Archives for posts with tag: accompaniment

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“Scaffolding” is something professional teachers talk a lot about. It’s a simple concept: just like the temporary structure used by builders to provide structure to a wall until it is complete and able to stand on its own, scaffolding in education means the kinds of supports that teachers temporarily put in place to help a child learn a new skill that would otherwise be just out of their range. Rather than letting a child become frustrated with their inability to accomplish something, the teacher provides just enough assistance to get them the rest of the way there. Once the child has done it with help, they are both better prepared and more motivated to learn to do it on their own.

But scaffolding isn’t just for children. If we’re all in a learning mode, then any of us can benefit from this kind of support, even those who are ostensibly teachers.

The nice thing (okay, one of the many nice things) about the Ruhi Institute’s curriculum for children’s classes is that the program grows with the teacher. New teachers start working with a group of 5- and 6-year-olds (or, just as likely in a neighborhood with no children’s class program yet, 5- to 11-year-olds) on the Grade 1 materials. The curriculum is simple at that age: short prayers, repetitive songs, one-sentence quotations, stories that are one to three paragraphs, games with just a couple rules, and basic coloring sheets. Not only is all of this well within the ability of most 5-year-old children, it’s also well within the ability of a new teacher. In Grade 1, everything from what song to sing to what examples to use in illustrating vocabulary words is provided. And tools for tracking basic information like attendance and lessons learned by each child are printed right there in the same book that holds all of these self-contained lessons. Easy breezy, lemon squeezy.

In Grade 2, the children are a little older. They’ve had a bit more experience with the process. Instead of coloring, they’re drawing their own images. Instead of rule-oriented games, they’re working on guideline-oriented theater activities. And instead of each lesson being laid out for a beginning teacher, beginning lesson planning skills come into play, like choosing appropriate songs from a collection that they compile over time.

Grade 3 brings in more academic skills for children, and more extensive planning and organization for teachers. Stories are selected and adapted from historical sources, for example, and dramatic exercises are developed with less guidance from the materials. New skills, like asking questions to check for comprehension, are fully covered in the text so that teachers can learn how to add this component to their classes without worrying yet over the quality of the questions themselves.

I’ve not taught Grade 4, 5, or 6 yet, but it presumably builds both the complexity of the class and the skill of the teacher in a similar way.

Why is this scaffolding of service so robust in the children’s class program? Well, it’s the most highly developed branch course from the main sequence of courses. Many people will study the Grade 1 materials as they climb their way up the trunk of the main sequence of courses of the Ruhi Institute. Teaching children is such a core piece of the community building process that it’s the third book in the sequence. So even people who want to focus on animating junior youth or tutoring older youth and adults will learn the basics of teaching a children’s class, well enough to explain the curriculum to a curious parent or substitute teach as needed. But the real learning comes from those who decide to actually dedicate themselves to the act of teaching. And it’s these folks who will go on to study and teach Grade 2, Grade 3, and so on. It’s a specific branch of learning for those who are devoted to it, but it’s not necessarily meant for everyone.

Right now, there are many branch courses that are offered in different regions or localities as the need emerges. The second book of the main sequence, Arising to Serve, helps people learn to visit friends and share information about the Baha’i teachings with them. In some places, a branch course has emerged, helping those dedicated to home visits learn to share complex information like health and sanitation guidelines. I was lucky enough to be able to study a branch course for raising up academic schoolteachers when I lived in a country where this was an important area of service. But the children’s class program is the only globally-implemented branch course of the Ruhi Institute at the moment, and it has had years to be grown, developed, and refined. The materials themselves have changed quite a lot since I first studied them, and this is a direct result of feedback from teachers around the world.

I don’t know what the next steps are for the development of the Ruhi Institute, aside from the fact that both the main sequence and dedicated branches will continue to grow into a comprehensive and wide-ranging system of distance education spanning the globe. But I am grateful to be able to have faith in the fact that, however our service evolves, we will always find ways to accompany one another, every step of the way.

 

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You know what I didn’t expect to be such a huge part of my service as a coordinator?

Email.

I send a lot of emails.

