Do you Ask or Tell? Do you Express or Control how you feel?

Today the AmeriCorps Project CHANGE team learned about a new personal effectiveness tool known as Social Styles. Our expert John Dold put the members through their paces, inviting them to assess their personal styles under the headings of:


It created a fascinating discussion between us, as the expressives expressed their feelings and the drivers drove home their insights  while the Analytics sat back and more rationally examined what was going on, what did the data say, and the Amiables kept everyone happy. It was a perfect demonstration of the styles. We onsocvial-styles-1ly have one driver, and plenty of expressives. Who is surprised?

What did we learn? That we all have our preferred style and that others may have a personal style that is different and not necessarily compatible with ours. When we Expressives get frustrated with the team member who goes on and on about the details, we have to realize that the Analyticals get just as frustrated with the over-excited Expressives who gush and enthuse about every thing. Or the Amiables who want to keep everyone happy and find the dynamic and decisive style of a Driver to be too much. Its not that any style is wrong, but that we all need to be flexible and try on different styles to suit the need.

soc-sty3Vive La Difference it is when it comes to personality types. Whether one model fits or not, they all make the point that none of us come at the world in exactly the same way. We should not presume that our view is the only view. We are all shaped by so many different variables, from genes to upbringing and language, and culture that our AmeriCorps team is a model of diversity, in ethnicities, languages and personalities. Today we learn to cherish that.





Questioning our own Cultural Assumptions Study Circles 2

What if the achievement gap was a symptom of something bigger, something more basic than just students failing exams or dropping out? What then?

What if students fail or succeed due to circumstances and contexts over which they have little or no control? What then?

What if as spirited and motivated we are as  educators to remedy the problem,  we might be as much part of the problem as we are of the solution? What then? 

What if all our precious presumptions about equality and justice make us blind to reality,  and that our belief that students, given the same opportunities, rise or fall based on character or will power or grit is nothing more than a softer expression of hard discrimination? What then? 

Project CHANGE  today experienced Part Two of  the powerful Study Circles method. We in the helping and teaching professions can get so outward focused, we feel its a luxury or navel gazing to take some time doing some serious self-reflection on our practices, beliefs and goals. But we have to be reflective practitioners if we are keep our own learning alive. Last week, the team learned some basic techniques of mindfulness, to quiet that noise and focus on being, not doing. It was a perfect complement to the session today, when we took a pause to look at our own stories where race and prejudice may have got in our way and the way of our students.

The team were asked to take a ‘systems approach’ to the problem,  to focus less on instant fixes 20161021_131748and more on what behaviors and attitudes feed the problem, and what gets in the way of us getting a handle on it. There is so much to learn, and so much to unlearn. 

As Marion Wright Edelman said to us in an event two years ago, “Every child has the right to feel they can achieve and be successful.” If we create a system that tests and tests and tests, to screen out failure from success, or if we serve a culture that overlooks young people’s developing bodies, minds and souls, to privilege aptitude over attitude, then we are creating more failures to fix.  We are like that ingenious Irish fire brigade who to avoid unemployment, tried lighting the fires they then went to put out.

Today was hard. There was some heavy lifting, some hard topics, some tears, even some anger, but Yesenia led us through with great calm and compassion. She knew what the Project CHANGE team might be feeling, because three years ago, she was in the room not as a facilitator but as a member of another great AmeriCorps Team.

Thank you Yesenia. Thank you John Landesman and Study Circles. Thank you CHANGE team for the courage to have a fierce conversation.




Mindfulness and the Practices of Self Care

mindfulnessToday, mindfulness expert Greg Robison presents to the AmeriCorps team on one of the core practices of self-care- Mediation and Mindfulness. After two months of service, the team are already showing some signs of stress. Its normal and to be expected, being tired, frustrated and challenged by some of the situations and some of the students who don’t do what they are told, etc etc. That is part and parcel of the work we do, but what do we do about it? Burnout is an occupational hazard of people in service and so mindfulness is a way of allowing our bodies to catch up and our minds to slow down. Or as Greg explains it, Mediation is moving out of the thinking mode to the sensing mode.


We are expected to multi-task and we are expected to change our best laid plans when the weather changes or the bus runs late. At every turn, the things that we think we can control run on a schedule different to ours. So we have to cope and we have to adjust. But that takes a toll on our nerves and on our patience. We need to sometimes get off the merry go round and sit, breathe, smell the roses, and let our bodies back into the conversation.

Stories of defining moments- Study Circles




The sharing process of Study Circles lays down a timeline 1940–2016 and asks the members to think of some defining moments along that life journey, when your story was born, or came alive, or took a detour, or shifted into overdrive. And what stories came out! They were so powerful that the team, starving as they were, allowed the pizzas to grow cold, because they could not dare to leave the story circle. They wanted to be with their team mates, as each shared some amazing. disturbing or profound moment of transformation.

One member was 21, and innocently driving home late one night when police pulled him over, and before he knew it, he and his friends were surrounded by a dozen police all with guns drawn, and screaming at them to get on the ground. They complied and were all handcuffed, while the car was searched. After a terrifying ordeal, the police let them go with a casual,”You weren’t the guys we were looking for. You can go.” No apology. No explanation. No Nothing.

Another story was about a member in an advanced English class at college, being told by the professor that because the student had Latino origins, that she did not belong in this class because this was for native English speakers. Even when the member told her she spoke both as her native tongue, the teacher insisted that if she did the class, she would have to do extra work to be able to keep up. “No Way,” she told the professor. And at the end of the course, guess who got an A. How much does prejudice set a limit to the expectations teachers have for their students?

For some, the moment that changed everything was 9-11 when the color of their skin or their eyes, or their name became something that others feared. They were told to “Go back to where they came from.” ( which was New Jersey) Or a family was so disturbed by the hatred that they considered changing their family name and moving to a different part of town, where the color of their skin did not stand out as much.

These stories shape us but the point is that no story need define us. And as Yesenia skilfully asked the team at the end, imagine, just imagine that some of the kids you are teaching and tutoring, that this was their story. How might that effect the way you interact with them?




Project CHANGE does STUDY CIRCLES- Part One

The Project CHANGE team experienced Part ONE of the Study Circles today, seeing the work that members Merary and Deepna are doing every day with school communities in Montgomery County, and being led by Yesenia, a Project CHANGE alumnus from 2013.

Study Circles teaches people how to design the structures of safety and trust that allow for difficult conversations around the issues of race. Sadly, race is one of the most reliable predictors of achievement in our schools and it does not have to be this way. study-circles-16

The achievement gap is one of the big buzz words in educational circles, but what does it look like on the ground? It is a complex mixture of teacher-student engagement and understanding, or lack thereof.

The Team today were invited to share their own family and school stories and to begin to build the shared story of concern and interest that will lay the foundation for confronting the issue of racism head on at the next meeting.

study-circles-2-16The other part of the day was to have some fun, playing kids games, and relaxing after another hectic week of service. A few early sniffles are being heard and some of the team look a little tired. Perhaps a long sleep and a revival weekend is in order.  They surely deserve it.