Monday, December 21, 2015

Book Review: The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice Educators

OK, I’m going to get all academic on you now and recommend a text book.

I can hear you now, “Great, Paul. Just what we want to do at the end of the year.” Give me a moment to explain…wow, tough crowd. :)

I’m pissed these days. No specific reason, just a sense of blah that has carried over for the past couple of months. I know one of the symptoms at least. The news. The never ending detail of stupidity, hate, and all that is wrong in the world.

In past book reviews, I have often shared my opinion yet also tried to hold space for different opinions knowing that “I don’t know, what I don’t know.” Yes, a little Johari’s Window for you Institute graduates. That’s hard to do. Hard to realize that I don’t know everything even with all the degrees I have, seminars I have attended, books I have read, speakers I have heard. Go figure.

So I end up asking this one question…How do we have conversations that matter? How do we start to really talk to one another in dialogue and stop yelling? How do we stop “unfriending” people on Facebook because they think differently than we do? (Like that makes a statement or something.)

Anyway, we are planning the retreat for our Institute Co-Lead Facilitators. This subject of how to hold conversations that matter is part of our focus. In particular, how do you create space for these amazing and talented people to have these conversations? Heck, if these people can’t demonstrate how to dialogue, disagree, learn, and share, who can? I mean really!

So, I turned to my graduate school work and some of the volumes I have collected over the years related to facilitating space for conversations. One of my favorites is The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice Educators. So many great chapters on holding conversations that matter and how we as educators (yes, I’m including you LeaderShapers as educators) can create more of those spaces.

Regardless of how passionate you are about social justice issues, you will find some great suggestions on how you can facilitate conversations that need to happen. Maybe even happen when you are around your family over the next couple of weeks. In fact, I bet if we were to start with those that are closest to us (we all have that Uncle…) perhaps we do some of the work that so desperately needs to be done.

I’m working hard to channel my being pissed off into action. I’m going to do so by getting better at creating space for conversations that STILL are not happening (yep, capital letters are probably a sign that I’m pissed).

I invite you to do the same thing. Perhaps then, we can look forward to a new year where we quit yelling AT each other and start to talk TO each other.

Of course, in the mean time, I will keep lighting candles, taking deep breaths, and listening to smooth jazz…

Hope you have a wonderful new year.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

What We're Reading: Blogs

We do enjoy reading, here at LeaderShape. Books, papers, blogs, and the like. We readily make recommendations to one another 

and enjoy sharing a good find. Maybe you are like us and are always looking for new ideas and thoughts to learn about and from. 

So, we asked some of the staff to share their favorite blogs and tell us why they read them. Perhaps you'll find one that you want to add to your list? And if you have something we should be reading, we hope you'll include it in the comments!

Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post
Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is fair and factual in his reporting. I’m a bit of a political junkie and I find myself going to his opinion pieces for valuable and validated information on the political climate. You’ll often find polling data and other stats in his column, which I really appreciate. 

This blog fuels my cooking/baking fire. I really love time in the kitchen, and Heidi does a great job of writing about great food, and taking great pics along the way! She also shares other food blogs that she’s currently crushing on. It’s a veritable rabbit hole of food information. 

Kristen Y
Journey With Me
This blog is written by a woman who has had a passion for jewelry making since she was in high school. She turned that passion into a business. In her blog she talks about her work, her family, her struggles, and fashion. I enjoy reading her blog because I can see her heart in her writing, and I can relate to the things she talks about in her own life. I appreciate her honesty with struggles she faces and how she shows moments of joy in her every day life.

This is more of an on-line magazine than a blog, but I enjoy reading it because of the reflective nature of the stories. Every story I read I find myself thinking about something in a way I hadn’t before. 

Dinner A Love Story
I read this blog as I think about the foundation my husband and I want to create for our family. Food is important and growing up I have so many memories of important conversations over the dinner table with my grandparents. This blog is helping me develop that for our family. It gives me focus when sometimes all I want to do is eat out! 

