I have just completed a very busy period where I provided a great deal of training for a number of organisations. Reflecting on the experience what strikes me is the huge difference in attitudes to learning. At one extreme we have the semi-burnt out cynic who seems determined to let their negativity spoil the positive learning environment I have worked hard to create. Thankfully such people are in a small minority. At the other extreme are the people who become fully immersed in the process of learning. They show an enthusiasm for taking on new ideas, reviewing and/or consolidating their existing knowledge and skills and really want training to make a positive difference to practice. They embrace learning opportunities with zeal, put energy into the process and become energised by it. No doubt the differences in attitudes are in large part personal differences, but I am also aware what a difference organisational culture makes. Organisations can have cultures that are supportive of learning (it is recognised that it is dangerous not to keep learning); take no notice of learning (too busy chasing their tails to learn) ; or actively discourage learning (change is seen as threatening). So, how much learning takes place will depend on (i) the organisational culture; and (ii) to what extent individuals allow themselves to be influenced by their culture vs. the extent to which they take ownership of their own learning.
I will soon be launching the Avenue Professional Development Programme. The SILVER version will allow members of the people professions to be part of an online learning community, with me as the tutor. The GOLD version will include all the facilities of the SILVER programme, but with the addition of one-to-one e-mentoring with my good self. Find out now how you can be part of this important innovative online learning programme at a surprisingly low price! Download the full-colour brochure here.
I was recently contacted by someone who wanted my advice on asking the right questions in a coaching context. He explained that he worked as a coach and regularly used certain questions to encourage his clients to think about how they can move forward with their work and their learning. He asked me whether I thought they were the ‘right’ questions to ask. Of course, I had to reply by saying that it all depends on the context. What will work in one set of circumstances will not necessarily work in others. I went on to explain that this is what reflective practice is about – having a ‘reflective conversation with the situation’. That is, we have to think carefully about the situation and work out what questions to ask based on what we find. I also suggested that he should consider going a step further into critically reflective practice – in other words, asking questions that encourage reflection not only on current practices within current parameters, but also on how those parameters could be changed, on how new ways of approaching our work and our learning can be developed by looking at the wider and deeper picture (critical breadth and depth). He didn’t reply to thank me for my comments so I can only assume that wasn’t what he wanted to hear, that he just wanted me to affirm that he was on the right lines – hardly a solid basis for coaching!
To find out more about Neil’s views on critically reflective practice, see the book he co-wrote on the subject: http://astore.amazon.co.uk/neilthomp-21/detail/0230573185
A recent survey carried out by HR Magazine found that a high proportion of organisations were claiming to take diversity issues seriously but only 57% had a diversity strategy in place. This reminds me of the early days of anti-discriminatory practice when there was a lot of rhetoric about the importance of tackling discrimination and oppression, but nowhere near as much evidence of concrete steps being taken to promote equality by translating the verbal commitment into actual practice. Tokenism is what it was called in those days, so perhaps that’s what we are seeing today.
Back then an additional problem was that much of the discussion generated more heat than light and led to a lot of people backing off to what they perceived as safer territory to get away from some of the excesses. It is good that we see far less of this these days (although it has not disappeared altogether – see the discussion in my Promoting Equality book – http://astore.amazon.co.uk/neilthomp-21/detail/0230223435), but what has replaced it as a problem – to a certain extent – is a polite commitment to valuing diversity and promoting equality which does not recognise the complexities and challenges involved. We have certainly moved on in terms of awareness of the issues, but my work in this field leads me to conclude that we still have a long way to go.
I was lucky to have the opportunity recently to play host to two Latvian visitors, two university lecturers interested in developing workplace well-being in their country. They had received funding to help them research how workplace well-being is being developed in other countries, hence their time with me to talk about the UK scene. They enjoyed their trip and were pleased with what they learned, and so they were very grateful to me and my colleagues for our time and hospitality. However, it was not one sided. We very much enjoyed our time with them and learned a great deal from them too. It reminded me of a previous visit to India where my colleagues and I were helping Indian colleagues to develop a good track record in publications. We were happy to help, but once again it was a two-way process – we learned much from our hosts and very much enjoyed being with them. It is clear, therefore, that there is much to be gained from international exchanges; it is not simply a matter of the so-called developed world helping the developing world. Such exchanges can be on an egalitarian, reciprocal basis, rather than a one-way paternalistic basis. Teachers should be learners too.
For 96 people to die in what was intended to be an enjoyable and exciting sporting event is tragic enough, but the recently published inquiry report adds a new layer of tragedy by revealing how the victims were vilified and how efforts were made to conceal the truth. By coincidence, on the day the report was published I was running a training course on loss and grief. We had been discussing how major losses can seriously disrupt our framework of meaning and leave us feeling confused, insecure and vulnerable. We looked at how grief can be understood as a painful process of constructing new meanings, developing a new ‘narrative’. Often events or the actions of others can block the development of that narrative by standing in the way of our efforts to make sense of what has happened. No doubt for many of the Hillsborough families, if not all of them, waiting for the truth has been just such an obstacle. What the report reveals adds an extra layer of tragedy, but the fact that the injustices involved have now been made public, things can move forward, not only in terms of the pursuit of justice, but also in the process of mourning.
Our humansolutions bulletin e-zine has featured a few articles on spirituality recently. A couple of people have asked me whether I have ‘found religion’. The short answer is no, but I found spirituality quite some time ago. My long-standing interest in existentialism has incorporated an interest in how we find meaning in our lives, how we make sense of who we are and how we fit into the wider world. Religion is obviously a major form of spirituality embraced by billions of people across the world. However, it is not the only one. In whatever form of people work we operate, whether in the caring professions, in management or human resources, it is important that we remember that, while not everybody is religious, everybody has spiritual needs – and our well-being will be seriously compromised if those needs are not given attention.
My wife and daughter were recently at the Beamish Open Air Museum on the day that a 7-year-old boy was killed in a tragic accident. We all know that death comes to us all eventually, but for a child to die is very different, and for him to die in a place of leisure and education seems particularly misplaced somehow. Many people bemoan the fact that they are growing old. Perhaps we should rejoice about the fact that we have been given the opportunity to, as sadly not everybody is.
This week I have been honoured to be the guest of a Native American family and their tribe in Cherokee, North Carolina. We were taken to see a live theatre performance of a play entitled ‘Unto These Hills’. It told the story of how, in the 1830s, 16,000 Cherokee people were forced to move 800 miles because the white people and their armed forces had coerced them into giving up their homelands in the Appalachian Mountains. The routes they took for this enforced migration came to be known as ‘The Trail of Tears’. The play illustrated how families had to abandon their homes and face a long, harrowing journey that many did not survive. It was a story of disenfranchisement, dislocation, dispossession and oppression, a tragic and shameful episode of historic fact. However, the play ended on a positive note, with a strong message of resilience, emphasising that, despite this history of oppression, the Cherokee Nation has retained its culture and traditions, has rekindled the use of its language and reaffirmed a foundation of pride. Language, culture and identity can survive against the odds. In Wales, we express this idea in the title of a very important song: ‘Yma o Hyd’ (still here).