Thanks to Christian at think:lab for highlighting Christopher Sessums’ thoughtful post on Parker Palmer and The Courage to Teach.

During my first few days at Hamline back in 2001, I found myself with the task of following Parker Palmer around with a video camera. Parker was keynote speaker and group-facilitator-extraordinaire for a two-day campus symposium called "Commitment to Community," and my job was to document his every move. The symposium ran over a couple of hot, humid summer days, but his energy and graciousness never flagged. Our first conversation took place during a break in a large-group session he was faciliating. We stood in the back of a steamy ballroom, looking out over a chaotic field of empty metal folding chairs as participants bolted for the water fountains. It went something like this:

Me (dripping with sweat): How are you holding up?

Parker (dripping with even more sweat): Hanging in there. Do you know where I can get a bottle of water?

Parker’s visit helped spark the beginning of a Courage to Teach program at Hamline, offering teachers the rare opportunity for reflection and renewal. The program is based on Parker Palmer’s teacher formation work and follows the cohort-retreat model developed by the Center for Courage & Renewal (formerly the Center for Teacher formation). Similar programs have been started across the country with the support of the Center. Two cohort groups—a fascinatingly diverse mix of master teachers, young teachers, administrators, higher education faculty, social workers, yoga instructors, etc.—have completed the program since 2001; a third group will wrap up in May. All told, about 70 people have experienced our Courage to Teach program. Not a huge number, but a huge impact if you consider the number of colleagues and students who are affected by their changed professional practice and vocational identity. An interesting idiosyncracy of our Hamline participants is their burning desire for continuance. They don’t want the experience (and the community, and the relationships, and the vocational touchstones. . . ) to end, so they’ve organized a number of ongoing "alumni" gatherings.

To shift gears for a moment: Christian and Christopher’s comments about the principles in The Courage to Teach—reflecting on identity, integrity, and community—reminded me of what so many edu-bloggers have been writing lately about blogging as a transformative, connective, growth experience that has the power to change one’s inner landscape and relationship to outer community. The analogy really jumps out at me, maybe because I’ve been feeling strongly connected to that blogging-as-reflection theme lately. The connection may not be apparent to others, and may just fade like a mirage after time away; regardless, I’d like to take time soon to dig deeper and see how far this metaphor goes, how closely what we know about blogging practice aligns with the principles of teacher formation.

A short except from The Courage to Teach (pp. 73-77) describes the six tensions or paradoxes that define learning spaces. These six points could just as easily go into an Essentials of the Blogosphere course as fundamental tenets.

The space should be bounded and open. Without limits it is difficult to see how learning can occur. Explorations need a focus. However, spaces need to be open as well – open to the many paths down which discovery may take us. ‘If boundaries remind us that our journey has a destination, openness reminds us that there are many ways to reach that end’. More than that, openness allows us to find other destinations.

The space should be hospitable and “charged”. We may find the experience of space strange and fear that we may get lost. Learning spaces need to be hospitable – ‘inviting as well as open, safe and trustworthy as well as free’. When exploring we need places to rest and find nourishment. But if we feel too safe, then we may stay on the surface of things. Space needs to be charged so that we may know the risks involved in looking at the deeper things of life.   

The space should invite the voice of the individual and the voice of the group. Learning spaces should invite people to speak truly and honestly. People need to be able to express their thoughts and feelings. This involves building environments both so that individuals can speak and where groups can gather and give voice to their concerns and passions.

The space should honour the “little” stories of those involved and the “big” stories of the disciplines and tradition. Learning spaces should honour people’s experiences, give room to stories about everyday life. At the same time, we need to connect these stories with the larger picture. We need to be able to explore how our personal experiences fit in with those of others; and how they may relate to more general ‘stories’ and understandings about life.

The space should support solitude and surround it with the resources of community. Learning demands both solitude and community. People need time alone to reflect and absorb. Their experiences and struggles need to be respected. At the same time, they need to be able to call upon and be with others. We need conversations in which our ideas are tested and biases challenged.

The space should welcome both silence and speech. Silence gives us the chance to reflect on things. It can be a sort of speech ‘emerging from the deepest part of ourselves, of others, of the world’. At the same time we need to be able to put things into words so that we gain a greater understanding and to make concrete what we may share in silence.

And so here is the germ of an idea. Why not push the metaphor a little further and make it a reality? I’d like to propose a Courage to Teach blogging initiative at Hamline. Something along the lines of Scott McLeod’s 100 Principals Blogs in 100 Days project, only in our case working with our Courage to Teach program participants. It seems like it could be a perfect, and perfectly transformative, fit: reflective, connective, invitational, and in the community context that our participants are calling for. It may be that they may only be interested in quiet reflection and introspection, and will treat a blog as a private place for introspection. On the other hand, as educational leaders and innovators with a vested interest in making their schools better places to learn, teach, and work, they very well see a blog as something much bigger. Who knows where they may take it? I can’t imagine a group of educators more primed and ready than these. The sky’s the limit.