GlobalEd is honored to announce the appointment of Prof. M.I. Kamlongera as the inaugural Faculty Lead in Decolonization of Epistemology and Research Methods. Kamlongera will begin her appointment in 2024.
The Faculty Lead role is a new position devoted to the advancement of a special topic or knowledge area. In this role, Kamlongera will develop and offer an online seminar on the topic as well as produce new thought leadership on decolonization of international education. A second Faculty Lead call for applications has been announced.
Kamlongera is currently an Early Career Research Fellow with GlobalEd. She holds a PhD in Educational Sciences for Teacher Education from Oslo Metropolitan University in Norway, an MA in Communication and Development, and an M.Ed Critical Studies from Ohio University. Her academic interests include exploring critical approaches to research within the fields of gender, media, and development. Her research efforts are geared towards a decolonial approach to telling narratives and creating knowledge together with marginalized groups.
The field of international education – especially its practical components – lacks a comprehensive theory that defines more advanced and recognized fields such as law, medicine, and health. The new GlobalEd Faculty Lead in Theory will examine the current state of theoretical knowledge in the field, identify core theories both historical and contemporary, and recommend or advance a new framework(s), theory, or theories for the field. This position is devoted to organization and analysis of knowledge, and to deep thinking, of the theoretical clarity of the field.
Although “internationalization” is a central theory of the field, internationalization theories thus far have been largely devoted to descriptive action (what is or should take place) rather than to a broader theory of change or evolution compared to the theoretical advances in globalization or global studies, for instance. Internationalization theories also almost solely pertain to institutions. Similarly, although intercultural or global learning models contribute to theory in the field, they do not usually underpin the field as a whole and often relate to individual processes (e.g. how individuals gain intercultural competence). This “state of theory” in the field contributes to a situation wherein the field draws from too many disparate theories while, at the same time, avoiding a pluralistic approach.
The Faculty Lead in Theory is a one-year appointment (with possibility for renewal) with the following responsibilities:
Analyze the key historical theories in the field, based on citations, research, and an understanding of marginalized voices. This work may lead to a short white paper or resource for the field outlining key theories.
Identify, research and analyze contemporary theories and models in the field, and their potential for wider adoption.
Lead a seminar or a short research project on theory in the field, and be a spokesperson for discussions around theory.
Author or co-author a publication on theory in the field, as part of a larger GlobalEd “Pluralism Project.”
Advance a recommendation or produce a new framework(s), theory, or theories for the field.
The Faculty Lead position comes with a modest $1500 compensation for the year, as well as opportunities for additional compensation through guest lectures and seminars. The work for the year may be completed in a focused period of time.
A few weeks ago, I welcomed our newest group of graduate students to their program. As in the past, to help everyone get to know each other, I facilitated various exercises, one of which is called Four Corners (or this year Cuatro Esquinas since the group will spend their fall term in Spain). The exercise consists of a series of questions, with participants physically moving to a space in the room that for each, correlates to the number of their preferred response. The exercise is also known as Forced Choices since the participants are given only four options to choose from . . . at first. Often, after a round or two of play, students realize that the “rules of the game” are fungible and, inspired to share different answers to those suggested, they create new spaces by choosing to stand in between two corners or even in the center of the room.
