Nov. Retreat: Collaborating to create a focused and impassioned team

I wasn’t exactly sure how this retreat was going to look. I knew that we would have to come to consensus about which topics to focus on and the breakup of groups, but I was also a little nervous about that: the more I wrote about my topic during the weeks in between our last meeting and now, the more excited I got about it, and the less I wanted to abandon it. This continued into the afternoon; I was interested in the immigration topic and the education topic presented, but the intersection of them was really what I wanted to focus on and put a lot of energy into.

I felt like my presentation went well, for the most part, but I wasn’t sure how convincing I was about the important of equitable education for English Language Learners and New Americans, especially since that’s such a specific topic. I think one of the best moments of the retreat for me came after dinner, when we sat down to hash out the tentative groupings, and found that among the big group of people interested in the topic of immigration were five who thought that a focus on education and communication was something they could support. We broke into that subgroup, and it immediately felt relevant and important: one person even said that it felt like we had group “chemistry.” Even though it was preliminary, it felt official almost immediately–the more we talked about the topic, the more ideas and contacts and branches of the issue we came up with, and the more important it felt.

That energy continued into the session this morning, where within the space of several hours we had established a weekly meeting time through Google Hangouts, the breakdown of our communication in other ways, a place to add research and contacts, a shared folder with the notes from both days and numerous other resources, a method of recording our weekly goals and progress, and the way in which we would use our blog to record our learning. We organized quickly and effectively, and I think that the more we talked, the more dedicated and impassioned we all became. I’m really excited about our group dynamic. We have three 11th graders and two 8th graders, which gives us a really good split of students with some common and some different experience. We all have different experience on the topic (which is helped by the fact that we’re pretty divided geographically within the state) and we all know different angles through which to approach this vast idea of equitable education for New American and ELL students. From the way we’re interacted today, I think that we’ll work very well together, which is helped by the fact that we all seem excited to begin and we’ve created what I think will be very functional methods for communicating, staying on the same page, and learning together while attending to our individual experience.

I’m coming out of this retreat with a bigger focus on the communication and dialogue aspect of the issue. I was inspired by Erin’s presentation, and by combining the two ideas I think that we’ve created a more comprehensive approach to the very large issue of equity. I think that considering this aspect of it more deeply made me realize its importance: connections and change and new ideas and worldviews are created through dialogue (in some cases because it simply hasn’t been attempted before). Our method of gathering stories, probably into a documentary, may be a way of creating effective if less direct dialogue. We’ll get to decide what to focus on, but what those people say will be communicated to everyone who watches it.

I’m not sure exactly what the next month will look like, but I think it will have a lot to do with making sure everyone is on the same page information-wise, and planning out the process of gathering information from stakeholders around the state. I have a lot of experience in communication with youth and with adults, so I think that I might focus on drafting questions and suggesting some guidelines for interviews, as well as identifying and contacting resources. I’m going to do some additional research adding to that I did for my blog posts over the last six weeks and read Erin’s blogs to update myself on that aspect of the topic, and I think that additional tasks and the way and order in which I do everything will mostly be decided by communication among my group. Especially towards the end of the month, I think we’ll mostly be preparing for interviews and finding new resources and contacts, as well as exploring how to reach these people, use the equipment effectively, set up times, and make sure that the information and stories we’re getting (as well as how we’re getting them) are as relevant, multi-faceted, and effective as possible.

Clara Lew-Smith

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