I have always known that new challenges drive my learning so its a delight to open my mailbox and discover an interesting and exciting invitation. This happened to me a few weeks ago when I received an email from Marga Biller who is the Project Director for the Learning Innovations Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. LILA is a 20-year old research project that brings together non-competing chief learning, talent and innovation officers from 20 global organizations to push one another's thinking and practices as they consider the future of human development and creativity in the workplace. The community consists of leaders operating in a variety of contexts such as Steelcase, Deloitte, US Army University, Merck, Independent Schools of Victoria Australia, Publicis Sapient, and Visa. Each academic year, the LILA community explores a topic related to challenges of human and organizational development. Last year LILA explored the theme of Collective Mindfulness and based on conversations that took place last year and the member’s current challenges, it was decided that the theme for 2019 - 2020 would be Ecologies of Learning in a Transforming World. Marga was inviting me to join the process to share our work on learning ecologies, lifewide and lifelong learning and I will be going to present and discuss my ideas at the first meeting in October 23 and 24th.
At this point I have little idea about how I will try to connect the ideas I have grown in an educational environment to the corporate organisational worlds of participants but over the next few weeks I will try to document some of the things I learn and also the ecology of practice I create in order to learn
WHAT IS LILA? short animation to explain how it works
An Experiment in Using Nature to Inspire Creative Thinking in Professional Conversations : a “walking curriculum”
I find the idea of a ‘Walking Curriculum’ (Judson 2018a & b) quite inspiring.
“The simple act of taking a walk—a walk with a curricular focus or purpose—can have multiple positive consequences… For example, walking can support students’ health and wellbeing by getting them moving. It can also emotionally and imaginatively engage learners by changing the “context” of learning (“context” meaning both location and the form of attention and involvement required of students).
Going even deeper, walking-based practice can support students in developing a sense of Place. Sense of Place, here, refers to an emotional connection to some aspect of the wildness in the world that surrounds them. Sense of Place involves a sense of community. Sense of Place is what can change how our students understand the world of which they are part—it can help them re-imagine their relationship with the natural and cultural communities they live in (Judson, 2010, 2015).”
In her work on Imaginative ‘Ecological Education’, Gillian Judson frames the idea of a walking curriculum as a means of engaging school children in the natural world to support ‘a place-based and context / situation specific approach to learning which aims to develop learners’ somatic (bodily), emotional, and imaginative bonds with the natural world generally, and with specific places in particular.’ I am interested in understanding how an opportunity to walk in, through and with nature might stimulate creative thinking in the contexts of professional conversation, problem solving, learning and relationship development. Here I describe a simple strategy aimed at using a walk in the garden to stimulate creative thinking about the complex primary care world inhabited by a group of experienced GP (doctors) in the UK.
Judson (2018a & b) uses three imaginative cognitive tools to help us connect to and make sense of the natural world:
1 sense of relation: the innate human desire to form relationships and, in this way, to engage with our surroundings.
2 emotional attachments with features or objects in the world we encounter or make
3 Creating or claiming special places/spaces
I would like to include a fourth cognitive tool that uses imagination to connect us in ways that are personally meaningful to our environment through the making of a cultural
artefact e.g. a story with cultural meaning
Making cultural artefacts such as photographs, drawings, paintings, movies, stories, poems or any other form of self-expression are important means for us to connect and relate ourselves and our lives to the natural environment. Through the process of making we create emotional attachments to the environment and the product (the artefact) enables us to share our meaning making with others.
By making an artefact with cultural meaning that has been grown in the natural world when we connect our imaginations, emotions, physical bodies and creativity to a particular place, time and conversation. In this example I encouraged GP’s to create a stories about problems, challenges and possible solutions illustrated through metaphors gathered from the natural world. By placing the conversations in a garden, I encouraged participants to draw on living, organic, ecological metaphors in their story forming process.