In the past, one of the questions posed was “What is your favorite place?”. This year, on the suggestion of a colleague, I reframed the question to read “Where are you a local?” The idea was to provide a space in which students could think about a place (or several) that resonated in some way for them. For some, it was a place where they have family, and for others, it was a place that they passed through that felt like a home, however they understood the term. The space may have been given to them, it may have been discovered, or it may have been created by the student in some way.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of home recently, as coincidentally, over the past two months I’ve had the chance to visit several places that have been home to me. In August, I spent time in Brattleboro, Vermont, home base to my employer of 28 years and my home community for 14 years. It’s the kind of place where you have to be OK with seeing people you know at every turn, because that’s what happens. The food co-op, the yoga class, the laundromat, date night out, even your counselor’s waiting room, you will ALWAYS run into someone you know! Our physical home in Brattleboro was a 100+ year-old cape attached to a barn that had been renovated into a second living space 80 years earlier. It was somewhat run-down, you could see outside through the walls, the floor sloped significantly, many bugs and bats also called it home. AND it fronted 100+ acres of Vermont meadows and woods with deer, gophers, foxes, porcupines, turtles, owls, turkeys, bear, and once, even a moose. Neighbors stopped by unannounced, and the barn was often full of dinners with friends and colleagues (usually the same), welcome parties for students, and visits from family. Based on the people, the building, and the setting, my sense of nostalgia for the community that was my home for 14 years rises to the surface with each visit since I moved away in 2019.
Two weeks later, I drove by the house that was my family’s home for 57 years. I was born in that neighborhood and returned there after every trip from my high-school exchange experience, then my junior year abroad, graduate school, a year of international work, and eventually from other homes with my husband by my side. I knew every smell, every squeak, every inch of space. The memories were again vivid, i.e., cracking my head open on a table when I was six, sitting on the stairs and talking with Mom as a teen, hosting exchange students through high school, arguing with sisters, returning home with joy after a trip as a young adult. In her final years, I sat with Mom on the front porch for hours, sharing stories about work and children, talking with neighbors, and listening to her stories about her friends and caregivers. Mom passed away 10 years ago, and it had been several years since I had driven by the house. It has since been renovated but when I drove up the street, the feeling of familiarity, of nostalgia, of being home, was again a visceral one.
This is not the first time I’ve questioned the meaning of the term “home” as my doctoral dissertation also explored the concept. The first half of the title was even “No Place Like Home!” After years of studying about other places and cultures, I used my doctoral work to shift perspective and consider my roots, examining how a group of Jewish tailors established their new home community as part of the New Deal planned communities movement. I was interested in the town of Jersey Homesteads (now Roosevelt, New Jersey) because my grandparents were original settlers in the town after having left their own original homes in Eastern Europe years before. My parents met there and so, my very existence is rooted there.
Today I am writing at my kitchen table, appreciative of the place I now call home. Work emails pop up, the locusts sing loudly, the cat checks on me, neighbors take a break from their gardening to say hello, students text questions, and yes, husband snores gently on the sofa in the room next door. (☺) Home today is a blurred liminal space where work can happen in any room because I work from home, such a luxury and privilege for me. It is only four years that we are in this space and community, but with family nearby, friends old and new close enough for last-minute visits, dear colleagues only a Webex call away, shelves of books on intercultural communication and IE programs nearby in my office, and a few post-pandemic shutdown gatherings now behind us, it is feeling more like home too.
With all of this swirling in my mind, I planned for orientation, reflecting on my experiences of having a singular home base that I returned to for the first 52 years of my life along with the blessing of since calling many other places home too, some for weeks and others for years. I was reminded of dear friends who last month moved to Guatemala to start their next posting as a Foreign Service family. They are experts in making any new place feel like home; they’ve done it about eight times over the past 30 years. I was also cognizant of the fact that every day I read about the war in Ukraine and am reminded of how my close friend and colleague has no choice but to see her birth home of birth violently destroyed piece by piece for no reason that makes any sense. She has had to help her immediate family re-envision where they call home. It is cruel when it’s not by choice.
What makes a home? Some are given to us, perhaps a childhood home that is a space of comfort and security or even one that is filled with angst and challenge. Some are discovered, like the homes that are opened to exploring exchange students by gracious host families. Some are forced upon us, like those of refugees who have no agency over where they call home. Some take so much effort to build, whether physically or emotionally, and rarely are two identical. The way they look, the physical feels, the ingrained smells, any sense of safety and belonging they might offer, and mostly, the memories, cannot be duplicated. Home is such a malleable and value-laden concept, and yet, whatever they are, they offer formative experiences in our personal development and thus, value as a point of reflection. So here I am, once again, asking students to consider their previous homes while inviting them to be open to the idea of creating a new one, even if only for three months.
