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.