How to lead a good walk

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Photos taken during Belly Full: A History of Hunger Resistance in Parkdale

I love creating ways for people to engage with their local area; to connect, share and be critical in their day-to-day spaces. A pretty rad way to do that is to lead a group of people on a good walk*.

But how do you lead a walk that is interesting, that educates and that makes some kind of positive change in your local area?

I thought a lot about this question while creating the Choreographer pilot program with Jane’s Walk. As the organizers of a global walking festival in 100 cities, Jane’s Walk has some great resources and introduced me to a few more ideas that I’d like to share.

But first, let us start the revolution, reach world peace and end poverty … starting with my own neighbourhood walk.

Of course, you’ll have to read my uber popular neighbourhood walking guide. It details my super cool neighbourhood and even offers concrete strategies to make it a better place. My guide may transform you, your friends, your community, the world even!

But you’re right. You deserve better. Fine. I’ll lead you around, see the sights and you can take part in my amazing copyrighted “walk for good lecture”! Still not enough!? Ah! You are a greedy one. You want the best. OK I’ll tell you everything you want to know and everything there ever was, I’ll find a room for you, and we’ll meet every single neighbour of mine and we’ll walk everyday for the rest of our lives!!!

No. This is the wrong place to start. Think about what the aim of a good walk actually is.

To use a quote from Tilden’s Principles, a good walk “is not instruction, but provocation”. To provoke, you must infuse yourself with your surroundings, be confronted and uncomfortably challenged by what you see, reflect with others (real actual groups of people) and act. And re-act. One way to do that, is facilitating a walking conversation with people.

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When planning your own walk, begin with this idea: ‘a walking conversation’. Next, add a few of these starters below.  By starters I mean, start here and figure out the rest later.

Permission to inquire

This is a mindset. As a walk organizer, you need to make sure everyone who is participating is given permission to investigate, lead, take a step, poke, prod and figure things out when they are curious. It’s not enough to say “feel free to ask any questions at any time”. There are reasons why people speak and others do not. Think about what those reasons might be, counter them and make space. Offer multiple ways to inquire, like asking a partner, talking in small groups, writing questions, touching and hearing the space, creating time to explore individually, and making space for silence.

Local Expertise

Really sit with this idea. I know it’s tempting to want a certified expert, with some kind of degree, to tell you things. It feels trustworthy and you want the facts. But we are all experts in our lives, so why privilege only a few? Look for expertise in all the shapes it comes in: personal stories, anecdotes, exciting moments, things people like and don’t like, skills, talents, people who have 50 years experience living in an area and people who just moved there. Practically, this looks like validating people’s living knowledge. It doesn’t mean throwing out the history books, but it does mean relating to the ways history affects the present and future lives.

Multiple Perspectives

This is both a starter and an organizing tip. Share different stories from different points of view. This doesn’t mean that you can give a neutral “some say this, and some say that” approach. No. Try to show how the same story affects people differently. Logistically, find different people to help you both facilitate and tell their story, for example as a stop along a walk. Who are the people on your street? Stop in and find out.

50 / 50

I really like the simplicity of this one. Try to work towards 50% of the conversation coming from you and other speakers and 50% of the conversation coming from the rest of the group.

Remember the “walk lecture” I mentioned? That’s 100% of a walk leader’s voice. One voice, one story. This completely disregards the audience’s experience and knowledge. Not cool. 100% from the crowd can be interesting but your fellow walkers might not be expecting that. In my experience, people want to make sure there is some kind of control in how a walk runs. They will be looking to you for a little direction.

Sure, you might end up 75/25 and that’s OK! Just remind yourself to work towards an equal dialogue in every walk, and you’ll do just fine.

Sorry. I’m going to confuse you. Not just 50/50. Some voices carry more weight, while others are under-represented. Find those silent voices and increase the volume when you can.

Next Steps

Great walk! Time to go home and forget about it! Boooo. That’s not right. A good walk never ends. It is a living walk.

People might think about your walk years later, and it might have truly impacted them, but further impact takes action. Make sure your walk nudges folks towards a next step. That could be almost anything, from future events, meeting, petitions, local groups, websites, email, anything that encourages the discussion to continue in person after the last stop of the walk. It’s really simple to do, but often forgotten.

 

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These starters came mostly from my work with Jane’s Walk  – with major thanks and support from Toronto Community Foundation – and a recent meeting with Dan Monafu from de(tour) Ottawa (check them out now!). Thank you all for inspiring me to write it all down.

Finally, it is important to remember that a good walk is not easy. But if you take some of these starters seriously, your walk will educate, be interesting and leave people thirsty for more questions than answers (a good thing!).