Emails asking questions. Emails inviting people to various spaces, trainings, and gatherings. Emails sharing information. Emails clarifying the information that was already shared. Reminder emails. Encouraging emails.

I love meeting in person. I love visiting people, and talking on the phone.

But wow, is email ever useful.

It’s not a revolutionary new thing. It’s not fancy, and it’s not spiritually enriching or personally engrossing. It’s really not an exciting topic that makes everyone want to read your blog post. But it can be helpful if done right, and I feel like it’s something I’ve learned a lot about. So here it is: what I know about writing excellent emails.

Make your subject line obvious. If you’re writing marketing emails, you might want to be coy and try to make people curious enough to open the email and see what you’re selling. That kind of hidden agenda doesn’t work if you’re trying to build a culture of honesty and open consultation. If it’s about a prayer gathering on December 5, call it “December 5 Prayer Gathering,” perhaps with a “You’re invited!” as well. It’s not the best place for creativity.

If you’re asking for something, ask in the first paragraph, and repeat it towards the end. Things I often need to ask for are for people to register for an event, to fill out a survey, to attend a gathering, to respond to the email, to write a summary, or to gather and share some kind of data. If there’s a link that needs to be followed, make sure it’s repeated as well.

If something is important, make it stand out. I like to use bold type for dates and calls to action. Larger font size can be used sparingly as well. ALL CAPS DEFINITELY STANDS OUT BUT COMES ACROSS WITH A RUDE UNDERTONE THAT I’M NOT NORMALLY COMFORTABLE WITH IN EMAILS WHERE I CAN’T CLARIFY THAT I’M BEING FACETIOUS IN MY AGGRESSION. It’s easier to avoid.

Context is important, but it goes in the middle. The why of your request is important. Someone’s motivation for acting on your request is just as important as whether they do it, so give it some thought. But it’s incredibly frustrating to receive a pile of context before understanding what it’s supposed to be in relation to. Your high school English teacher was right when she said you needed an introduction with a thesis statement, a body, and a conclusion. If you find yourself becoming long-winded, write an outline. Most confusing communication could be vastly improved if people just took the time to outline their points in advance. (And I say this as someone who has coached a lot of people on their writing.)

Bullet points are your friend. On the other hand, that same English teacher probably also demanded full paragraphs with grammatically correct sentences. If you can say something in bullet points instead, it will probably be all of the following:

  • Easier to read.
  • More compelling.
  • Better organized.
  • Easier to write.

(See what I mean?)

And when you’re using bullet points, it’s generally understood that a subject and verb are not required.

Quote the guidance when you can, but do it briefly. It’s an email, not a deepening, but it’s always helpful to draw on the language we’ve been given. Look at how the Universal House of Justice quotes the Writings for excellent examples of how to quote beautifully in the middle of an explanation.

Always be encouraging. Always end on a positive note. Never miss an opportunity to share your appreciation and love. Even if you’re just shooting off a quick question about whether you need to print agendas for a meeting, a “Thanks for all your help!” can go such a long way. Accompaniment doesn’t stop just because you’re not meeting face to face.

Don’t abuse “reply all.” If it’s not necessary to bother everyone with your response to a chain, don’t. Make sure that you’re only writing to the people you really want to hear from you.

Bonus: If you’re offering an invitation and you have the time, people always respond better to beautiful images. Can it feel silly to design an invitation with photos of happy people engaged in a meaningful conversation when all the information is available in the body of the email? Yes. Do people respond more positively to beautiful images anyway? Absolutely. Just like a vase of flowers can make a gathering feel festive, a thoughtfully designed image makes an email feel important. If you’ve got even a little bit of skill (or can bumble your way around Canva), it can create a little oasis of beauty in someone’s inbox.

And that’s what I’ve got.

There’s nothing amazing here that hasn’t already been said by others, but if you’re looking to brush up on your online communication, this is a solid place to start. I hope it’s useful to somebody!

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I wrote a bit about accompanying others in their path of service earlier this month. I thought I’d share some about the other side.

On Monday, I met with a friend whose service is broader than mine, both in geographic spread and in scope. We had a few hours for coffee and conversation, and it was very natural to chat about the process that she and I are both concerned with at different levels.