Kristen "KBH"
Grok Nation
When you understand what the name of the blog means, you then get a sense of the blog itself. "Grok" is a word coined by science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein in his novel, Stranger in a Strange Land. It means "to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed." A little bit nerdy, a lot of working to learn through understanding. I love the conversational tone, the depth of thinking that is displayed through the writing, and the variety of relevant topics on this blog. 

A Creative Day
This blog was created by LeaderShaper Eileen Beaver. I met Eileen at the 2007 Clemson University session of the Institute. Afterwards, we became friends on Facebook (it's just what you do after a session) and that is how I found her blog. Primarily a design blog, I love how Eileen uses design elements to make her home cozy, livable, beautiful, and a reflection of her and her family. 

Seth Godin
I have always found Seth to be a provocative and creative thinker. He writes in a no-nonsense way that connects with my way of thinking. He does a great job of making marketing something larger that impacts our entire life.

16 Thought-Provoking Social Justice Blogs on Tumblr
Although I read all of the blogs on this list, I really like Chescaleigh’s accessibility. She’s able to convey complex issues in ways that everyone can relate to.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Institute: National Sessions 2016

We are so excited to announce our 2016 national sessions of the Institute! In addition to the three general national sessions, we will again host a special interest session for African American men.
  • Sunday, May 15 - Friday, May 20, 2016 (Boston, MA)
  • Sunday, July 24 - Friday, July 29, 2016 (Champaign, IL)
  • Saturday, July 30 - Thursday, August 4, 2016 (Atlanta, GA) 
  • Sunday, July 31 - Friday, August 5, 2016 (Champaign, IL) (for African American Males)
If you are interested in learning how you can attend or how you can send students from your college or university to a session, please email us at

Want to learn more about the Institute? 
Check out some of our blog posts about the program. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

How Are You Feeling?

So how are you feeling at this time of year? Really feeling.

I’m slightly overwhelmed with the thought of making the holiday season, as well as the end of the year, a happy experience for everyone in my life. I’m a tad anxious at wondering how a blended family will do over the coming days as we all adjust to a new family situation. I’m a skosh nostalgic of family gatherings in the past and trying to live up to expectations. I’m more than ticked that I can’t stay focused in the present.

A few weeks ago I mentioned in my email about this year’s annual fund drive how it is so easy to hide from the world and that we have so much to want to hide from. Most of what we want to hide from is made up in our head. We catastrophize every world event, every awkward look, every miscommunication into something that is 10 times worse than it might actually be. In many ways, we can look back on the year and feel the same way.

The missed opportunities. The failed relationships. The use of the wrong word. The pain we take on.

I’m not going to do that any more. I mean it.

I used to think that life was supposed to be perfect. That I was supposed to be perfect. I thought that I could solve everything, be everything, fix everything. That hasn’t worked for me.

What has worked is to show up as authentically as I can. Admit my mistakes. Say I’m sorry. Listen and don’t solve. Be present. The best gift or experience I can give my family, friends, and colleagues is to be present and raw. Be vulnerable. Realize that the end of the year can bring a ton of feelings that can be positive and negative. They are just feelings. We all have them.

Let’s embrace those feelings and be thankful for the messes in our lives. Be grateful for the “warts” in our families. Be accepting of the process that we are all in.

Take a deep breath and realize we are all imperfect. Imperfections make the best stories. The best memories. The best laughs.

So instead of looking at the end of the year as a time of never ending lines, unlimited sale advertisements, and guilt for what we haven’t done, let’s focus on the present. The good right in front of our eyes. The smiles we can return. The nods that let someone know that we see them.

Those feelings are the ones we will cherish. The ones we remember. The ones that make us smile.

That helps to make a more just, caring, and thriving world.


Monday, December 7, 2015

#Day7: Tough Questions

December 7, 2015

The final #Day7 of 2015.

