You may be thinking that this article will feature reflections on a recent sojourn to one of Umbria’s most beautiful walled cities, the birthplace of St Francis, the ancient city of Assisi. As magnificent as that beautiful city is and any pilgrim’s journal will recount, this is a reflection of a similar yet different type of ASSISI experience, an experience that engages with Sustainability.
How might we imagine what sustainability is and how might we go about developing a sustainable future. Alex Steffen an American futurist and co-founder of World Changing attempts to see a sustainable future in his TED Education Talk below.
Educators are called to engage students in a conversation about sustainability, a conversation that calls all participants to action.
Recently, at Santa Theresa Spirituality Centre, Ormiston, Brisbane, fifteen participants engaged in a four day retreat experience for Animators of Sustainability facilitated by Luke Edwards of Catholic Earthcare Australia and Megan Seneque, an international systems change consultant. For Catholic Earthcare Australia, the acronym ASSISI – A Strategic Systems-based Integrated Sustainability Initiative is used to name their three-day, transformative process for animators and transformative it was.
After experiencing ASSISI, all participants stated freely that they found themselves in a new place of understanding, seeing the world and becoming much more attuned to sustainability from a Catholic Christian perspective. All animators would agree that it was a capacity building and worthwhile process. Some animators have been moved to write their reflections of this significant experience.
What was the ASSISI experience like for me?
Alex Collins, Manager from Centacare, Rockhampton Diocese:
I can summarise my experience as one of involution, revolution and evolution. Involution is that the first twelve hours gave my mind and spirit a workout through reflection and in this process I discovered how many patterns within me as a leader were unfit. By day four I felt all my paradigms and existing behavioural rituals evolutionising, the experience of listening with an open heart, mind and hands taught me in a new way that what is around me is also inside me. Becoming an animator has placed me in a new evolutionary point, one that is an invitation to shape shift our vision of sustainability as spirit-nourishing and we have the capacity to welcome others into this new system.
Colleen Mullins-Sifread, Fleet and Security Coordinator – Office Services, Brisbane Catholic Education:
ASSISI gave us a chance for listening, conversation, engaging, sharing thought, reflection, challenges, engaging with new concepts and techniques, confusion, U turns, realisations, “ah-ha” moments, new understandings, deep thinking and moving forward.
Dalveen Fletcher, Year 5 Teacher, St Eugene’s College, Burpengary:
Dalveen, with others from the school community, have developed the Eugreenies’ Community Garden.
This experience for me was very daunting initially. I felt rather out of my depth, mostly because I’d assumed that everyone else had a far greater understanding of what was being spoken about. As the days progressed I felt myself at a turning point in my thinking, taking a U-turn as per lots of the diagrams we had investigated in relation to animating change within my own organization. At the conclusion of our time together I felt re-energised, valued and ready to move forward using many of the new strategies we had talked about.
What new learning did you experience?
I learnt far more than I could possibly remember or follow up on without revisiting all the documents we were given. However, what has stayed very much in my mind is a diagram we looked at, yet another big U that focused on ‘letting go’ and ‘letting come’ as the turning point in animating change. This has been invaluable in far more situations than I thought possible and I do see a new ‘me’ emerging. Let’s hope this is also sustainable.
New concepts, heightened understanding of my role and those of others across the organization.
Kerry Rush, Senior Education Officer Brisbane Catholic Education Office: Dutton Park:
I learnt many things, but one of my biggest learnings was that transformative change is best brought about by a holistic approach that engages a group or groups towards integrated solutions instead of using a fragmented, pushing through, driving to solution approach that is frequently supported with “so called” consultation processes that arrive at preconceived solutions. Holistic transformative approaches to change can look like this: a group or groups of people engaging in generative conversations, appreciative inquiry, attentive listening, that fosters rich and authentic dialogue to co-plan and collaborative act. Such groups that are working in this way will get to a point of realizing that they know what they don’t know and will freely draw on multi-disciplined knowledge, skills interests and capacities of others to join and support the groups’ initiatives. A holistic notion of sustainability underpins Assisi. This understanding of sustainability is one that incorporates human, social (cultural/economic/political) and environmental sustainability. It is not just about caring for the environment, it is about caring for and sustaining all of God’s creation. In light of this new understanding I was able to self-reflect and critique my own successes and failures to lead sustainable change over the years.
A very accessible text that is pre-requisite reading for the ASSISI program is Denis Edwards’ book, “Jesus in the Natural World”. It has so many gems about ecological conversion. Paraphrased from the book’s blurb, ecological conversion requires a radical change of mind and heart. Such a conversion will lead to a deeper love and respect for all of creation. This involves moving towards sustainable lifestyle, patterns of production and consumption, economic and political choices.
