As a father of 2 kids that are on the primary school in Eichholz (the other two are still in the kindergarden) I am happy to be part of regularly organized parent evenings. On the last one someone asked if we could something do like a introduction round because we just don´t know each other. That´s were the idea of trying liberating structure(LS) came up in my mind!
I quickly had a chat with the two responsible teachers and they fully supported my idea. I wrote a simple concept, basically I created what´s called a “string” in liberating structures - and on monday this week we finally could try out a parental evening in a new format. How did it work out?
An empty class room
The preparation of the room for LS is really essential. The arriving people should feel that this time something is different and should not even have the opportunity to sit down - because we needed the space to let the people work in different combinations. So we removed all tables and chairs in order to have a free space where people can move without any barrier. In addition the teacher took care of some snacks and drinks. In the end everyone should be feel safe and welcomed.
The teacher opened the evening with a short introduction and I continued by just explaining my role as moderator. That was a really brief introduction, I didn´t even mentioned that we try techniques from LS. My main goal was to make sure that the people can feel safe because there is a moderator that takes responsibility for the process.
My name is… - Impromptu networking
During the preparation we were pretty sure that this will work. The exercise was to find another person, getting to know each other and find out something about your kids. After five minutes the participants changed their partner and talked again for 5 minutes. Repeat again.
The timer didn´t even started for the first round and the parents already started to talk. It was amazing to see how fast the room was filled with energy from the different conversations. During this session I made my first experience with barrier of the language. Several parents had their children with them because they couldn´t understand the german language. But actually that was one of the reasons why I chose the moderate the evening, bringing different cultures together!
Time for questions - 1,2,4,All
The goal was that we can learn from other - and we did this with challenging questions: “What is the biggest challenge in the daily school routine?”
At first the parents should thought about the question for themselves about 1 minute, followed by 2 minutes as a pair and 4 minutes in a group of four. Finally we shared all experiences with the whole group. I did this by asking every group to share their most important discussion topics or something they have in common and wanted to share with the others.
The topics went from problems in daily routine and difficulties in learning with the children to the question how the information flow to/from the teacher could be improved.
“I am really happy to realize that I am not the only person with that problem!”
… that quote from a participant makes clear how important that session was.
We continued with a second session of 1-2-4-All, this time with the question “How can we support our children with their challenges?” We also had interesting discussions here - even though it was a bit harder to focus on solutions and not on problems. The main learning was that we can trust our kids!
The world in Eichholz - Conversation Coffee
The final exercise was a kind of a world coffee. This time we used 2 rooms and splitted the group into two smaller ones. Each group was assigned to a teacher who reported the current state of the school subjects. After 15 minutes we switched the group.
This part was insightful because it showed that the group size has an effect on how open people speak up. I believe the effects of group thinking kicks here in. The teacher said that much more questions were asked by the parents and the conversations were deeper in terms of how certain topics were explained. So we valued the intensity of the talks even over the fact that the teacher needed to talk twice about their topic. Interestingly every round was unique in the way how the discussions were.
We closed the evening by asking for short feedback of the people with some guiding questions:
- What did I learned?
- What surprised me?
- What is my wish for the next time?
The feedback was positive in general - even if we extended the timebox a bit.
What did I learned?
My learning was that the designed string needs to fit for the topic and the surrounding context: many questions came up in the last world coffee session so that 15 min were barely enough and I needed to interrupt that session a bit stronger than the ones before. So next time the world coffee session will be longer.
It is really hard if you don´t speak the language of your partner and children between us need to translate. But even then I got a moment where I had a talk with a mother of seven children that told openly how hard the daily routine is - and suddenly we had a common topic!
Having a place to let people talk deeply with each other is essential in our time.
That experiment took a lot of fun and I would be happy to moderate some upcoming parent evenings!