As we introduced ourselves in orientation, I thought about the questions I was asking my new students: Where do you come from? Where is home for you? Where are you a local? And why is that? I was conscious of the fact that I am privileged to have always enjoyed home-security. And I am aware that as I ask questions that are intended to invite students’ reflections about their identities, I need to consider how asking such questions may be inviting for some people but triggering for others, as over the years, I’ve had students who did not have the luxury of calling someplace home for very long, or for whom home was a car or a shelter or even a sofa. I appreciate the stories of students who are comfortable sharing, and always hold space for those who choose to not disclose such personal information or who want to share a different conception of home. I hope that my asking students about their homes, about where they call local, provides spaces for both introspection about their paths to date, and especially, for creative and open thinking about where they might call local in the future, about homes within their power to create. Hopefully they will be encouraged to consider how they can make their study abroad locations feel like home in the months to come.
How do you conceptualize home? How has your understanding of home contributed to who you are, even how you are, as an international educator? Do you ask your participants to think about their homes and how they may create new ones for themselves while sojourning abroad? I’d love to hear your thinking about this and invite you to share your stories, ideas, and practices. I also invite you to ask any questions about anything related to the practice of International Education in GlobalEd’s new feature, “Ask Sora.” I’ll do my best to share thoughts and resources, and expect that some of your questions will also seed future columns. And if you prefer, you are always invited to contact me directly with ideas, questions, or thoughts at Sora.Friedman@sit.edu so that together, we can continue our practice.
Note: This essay has been edited from its original version. A previous version of the essay contained some factual errors about the UNESCO Story Circle methodology.
Storytelling has been an integral part of human culture for centuries, serving as a means of passing down traditions, beliefs, and experiences. Recently, Story Circles, a methodology developed by Darla Deardorff for UNESCO, has gained attention in the field. The UNESCO Story Circle methodology is “open source” and has been conducted across numerous international education projects and initiatives, leading to wider adoption. Research shows that it can be a powerful tool for fostering intercultural communication and competence. The methodology is not the only one that uses a “story circle” concept, though, and Deardorff acknowledges drawing inspiration from other story circle methodologies. This essay will delve into three distinct approaches that could be utilized or even combined together for effective training and programming: UNESCO Story Circles, Paulo Freire’s Cultural Circles, and John O’Neal’s Story Circles. Each tool has benefits and addresses different aspects of intercultural communication and learning.
Indeed, these methods share a common lineage as well. Rachel Davis DuBois, one of the pioneers of Intercultural Communication in the Western world, was a Quaker educator, human rights activist, and author. In the 1920s, she pioneered the “Woodbury Plan” of anti-racist and intercultural curricula at Woodbury High School in New Jersey. Although she was attacked for her leftist/progressive views, the Woodbury Plan became in high demand throughout the U.S., attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Education in the 1930s, and even became part of a CBS radio broadcast (Hight, 2020). The Woodbury Plan included the “Group Conversation” method, a circle model similar to Story Circles. Martin Luther King, Jr. tapped DuBois to help bring this model to the South during the Civil Rights movement, perhaps leading to the development of Story Circles by John O’Neal.
UNESCO Story Circles
See this Elspeth Jones interview with Darla Deardorff on UNESCO Story Circles:
UNESCO Story Circles are structured gatherings that bring together individuals from different cultural backgrounds to share and listen to personal narratives and to practice intercultural competencies. These circles create a safe space for participants to exchange stories, perspectives, and emotions. Developed by Deardorff for UNESCO, Story Circles have a number of suggested components: setting group guidelines, a set of prompts, a “flashback” round, and a conclusion. They are ideally organized in groups of 4-6 with a trained facilitator overseeing the circles.
a. Inclusivity: UNESCO Story Circles emphasize inclusivity and diversity, aiming to bridge the gap between various cultures and communities. They encourage active participation from individuals with diverse experiences and backgrounds.
b. Empathy Building: By sharing personal stories, participants develop a deeper understanding of the experiences and struggles of others. This leads to increased empathy and compassion. Facilitators usually ask participants to actively practice “listening for understanding” or active listening, rather than seeking to respond or think of a response.