*I use the term walk to explain what experiencing a physical space in motion is like. It is a multiple-abled experience and can be done by wheelchair, by cane and by bike. As long as the “walker” can stop and converse with someone else while in motion – I say it’s a walk!

How to Draw an Asset Map

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The first training session for Jane’s Walk’s new Neighbourhood Choreographers started this week.

We use the term choreographer as it relates to the ideas of urbanist Jane Jacobs who speaks about the “intricate ballet” of sidewalks with their “individual dancers and ensembles”.

Similarly, the sidewalk ballet needs choreographers to organize, direct and promote the preformance. Neighbourhood Choreographers in this way are ambassadors of Jane’s Walk in their neighbourhoods and they will support, recruit and “choreograph” their local communities to share their unique stories and lead their first Jane’s Walk. Over the next month, I will be working with 35 of these Choreographers in the three corners of Toronto: Kingston Galloway in Scarborough, New Toronto in Etobicoke and Bathurst Finch in North York.

But how to help people discover and explore local stories to share?

To answer that question, I introduced the participants to the idea of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), a concept coined by John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann at the ABCD Institute.[1]

An easy way to start thinking about ABCD is asking “is the glass half full or half empty?” A glass half empty represents the notion that communities are deficient and have needs. The half full glass represents the notion that communities (and the people who live there) have many strengths, capacities and assets that are already found in the community. [2]

ABCD asks everyday local people to identify their valuable relationships and existing assets (personal, social, physical, natural) and create steps to make those assets stronger. It recognizes the strengths, gifts, talents and resources of individuals and communities, and helps communities to mobilize and build on these for sustainable development.[3]

For our first Neighbourhood Choreographer session, I introduced the concept of ABCD with an accessible and fun exercise called Asset Mapping which you can try for yourself and friends, family and neighbourhood groups of all ages.

How to make your own Asset Map:

  • Using a flip chart paper and markers, draw a map of your local community considering all your personal and community assets (ex. stories, unique spots, groups, business, informal networks, schools, roads, nature, buildings, hangout spots, relationships, skills)
  • Use the following questions to guide you [2]:
    • What are the strengths and assets of your community?
    • When was a time you felt your community was at its best?
    • What do you value most about your community?
    • What is the essence of your community that makes it unique and strong?
    • What are you most excited about these days about your community?

Asset mapping is a tool you can use to document people’s understanding of their communities and neighbourhoods. Through these maps, it is likely that number of themes will emerge that can inform the direction of your Jane’s Walk.

During the Choreographer’s exercise, themes of nature, local business history, social services, community programs were clearly visible and will be discussed further at our next training.

What walk stories do you see?

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Look forward to more posts about the Neighbourhood Choreographers in the coming weeks!

@Nico Koenig

PS: If you are looking to discover more about Asset Mapping and ABCD, consider the following resources:

[1] The Asset-Based Community Development Institute http://www.abcdinstitute.org

[2] Sustaining Community Engagement, What is Asset-Based Community Development? http://sustainingcommunity.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/what-is-abcd/

[3] The Coady International Institute, About ABCD http://www.coady.stfx.ca/themes/abcd/

This post was originally posted as “At Jane’s Walk, the glass is half full” on the Jane’s Walk Toronto Page here: http://janeswalk.org/canada/toronto/toronto-blog/janes-walk-glass-half-full/ on March 14th, 2014.

Folk High Schools

When I started my Masters in Adult Education and Community Development, I had unique interest which would take me deep into the 150 year history of alternative education and its connection to Canadian adult education system as well as a study trip to Sweden to study Folk High Schools.

So what are folk high schools exactly? Here’s a short piece of my work (with super power house edits by Ashleigh Dalton) which was recently published in the Global Citizen Digest and can be viewed here all cleaned up and ready to go. Here is the text with a few extra photos of my own.

 

Grundtvig’s Yippies: Sweden’s innovative folk high school creates space for global learners

“The best way to learn about YIP would be to live it yourself”, Reinoud Meijer, the Program Coordinator for the International Youth Initiative Program (YIP) suggested to me over Skype. Within a week of that brief conversation across the Atlantic Ocean, I arrived in the small Swedish village of Ytterjärna to experience firsthand what Meijer was talking about. In Ytterjärna resided the centre of YIP, an innovative education model with an undaunted aim to change the world.  My task of the trip: to uncover what appeared to be the creative blend of a gap-year program, social entrepreneurship training and global education.

