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Volunteer Work with a Grand Tip

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No,No,No,etcFor more than two years I have respectfully declined multiple invitations to seriously consider applying my “conflict as opportunity©” philosophy and skills specifically within public K-12 school settings.  I believed I had “more important” business consultation engagements to pursue in the private sector.

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Volunteer Work Can Often Be So Precious

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I decided last November to accept an invitation to apply my conflict-as-opportunity philosophy and skills in K-12 public school settings.  I added part-time, self-scheduled, middle- and high-school substitute teaching assignments to my weekly consulting and other business and personal routines.  I found it rather convenient to add these teaching assignments around my other responsibilities.

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I was curious to learn how my conflict-as-opportunity philosophy, skills, and interests would apply within small- to medium-size classroom groups, across a variety of subjects, ages, and settings.

ClassroomActivites

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To my delight, I found great value in applying much of what I’d previously learned as a conflict resolution professional — with, of course, creative adaptation — in order to deftly choose and define my own “battles” while demonstrating a clear, value-driven, and behaviorally understandable philosophy among truly diverse parties (pupils, teachers, support personnel, students’ family members, and administrators) to turn conflict after conflict (after conflict) in class after class (after class) into an opportunity for mutual respect, learning, and growth.

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I found I was increasingly able to engage my students in individual, dyadic, team, and classroom learning activities — utilizing simple “cooperative learning structures” — to approach and engage diverse students — as many as possible — in learning tasks of apparent relevance to them and to me.  Differences among parties turned into relevant learning opportunities.

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Many rewards amidst some notable frustrations

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Overall, I have been finding the substitute teacher experience to be extremely interesting, even if somewhat challenging sometimes, and intrinsically very rewarding in terms of students’ constructive engagement with me and then with the learning tasks at hand, particularly when learning tasks can be conceived as of relevance to the student.

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It’s been also sometimes frustrating.

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With a little further investigation, these especially frustrating experiences have turned out to be quite informative.

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Culture clashes between, in particular, three sub-cultures of participants’ family of origin.

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Poverty,Students

I have been learning first-hand about “culture clash” — as when generational poverty students clash with the more middle-class cultural norms of our schools and businesses.

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Influenced by Ruby K Payne, Ph.D., I am directly experiencing and learning with increasing respect just how “poverty” is about so much more than simply a lack of money.

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This is about human resources development.  This is about looking at what is happening both internal and external to the individual, beginning at an early age.

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Each of us, independent of economic class, is operating with the same inherited, impressive, and very adaptable, human CNS.

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CNSOur Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematical (STEM) human performance findings indicate that all humans possess the same, multi-faceted, and adaptable, Central Nervous System (CNS).  The human CNS is pre-wired to attend especially to danger and to novelty.

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Nevertheless, early learning sets the stage for later learning.

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I appreciate Ruby Payne’s working definition of poverty:

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 “POVERTY” = “the extent to which an individual does without resources.”

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These resources turn out to be both internal and external to the individual.

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To begin, poverty is relative to the person experiencing it.  People do not know what they do not know. People attempt to create value that is meaningful to them based upon what they are familiar with and do know.

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Dr. Payne points out that poverty occurs in all races and in all countries.  Moreover, economic class is a continuous line, not a clear-cut distinction.  And generational poverty is different than situational poverty.

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A responsible analysis will include subjective individual experience as well as analysis of empirical patterns.  We must keep in mind that all patterns have exceptions.

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I have been learning first-hand how sub-culture of origin impacts each and every person’s very perspective, familiarities, comfort zones, and, yes, unfortunately, stereotypes of others.

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This is because all individuals are primed by their early experiences to understand the rules and opportunities of the particular sub-culture within which raised.

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The rules and opportunities of situational poverty, middle class, and wealth sub-cultures are different, dependent upon resources available and peoples’ responses.

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Most individuals simply bring with them their own familiarity of the rules and opportunities of the class in which he/she was raised.

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The rules and opportunities of other sub-classes typically remain “hidden” to most of us, because we have not been exposed to those other ground-rules.

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NationalStereotype-comPeople don’t know what they don’t know.  However, people will often stereotype what they do not truly understand — without clear and accurate understanding.

