GLADE curriculum planners believe that it is very wise during our lives to become appreciative of and connected with the myriad expressions of life around us. Many learning activities within GLADE draw upon this idea.
Nothing seems to transform young naturalists more than connecting with a wild, wonderful, and living creature on a personal level. It is in this experience, where intellect meets emotion, that love for Nature blossoms. A bird in the hand has that power, so GLADE uses bird mist netting and banding to touch young lives in a remarkable way. But there are infinite natural examples where Nature becomes the teacher, and, with a touch of facilitation, it takes the learner to the place where passion lies. In that moment, where intellect gives way to emotion for just an instant, all is made new.
Rudbeckia sp., Black-eyed Susan, is a member of the family Asteraceae (composite group of flowers). The biology of the composite is complex, but let’s make it simple. Within each individual composite “flower” is the simultaneous blooming of many flowers, all with the essential flower parts for reproduction of the species, differentiated into disc and ray flowers, and displaying its stunning beauty in a resulting synergy of form, color, structure, and shape.
Any representative of the composite family2 can be used to teach characteristics of effective human groups.
This is how I do it in GLADE.
1. Place a “flower” in the middle of the circle, or pass it around the circle of participants. Ask the individuals to describe the object in one word only. (Responses will range, but you’ll usually get “flower” or “yellow” or other simple responses. You might get some profound responses, too.)
2. After all the participants respond, pick up the object and praise the responses, but then say “Let’s look closer”. Explain to participants that within each individual composite “flower” are the simultaneous blooming of many flowers, all with the essential flower parts for reproduction of the species, differentiated into disc and ray flowers, and displaying its stunning beauty in a resulting synergy. Pull individual flowers out and pass them around for the participants to see firsthand the pistil, stamens, etc. of each flower.
3. Then take it to the next step: “Notice that they all bloom at once. There is no “one” flower that decides to blossom on its own, and if it did, it certainly would not be a beautiful flower. No, this is a large number of individual flowers, all feeling a “natural impulse” to grow. Each flower supports the other, providing a strong framework for “reaching to the sky” Each individual flower fills its specific niche in the whole, and continues moving toward the common goal, the spread of the seed so that the process can repeat itself. It’s synergy, pure and simple.” And that’s how it works with humans, too.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead
4. This “flower” can serve as a living example for human beings. We first must feel our own natural impulse to grow into responsible and caring human beings. We must then find those who share our collective vision for a better world. We must put aside our differences in order to support individuals, realizing that the odds of us all succeeding are greatly improved by taking care of each other. We each have our niche, and are responsible to the group to speak up or take action when the collective vision calls for it. Therefore, we are all leaders, our group is “leaderful”. When our collective vision is fulfilled, we spread seeds that can sprout in “fertile ground” and expand our vision of a just, sustainable and healthy world.
5. Follow up activity:
a. Arrange the students in a circle in a large grassy area. Ask them to sit down. Once seated completely, ask them to stand up. (a few laughs and “whats?”). “Now standing up by yourself can be pretty easy, but standing up with another person can be trickier”.
b. Have them pair up, sit down, and try to stand up together, face to face, with arms or hands connected.
c. When successful with 2, try 4. Remember to try to stand up face to face, with the entire circle connected by hands and/or arms.
d. Complete the exercise with the entire group. (12-16 is ideal) There will be many failed attempts, lots of laughter, and finally success. Here’s a message that I use to facilitate the process, but not until many unsuccessful and funny minutes have passed. “You know, people, sometimes you just have to back away for a moment to observe, and then see for the “first” time what has always been there.” (I say this because the flower example makes them think that they must be in a circle to solve the challenge. Some groups can do it in a circle, but most find an easier configuration.) Some groups find wonderful “inside circles and outside circles” configured in a way that they are all face to face, connected and circular. (that’s my favorite way to solve it) There are many solutions…. DON’T GIVE HINTS! JUST ENCOURAGE, especially the quieter members of the group, because the answer must come from within the group in order to empower them and transfer the lessons effectively to the remaining activities.
6. Processing: After each activity it is important to reflect upon the exercise to move the group forward to a more mature state. I do this by asking 3 questions:
a. What happened during the activity? Let participants speak freely. Encourage quiet members to speak. Politely encourage dominant members to allow others to speak. Point out the person(s) whose ideas or encouraging comments lead to solution of the challenge. Try to achieve a positive consensus.
b. What does it mean? Again, let participants speak freely. Encourage quiet members to speak. Politely encourage dominant members to allow others to speak. Try to achieve a positive consensus.
c. Where do we go from here? ? Again, let participants speak freely. Encourage quiet members to speak. Politely encourage dominant members to allow others to speak. Try to achieve a positive consensus.
d. Reinforce the power of an individual’s role in the collective vision. Try to encourage active listening, so that the group can hear and respond to that “quiet person” who has the “key insight” to move the group to better understanding and toward the common goal. “We do not have a single leader, rather, we are LEADERFUL.” And in each of the following activities:
Reiterate, Reinforce, Encourage, Empower, Enact!
And, that is grassroots leadership training, GLADE style!
1 Engaging Communities of the Ozark in Leadership and Environmental Awareness Development
2 I usually use a marigold or a zinnia, as they are easily dissected into parts