Folk High Schools

YIP is based on the Scandinavian community college model called folk high schools. They emerged from the vision of Danish Bishop N. F. S. Grundtvig as a humanistic model of adult education that would counter what he saw as a problematic contemporary education system. Grundtvig referred to existing Scandinavian educational institutions of early nineteenth century as “schools for death”, claiming that they taught dead subjects, dead language and “deadened the students who were forced to endure them” (Davis, 1971, p. 27).  In contrast to ‘standard’ post-secondary institutions like universities and colleges, folk high schools require no exams, offer no diplomas, and express an explicit commitment to dialogue and student-centred curriculum (Toivianen, 1995; Paulston, 1980).  Instead, folk high schools are small post-secondary residential learning centres that emphasize creating a sense of community and captivating learners into engaging with civil society. The result of Grundtvig’s efforts and persistence for a ‘School for Life’ was the opening of the first folk high school in 1844 in Denmark.

Folk high schools are immensely popular in Scandinavia, attended by approximately one hundred thousand students each year (Bagley & Rust, 2009). Currently, more than three hundred folk high schools exist in Scandinavia, each with their own governing body and funding (ibid). Most notably, folk high schools do not charge participants tuition or costs that are not directly related to their living and material costs. Folk high schools are typically promoted to youth aged 18 to 25 years of age as a transitional year for personal development before focusing on a professional or academic career (Toivianen, 1995).  Courses vary widely, focusing on such curriculum as the arts, outdoor leadership, religious studies and organic agriculture (“Folkehogskole,” 2011). All folk high schools have a focus on advancing democratic and social participation (ibid).

 

Conversations of Yippies about community development

Anthroposophical Beginning

Although Grundtvig’s folk high schools influenced adaptations in Sweden, it was Rudolph Steiner’s anthroposophy that eventually inspired the emergence of YIP. Anthroposophy, translated as human wisdom, has led to Waldorf education, as well as holistic practices in farming, medicine and business. Following a decade of meetings, conferences and conversations by Waldorf youth and educators, the initial concept for a post-secondary international service-training program was formed. While its formation is interlinked with the lives of its anthroposophically-educated organizing staff, YIP is committed to exploring multiple perspectives and forces that shape society including Steiner’s philosophy and its applications.

The core curriculum of YIP is based on social entrepreneurship principles, understanding current global issues, and as the name Youth Initiative Program implies, encouraging initiative amongst its participants. Each week, students or “yippies” as they affectionately call themselves, are immersed in a different field of focus taught by international experts and innovators in the field. Previous facilitators to YIP have included former presidential candidate of the Phillipines Nicanor Perlas, and founding publisher of Utne Magazine Eric Utne. Weekly topics have ranged from the most recent trends in social media innovation, facilitation processes, sustainable building design and political economics to traditional practices of storytelling, portrait painting and theatre. Meijer likes to say that although YIP is a yearlong program, “it takes a lifetime to digest”.

YIP offers a full day intensive residential program for youth aged 18 to 25. Situated 55 kilometres south of Stockholm, Sweden, YIP sits on the expansive Järna Fjord which connects to the Baltic Sea. Since beginning in August 2008, YIP has graduated over 75 participants from 20 different countries. The 2010/11 semester will produce its third graduating class, with 40 participants from 18 countries, including three Canadians.

The Living Word

A critical focus of YIP, and folk high schools in general, is what Grundtvig termed the “Living Word”, the process of learning within the present moment. According to Lawson (2000), the Living Word describes the use of dialogue between the teacher and learner where the teachings remain alive within the teacher and are based in the learners’ reality and interests. The method of teaching is often centred on workshops that emphasize group work. This process allows teachers to support and guide students’ individual learning processes (Toivianen, 1995). Contrary to a lecture style of teaching, dialogue helps both the learner and teacher to name their current reality and come to common understandings, and encourages social transformation and equality (Freire, 1970).  Bolivian participant Joaquin Zambrana explained the value of youth learning for themselves: “(YIP Staff) give tools, knowledge, things you can use to build what you want to built, but it is always up to you”.

A frequent practice of folk high schools is its focus on inner narrative. Bugge (1983) suggests Grundtvig aimed to “make people conscious of what they are”, “what they have to do”, and “what it all means” (Bugge, 1983, p. 19). Similarly, folk high school learners are often at a time of transition and are offered space to discover what is true to themselves and their place in society (Toivianen, 1995). In Scandinavia, not surprisingly, most applicants are recent public school graduates seeking to grow individually, socially and academically (“Folkehogskole,” 2011). YIP puts a special emphasis on supporting each participant’s personal journey with an organizing staff specialized in counseling and autobiographical work. Moreover, the most recent research testifies that folk high school students report that their experience helped them to “dare to be themselves” (Knut & Solhaug, 2010, p.80) in a way that supports reflection, personal maturation, confidence building and self worth (ibid).

