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Archive for the ‘Guest Bloggers’ Category

From Guest Blogger, Lareese Hall

The Community Problem Solving workshop was a first for the Kennedy School – it was the first time teams of participants came to the school to work on a problem specific to our community.

Intense days left little time for much more than wandering back to your room at night and trying to do the reading for the next day. Yes, we had homework. And we had group work and, on some level, individual work. We also had roommates – from other teams. So, on a nightly basis, you were able to reflect and share with someone who was completely unconnected to your team and your stated community problem, which was helpful.

The program was carefully structured to illuminate a very specific (and truly useful) process for problem solving in a community context (which I will discuss in upcoming posts): diagnosing the issue, developing strategies for real community participation, creating valuable partnerships, understanding the politics involved, and coalition building.

Our class sessions were focused on teaching us specific skills and each class session was followed by a team session that applied what we just learned in class to our particular community problem. I will not go into copious amounts of detail here about the community problems because the problems (although important) were essentially case studies for the process.

There is a tremendous amount of value working together as a team. I am a person who often, when faced with an enormous task, prefers to dig in my heels and just do it myself. I was reminded in those few short days at Harvard, that working with other people can give you resources and strength that you can never get all by yourself – no matter how amazing you are.

We were a group of people with something in common but not a group of people who had ever worked together to get something done. It was critically important that in each of our group sessions we would choose roles as timekeeper, facilitator, and note taker – roles that shifted with each session (and we had five group sessions overall). We were fortunate that we (along with each of the other groups) were assigned a faculty member who would journey through this process with us – keeping us focused and assuring us that we were making progress (or not). There was no session where someone did not get upset or challenge someone else, but we truly made progress and learned to be better leaders.

In the end, (civic) leadership is about participating and contributing; it is not about cutting yourself off from loss, fear, or danger. As Marty Linsky (one of our professors) and Ron Heifetz state in their book Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading (a book we were each given in our introductory package – and that we had to read partially for class, of course!): Leadership is worth the risk because the goals extend beyond material gain or personal advancement. By making the lives of people around you better, leadership provides meaning in life. It creates purpose.

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Lareese Hall is a student in the Civic Entrepreneurship in Public Institutions course that I teach at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Graduate School of Library Information and Sciences. While the rest of the class was on campus for a full-day session (this is a distance ed class that meets in person for one day during the semester) Lareese was off to a three-day Community Problem-Solving workshop designed and taught by faculty at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

When she was selected for this prestigious program that teaches teams of civic leaders the skills they need to effect deep change, how could I refuse her request to be excused from the on-campus session? But in my classes, everyone is expected (and does so enthusiastically!) to share what they are learning so Lareese has agreed to guest blog here and share her learning with Texas Forums and the students in LIS 590 CEL.

We look forward to hearing more from Lareese. In the meantime, here’s her bio:

Lareese HallLareese Hall is the Eco.Experience Project Manager at Carnegie Science Center, where she is working to develop new visitor experiences and educational programs related to ecology and the environment. Hall has worked in non-profit, community-based programs for more than 15 years, including as Design Manager with the Riverlife Task Force here in Pittsburgh. A native of Philadelphia, she has lived in a number of urban areas including Boston, Albuquerque, Charlottesville, and Florence, Italy, and has a diverse work background in areas related to urban planning and design, conservation, and education. She holds an undergraduate degree in English from Oberlin College in Ohio and an MFA in Writing and Literature from Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. She is currently a part-time student in the Library and Information Science graduate program at the University of Pittsburgh. She also has studied architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. She currently serves as a member of the City of Pittsburgh Arts Commission. In her spare time she writes fiction, paints, and is restoring an old house.

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On Thursday, October 18th, about 60 teachers, administrators, parents, government officials, and youth  gathered at Reagan High School in Austin, TX for a series of three forums on “Too Many Children Left Behind: Closing the Achievement Gap in Central Texas.” The diverse group is gathering on behalf of a diverse Austin Independent School District. Other area districts are involved in the same types of forums, which are sponsored by many groups including Texas Forums, E3 Alliance, Austin Voices for Education and Youth, the United Way, Univision, and KEYE TV42.

The welcome spelled out the reason for being there. It was said that “Despite advances, we know that it is not enough–it’s unnacceptable. You see great stories in some schools, but not districts. It’s a regional problem. We need everyone’s thinking in the region on this issue.  We’ve got to work smarter, work together. Tonight is the first of three sessions. Give us your best thinking with an AISD perspective.”

It was also said that “If we don’t solve this problem, it affects the market in this state–whether kids are college ready–in a globally competititve economy. The problem is not enough graduate and not enough go to college or get a post-secondary degree.  This leads to less salary, less access to healthcare, and more of a chance of going to jail. The loss will be $40 billion in earnings by 2030 if gaps are not closed.”

Tonight’s dialogue and other related forums will culminate in a regional forums and a regional blueprint. Everyone’s experiences are the lens to look at possible options and opportunities. Next blog posts will include participants’ comments made during their small group sessions such as the youth who shared that “Some kids have an attitude. They’re wasting my time and the teacher’s time. I’m here to learn. Teachers have motivated me to do my best.”

