection, caring and at the center of all this is collaboration

Old approach to learning is just a critical thinking approach. They use the work of Thar Bacon on constructive thinking “Playing the believing game” beyond just logic.

They prize listening as much as speaking so that quiet students are not marginalized.

They have been surprised that simply stating a value like caring in their project has affected the students and also changed their own inward orientation towards their work. Students have repeatedly reported that feeling cared for in the classroom has enriched their learning experience. The focus on caring has also rejuvinated their work as professors.

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Notes from The Sixth International Transformative Learning Conference Michigan State University Oct 6-8, 2005

Learn more about transforming people, process and culture with the Real Agility Program

“What Might Education for Transformation Look Like?”
Dr. John M. Dirkx, Michigan State University, Oct 8

Ego and rationality are servants of the education process. Learning centered on text (i.e. books, students writing, teachers writing and dialog between, or individual etc…) therefor forming a dialogical relationship of teachers, students, subject and context.

Jung speaks of pulling us out of the womb – individuation- this is about having a sense of self so that one can experience union and communion with others.

Create an opening

Engage the interest of students in the subject by activating the emotions, cognition and memory. Learning is fundamentally connected to emotion. Emotion is essential to the process of thinking, analysis and synthesis.

Construct and hold together patterns of information gathered around text. Use text as basis and have student re-story (that is, students use the text to create their own story).

Cultivating creative and critical thinking

Encourage analytic critique and synthesis and imagination. Foster the dialectic of intuition and analysis.

Fostering understanding – seeing the world through the “eye of the heart” heartfulness…building connections… deep relatedness or intimacy with subjects

Nurturing wisdom – learning to act wisely
Stay with ambiguity, cultivate a sense of wonder, put aside quest of certainty. Discovering the nature of the self “the transcendent self.” Deepening what it means to be in the world. Find out what we love.

What is transformative learning?

Holding the tension between:
Feminine and masculine
Agency and communion
Autonomy and interdependence
Will and willingness
Intuition and analysis

Transformative Learning has to be:

Experience based
Depth instead of breadth
Use of story
Imaginative and symbolic
Embodied (how the body takes on what it feels, for example when I am teaching my body also comes alive)

Further Reading:
“Nurturing the Soul in Adult Learning.” John M. Dirkx
“Strategies of Transformation Towards a Multicultural Society.” David Ablos
“Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood”. Jack Mezirow
“From Information to Transformation: Education for the Evolution of Consciousness.” Tobin Hart

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10 Minute Executive Presentation

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Pete Behrens has an excellent outline with graphics of a quick overview presentation of agile that can be given to executives. The presentation focuses slightly on agile software development, but a similar presentation could be constructed for Agile Work in general.

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Is There a Single “Most Important” Agile Work Practice?

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There are a few times that I have been involved with implementing agile pratices without management knowledge or direct support. In these cases it has usually been necessary to gradually introduce the practices. An unsupportive or apathetic environment cannot be changed instantly and big-bang introduction of agile tends to bring too much negative attention too quickly.

In reflecting on those experiences, as well as “normal” agile implementations, I have felt that there are some specific practices that can stand alone.

Self-Organizing Teams

The practice of a self-organizing team consists of frequent regular status meetings, face-to-face, reporting to the other team members accomplishments, work commitments and obstacles. Scrum has a very strict method of doing this on a daily basis but I have found it valuable to do more or less frequently depending on the team and its environment (generally any less than every second day is not enough). The team, or some assistant of some sort, tracks the barriers and works to resolve them quickly. Management, if it exists, must be contacted through trusted channels to assist with the removal of barriers. And stakeholders must be able to attend the status meetings or receive reports immediately after the meetings.

This single practice tends to have the ability to bootstrap the others. The identification and clearing of barriers provides a way for the team to practice all three Agile Work Disciplines (Empower the Team, Amplify Learning, Eliminate Waste). Reporting accomplishments to the other team members Amplifies Learning. Committing to work is empowering.

Some teams have done only this single agile practice and seen great improvements in productivity, morale, and stakeholder satisfaction. However, there are some pitfalls that must be acknowledged and dealt with.

Pitfall: Speculative Work

The team can tend towards speculative work if there is no strong representative of the stakeholders. This does not always happen since most people are sincere in their desire to “make a difference”. However, if as a team you adopt only this practice and find yourselves doing lots of “what-if?” or “wouldn’t it be neet if…” or “what exactly is our purpose?” discussions, then you need to find some external stakeholder support for your effort.

Pitfall: Failing to Deliver

In many organizations, failure to deliver is an endemic problem and a self-organizing team will break through and start delivering. However, failure to deliver can also become a cultural mindset for an organization or group. A self-organizing team must maintain a goal (not a plan) for itself, and that goal must include delivering something valuable. Again, finding an external stakeholder to support the team’s efforts can help to avoid this pitfall.