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Stereotypes do not communicate respect.  Stereotypes, instead, represent in some ways inaccurate prejudgements of others.

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This is to say, stereotypes represent prejudice.

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Is there anywhere for us to responsibly “hide”?

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I don’t think so.  Unless we want to remain myopic.  And less effective.

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Schools and businesses tend to operate from middle-class norms.  For those who were not raised in the middle class, but instead in generational poverty, these are the “hidden rules” of the middle class.

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Generational poverty ground-rules for survival and norms are very different than middle class ground-rules and norms.

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I agree with Ruby Payne and other educators — because it is consistent with my own understandings and personal experiences — that for our students to be successful, we must start with understanding their assets and interests, as they are.

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DiscussAssets&Interests

We must understand their assets and interests in order to meet them where they are at — so they are able to meet us, where we are at.

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This must include respect for the student — where she or he is at right now in terms of skills and familiarities — if we want to be most effective.

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Typically, our attempting to control and change the other “uncooperative” or “disruptive” party (to be fair and accurate, sometimes with anger, even if we think “for their own good”) can often naturally turn into a power play of resistance by the other party.

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We need strategies that will work more effectively than these often more typical attempts at controlling and changing others.

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If we want to generate true respect by and among our students, we must also lead by example — including when we are confused or frustrated.

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This requires our learning to understand how each student is attempting to meet their own understandable and universal human needs, even if they are doing so

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  • inadequately

  • according to the “hidden rules” with which they have become familiar.

  • admittedly, not the same “hidden rules” with which we are personally most comfortable and familiar.

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Nevertheless, by our personally responding to the other in terms of commonly understandable and basic, in-the-present, experiential human needs or “positions” to which we can genuinely and, with empathy, respectfully communicate acceptance of, we are able to communicate respect for their circumstance and predicament, even if not their actions.

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Spencer Kagan, Ph.D., has suggested the following seven universal human psychological states that are indicative of universal human needs or “positions.”  I have, likewise, found it very adaptive and constructive to interact with my “uncooperative” or  “disruptive” students in terms of understanding which of the following present-state psychological positions characterizes them, and to which with, if feeling reasonably safe, the disruptive other party might identify.

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  • Attention/validation (“Hello! I’m here! Do you read me?!”)

  • Avoid discomfort of failure (“I’m really not foolish!”)

  • Anger (“Hey! Take this!”)

  • Control (“You can’t make me; just watch!”)

  • Energized (“I gotta use my body!”)

  • Bored (…zzzz…)

  • Uninformed (“What’s going on?”)

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There is nothing “wrong” or immoral about any of these seven basic positions.

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All are natural human experiences or conditions.  Understanding of the student’s in-the-moment subjective position and “predicament,” typically by the teacher, is required of that more capable individual.  This understanding is then confirmed with the student and, as then accurately understood between parties, is then cooperatively addressed.

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Our STEM performance understanding inform us that people are neurologically pre-wired at a CNS level to desire and exercise personal-control by making their own decisions.

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Consistent with our STEM performance understandings, it often does not work very well when we attempt to make others’ decisions for them or to force them to “decide” to act, think, or feel they way we think they should.

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STEM performance understandings point to the centrality of the experience of self-control + useful feedback + a personal sense of safety for optimal decision-making and new learning of personal relevance.

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Instead of our attempting to control the other, or attempting to do for the other party, if we attempt to connect at a gut level — with one-on-one empathy — with the other party, in a credible and trustworthy manner, the other party is more likely to feel understood and accepted by us, generating for them the experience of a greater sense of safety and recognition.  They may then, quite naturally, become more open to us, to our demonstrating, and perhaps their learning — again through our own modeling — the “hidden rules” with which we are familiar, and that might make them more successful at school and at work.

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Note that I assert “more likely.”

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This is because the other party remains in control of him- or herself — not us.

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As educators, our interest is to neither excuse students nor scold them for not knowing.  As educators, we want to teach them and provide support, sometimes with insistence as appropriate, and always with clear expectations that can actually be understood by the other party.  We lead by example.

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Interestingly, and consistent with our STEM human performance understandings, this requires sharing power and control with our students, including where ever safely possible, with our “disruptive” students.