The 10 participants were all experienced practitioners who had formed a learning set which had met on four occasions prior to this session. Most of the people in the group new each other and some had worked together in the same practice. I introduce the activity using two ideas. The first was the idea of a walking curriculum – a walk with a purpose namely: a walk in the natural world to stimulate imagination and creative thinking to gain fresh perspectives on problems and solutions to problems in their professional world. I also framed the activity as a means to encourage creativity and talked about the way our perceptions, reasoning and imagination are connected in a merry dance when we engage in problem solving using the concept of pragmatic imagination developed by Ann Pendleton-Jullian and John Seely Brown (2016). My working hypothesis was that an awareness of how perception, reasoning and imagination were intertwined in thinking about and with complexity provided a framework for thinking about creativity in this context.
My garden has three different spaces – cultivated garden with a small lake, natural woodland and an uncultivated meadow. My invitation to participants -
1 In pairs, take a walk around the garden, woods and field using all your senses, imagination and feelings to experience it.
2 Using your perceptions, imagination and reasoning - find something that provides you with a metaphor for a problem, issue or challenge in Primary Care / General Practice. Discuss why this is a good metaphor and take a photo of the object(s).
3 Continue your walk and using your perceptions, imagination and reasoning - find something that provides you with an apt metaphor for a possible solution to the problem, issue or challenge you have identified, or suggests an entirely new form of organisation or practice. Take a photo of the object(s).
4 Email your photos to: firstname.lastname@example.org
5 After 30mins the group will reconvene inside the house to share insights. Each pair will have 3 mins to tell their stories using their photos as a prompt.
Everyone took the exercise seriously. I was able to observe the pairs in discussion as they walked around the garden and took photographs and short video clips to show how the activity worked.
After 30mins participants reconvened and each pair presented the results of their conversations and shared the metaphors they had discovered in the natural world.
The purpose of the activity was to encourage professional interaction and conversations in an environment in which such conversations did not normally take place. The film demonstrates that this was achieved. By placing participants in the natural world and forcing them to seek objects and relationships that could act as metaphors for problems and possible solutions I was encouraging them to think ecologically. Participants’ stories indicated that this objective had been achieved. At the end of the session I invited participants to offer their comments on the value of the activity. Feedback indicated that what was valued was 1) the time, space and permission and 2) the nature of the space that emotionally provided a sense of liberation for usual ways of thinking and doing 3) the experience of being creative.
Was it a worthwhile activity? – ‘it certainly gets you to see things in a different light’ ‘it gives you permission to step back and look at things’
What is the value about the environment you were in? ‘There is a sense of freedom [in being in such an environment]. Normally we are pressured, always thinking about things we have to do. The conversation felt liberating’.
Did it encourage you to use your creativity? ‘The walking curriculum was very thought provoking & made me realise how creative we GP’s can be! It was such an unusual way to consider problems and solutions’
I observed two patterns of engagement with the challenge I had created
The first approach was: 1 Perceive - look at something 2 Imagine what that something might mean in the context of our experiences and practices 3 Discuss and reason how the something becomes a metaphor for experience and practice. This approach is well illustrated by the story of the children’s table and chairs as it is the first thing that can be seen as participants stepped out of the door.
The second approach began with conversations. I observed participants deep in conversation without paying attention to their surroundings and then searching for images in the environment that they could use to inspire, illuminate and communicate their story. In terms of thinking this approach might be characterized as 1 Reason (cases drawn from practice experiences) 2 Perception (look for something in the environment) with 3 Imagination to see the something as a metaphor for the problem or solution they were seeking.
‘It worked really well as a process in the sense of walking around, having a conversation then looking for pictures that fitted the conversation’
The two approaches are shown diagrammatically. The reality is that participants used a combination or blend of these approaches.
SourcesJudson, G. (2010). A New approach to ecological education: Engaging students’ imaginations in their world. New York: Peter Lang.
Judson, G. (2015). Engaging imagination in ecological education: Practical strategies for teaching. Vancouver, B.C.: UBC Press.
Judson, G. (2018a) A Walking Curriculum: Evoking Wonder And Developing Sense of Place (K-12)
Judson, G. (2018b) Cultivating Ecological Understanding and Engagement with the World through Imaginative Ecological Education Lifewide Magazine #20
Pendleton-Jullian, A. and Brown, J S. (2016) Pragmatic Imagination. http://www.pragmaticimagination.com/
To develop my understandings of how I learn and develop through all parts of my life by recording and reflecting on my own life as it happens.
I have a rough plan but most of what I do emerges from the circumstances of my life