UNESCO Story Circles have the potential to break down stereotypes, challenge biases, and build strong intercultural relationships. They contribute to a more inclusive society where individuals appreciate and celebrate diversity.
Freirean Cultural Circles
Cultural Circles, also known as affinity groups or identity circles, focus on bringing together individuals who share a common cultural background or identity. These circles serve as spaces for people to connect, reflect, and celebrate their shared experiences or fight injustice. The Brazilian philosopher and educator Paulo Freire developed Cultural Circles in the 1960s based on his seminal ideas in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire himself taught and created Cultural Circles throughout Brazil. They were used to enact his pedagogy and spread it widely in Latin American and beyond. Cultural Circles are now commonly used, especially in literacy education and teaching as a second language.
Cultural Circles differ from UNESCO Story Circles in a few key ways. Freire’s Cultural Circles are meant to focus on the ability for marginalized or oppressed individuals to name the problems and structures of oppression they experience, rather than a mixture of people and backgrounds sharing stories as is typical in UNESCO Story Circles. As Mariana Souto-Manning (2007) explains, “Culture circles exist to enable people to promote change in oppressive situations” (p. 125). Although the Cultural Circle methodology can be used for intercultural communication, the original intention was for groups to build affinity and identity amongst each other, by identifying common problems and sources of oppression.
Cultural Circles have evolved into a group of methodologies instead of a single methodological approach. Freire did not put specifications on the approach. Generally speaking, most Cultural Circles involve four stages: 1) “Problem Posing”, 2) “Dialogue”, 3) “Problem Solving,” and 4) “Action”. Interestingly, these four stages correspond well to the Intercultural Praxis Model independently developed by Kathryn Sorrells.
Souto-Manning, a professor of Early Childhood and Teacher Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, is one of the foremost progenitors of the Freirean Culture Circle approach. Her books and articles have articulated an updated framework for the facilitation of Culture Circles in education, as represented here in what she calls the “Critical Cycle.”
While Cultural Circles have not often been used in international education, there are several possible advantages of using them. Done well, Cultural Circles could be utilized for addressing power imbalances in intercultural situations and communication more generally, since they directly address power and marginalization in a way that UNESCO Story Circles may not.
a. Identity-Centered: Cultural Circles are often centered around specific cultural or identity groups, such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
b. Affirmation and Empowerment: Participants find validation and empowerment by sharing their experiences with others who can relate. This fosters a sense of belonging and solidarity within the community.
c. Skill Building: Cultural Circles may also serve as platforms for skill-building, providing opportunities for members to develop leadership, communication, and advocacy skills.
d. Supportive Environment: These circles offer a safe and supportive environment where members can openly discuss issues related to their cultural or identity group.
Cultural Circles play a crucial role in building a sense of community and empowerment among marginalized groups. They offer a platform for individuals to advocate for change and contribute to a more inclusive society.
John O’Neal’s Story Circles
John O’Neal, a prominent civil rights activist and theater artist, developed Story Circles as a means of using personal narratives to explore complex societal issues. His approach combines storytelling, performance, and dialogue to provoke thought and inspire action.
O’Neal’s Story Circles are sometimes more performative and expressive in nature than the two aforementioned models. Improv and experimentation, as well as whole body movements, are often used. O’Neal’s Story Circles share parallels with techniques developed by Augusto Boal in his Theater of the Oppressed movement, which itself built off of the work by Freire.
