Make Yourself Clear: KlingSalon Edition

Last week at Teachers College, Columbia University, I presented a “KlingSalon” to 50 graduate students from the Klingenstein Center.

KlingSalon, the brainchild of Klingenstein Center Director, Nicole Brittingham Furlonge, is a series designed to bring school leaders together to listen, share, and wonder in community. I focused most of my planning energy on the latter — wonder and its close cousin, wander.

After introducing three key concepts from Make Yourself Clear — Authenticity, Immediacy, and Delight — I sent teams of participants into the surrounding school buildings and city. Each team was assigned a particular focus . . . and an option for exploration. (See the full assignment here.)

After a half hour outside the classroom and some storytelling inside it, I asked the individual students to translate the day’s experience into their local school contexts, to which they would return in late August. Though forced reflection isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time, I rarely like to leave a workshop without grounding it in the practical, which is different for every participant.

Some students generously shared their takeaways with me, along with some photos, and I grouped some excerpts below. It’s a simple, rough-cut story of what happens when a group of motivated learners are given some slight constraints and the freedom to explore the world around them.

It was really nice to explore with my colleagues. We were able to be both goofy and productive. [The exercise] hit the sweet spot that helped it to be a memorable educational and social experience. I often forget about the social part [of learning] and provide too much structure and individual siloing. This was a great reminder that less-structured group time can be really valuable.

I noticed that our deepest, most authentic interaction with strangers was enabled because of the time they invested in our interaction. Even though the women [we met] did not know the name of the statue [about which we were curious], they stayed with us and shared several anecdotes about the statue. They invested time from their day even after they knew they could not help us with our initial query.

“Nameless Bust”

In returning to my school, I will seek to be aware of the time I spend interacting and try to ensure it is beyond what is simply necessary. This will help create authentic interactions, regardless of context or topic and build deeper rapport across relationships. 

What stood out to me today, and what I hope to bring back to my school, is the concept of immediacy. I am the director of student life and am responsible for coordinating medical leaves. Communication is key in these moments — communication with parents, with the student, and with advisors. Our faculty often [comment] that they do not have the information they need. I want to consider when communication should occur when it is most meaningful to them and to me. My sense is that [the faculty feels] it is too late. I may even explain how I prioritize my communication, so they understand why it is delayed.

One simple takeaway from today’s KlingStudio was the power of activities beyond the classroom. Getting outside creates a memorable learning environment and is a great way to break up the routine of the day. This type of activity is a great way to introduce topics like research, field studies, or interviews. As a teacher, I want to find more ways to invite fun into my classroom and find ways to engage students out of their seats. As a learner, it is a great way to think about what types of activities make us learn in creative ways. As a leader, I need to think about finding ways to break up the monotony of school and create something exciting for my faculty.  

For me personally, I very much enjoyed getting out with people in my group. I haven’t been able to join in many activities with the cohort outside of classroom so this was a good experience for me with the group. This was low stakes and could be useful with faculty and advisories for bonding and reflecting on values and education. I could [also] translate this activity to the language classroom at many different levels to explore the linguistic landscape of a place 

One thing I enjoyed was that by giving some structure, but not too much, you let each group do something that was organic for them. I appreciated that. My group chose a quiet walk and look around an old church, because one of our group members had been there before and wanted to share the experience. It gave us time to walk and talk as a group, and having even a loose focus, led us into a space of curiosity where we were asking questions and sharing stories. 

As the leader of this particular learning experiment, I’m pleased to see the various unplanned — though certainly hoped for — ways that the participants will carry the work forward. I’m also pleased to see that the exercise helped, in some cases, the participants themselves to feel more connected to one another.

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