With one year coming to an end and another fast approaching, we may find ourselves pondering how the past year went and questioning what the New Year will hold.

“How did the year treat you?”
“Did you accomplish what you wanted in 2015?”
“What do you have planned for 2016?”

In our one-day Catalyst program we talk about the importance of asking ourselves meaningful and important questions. We challenge the participants to consider what questions they should be asking themselves that they currently are not. As we come to the last #Day7 of 2015, we want you to do the same.

It’s not always easy to challenge ourselves in this manner…to look within and consider what we are avoiding. But there are some pretty great things about digging into “the tough questions.”

We learn.

We learn from the question itself and from the answers we discover. We learn what we are afraid of, what is holding us back, what troubles our hearts and our minds. We learn how to be vulnerable.

We learn how to face our fears. We learn how to move forward despite obstacles. We learn how to solve problems. We learn what we care most about.

We learn where to direct our attention, resources, and efforts.

So let’s try it. Ask yourself, “What question am I avoiding that I should be asking myself right now.”

You aren’t alone in this practice. Here is what we at LeaderShape think we need to be asking ourselves right now…

Is this choice or decision getting me closer to the person I aspire to be?

Have I made someone smile today?

What do I need to let go of so that I can truly focus on what is most important to me?
Why is it so hard to show myself grace?
Kristen H.

What do I need to be doing to refresh my soul and encourage my heart?
How do I show compassion to my parents on a more regular basis?
Kristen Y.

What are the lessons I want to teach my children before they leave home?

How can I be more patient with myself and others?
How do I allow for voices different from my own to be heard?
How can I contribute to a sense of hope in our world?

What is your question?
We’d love to know and hope you’ll share it in the comments section.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Generosity and Community Beyond the Season

Last week many of us celebrated Thanksgiving. Then there was Giving Tuesday. With these two occasions and with all of the holidays still to come*, I can’t help but find my mind turning to thinking about others more often.

I don’t consider myself a particularly selfish or self-centered person, thinking only of myself. Those that I love and care about are never far from my mind. But this time of year always affects my head and my heart in a little bit of a different way. I have the privilege of spending time with family during this time of year. I have a couple of fun gatherings to attend with the wonderful friends and colleagues in my life. I have a little one and get to see the season anew through her eyes. I imagine I am not alone in this enhanced feeling of sentiment and generosity.

The thing is this: I don’t want these deep feelings of generosity and, when it comes down to it, community - because my family, my friends, and my colleagues are my community – to be elevated only during a particular season. So then, how can this mindset be cultivated beyond this time of year?

Some traditions around the holiday season ask us to contemplate what and for whom we are grateful, reflect on the year we are leaving behind, and consider what we want for the upcoming year. This practice connects us deeply to ourselves, one another, and to our wishes and goals. Making this a habit in our lives by practicing active reflection with more intention – on a daily, monthly, or even quarterly basis – can extend something that is the focus of a season to the entire year.

Time Together
For many of us, seasonal festivities give us the opportunity to celebrate and spend time with one another. I admit that it isn’t practical to have huge celebrations and parties every month of the year, but it is possible to spend meaningful time with those we care about and to do so on a regular basis. Dates with friends and loved ones don’t have to be expensive or elaborate.  Coffee dates, running errands together, birthday dinners, shared lunch breaks, video calls, and online chats are all chances to be generous with our time, our heart, our ideas, and to connect with those we are in community with.

As life returns to a more “regular” day-to-day schedule after the holidays, we can easily get caught up in, well, the day-to-day. We schedule so many things in our life, why not extend that routine and create reminders right into our calendar that prompt us spend time in reflection and to connect with those we care about? It is important and deserves dedicated time.

We are curious - what ways do you extend the traditions of generosity and community beyond the season? Tell us in the comments!

*I recently saw a post on Facebook that shared that between November 1 and January 15 there are about 29 holidays observed by 7 major religions!

This post was contributed by staff member Kristen H.