See this conversation with the late John O’Neal:
However, today’s practitioners of O’Neal Story Circles do not necessarily involve theater. You can watch this excellent resource by PBS on Story Circles being utilized in the classroom. Like UNESCO Story Circles, O’Neal’s Story Circles can have an established set of stages, including introduction/guideline setting, one to two prompts, active listening, and a “crosstalk” round that is similar to the “Flashback” round in UNESCO Story Circles. Unlike the latter, O’Neal’s Story Circles are more focused on synthesizing learning from the circle and creating themes or take-aways from the experience.
a. Theatrical Element: John O’Neal’s Story Circles incorporate theatrical techniques to bring stories to life, engaging participants in a dynamic and immersive experience.
b. Transformational Learning: Participants are encouraged to reflect on their stories and experiences in a way that can lead to personal growth and a deeper understanding of social issues.
c. Dialogue and Action: O’Neal’s approach emphasizes not only sharing stories but also using them as a catalyst for meaningful dialogue and collective action.
d. Artistic Expression: Through performance and creative expression, participants are empowered to communicate their experiences in a powerful and impactful manner.
John O’Neal’s Story Circles serve as a powerful tool for social change, inspiring individuals to critically examine societal issues and take action towards positive transformation.
Comparing “Circle” Approaches
UNESCO Story Circles, Cultural Circles, and John O’Neal’s Story Circles each offer unique approaches to storytelling and dialogue. While UNESCO Story Circles focus on practicing intercultural competencies, Cultural Circles provide spaces for identity-based affirmation and empowerment. John O’Neal’s approach combines storytelling with theatrical elements to provoke thought and inspire social change. Each of these approaches plays a vital role in fostering empathy, understanding, and positive societal transformation. Further, there are many “circle” type tools and methodologies out there. Restorative Justice Circles, Peace Circles, and other tools are similarly powerful for fostering understanding.
How have you used “circle” methodologies in your work or research? We welcome contributions in the comments, below. Our new GlobalEd online course, Global and Intercultural Communication (coming in October), will also cover the different methodologies in more depth.
Hight, Charles, “ALL CULTURES MATTER: RACHEL DAVIS DUBOIS, THE INTERCULTURAL EDUCATION AND GROUP CONVERSATION METHODS.” Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2020. https://scholarworks.gsu.edu/mse_diss/94
Souto-Manning, M. (2007). Education for democracy: The text and context of Freirean culture circles in Brazil. Reimagining civic education: How diverse nations and cultures form democratic citizens, 121-146.
Narrative research refers to the plural ways humans experience the world since they are inherently storytelling organisms (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990). These stories are diverse according to the cultural settings and experiences of people around the world. There are, however, voices of historically excluded communities in the Global South that have not had the opportunity to be heard in official channels. Narrative research has a deep interest in people’s lived experiences, a desire to empower them, and a focus on the gradual process of change overtime (Elliot, 2005).
As part of my doctoral research in-progress, I decided to listen to rural teachers in Peru, a historically excluded community of educators in the country due to issues of racism, exclusion, and poverty. Precisely, discrimination against indigenous knowledge (such as language or cultural traditions) is one of the main important colonial heritages in the country (Cuenca, 2013). How can researchers consider these issues to reappraise indigenous knowledge?
My research looks at the understandings of social justice through the practices of critical pedagogies of a group of rural teachers in Cusco and Ayacucho in the southern highlands of Peru. To gain an in-depth understanding of their practices I spent three months in the field between June and August 2022. Unlike classic interviews, a narrative approach seeks a deep understanding of people’s stories through long conversations. While for in-depth interviews the main themes associated with the research questions are already defined, I let the teachers express themselves as freely as possible.
My introduction to these teachers was made possible through working with local NGOs I had met during my pre-PhD professional life as researcher in Peru. These NGOs introduced me to a group of rural teachers who were particularl committed to social justice and critical pedagogies. In this blog, I will share my reflections from the field as I developed a narrative research approach with a teacher from rural Cusco.