Me: “I’ve been thinking about what Garth [another friend] was saying in our call last month about also having personal goals for my own learning, in addition to what learning the clusters need to do. Did you have any thoughts about what I should be focusing on?”

Friend: “Well, what do you think?”

Me, internally: “Dang, I should have expected she was going to turn that one around instead of answering it. She’s too good at this.”

Me: “I guess raising up coordinators is the huge thing right now. And also creating more collaborative spaces for reflection.”

Friend: “Well, when you think about it, those are really the same goal, because those spaces are the mechanism by which people can begin to think about the institute on a different level.”

Me, internally: “How the heck did I not notice that before?” 

Me: “That makes a lot of sense.”

We went on to share what we’ve both been learning about how creating gatherings focused around specific questions leads to growth. I would share my own learning and struggles, and she would add some things that were being learned in areas where they had a little more experience with the process. She reminded me not to fall into the trap of thinking I had to do everything myself, and instead help other people arise to the challenge.

Me: “Yeah, but I still don’t even know how to do it.”

Friend: “That’s really this old way of thinking, this idea that we have to know how to do something ourselves before we can teach others how to do it. But really, if we’re serious about this idea of all of us learning together as collaborators, it’s not like that at all. It’s very different from what we’re used to, but it’s also very powerful.”

Me, internally: [sounds of brain exploding and then re-assembling itself into a new configuration]

Also me, internally: “Huh, I just got schooled on one of the most fundamental concepts of the institute process, but I’m so excited to understand this better that I’m not even embarrassed about that.”

And even though it’s clear that she’s the one accompanying me on this path of service, this conversation doesn’t feel like a series of decrees from on high. Because what I lack in skill and broad understanding at this point, I make up for in knowledge of the circumstances here in my own little sub-region. I know who the tutors are, which folks are forming teams, where there have been communication mishaps, who are the families that are really engaged, all those little details that my friend doesn’t knowcan’t know, really, from her own experience as she focuses on a good-sized chunk of North America. The same way a teacher I’m working with might know about the lives of every one of the children she teaches.

She helps to guide and educate me, yes. But she’s not my supervisor, she’s my friend.

I’m so grateful to have a number of friends who are accompanying me on this journey. David, who helps me get a regional perspective on stuff. Yaquelin, my TFF (True Friend Forever!) who answers my desperate calls asking about … just about everything. Adwoa, who helps me be a better tutor. Haig, who reminds me that maybe I need to chill out a bit and take a walk in the woods for the sake of my health and well-being. (You can tell which the physician is, can’t you?)

Most of these people have no relation to me, in an official capacity. There’s not a flow chart indicating who is allowed to learn from whom. There’s a framework to our service, sure. But then there’s friendship. Both are necessary in order for there to be progress. Neither is sufficient without the other.

Accompaniment isn’t something that I feel I’ve grasped entirely. There are still lots of unhelpful and outdated attitudes in myself that haven’t been rooted out yet. But I have faith that I’ll improve over time; after all, I’ve got lots of friends to help me on my way.

 

 

My primary job as an institute coordinator is to accompany others on their path of service. This isn’t meant in the literal sense of physically going with people (although it does involve a fair bit of that), but rather encompasses a variety of actions that all come together to create a relationship of encouragement and support.

This skill of accompaniment was one of the primary focuses when I was studying the tenth course of the training institute called Building Vibrant Communities. In one section there was a series of questions about what kinds of activities were a part of this process.

I took these and typed them out into a checklist for myself, which I honestly believe has been one of the most helpful decisions I have yet made in this role. I kept it on hand when making phone calls, when planning meetings, and when assembling my to-do list. I copied it into my bullet journal, so that I’d have it always close to hand. And then I prettied it up a bit to share with others, because people always seem to feel more comfortable with information when there are nice colors and fonts involved.

