Guest post — What Does It Mean to Be a High-Vibrancy School?

Guest post by Annabel Membrillo Jimenez and Jennifer Berman, members of the emerging global Vibrancy community

Do you know a school where something special happening is happening?  Do you feel inspired and fully engaged in the interactions you have with teachers, staff, and students?  Are students fully seen for who they are?  Is their inner potential unleashed?  Does the school re-define what it means to be an outstanding school in service to students and the future?  If you have answered yes to these questions, then you most likely know a high-vibrancy school.

So how do you know if your school or any other school really is a high-vibrancy school? After working with several high-vibrancy schools, we have noticed a few common characteristics.  The schools we have worked with are a mix of public, private, urban, and rural schools with socioeconomic and racial diversity, but in each school you can feel and see a set of core agreements that drive decision making, structures and behavior.

INNOVATIVE LEADERSHIP STRUCTURES IN ALL LEVELS

  • School leaders explore and implement innovative leadership structures and engage in transformation from a place of abundance and possibility.
  • School leaders feel ownership of and responsibility for student and whole-community development.  Department/group leadership supports evolving practices.  There is a culture of respect and support for leaders at all levels (principals, teachers, staff, and parents).
  • Leadership can come from anyone. Actions, ideas and proposals flow from every conversation, including those with students.

A DEEP SHARED PURPOSE WITH CLEAR STRATEGIES

  • Schools are centered on student development.  The whole community (internal and external) supports each child in realizing his/her full potential and development.
  • Schools are mission-driven, with a vision that evolves over time as needed– i.e., explicitly supporting children to be active, engaged human beings with supportive programming and structures.
  • Clear pathways exist to achieve that vision, including structures to help assess what is working, what is not, and what new solutions exist.
  • There is evidence of extraordinary results (success indicators coming from tangible results in the school and larger community).
  • There is a strong emphasis on stakeholder development and a deep shared purpose embraced by the wider community. 

 PERMANENT EVOLVING CULTURES/COMMUNITY

  • There is a strong culture of learning, collaboration, trust, respect, and transparency among students, parents, faculty and staff.
  • High value is placed on community engagement in the life and structures of the school. The school community is engaged in transformation at all levels (personal, group, school, external community).
  • Leadership and others have a high level of awareness of what is happening within the community.

INNOVATIVE EDUCATION MODELS AND EVOLVING CURRICULUM

  • There are continuously evolving education models that meet the needs of students and creatively support students to achieve their highest potential.
  • Stakeholders think systemically about what factors influence children’s growth and education.
  • Alliances with groups outside the school leverage whole child development.
  • Every event with the students is clearly related to the curricula and there is a shared understanding of its educational value (class, festivals, community and parent engagement)

Are you one of these schools or do you know one of these schools? If so, share your story with us. Most likely, you are already looking for other like-minded colleagues with whom you can share and explore.  We would love to help you find each other, so that together we can help co-design the next generation of schools that this world needs.

Guest post — Agreements Mapping of High Vibrancy Zapatista Communities

Guest post by Annabel Membrillo Jimenez, Vibrancy Mexico Lead Steward

Zapatista mural

Annabel set off on a journey this past spring to observe indigenous Zapatista communities, asking: What are the characteristics that allow the Zapatistas to move at a steady pace towards the third circle of vibrancy, despite the ongoing repression they receive from a part of their environment? What are the agreements that make them unique?

Annabel shares what she observed in the Zapatistas agreements in a white paper you can download here in English (aquí en español).

 

A Transformational Journey within a Corporate Ecosystem

Membrillo Jimenez, A. and A.C. Gonçalves, Transformational Journey within a Corporate “Ecosystem”. 2014, Institute for Strategic Clarity: Amherst, MA.

In this case study, Annabel and Ana Claudia describe the experience of taking a group in a global financial services company on a transformational journey to the experience of a higher level of harmonic vibrancy, through the development of new, more collaborative practices.  These practices led to demonstrable improvements in performance and outcomes.  As Annabel shares, “I am very grateful to have had a living lab that, despite the scarcity agreements and rules in its organizational structure, implemented initiatives that I had not seen in all my years of working with organizations. This was possible because the company incorporated the transformation process into the day-to-day activities of the corporate world.”

