This March 31–April, 2017, Senior Associate John Ritter joined over 300 participants at the annual Near East South Asia (NESA) Council of Overseas Schools Spring Educators Conference, held at the Royal Orchid Sheraton, Bangkok, Thailand. The conference was designed for educators of all grade levels, subjects and disciplines. In addition to Keynote addresses and some other shorter sessions, the conference featured multi-day institutes and four-hour workshops to make it possible for participants to work at "levels 2, 3, and 4" of the NESA continuum of the "Differentiated Levels of Learning: "deepening understanding," "initiating implementation," and "extending implementation." Information on this continuum and how NESA uses this to plan its activities can be found here.
John, though quite busy talking with candidates and school representatives, was able to attend a few sessions. One of these was a good example of how participants can work at NESA levels 2 and 3 – deepening understanding to initiating implementation – during one continuous, five-hour session. This was Jeff Clanon's "A Practical Introduction to the U-Theory." The "U-Theory" emphasizes participants' capacity to change by moving through the three parts of a "U":
- "Sensing," or changing how we "see" our situation. (This is the left side of U).
- "Presencing," or changing our sense of self and will. (This is the bottom of the U.)
- "Realizing," or changing how we act. (This is the right side of the U.)
This is less "linear" and "willed" than the above implies. Going down the left side of the "U," participants are invited to "let go" of how they see, sense, and experience some things that may trouble them. By guiding participants into a state of relaxation toward the end of the morning's session, Jeff was able to help participants become more open to this happening. Participants were then asked to go to lunch but not talk with any other persons -- just let the "presencing" (bottom of U) happen. At the bottom and starting up the right side of the U, one "lets come" new ways of seeing what can be. Moving up the right side, one sees more clearly some ways to change and some ways to enact such change.
At the end of this process, some participants said that their greatest insight was about what was "holding them back." The "problem" was not outside them. Rather, it was their own perception of what they could or could not do. One example was a woman from a non-Western culture who speaks English as her second language. She serves on a leadership team at her English-medium international school. But she seldom speaks at her team meetings, for fear of making mistakes or not being understood. Previously, she "saw" the problem in one way: She needs to improve her English; she needs more English "training." During the "U" she saw the solution quite differently: She saw herself speaking with mistakes and knowing that she will still be understood and respected. The coming change emerged from a sense of what is possible.
Along the way, Jeff offered U Theory principles, some of which are:
- Energy follows attention – shift from what we are trying to avoid to what we want to bring into reality.
- Follow the three movements of the U – a) observe, observe, observe; b) retreat and reflect: allow the inner knowing to emerge); and c) act in an instant, by doing, by prototyping.
- Go to the edges of the self – with an open mind, open heart, open will.
- Transform the three enemies – the voice of judgment, voice of cynicism, voice of fear.
- Always start by attending to the crack – attend to the openings, challenges, and disruptions where we feel the past ending and the future wanting to begin.
John had the great opportunity to advise close to 20 current and potential Search candidates and to renew contact with over 20 of Search Associates' member schools. And that conference lunch where the U Theory participants were asked to not speak … was a Search-sponsored lunch thoroughly enjoyed by both those who conversed and those who silently reflected.