Why Relationships Matter: An ‘Unplugd’ Model

Alec and Zoe's GroupThere are many takeaways from Unplugd11 and finding just one theme to write about is difficult. Do I write about the authentic collaboration and peer review of essays? Do I write about the deep conversations that took place in our small and large groups? Do I write about how 37 educators joined together, leaving behind organizational authority and leadership and worked in a truly distributed leadership model? Do I write about the impact that meeting face-to-face had on individuals who have only ever met in online spaces? Do I write about the risk people took when sharing their stories? Do I write about the blog reflections and twitter feeds, radio podcasts and photographs and skype calls that have resulted in the days after the event?

Jen and Zoe at Unplugd, already friends, teaching partners and colleagues - g meet face-to-face
Jen and Zoe "Alberta vs Ontario" Math and Spelling every Friday

What I really wanted to write about was what it has meant to me to be part of the Unplugd initiative over the last year. The support and friendship that resulted changed me in many ways. It humbled me. It gave me confidence. It was that that fueled me when I sometimes felt like I was loosing my focus. I smile when thinking about the impromptu skype calls, road trips, or the late night meetings due to time zone conflicts. Sometimes we laughed so hard that it hurt.

TalkingI smile when I think about the many conversations that we had that where not part of the agenda, but intended to offer care and support for one another during those tough days in our own organizations. And other times, we shared the joys we had in our lives. The soccer games, birthday parties, our trips, our accomplishments.

United on the train!
Heading toward Toronto to begin the Unplugd11 event. Here you see our excitement as we are watching the twitter #unplugd11 stream

This is why Relationships Matter.

Before Unplugd, during Unplugd, and now after Unplugd- in every discussion, story and anecdotal, it was about relationships. It was first about knowing each other, knowing our students, our colleagues and our staff. It was about being aware that everyone is starting in a different space and place and different level, whether it be emotionally, socially or intellectually.

This summit was intentionally designed around the idea that if Professional Development is built around relationships first, the people (students, teachers, leader) are more likely to take risk. And with risk, people begin to think more critically, talk more candidly, and share more openly. With risk, people are free to give and receive feedback and to reflect deeply. People are free to embrace change. The relationships that were built gave us capacity.

What I learned, was that this element of relationship building, of safety in groups, of trust was missing for many of us. Our walls were built so thick that when they were broken down, we could be our authentic selves, without judgment.

We set out to accomplish a co-authored book, but what was accomplished was a great deal bigger than that.

Getting down to work
I wonder, how this will change our practice, our leadership, our direction? I wonder if we will be more aware of relationship building when going back into our organizations. I wonder if our actions at UNPLUGD will be heard.

I hope so.

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5 Replies to “Why Relationships Matter: An ‘Unplugd’ Model”

  1. Woah…you nailed it. It is nice to hear you talk about the planning of this, the awareness of the importance of relationships, and how this grounded the “intentionality” behind the entire experience.

    In a sense, you’re not saying, “It will be a more powerful learning experience if we include strong relationship-building.” What I hear you saying is, “Powerful learning only occurs in the context of strong relationships.” A subtle difference, but an important one!

    Thanks for your passion, your dedication to this project, and your conversations!


  2. I do think this greater appreciation for relationships will change my approach to leadership. I’m currently working on agendas for back-to-school district and provincial meetings and I’m intentionally beginning with a question from a story Dean told in our group … “Why are you here?” I’m hoping this question will help us learn more about each other, about what drives us to be involved in public education and will help us find purpose in our volunteer commitment.

  3. Zoe,

    Reading your post reminded me of 2 things:
    1) the amount of time you and the rest of the organizing committee took away from your personal lives to make this event so meaningful. Thank-you to your families for being so understanding and supportive.

    2) in our classrooms we spend so much time during the first month of school trying to build a community so the students can support each other in their learning. Why is there no time put into building relationships in our board-directed learning? The Unplug’d model should clearly show educators from coast to coast that the time needed to build relationships is a necessity in order to remove barriers. This is when the true learning begins.

    Thank-you Zoe, for communicating this in your post.

  4. Zoe! Thanks for capturing this sentiment. As talked about, it is interesting that we were meticulous about relationships, spaces and group development and the ‘content’ came (usually we start the other way around with content and the relationships never seem to be as rich).

  5. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about why #unplugd11 worked so beautifully and the words I kept coming back to were: relationships, trust, and vulnerability…

    I loved how you talked about putting the emphasis on relationships first meant changing how much risk we’d be willing to take and how deep we’d be willing to go in PD, collaboration and working peer to peer.

    You’ve given me lots to take back to my work team to share… I appreciate and admire you for so many reasons but your passion and leadership stand out the most for me. Thanks Zoe!!

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