Guest post — The “UMAns” and Their Movement as a Group (Universidad de Medio Ambiente)

Guest post — Annabel Membrillo, regional steward Vibrancy Mexico

UMA is the University of the Environment in Mexico (http://www.umamexico.com).

When visiting Casa UMA in Valle de Bravo, I had the opportunity of experiencing UMA live and in full detail during the master’s degree graduation ceremony. During this experience, I also had the opportunity of observing a variety of dynamics, as well as interviewing and speaking to a few people, including the founding partners. This collective has a very particular way of living, which I believe demonstrates how inspiration can take a person along unknown yet interesting paths, which are only obvious and visible along the way.

UMA is still a start-up and has been running for just a few years. UMA’s core focus is active research, where questions are more important than answers, and the search for truth becomes relevant because not everything is black or white. The search for an answer to what we want to maintain and what we want to change is always present. This basic difference is the motor that has driven UMA from day one.

Below are several details and evidence of its evolution:

  • The growth of students vs staff – It started with 15 students in the Environmental Entrepreneurship Program (PEA) in 2010, and in 2014 it has over 100 students (70 master’s students, 30 technical certification students and 17 UMA High School students). However, the number of people working within UMA has grown from 6-7 to 18, aside from the network of professors and students that grows every year.
  • The growth of its programs – they began in 2010 with PEA (Environmental Entrepreneurship Program) and in 2014 they now have 6 master’s programs (Environmental Law and Public Policy, Socio-Environmental Business Administration, Architecture, Design and Sustainable Construction), a Technical Certification in Sustainability, 3 UMA High School groups, Consulting, UMA events and Environmental Education UMA A.C.
  • The growth of infrastructure – It began in 2007 with a small office and the first program (PEA) started in 2009. At the time, the space for programs was somewhere else. In 2014 they are in Casa UMA, a cozy space where they have been able to incubate the second part of their evolution. Today they are about to begin a new journey with the construction of the UMA Campus which will be open at the end of 2014.
  • Incubations of economical/social/environmental projects – 89% of alumni projects are in some stage of development and/or implementation.

In the timeline below (Figure 1) we can identify certain important events and moments within this collective’s evolution. These events have been divided into 2 classifications:

  1. The first one is the events related to operations and daily UMA activities. Here we can see the events and activities related with the Academic evolution that involves creating and strengthening the programs offered as a University; and we also see the activities related with Project evolution that refers to environmental service consulting and other consulting services that are accomplished with organizations.
  2. The second classification is related to strengthening the physical basis and infrastructure, as well as strengthening the structure and organization in order to carry out UMA activities.

UMA Timeline

Figure 1. UMA Timeline

 

One of the reasons it was interesting to further explore the agreements that the UMA lives was that the results of the harmonic vibrancy survey showed that it could be a group with different and innovative practices. Several results that stand out are the following:

  • The fifteen people that answered the survey selected “always” for the item, “I understand clearly what we are as a group and why we do what we do.”
  • The average standard deviation of all the survey’s answers is relatively low (0.31), which shows shared agreements between people within the collective. We can observe the general results in the graph in Figure 2.
  • The average of the group’s degree of efficiency was of 4.27, where everyone answered excellent and above average.
  • In the ranking of the group, only one person answered that it was an average group, 6 answered that it was one of the best and 8 the best. The dimension that appears with high agreement is “The Group” and “Group Health.”

UMA Survey Results

Figure 2. UMA Survey Results

These results indicate that this group could have innovative practices of a mid-high level of harmonic vibrancy. After gathering the evidence, what I can share regarding the UMA practices today (there will certainly be others radically different in several years since evolution is the rule with this group), is captured in the agreements evidence map in Figure 3.