Pitfall: No Barriers

Sometimes a team will get into a habit where no new barriers are being exposed. This can often happen when the progress in the work becomes steady and is recognizably better than it was before. The team falls into a “local optimum”. In this case, the team needs a fresh way to view their work. This can happen in a number of ways: a crisis, an external observer, or a change in environment among others.

Do you have experience with successful but incomplete agile implementations? I would love to hear of other experiences and opinions about this.

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Agile, the Adult Educator and Ethical Considerations

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A review of Tara J. Fenwick’s “Limits of the Learning Organization: A Critical Look” (article found in Learning for life: Canadian readings in adult education).

This article is a critique of learning organization literature (as presented in the works of Peters, Senge, Watkins, Marsick, Argyris, Schon and others). I chose to do a review of it because learning organization literature can and does inform the work of Agile practitioners. The writer, Tara Fenwick, offers a critique of this literature as an academic and practitioner in the field of adult education. Even though the language and tone of the article is judgmental and at times affronting to the corporate trainer audience, it is never-the-less challenging and valuable because she raises interesting ethical questions that can serve as cautions against potential trends that can distort agile practice. I will summarize her argument in the some of the areas most relevant to Agile practice.

Fenwick’s summary of the model of learning organization found in the literature, is an organization that: “creates continuous learning opportunities, promotes inquiry and dialog, encourages collaboration and team learning, establishes systems to capture and share learning, empowers people toward collective vision and connects the organization to its environment.”

The following is a summary list of some of Fenwick’s critiques:

Who’s Interests are Served
Although the learning organization literature holds great promise for a more humanitarian and egalitarian workplace, it has the potential to distort learning “into a tool for competitive advantage” and in turn, exploit people as resources in the pursuit of profit. To explore this idea she asks a valuable question: “Who’s interests are being served by the concept of learning organization, and what relations of power does it help to secure?” She argues that learning organization literature tends to serve the interests of educators working as trainers in organizations and managers interested in their own self preservation.

How Learning is Defined
Learning, in learning organization literature seems to be defined as that which benefits the organization, all other learning falls into the dysfunctional category. This perspective negates other ways that people create meaning and learn and potentially causes a person to become “alienated from their own meaning and block flourishing of this learning into something to benefit the community.”

Assumptions about Learners
The learning organization literature subordinates employees by seeing them as “undifferentiated learners-in-deficit”. Educators and managers are the architects of the learning organization while employees are busy “learning more, learning better and faster” trying to correct their knowledge deficit. In the learning organization workers become responsible for the health of the organization without the authority to determine alternative ways to reach that health. The fear of being left behind in a quickly changing market environment is used to create anxiety and fear as motivations for learning. All of these factors serve to put serious limits on the potential of people to learn in the work environment.

Diversity and Privilege Overlooked
Perspectives of race, class and gender -which research has shown affects the way people learn and collaborate- are lacking in the literature. Fenwick challenges the notion of achieving a democratically ideal situation for open dialog -that the learning organization literature calls for- when all people in the work place do not “have equal opportunity to participate, reflect, and refute one another” (for example because of the status of ones job, character, gender, class, age etc.)

Fenwick sheds a clear light on where the good philosophies of the learning organization are found wanting. The Agile community can benefit from asking some of the same ethical questions she asks in relation to our work. Her critique is a good challenge for Agile practitioners. It challenges us to:

  • Continue to strive for higher levels of ethical excellence in our work
  • To consider issues of power in our work
  • To become conscious of how we use our own power
  • To give thought to what voices are included / excluded in the creation of the learning organization
  • Pay attention to how we motivate learners
  • How to foster collaborative environments that are conscious of the privileging of some over others
  • Think about who decides what is valuable knowledge and learning and how that affects the knowledge creation process

Reflecting on these issues will go a long way to contributing to the development of agile practice.

The full text of an old version of Fenwick’s article can be found here.

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Agile Coach/Mentor Job Description (Process Facilitator)

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Given the Agile Axioms and Disciplines then an agile coach or mentor should have some really specific experience and capabilities. This list constitutes a first attempt at a job description.

Continue reading Agile Coach/Mentor Job Description (Process Facilitator)

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The Process Facilitator Role – Can it be Part-Time?

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Victor Szalvay recently made a fabulous argument for the role of Process Facilitator to be a full-time role held by a single person for a team. His article, The False Efficiency of Task Splitting, uses terminology from Scrum (e.g. ScrumMaster or SM = Process Facilitator), but applies to any circumstance.

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