I met with this teacher at a rural school in Cusco while he was explaining an activity in the schoolyard surrounded by the headteacher, teacher colleagues and representatives from a local NGO. This first impression caught my attention as he was wearing traditional clothes from the Andes. He appeared very committed to the revalorisation of local culture through the implementation of a “chacra” (small farm) inside the school. After his oral presentation, I approached him to kindly request a space for a follow-up conversation. In this, I did not mention the word “interview” as a narrative approach seeks a different way of collecting human stories. He immediately accepted and we arranged a meeting a week later.
As a sociologist in the field, I wrote down and recorded all my thoughts and self-reflections throughout the day while with the research participants. Many of these reflections are now part of this blog entry. Before I had the scheduled meeting with this teacher, I had spent the previous days developing the possible questions I wanted to ask him. I was not, however, following a classic interview style, as my task included a narrative approach. Although I had reviewed different examples of previous research using this methodology, I was unsure of my choices. However, my willingness to learn more from this rural teacher in a setting like Cusco, made me think that this was an amazing opportunity: to have a conversation without predefined concepts and let the teacher to express himself while I would be learning from him.
A week later, our meeting took place back at the school. We started our conversation in one of the largest schoolyards, a beautiful open space surrounded by the mountains and blue sky of rural Peru. The setting had a meaningful role in shaping this teacher’s story, as his experience was profoundly marked by the mountains, animals, sky, stars, and moon. As a Quechua-speaking man from rural Cusco he was always interested in knowing more about his ancestors: the Incas. As he was speaking, the emotion of a continuation of the great Inca culture was evident.
While he was sharing his personal and professional experiences over the years, I was able to share part of my background: as a daughter of a Quechua-speaking woman from the Andes, his testimony resonated with me. This was powerful for the co-creation of meanings within the narrative. We both realised the importance of a shared heritage and the similarities and differences in our life trajectories. This was relevant to the narrative approach as such dialogue allowed the researcher and participant to talk about cultural values that shaped the teacher’s story. For example, he reflected on his childhood in rural Cusco surrounded by Quechua culture, historic buildings, and art — and how these formative experiences gave him a strong sense of pride in his roots and encouraged him to study fine arts years later.
His educational and personal trajectory was impressive. He believes that social justice in education needs a connection to the colonial past “to heal the colonial syndrome” through critical thinking. We shared these powerful reflections for two hours while I engaged with his story not only as a researcher but also as a Peruvian woman with Quechua roots.
From my field experience, a narrative approach from a social justice perspective is especially shaped by shared cultural meanings and stories that emerge in an open conversation. Narrative research honors voices that historically have not been heard through official channels. My research is an attempt to listen to these voices from a critical perspective in education.
References Connelly, F. M., & Clandinin, D. J. (1990). Stories of Experience and Narrative Inquiry. Educational Researcher, 19(5), 2–14
Cuenca, R. (2013) Cambio, continuidad y búsqueda de consenso 1980-2011 En: Cuenca, Ricardo (ed.) Colección Pensamiento Educativo Peruano. Cambio, continuidad y búsqueda de consenso1980-2011. Volumen 15. Lima: Derrama Magisterial
Elliot, J. (2005). Using Narrative in Social Research. Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. London: Sage publications.
In today’s interconnected world, the realm of international education is witnessing rapid transformation and growth. The diverse landscapes of education systems, cultural dynamics, and global challenges call for an in-depth understanding backed by robust quantitative analysis. Enter the “Applied Quantitative Analysis in International Education” course, an innovative online learning experience that equips professionals with the tools and skills to navigate and decode the complexities of international education through data-driven insights.
Since its June launch, the course has already attracted a diverse cohort of 16 administrators, including directors, advisors, and assistant deans from institutions such as Kenyon College, Curry College, Franklin and Marshall, Michigan State University, Emory University, and Earlham College.