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How to do this, responsibly and with positive results?

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This begins, in each case, with our own personal mindfulness.

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This requires rather holistic and accurate understanding of self, where we are, intellectually, yes, but also where we are emotionally in the present moment (for example, do we feel alert, at peace, capable, and expectant, or do we feel hurried, frustrated, tired, or in other ways distracted?), plus always remaining cognizant of our primary “why” behind our intentionally (for example, is it to serve the student’s constructive learning with self respect or is it to make others do what we want them to?), and then our behavioral performance — right now.

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Effectiveness continues with personal presence and mindfulness that also focuses on the student — where she or he is at, intellectually, emotionally, and behaviorally — right now.

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This can also take the form of conflict-as-opportunity, and will be supported, when ever appropriate, by also working cooperatively with the student’s classroom, school administration, other support personnel, and last but not least, the student’s current family.

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Ruby Payne and others suggest two things, in particular, that empower individuals to, step-by-step, make their own constructive choices to actually move out of poverty.  These are:

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  • Education

  • Relationships.

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This is, again, consistent with our STEM human performance understandings.  Effective learning occurs when, at minimum,

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  • developmentally appropriate

  • of relevance to the child’s own questions and interests

  • not solely generated by child, but also shared with child by the modeling of a trusted other

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Four key reasons individuals seem motivated to make intellectual, emotional, and behavioral changes to actually leave their more familiar poverty are:

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  • it’s personally too painful to stay;

  • a personally compelling vision or goal;

  • a key personal relationship;

  • a special talent or skill.

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Even so, in each case, it comes down to an individual decision to choose to leave the relative sense of “safety” of what is familiar to him or her, even when it is poverty.

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Our STEM human performance data are consistent with Dr. Kayne’s and others’ reported data and experience that freedom of choice, rather than attempted coercion to do so, provides the most enduring results with buy-in.

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I am learning with great vividness as to how solutions to culture clashes must build upon cooperative engagement and learning that becomes founded upon respect and learning among all parties.

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The importance of uncompromising respect — starting with my own.

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My recent experiences as a substitute teacher have underscored in my mind that to actually be able to provide a constructive set of learning experiences for all parties, my attitudes, actions, and reactions must remain grounded upon uncompromising respect.

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To be most accurate, this starts with, and must always include, respect for myself — and then extending a similar kind of respect toward others.

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How do I do this?

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I find this “how to” to be a multi-faceted, whole-person-engaging process of

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  • understanding and managing myself

  • modeling self-and-other respect, at all times, even when inconvenient

  • inviting others to problem-solve with me and consider options with which I am comfortable and which are consistent with my own values, while remaining respectful of them.

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In a nutshell this begins with:

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  • Taking good care of myself

  • Clear and relevant self disclosure

  • Offering an empathic level of understanding by me of the other party within a clear and respectful context

  • Sharing problem-solving with others

  • When potentially helpful, offering choices to the other party, any of which, if selected, I am at core truly comfortable.

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What do you think?

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Does this sound too simplistic?  Too abstract?  Too difficult?  Boring?  Or does this sound interesting and realistic to you?

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Can you appreciate “conflict as opportunity” for mutual learning and growth?  If so, how does this work for you and in what settings?  With whom?

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What values and actions undergird your work?

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What results have you enjoyed?

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What challenges have you encountered?

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Where and how do you find “respect” fitting into your work and play?

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What role does contextual culture play in your accomplishments and challenges?  How do you effect the culture?  Can you?

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I am most interested to learn what you have to share — the good, the bad, and, if relevant, the ugly.

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In peace, with agile resilience and increasing excitement,

~Norman

Norman Jentner, Ph.D.
Peace of Mind for Peak Performance
Bridges to Culture Advantages
Conflict as Opportunity

3 Comments

  1. Ping from Stakes for success keep increasing. How is your peace of mind? Performance? | Business Culture Solutions LLC:

    […] 2. My own peace of mind requires continuous new learning, even if sometimes uncomfortable. […]

  2. Ping from Several Key Responses to the Great Depression, and What We Learned | Business Culture Solutions LLC:

    […] following information was received as part of the “grand tip” that I obtain as part of my volunteer […]

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