UMA Agreements Map

Figure 3. UMA Agreements Map

Next, I will provide an overview of what these agreements look like in UMA’s main practices:

  • An Organizational Philosophy with Zero Dogmas (Levels of Reality) – They are observers, researchers and critical actors of what happens around them, they ask, they seek for each person to live the experience and find their own answers. Questions are a fundamental part of their culture. For example, they develop questions such as the following: what is the middle point between a systemic vision and a reductionist vision because both are valid and necessary, what is the balance between rules and inspiration, what is the proper moment and audience with whom to use horizontal vs. circular organization charts within the same organization at the same time of evolution. Questions such as these may seem strange coming from an Environmental University where they are expected to support new alternative trends, and it may seem to some observers that they are “betraying” evolution. However, seeing it with an open mind, this essence may be perceived as having the capacity to subtly generate spaces for people to find their own answers and develop their full potential.
  • Inspiring and Sharing Global Goal with a Powerful Sense of Group (Group) “To drive a regenerative, sustainable and ethical future by preparing agents of change that are capable of promoting initiatives that will transform social-environmental systems” – Many of these people are there because they know that they are building cathedrals, they know that each part contributes although they cannot see the full picture; they require stability, certain structure and clear guidance on how things work, what they have to do and how to do it. Others are there because deep within them they truly share UMA’s core focus and what it implies regarding uncertainty, risk, patience, tolerance and bravery. They can become part of other types of structures with much more freedom and ability to explore. Both groups are necessary and what is most fascinating is that the initial “strategy” is the same for both groups; as people and groups ask for more or less structure the dialogue begins to take shape around what to do and how to do it.
  • Integrative Co-Design or Sociocracy (Group and Source of Creativity) “None of us knows as much as all of us” – It is clear that co-design is highly important because it allows for various voices and perspectives and imagining something bigger than what one can imagine on one’s own. However, it is also clear that there are situations or decisions that must be done individually but they will be communicated or will guide the team. It means asking oneself constant questions such as: What must be co-designed? Who needs to be there? When must it be done? And so on. It is a live process. In some spaces, it is already clear and in others it emerges as the group grows. Those who study or work in UMA are barely naming this practice as their own; however, having known them for several years, this practice has been consistent. There has always been a thoughtful and conscious invitation for people with different perspectives and voices in designing the UMA that lives in the present.
  • Establishing Dialogue Processes (Group, Relationship with the Other)
    • Within UMA, the U process is carried out in each program, generating profound dialogues between all the participants and those who work with UMA. These spaces still have to be strengthened for the operations and staff areas so they can emerge naturally and organically from within; these are steps that are already being identified for the following years.
    • Outside UMA they are involved in processes that allow for this dialogue to be generated within the community, a very beautiful example is the design and construction of the next UMA building which they describe in the following way: “The construction of a building that shows how architectural intervention becomes a means of regeneration for their community and basin.” The projects surrounding the UMA Campus are Housing with the community, Edible forests, a Path system for non-motorized transportation and a project of Social-based construction in Acatitlan.
  • Permanent Learning Community (Group, Source of Creativity and Levels of Reality)
    • Evaluate in order to grade vs evaluate to redesign; this is a practice that is constantly seeking to create awareness in order to avoid falling into judgment of self or others and instead channeling energy towards growth and evolution.
    • A space that is open to creativity – the objective is set and there is total freedom regarding how to achieve it. This provides a great sense of freedom but also of uncertainty and being overwhelmed by the responsibility; if you “fall” you are 100% responsible for your own fall. However, all this is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow both individually and as an organization.
  • Humanity (Individual, Relationship with the Other) – people are UMA’s most important motor; if people do well, UMA functions well. In evolution, a balance is constantly sought between people’s quality of life and the results. People and their quality of life are taken into account. As with all things, there are ups and downs and matters to resolve as a result of the growth in UMA’s ecosystem.

There are still many things that need to be improved before UMA can evolve into the third circle. It is still a collective that falls into the second circle, where evolution depends on the vision of their leaders. They are still in the process of understanding how to find a balance between efficient and flexible operations and freedom and continuous creativity, there are very distinct differences between the experience in spaces made for design and creativity (academia and consulting) and operation and logistics spaces (staff), it is still in the process of financial stabilization, etc. Leaders and other emerging co-hosts are aware of this, they are observing and seeking more questions and answers; part of this evolution will most likely depend on the increasing awareness of their co-hosts.