A Journey into the Course
Developed by Prof. Melissa Whatley from the School for International Training, this self-paced online course is designed to offer a comprehensive exploration of quantitative analysis tailored specifically to the realm of international education. The author of the Springer book on the subject and numerous journal articles in the field, Whatley brings a unique blend of academic rigor and practical knowledge to the virtual classroom.
Since its June launch, the course has already attracted a diverse cohort of 16 administrators, including directors, advisors, and assistant deans from institutions such as Kenyon College, Curry College, Franklin and Marshall, Michigan State University, Emory University, and Earlham College.
Curriculum: Six Weeks at Your Own Pace
The curriculum is designed to be completed in 6 weeks (but can be completed at any time), each week delving into distinct facets of applied quantitative analysis in international education. The course assumes no prior knowledge of statistics, and most exercises can be completed in Microsoft Excel. Through the course discussion board, students post research questions, explore sources of data, and answer practice problems. Students have begun posing research and data analysis questions ranging from “What factors do international students take into consideration when choosing a destination for studying abroad?” to “What is the relationship between the percentage of international students and higher education institution type?” They’re examining data sources and understanding the basics of descriptive statistics before moving on to beginning-level inferential and correlational analysis. The course culminates in an application project, wherein students can explore a data problem and run an analysis using data from their home campus or other sources.
Collecting quantitative data
Populations and Samples
Types of Variables
Asking Quantitative Research Questions
Measures of Central Tendency
Measures of Variability
Calculating Descriptive Statistics in Excel
Calculating t-tests in Excel
Chi-square test of independence
Collaborative Online Learning
One of the most notable features of this course is its accessibility. Students can join the course at any time, making it a flexible option for those with varied schedules and commitments. This unique feature ensures that a wider range of individuals can engage with the course material and benefit from Prof. Whatley’s expertise.
As the global education landscape continues to evolve, the need for data-driven insights becomes increasingly vital. The “Applied Quantitative Analysis in International Education” course equips professionals with the analytical knowledge to navigate this intricate domain and address questions in practice or research. By blending theory with hands-on projects, Whatley has created a unique educational experience that equips participants with the tools to make meaningful contributions to the field.
My May column previewed the NAFSA: Association of International Educators Annual Conference session that I delivered with Anne D’Angelo and Anna Kelly. Our purpose was to make a space for women IE professionals to consider how we can ameliorate the changing realities of our work that affect our mental and physical health so that we can take care of ourselves, others, and our work. We introduced three leadership theories that engage the whole individual, including coaching principles, mindful leadership, and somatic leadership, and talked about how they can be applied by women (or any) leaders in International Education. In that column, I promised to share more details this month. I’ll also share some reflections on the conference as well, and have included a resource list at the close of this column.
My conference presentation was based on work I’ve been doing over the past 18 months in which I’ve been considering my own strengths, challenges, and practices through a program called Guts & Grace, founded by LeeAnn Mallorie. LeeAnn holds two master’s degrees in psychology and is a certified coach specializing in women’s leadership. The program is built around the framework of “somatic” or “embodied” leadership, which LeeAnn describes as a consideration of “who I am being at work, how I show up, how I stand in my mission, my energy, my presence, my invisible and early survival skills.” Put another way, it is about “. . . practicing leadership instead of intellectualizing about leadership” (George Mason University), an idea which continues to make this academic chuckle since I’m accustomed to pretty much living in my head. ☺
So, what does this mean in practice? How do I do this? How can you? Here are some of the key steps in the process I’ve been learning. Please note, this is an oversimplification of this content as each of these takes weeks, months, a lifetime? to develop and internalize. Accepting this is also part of my learning process.
First, practice joy. Figure out what makes you happy and make the time to practice it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to take a long time. It just needs to be done.
Take time for yourself. Put another way, make time for yourself. (I know, this is easier said than done.)
Figure out what you want to say “yes” to and what you want to say “no” to, and then do that. In other words, take charge of how you want to use your time.
