What would happen if we gathered some of our religion’s best, innovative leaders together from around the Association to spark, inspire, and cross-pollinate each other? This was the question behind the experiment Innovative Learning Circles. The break down of the experiment was this: 5-6 leaders gather virtually for a monthly hour-and-a-half-long meeting over a span of nine months starting in September.
Similarly to small group ministry there was a group agreement as to how to be together and what could be shared outside of the group. Most participants were familiar with the model and very little adaptation was needed.
We experimented with various kinds of videoconference software to see what served our purposes best. I am eternally grateful for the patience (and humor) of the groups, as some of the early products were disastrous. Most of the groups settled into (free) Google Hangout or a paid-for version of Skype.
Two flavors of Innovative Learning Circles emerged:
- Think Tank Groups wrestled with questions I would bring from the UUA Leadership Council or around a specific and timely issue. These groups developed respect and affection for each other, and I watched them reach out to one another outside the groups. These groups were quick to share resources and problem solve.
- Case Study Groups took turns each telling their story, a specific incident, or issue they were working on. These groups went deep with each other, risked vulnerability, and helped keep each other accountable in a way that humbled me. Before someone shared I would ask what kind of feedback they would like to receive, further deepening the trust and allowing us to practice showing up effectively and lovingly.
I sent out questions or articles ahead of time, but the format for all the groups was very similar:
Question or Case Study
Reflection and/or feedback
Take-Away (What nugget of wisdom or observation are you taking away)
A couple things we learned:
- The more time zones involved, the more complicated it is to find a common day and time.
- Closed FaceBook groups keep each circle in contact throughout the month and was used to varying degree.
- Don’t under-estimate basic introductions and sharing descriptions of ministry settings. The cultural differences between geography, size, and setting were fascinating and enlightening – and often assumed until we stumbled over them.
- Asking each individual what his or her “Take Away” is was key to over-all learning and often unveiled another layer to group dynamics. I kept a notebook of “Take Aways” for each group and highly recommend that practice. Going back over the year not only recorded growth, but we sometimes would go back to a concept or quote that was gold.
- There seems to be a corollary between structure and depth of sharing. A set time and a set agenda provide the safety and predictability for a group to focus on the intimate relationship between themselves.
I believe this initiative is replicable, and I encourage you to borrow as you are so inspired! Please consider starting a version of Innovative Learning Circles in your congregation, geographic area or virtually by affinity/ leadership role.
I will share some of the Take Aways in coming blogs…
Tandi Rogers is a Credentialed Religious Educator and former classroom teacher. She cherishes how the teaching and the learning never stop, the classroom just keeps expanding.