Community vs Individual Learning

The crocuses and daffodils peeking out of the brown earth remind me how I love spring, as it seems to burst with possibility and new opportunities. I was just invited to the teacher track for the Strozzi Institute, an internationally-recognized center for somatic coaching whose mission is “to produce leaders who embody pragmatic wisdom, skillful action and grounded compassion.” I will be traveling there four times this year to be with my cohort, and I am reminded of how impactful it is to be in a community of learners. The support, energy and learning is so much greater than going it alone, and I am grateful to be embarking on this journey with this amazing group of people who come from not only the United States, but also from Chile, Belize, Italy, the UK and Ethiopia. It is truly a gift, and I invite you into this reflection on your own learning communities.

There are a multitude of articles about the importance of professional learning communities. One of the biggest proponents is Peter Senge, who popularized the theory of the learning organization. In his book, The Fifth Discipline, he speaks about the importance of team learning and that this learning is done through dialogue, which allows one to go beyond any one individual’s understanding. This is the real benefit of learning with others; we get out of our own head and can question our own assumptions, and process and internalize the learning is a more powerful way than doing it on our own. As social beings, we learn through the interaction with others. When I was at Strozzi, I was curious and energized by others’ questions in the room. I found I could move my own understanding of a concept and better internalize it. When I was “stuck’ with a personal issue in my own development, having others witness me and offer perspective from the outside allowed me a way out of my automatic thinking to create a new way of seeing things. Finally, the support I feel is invaluable, knowing there is a group of people all on the same path of learning, holding one another accountable to our commitments to become great teachers of this work.

This is a key reason for me founding the Women’s Leadership Circles program—to provide others with the opportunity to learn leadership in a close community of peers. Being a leader can be isolating, and we need someone to learn from. A colleague and I have been conducting research on the impact of these Circles over time. In fact, all of the Circles have continued on their own after the initial six-month program, the first Circle now in it’s fifth year. Here are a few comments on the importance of the Circles both as a place of learning as well as strength through connection: “Meeting with them has offered me a way to consider, create, act and reflect on various experiences and learnings in my life in a way different than one-on-one friendships.” “ I feel calmer in the face of challenges knowing there are others there who care and support me.” What about you, where can you leverage the power of community in your learning?

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