What is accompaniment-

For those who can’t read the image, here is the full list of the habits and skills of accompaniment:

  • Noticing the smallest progress a friend has made in an act of service and speaking of it in a natural way within a larger context.
  • Building on strength and resisting the urge to focus on weakness.
  • Conveying hope and optimism when a friend is facing difficulty on the path of service.
  • Reflecting with a friend on the nature of his or her contributions, mindful not to elevate the ego.
  • Listening attentively when a friend speaks of his or her experience.
  • Reinforcing the habit of identifying the spiritual principles relevant to each situation.
  • Communicating to a friend confidence in the ever-present assistance vouchsafed by the Concourse on high.
  • Helping a friend to avoid feelings of disappointment when results do not match initial expectations and to take joy, instead, from the act of service itself.
  • Helping a friend to see stumbling blocks as stepping stones to progress.
  • Helping a friend seek coherence between the spiritual and material dimensions of his or her life.
  • Conveying a vision of progress that takes into account the dialectic of crisis and victory.
  • Serving joyfully alongside a friend.

Whenever I get compliments on my service, it’s usually just because I’ve been striving to accomplish the things on this list. Whenever I run into trouble (and I do quite regularly), it’s generally because I’ve failed to pay attention to one or more of them.

If I had to give just one piece of advice to any new coordinator (or tutor, animator, assembly member, or really anyone serving others), it would be to really reflect on and internalize this idea of what it means to accompany others.

For the last six months or so, I’ve been serving as a regional coordinator for the Regional Training Institute for the Midwestern States. Over the next month I’m going to be reflecting a lot on that, so I thought I would share some basics of what that means.

Training Institute

Ruhi Logo

The Ruhi Institute was founded in the 1970s by a group of friends in Colombia who wanted to promote the spiritual and material development of their communities. Over decades, they refined their methods and materials through a repeated process of service, reflection, and planning, and it gradually spread to other communities. In 1996, the global Baha’i community was asked to develop training institutes worldwide, and in 2005 the curriculum developed by the Ruhi Institute was chosen to be the main sequence of courses around the globe.

At the heart of this program is the study circle, a group of friends who gather regularly to pray, study, and serve with the guidance of a more experienced friend who serves as their “tutor.” These three elements of devotion, learning, and action are inseparable, and each element reinforces the others.

Regional

Some countries are big and some are small. I don’t have to tell you that the United States is pretty large, both in area and in population. In cases where a National Training Institute would get unwieldy, Regional Training Institutes are formed. The regions sometimes change, depending on the needs of the community, but tend to become smaller as experience grows.

(If this seems counter-intuitive, think about organizing a process in your home when only three people in your town have any experience with it. It makes more sense to start with those three people helping others at the city level, then—as nuclei of experience emerge in various parts of town—at the neighborhood level, and finally in individual homes.)

Midwestern States

map---mid-west

The region where I currently live encompasses Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. Why we’re called the Midwestern states when people are more likely to think of Iowa than Ohio when they hear “Midwest” is a mystery. Our neighbors to the west are the Heartland Region, which is much prettier, but nobody consulted me on the matter. We aren’t the biggest region, nor do we have the most experience, but we’re certainly one of the most loving, which matters a lot to me.

(Yes, I’m biased.)

Coordinator

As a regional coordinator, I have a sub-region (or “cluster grouping,” but that’s a vocabulary lesson for another day) that I focus on. In my case, the boundaries are easy: the state of Indiana. It’s my job to accompany—that is, assist, encourage, and provide resources for—those friends who are engaging in the three different educational programs of the training institute: children’s classes, junior youth groups, and study circles. In some areas with more experience, I work with coordinators who serve at the local level. In most, I work directly with the tutors, animators, and teachers. I handle some administrative tasks like ordering materials, gathering and making sense of data, organizing meetings and trainings, and editing our newsletter. But a lot of what I do is relationship building, sharing insights from experience, and listening. Lots of listening.

So that’s my current path of service.

Whenever I’ve taken on a new role in the past, whether in my faith community, my work, or in various organizations I’ve been a part of, I’ve always wished I could get into somebody’s head who had done it before. Not so I could copy their every move, but so that I could gain some understanding and insight into the process. So that’s what I plan to do here, particularly over the next month. Feel free to join me in all my messy learnings as I go.