We opened space in a way that was new to me last Thursday. I have shared with you other Open Space experiences at The Louverture Cleary School in Haiti, a private boarding school for kids who have been assessed as being academically gifted and who come from desperately poor neighborhoods and households. I wish to share with you this new experience.
The school director and its principal convened on the basketball court at 7:05 am all 220 students. The students simply stood on the outdoor court while the director and principal stood on a bench so that their messages could be heard.
They invited the students to choose between several options regarding how they would spend their day. Their message had also been shared in writing earlier in the week. Both principal and director shared: "Each option represents an important way to serve the school community and to glorify God." Its a Catholic school.
The options were:
1) Attend classes as normal and participate in "work hour" immediately following school as normal. (Students are responsible for cleaning school and doing upkeep on school grounds as well as participating in school improvement construction projects).
2) Attend classes as normal in the morning, and being excused from work hour so that they can participate in afternoon Open Space.
3) Attend Open Space in the morning and participate in work hour in the afternoon.
4) Have a full day of work detail which included having the opportunity to work alongside several skilled tradesmen.
The theme for the formal Open Space meetings (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) was: "How do we use the education we are receiving to help our country?"
We tailored this particular program with so many options for two reasons:
1) There are no microphones and no places large enough inside or outside, to have all students in a circle and protected from the intense tropical sun.
2) The School director wanted to give students options to ensure that those who came to the formal Open Space were there because they really wanted to be there.
At 7:45 35 students convened for the first Open Space meeting. There was time for two different one hour sessions and we reconvened at 11 am, taking 40 minutes to do report backs and an additional 12 minutes for the talking stick exercise.
Students present were primarily from grades 6 - 10. They posted 22 subjects, convened in about 15 small groups and 12 reports were submitted. The school principal and director visited us from time to time to show their support. At one point the principal, Garry Delice, a Haitian man, expressed to me with a beaming smile as he watched students choosing from among the 22 subjects: "It thrills me that the students are experiencing Open Space. Not only are they practicing a democratic process, they are also learning that they--their ideas and intentions--are important to us. In fact, the students are the essence of this school. They need to shape who we are together and what we become."
This comment from a student from the 6th grade was one of the many positive remarks in the closing circle: "I've learned from my classmates today. I hope we do Open Space more often because of the way it helps us to work and learn together."
At 1:20 48 students and several teachers convened for the second Open Space meeting. There was only time for one-one hour session. 20 subjects were posted. Students were getting so excited about posting subjects that the chaos became greater than what I am accustomed to dealing with. I decided that it would be futile to try to bring this ecstatic group of kids to silence so that I could invite everyone to choose their subjects and then get started with small groups. I simply walked around and shared this message in a calm voice with clusters of kids until I felt enough had heard me. Then, I walked away from the chaos and shared with the teachers present, "Better that we allow this energy to pass instead of try to take control." I came back about 10 minutes later to find that the excited mob had self-organized into small groups throughout the school courtyard. 9 reports were submitted after the one hour session.
From 3:00 to 3:50 students shared reports. While I rarely provide opportunities for small groups to give reports in Open Space meetings, the principle and director felt that it was important with the students and I believe they were right. There were profound ideas being shared in these reports and some discussion about them.
Here are two of the comments shared during the talking stick exercise (from 3:50 to 4:15): "An experience like we've lived today in Open Space develops one's spirit. It helps us to think better, to better understand others as well as ourselves. These are the types of activities we need to turn our ideas into concrete actions." (Edwide Marcelin, 9th grade) "I hope that other schools will do Open Space. It is important for students to apply their knowledge in dialogue. But, in addition to Open Space being done with students in schools, it should be done with adults too. It provides us with a new way of thinking and working together." (Taylor Jackson, 10th grade).
John Engle is cofounder of U.S.-based Beyond Borders & Haiti-based Limye Lavi Foundation. Using Open Space and other praticipative methods he promotes in Haiti and elsewhere education and leadership that is characterized by shared authority & responsibility.
John Engle Associates
P.O. Box 337, Hershey, Pennsylvania 17033, USA