Teach yourself how to “lasso your brain” (Mallorie), i.e., how to stop the flow of unhelpful thinking when you get into a mind spiral. Personally, I’m learning that by observing my body, I can see physical cues as to when this begins to happen. And yes, it’s still hard to do, as it is a skill that takes time to master.
Think about the one thing, the one habit, that may be holding you back from achieving your goals. What do you think it might be – knowing that it is probably rooted in your personal history?
Figure out your “North Star” (Mallorie). This refers to something that is most important to you, that captures who and how you want to be.
Practice something physical every day. You choose what it is. You choose for how long you will do it. Whatever it is, you need to do it, consistently. Also, it doesn’t have to be the same thing every day; it just needs to be something physical.
Practice making decisions based on how they make your body feel. Your body is full of intuition and wisdom. We just need to learn “to listen to our gut” as I’ve told my own students many times over the years.
Lastly, reflect on the story of your life and try to identify two or three themes that repeat themselves. Consider their role in your life, and especially if you are older (like me), accept the possibility of their relating to a new or deeper understanding of your life purpose.
I want to leave you with one final thought from LeeAnn that really speaks to me. It is that “in these turbulent . . . times, one could make the case that getting together with a bunch of like-minded women to do . . . self-reflection and inner work is a luxury that just can’t be afforded.” This sentiment echoed comments made by many of the women I surveyed several years ago when I started researching women’s leadership in International Education. They kept acknowledging that taking time for themselves made them feel as if they weren’t doing their jobs well, as if they were diverting their attention from their primary purpose to something more selfish in nature. Hopefully, opening up this discussion will help us all to see that the opposite is true. As those of us who work in International Education have heard multiple times, if we don’t put on our own oxygen masks first, if we don’t take care of ourselves first, we will never be able to rise to be our full selves, to lead our organizations, to impact our students, to be able to support and mentor each other. We just need to keep practicing . . .
What else did I take away from NAFSA’s Annual Conference? This year, I found the keynote speakers to be especially inspiring. Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist and recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, talked about being the youngest of 15 children in a poor family within her marginalized community in northern Iraq, and about how her mother encouraged her to never give up hope. Baratunde Thurston, an author, activist, and television host who grew up in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC, talked about racial and cultural representation, about the need to work across difference, and about how the seeds of curiosity and open-mindedness were planted by his mother who often took him from the city on bike rides through Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Both Nadia and Baratunde talked about the need for people to live across cultural difference, whether as nations or as neighborhoods. And perhaps coincidentally, they also both reflected on how their mothers encouraged them to learn, to be curious, to pursue education. Their comments brought me back to thoughts of my own mom, as I had the good fortune of her being my kindergarten teacher. While decades have passed, of course, I continue to reflect on that time as my mom-teacher also cultivated a love of learning, especially through experiential education in her classroom even before it was a commonly accepted approach. I even keep a photo of my kindergarten class on the wall of my office, right next to one of me in graduate school 20 years later and the service award I received from NAFSA’s Region XI some 30 years after that. Together they create a physical reminder to practice the last point above offered by LeeAnn, i.e., to reflect on the story of my life and continue discerning how I work to fulfill my life purpose. Both speakers also reminded me of the connections between our work as international educators and global change agents, and the importance of us all planting seeds of curiosity in those around us. To Nadia, Baratunde, and my mom too, many thanks.
As I wrap up my first year as a columnist with GlobalEd, I want to express my appreciation to Bryan McAllister-Grande for opening this space to me. Having a commitment to share reflections and ideas about our field every two months encourages me to observe, ask questions, remain curious, and learn about International Education in new and different ways. I hope that you enjoy reading these columns as much as I enjoy writing them. Please tune in to my next column for a preview of the coming year, including an “Ask Sora” feature. And as always, please feel free to contact me with your ideas, questions, or thoughts at Sora.Friedman@sit.edu so that together, we can continue our practice,
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