At YIP – biodynamic farms surround the campus

International Youth Initiative Program

When I arrived into the YIP, I found the yippies picking apples, building fences and renovating walls. Their first month involved hands-on tasks that focused on community engagement and asset-based community development (ABCD). Led by urban researcher Kiara Nagel from the United States and designer of cooperative games for social change Edgard Gouveia Júnior from Brazil, yippies split into groups to make the dreams of the local residents a reality. Using the metaphorical “glass half full” approach of ABCD, yippies attempted to use the skills and knowledge held within themselves and the local community, rather than depending on outside financial support. For example, one resident of Ytterjärna wanted a public space for local sheep to graze. Discovering local community bureaucracy, finding resources, negotiating with neighbours and learning the methods of woodwork – the yippies were introduced to a microcosm of the process required for social change. Learning through engagement with local community issues and creating space for reflection with dynamic facilitators makes up what I would call YIP’s Living Word.

It is often noted by researchers of Grundtvig and folk high schools that learners do not manage to find their identity alone, but in relation to others (Knut & Solhaug, 2010). Residential schooling, that is, schools that have a live-in element for learners and teachers, provides an important contribution to learning about a sense of community. For example, there are certain social behaviours that most formal educational institutions do not or cannot teach. These include how to live independently, cook, share gratitude and problem solve within a group. YIP offers a residential style of learning where lessons on how to live together are often as important as the course work itself. Similar to the aim of other folk high schools, YIP students are guided to seek democratic solutions to residential challenges in ways that encourage tolerance and understanding. They are also required to work on the maintenance and upkeep of the residence, which could include cleaning, gardening and providing meals. In this sense, there is no separation between school and life. Democratic principles learned in a classroom have real implications for delegating chores, resolving conflicts and building consensus between residents. Although seemingly insignificant, even the act of deliberating which late-night movie to watch together was itself a practice in learning participatory democracy.

A unique feature of YIP is its one month international internship. After six months of studying weekly themes, organizing initiatives within Ytterjärna and researching individual projects, yippies travel abroad individually or in groups (without a supervisor) to work with a socially and environmentally sustainable project or organization anywhere in the world. Past internships have been to eco-villages in Nepal, a children’s school in Kenya and a media non-profit organization in USA. However, YIP internships differ from traditional international volunteer programs in its aim to deepen comprehension of global challenges and experience how others work towards solutions, rather than provide answers or cures. Following the completion of YIP, some yippie graduates return to their placements to help develop projects further. This year a group of seven yippies will travel to a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon to work with a youth centre which continues to be organized by a YIP alumni.

I left a chilly and more beautiful Ytterjärna after a couple weeks feeling as I had almost become a real yippie. The early morning scramble to class, the late night conversations by the fire and the utmost joy in discovering myself lost reminded me of my summer camp days long gone. However, this program is not for careless children, but is determined to tackle the injustices of the world. Through its commitment to sustainability, dialogue, community building, and individual growth, while immersing in one’s relationship and obligations to others, YIP offers a model for adult education that could extend to global citizenship. Indeed, it may not be long until Grundtvig’s yippies show Canadians how to create the school for life for themselves. In fact, it already has begun.

For more information about The International Youth Initiative Program – visit www.yip.se

Nico Koenig, M.Ed Adult Education and Community Development, works with civic education programs for youth and continues to explore innovative learning spaces, sustainable development, social media and food. He can be found cycling in Toronto and online at www.findthesky.com

Ashleigh Dalton is a graduate student in Adult Education and Community Development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She works in research and policy around poverty reduction. Ashleigh‘s interests include citizenship, community engagement and civic education

Bibliography

Bagley S. & Rust V (2009). Community college models. Springer Verlag. Part IV. 279-298

Bugge, K.E. (1999). Canada and grundtvig. Jorn Thomsen Offset, Kolding: Kroghs Forlag A/S og.

Davis, D. (1971). Model for a humanistic education: the danish folk highschool. Columbus, OH: Chales E. Merrill .

Freire, Paulo (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Folkehogskole. (2011, January 31). Retrieved from http://www.folkehogskole.no/index.php?page_id=44

Lawson, M. (2000). “N. F. S. GRUNDTVIG” Prospects:the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIII, no. 3/4, 1993, 613–23.

Knut, A., Solhaug, T.(2010, December 10). “Som en sang i sinnet – som et eneste sollyst minne”. Elevers utbytte av folkehøsgskolen Retrieved from http://www.ntnu.no/plu/forskning/prosjekter/folkehogskole

Paulston, R. G. (1980). Other Dreams, Other Schools: Folk Colleges in Social and Ethnic Movements. University of Pittsburgh Press

Toivianen, T. (1995). “A Comparative Study of Nordic Residential Folk High Schools and the Highlander Folk School.” Convergence 28.1 (1995): 5-24.


A moose charging towards me in Jarna!