I don’t know if the reader will be immensely curious as to the direction this is heading and as to what it will look like in the future; what I do know is that I for one, am very curious. I perceive that UMA has the potential of becoming a point of reference for organizations on how to design and evolve start-up structures with live and free processes that create possibilities in the world (possibility-light), while staying grounded and putting forth all the potential in the earthly world (things-matter). This first attempt to understand the practices and agreements that they have generated throughout time may shed some light for those entrepreneurs who are willing to live this experience through a different lens.

Guest post — Introducing the Experience of Harmonic Vibrancy in Mexico

Guest post by Annabel Membrillo, ISC Fellow 

When I was designing an Introductory Experience of Harmonic Vibrancy, some questions came to my mind: can I find a real experience for the group? An experience that talks not just to their mind, but makes them feel it in their body and will?  I did not want to start with their mind in the very beginning, and that was a bit difficult for me, since I am so accustomed to work with my mind. Then an inspiring moment gave me some ideas of how to do this.

Feeling each relationship in the body. I believe there is a way to get people to feel Harmonic Vibrancy. I did this body experience in about an hour and a half. The I, Other, and Group relationships were easier to experience in the physical. I still need a good form of body experience for the relationships to Nature and Spirit. For each one of the relationships, I ask the participants to put themselves in one of the postures for a minute, and then write down on a post-it what they feel and think. I do not have pictures of people doing the postures; however, the I and Other are pretty straightforward. In the case of the relationship to the Group, the lower level was very interesting. The image below can help to make sense of the posture I asked them to do as a group. People said things like they could not see more than the person in front of them. They felt static. Some of them said they did not have feelings, and were uninterested, with their minds going to a different place.  Some wanted to touch the person in front, and turn to see the person behind; so, it was a very nice way to make them feel the lower level of the relationship to the Group.

AM Guest Blog 1

In the case of the relationship to Nature, I gave them an object (the carton at the end of a roll of toilet paper works very nicely).  I told them what it was, and then asked the group what was the purpose of the object. At first everyone answer what I told them, that is the Things level of perceived reality.  Then, in the case of toilet paper roll, they told me they have garbage in their hands. When I asked them about what could they do with the object, a lot of ideas came in, that is the development-verb level. Finally, some ideas that were beyond the object helped explain what we can imagine when we are in the light level. I linked this same exercise to the relationship to Spirit, to discover how to experience this through the body.

AM Guest Blog 2

The first experience of Naming. Language is so important for the process of experiencing harmonic vibrancy, and sometimes we find it difficult to listen to ourselves and to others in the collectives we are part of. So, what I did is to give the group famous phrases from philosophers, singers, popular sayings from Mexico. Some of these are in the Ecosynomics book, and some are not.  Some are long; some are short. Some examples of the short ones include: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” from Leonard Cohen; “Tree that is born crooked, his trunk never straightens,” a popular saying; “We only see what we animate, and we animate what we see” from Emerson. I asked the group to identify the primary relationship(s) and the level of each phrase. I emphasized that they could sense the level of perceived reality just by listening to the language they used.

AM Guest Blog 3

The first 4-5 hours of the 12-hour workshop were dedicated to these two activities. After that we worked more and more with the mind, learning what agreements are, understanding the three paths through the three levels of perceived reality, analyzing their responses to the harmonic vibrancy survey, and analyzing Agreements Maps for different groups. I believe that the success of these other exercises rested on the two exercises of the first 4 hours.

At the end I did a small exercise of “mindfully eating chocolate,” to close the workshop reminding them that the more mindful we are, the more we can really help collectives to name agreements and realize what to do next.

I look forward to learning what you and others have found useful in engaging people with their mind, heart and will from the very beginning of the harmonic vibrancy experience.  I know that we will continue to improve and innovate from this point forward to make this introduction a real experience of what Harmonic Vibrancy is.

Annabel Membrillo Jimenez, ISC Fellow, is the Vibrancy Ins. representative for Harmonic Vibrancy and Ecosynomics in Mexico.  Through her consulting, coaching, and teaching, Annabel has brought harmonic vibrancy, and strategic clarity to individuals, organizations, and communities in Mexico since 1995.  A graduate with honors of the ITAM, she has co-authored articles you can find at ISC.