Watch an interview with Denis Edwards regarding his book “Jesus in the Natural World” below.
Would you recommend the program to anyone else?
I would highly recommend this program to others who are striving to make changes within their own work places. However, I believe it is best to have others from your own work place with you to complete action plans and start from the same understandings explored during the time together.
Colleen Mullins-Sifread and Kerry Rush:
Absolutely, most definitely!
What does being an ASSISI animator now mean to you?
Being an ASSISI animator means a great deal to me at this time. The term ‘animator’ means, to me, facilitating changes, not having to make these changes happen all by myself. I see the role as a person on a journey of change with many like-minded individuals and communities working together to achieve success.
Communicating from the heart to spread the word about sustainability.
Being an animator for me, still mean having energy for or inspiring energy for something. It’s also about trusting people, promoting participation and letting go of the way you want things to go. Also I think the idea of Denis Edwards of seeing things properly with the eyes of wisdom is terrific challenge for animators to aspire to and practise. This requires seeing all things as loved by God, eyes that listen and connect: seeing things with loving eyes beyond arrogant, valuing stares and prejudice, beyond the ignorant, blinkered view and position. Seeing the world in this way is a big challenge. If only we could buy glasses that enhanced our capacity for eyes of wisdom.
What new processes will you adopt?
I have begun to adopt a number of new processes within my school simply by sharing what my time with ASSISI was all about. I have personally invited many to come to our garden to share the experience and am hopeful that this direct, personal approach will be effective. I will be using the EATING process but need a much better understand of all areas of this before getting any further that the ‘E’ and the ‘A’!
The EATING approach comes from ‘Kitchen Table Sustainability’ by Wendy Sarkissian et al. It is an approach that can be used to foster community engagement for sustainability. It is an acronym for Education, Action, Trust, Inclusion, Nourishment and Governance.
Find out about additional resources being used by the team at ResourceLink here.
U Theory and being aware of “Who am I being, that their eyes are not shining?”
The U theory comes form the work of Otto Sharmer. It is a theory that assists people to move from reactive quick fixes to generative responses that address the systemic root issues. It is journey to change that is particularly helpful to those leading change. It is one path with five movements:
Co-initiating: building common intent,
Co-sensing: observe, observe, observe
Presencing: connecting to the common will,
Co-creating: Prototyping the new
Co-evolving: Embody the New ecosystems.
What did you discover about others roles and journeys toward sustainability?
I discovered that other teachers have had a similar journey as me. I found I am very much not alone in feeling frustrated and not valued for what we have been trying to achieve. I have importantly discovered that Brisbane Catholic Education is very much on board with striving towards creating a sustainable workplace and that those who attended from the Brisbane Catholic Education Officer are very much valuing the work that is tirelessly being done in schools. I’ve also just re-read some notes about two different models – one driven by answers and the more favourable one guided by questions. This is very worthwhile.
How would you do things differently after the ASSISI program?
Perhaps if I had done the ASSISI program years ago before attempting and continuing many sustainability initiatives, I would not have felt so much despair along the way! I would have found others to come on board and work together to animate many desperately needed changes in our school. However, having already started the journey, I will take to heart many of the learning experiences we shared. In particular, I will stop speaking from a place of ‘lack’ and work with who and what we do have.
In what way was the ASSISI experience transformational?
The ASSISI experience has been transformational in creating what I hope is the start of a new and much improved version of ‘me’. Everything else in going to flow from there!
What dreams, preferred futures imaginings did you have or hear articulated at the end of the program?
I’d like to see more connections within and between schools. Networks for the dedicated, creative people with “like minds” across the organization and ecouraging local conversations to start the ball rolling.
Moving forward in a positive manner. Hoping to achieve my dreamed vision for 2016 where all memebers of the St Eugenes’s College community are at some point and in some way egaging with the understanding of what they are achieving. Celebrating the achievements and community importance of the Eugreenies’ Community Garden, the profile an value of the project will be further fostered.
Working with groups of people within Brisbane Catholic Educatione and beyond towards (A) Strategic Systems based Integrated Sustainability Initiatives, developing great relationships with others, having fun and doing our bit together to educate, inform and enact sustainability the ASSISI way.
What words of wisdom or experiences will you remember?
Authentic! Heritage! Legacy!
“Life can be framed by the conversations you don’t have”. The phases of U Theory. Create communities of co-creation.
Let go and see all of Creation with eyes of wisdom.