Workshop #5: Summarizing Our Reflections

By John—for Amberlee, Dorothy, John and Wendell 

Here’s a brief summary of participants’ reflections on our first Spring AHA! workshop. I’ve also attached (a) the “5 Ds” of Appreciative Inquiry (AI); (b) the 9 values that emerged from our Fall workshops; and (c) the World Health Organization (WHO) social determinants of health (SDHs), plus the arts-based SDHs from Dorothy’s and my research.

Our AHA! artist workshops have followed the AI 5 Ds model often used by adult educators. AI is meant to unfold as “a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved”, so it definitely challenges participants. In our Fall workshops, we explored the Define and Discovery stages, playing and telling our stories through different art forms, facilitated and directed by different AHA! artists. Most, if not all, of us have been schooled in this other-directed, or dependent, learning (what Paulo Freire calls banking education—learners waiting for knowledge to be deposited). But our first Spring workshop plunged us into AI’s Dream and Design stages. We used Amberlee’s and Dorothy’s board game concept, similar to Deb’s Game of Life teaching and research, to facilitate the group in self-directed learning. This workshop was certainly not banking education, and going out on a limb with this process had people stretching and creating; many reflections focused on discomfort with the process—not knowing where we were going. Some freely acknowledged their heads were spinning with AI and game theory, while trying to figure out how this all fits with arts-and-health.

Having Deb at this workshop helped hold out the promise of an implicate order, despite our having none of our familiar well-charted maps! And given we were trying to design a real-life game, the presence of 40% new workshop participants certainly set the scene for this. As one of Dorothy’s faculty colleagues puts it, “Adults hate structure, adults love structure.” The cultural pillar is the most nebulous of Sustainable Antigonish’s four pillars, as to how it can best build a healthy community; it’s also the one offering us most creative self-expression and deep fun—that is, the chance to Dream and Design. Though we kept things playful, this workshop was hard work for everyone, evoking uncertainty and even chaos at times; true to the intention of Design, we were creating on the spot with minimal direction, striving to move towards the final D—Destiny.

Here are a few reflective phrases, written or overheard:

“The cultural pillar is the means to create our sustainable community” “Embrace inefficiency” “What a huge learning curve” “All games need challenges to struggle with” “It can be intangible but it must be achievable” “We don’t have to know where we’re going” “Play comes from chaos—allow it” “Uncertainty is powerful” “Loved the doing and making and chance to play” “Give yourself permission to fail” “A serious intent to do something good” “Creating a container for improvisation and free play is a lofty goal” “I do better with chaos if I have a chance to prepare” “Music is often ethereal, sculpture tangible and lasting” “Creativity is never fluff” “It’s all process, but keep a goal in sight” “Leave no one behind—cooperation, not competition” “Our building blocks are leaving a fleeting but tangible trail” “Not a static experience but an ever-changing and challenging dynamic” “Stepping out on a limb is well worth the risk” “Meet people where they are” “Important learning comes from exploring big dreams” “Let’s keep shaking it up” “Frogs can be blue and sky pink”

Dorothy is using our new stick-it note reflections, together with our nine already established values, to write up our game-so-far. This is the stuff of quite a new kind of appreciative evaluation, so stay tuned! Meanwhile, what might we do differently, if we were to go out on a self-directed learning limb again?  Might we offer a bit of adult education theory about other-directed and self-directed learning, asking that we put our expectations on hold and explore the relative novelty of self-directed learning? This could help get personal and group buy-in to the process from the start, so that we’re all in the process together.

We urge you to offer your further thoughts and inspirations on where we go from here!

John—for Amberlee, Dorothy, John and Wendell

 Appreciative Evaluation