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SilonaSilona is currently focused on creating the League of Technical Voters and the Transparent
Federal Project Project
. Before this she started her own company, ElecTech that created specialized software for political campaigns, and ran a web consulting business where she was one of the first people to create websites for hire, and to successfully optimize her clients’ websites for usability and top search engine ranking. She has also worked in the gaming industry, creating high visibility web presences, content management systems, and large database back-end integrations. Silona volunteers for the ACLU and EFF on technology-based civil liberties issues, and has lobbied on various issues. The combination of her involvement in political activism, educational activism, psychometrics for gaming communities, lobbyist work, netizen activities and web design make her uniquely suited to envision the framework that will make the LoTV system all possible.

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John Fleming will be guest blogging live from the LBJ Library during the All-American Presidential Forums.
John FlemingJohn Fleming is a staff member of the Center for African and African American Studies with The University of Texas at Austin, College of Liberal Arts. He has lived in Austin for over 36 years. John is a freelance flutist/musician and co-owner of a music consulting business, Fleming and Fong. John is also the co-founder of the Austin Summer Flute Camp. John has worked extensively as a private lessons teacher providing flute and theory lessons to students within AISD and Pflugerville ISD assists Mrs. Daphne McDole and the Keys of Life program (www.kol-kidz.com). John’s community involvement has been with organizations such as Reading Is FUNdamental, KLRU and served as chair of the KLRU Community Advisory Board and former president of the University of Texas Longhorn Alumni Band Association.

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Patty won’t be in the room with us at the LBJ Library, but she’s a dear friend who’s very thoughtful so I’ve invited her to be a guest blogger with us for the Tavis Smiley event tonight.

Patty Dineen

Patty Dineen has been convening and moderating National Issues Forums (NIF) in Pennsylvania and other states since 1994.  She is one of the instructors for a deliberative democracy workshop held each summer by the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.  She has assisted with issue framing and large deliberative forum projects including the Philadelphia Inquirers Citizen Voices projects, the Philadelphia Education Summit, Common Ground in Akron Ohio, and Global Connections-Pittsburgh forums. She has written two issue books for the American Bar Association; about public trust and the American justice system, and about the jury system.  Patty does freelance writing and is the contributing editor for the National Issues Forums News (online)

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ric williams

Ric Williams is a poet, artist, and  yellow dog Democrat whose preferred form of government is compassionate anarchy. What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding is still the question in a world where violent coercion to conformity is the psychotic reflex of so-called values-oriented true believers. He is senior editor at Dalton Publishing and a contributing editor (Litera) at the Austin Chronicle. Find out more at   ricwilliams.com.

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Introducing our first two guest bloggers for the Tavis Smiley All-American Presidential Forums Watch Party on September 27.

Christina Shideler

Christina Shideler currently lives in Austin, Texas after recently spending a year working and living in France, where she learned a deeper love of her own country, language, and international politics. She is a poet, artist, and singer dedicated to not taking herself too seriously and always responding with a good joke. She currently works as a personal assistant to freelance writer Rod Amis (www.g21.net)

Paul Schumann

Paul Schumann is a futurist and innovation consultant. He helps people and their organizations discover future change and exploit that change through innovation. He was a guest blogger for the Democrat Presidential Forum Watch party and will be on hand to blog about the Republican Forum.

For more information about the watch party, download our flier or go to our Texas Forums web site.

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[This posting was written during our Democrat Presidential Forum Watch Party on June 28, but was never published. It is important to publish even at this late date because these are the concerns of citizens who gathered to hear what the Democrat Presidential candidates had to say about these concerns.]

On the topic of education, our small group at the LBJ library had different opinions about what the specific problems are in education. While we did not agree on the exact nature of what needs to be fixed, it is clear that we all feel the system needs real work.

Children are born with an incredible appetite to learn – but somewhere along the way, they lose that eagerness, that appetite if they do not feel connected and engaged and active participants – for education to be successful, we have to nurture that desire to be involved and be connected.

We are not keeping up with the trends – kids learn differently these days and we are still using archaic tools that mean nothing to them – we use print when kids are acclimated to technology – we are not keeping up – school is formulaic – we are not keeping pace with changes in the ways kids learn.

Americans are in a knowledge-based market and have to deal with overload of information – if we do not teach children to work projects and in teams, we are missing the boat – we no longer need to teach facts, we need to teach how to research – how to find the facts, libraries should be playing a larger role – they have the critical skills that people need to succeed.

But, if you don’t understand the basics, how can you understand the process? We measure how well people can memorize, not how creative or brilliant people truly are. We are not nurturing people skills – our criteria of success is misleading.

Testing mechanisms foster memorization rather than learning the skills they really need. Students need to work on projects and skills that are really applicable to the workplace. Doing things that are hands-on, dialog-based group projects. This disconnect from what needs to be taught is legislated by mandated testing programs.

We can’t talk about education in a vacuum. Education and other issues are so interrelated – how can a child succeed in school when he is living in sub-standard housing, going to school hungry and carrying the stress of poverty?

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I think Edwards came off best. It’s a shame no one takes Kucinich seriously. And Gravel needs to be quiet. I understand that he needs to get his name out there, but if you are going to attack your opponent at least have something of substance to say afterwards.

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