Sunday, November 23, 2008

Children's World - The Emergence of Self- Expression

When my children were in elementary school, I created a project for their school and called it Children's World. For several years, we published an incredible book that contained the stories and pictures of all 550 students from kindergarten through 5th grade.

 The first thing that made the project extraordinary was the immediate support it garnered. We offered to have the students' stories and pictures compiled into a book and published. I shared this idea with the principal and he got behind it right away. I shared this idea with the teachers and they got behind it and offered to help in any way they could. I shared this idea with some parents and soon had 20 volunteers. When we shared this idea with the students, all but two participated. We were off and running.

Within a few weeks we had all of the contributions.

The second amazing thing emerged as we assembled the project each year. To create the books, we put all the contributions on the floor, looking for how we could combine them: everything from stories and pictures from the 5th graders to poems and pictures from 1st graders.

Something amazing seemed to drive the process at an almost invisible level. It was as though each year there was something in the air that each child was breathing - some aromatic that they could all sense. This unique essence showed up in the patterns and substance of the student's expressive art work and writings. Each year it was different - each year a larger story emerged and - once we saw it - mystified those of us working on the project.

At the end of our pattern seeking process, all of the art and stories came together into chapters that were driven by themes that seemed to emerge as we sorted. Each year the overriding themes were very different, yet the work seemed to synchronize.

We found a local printer who printed the books at cost, and made the books available to anyone who wanted them. They sold out in the first 2 days - we had to re-order them. We were surprised again at how much the children loved the books. Teachers saw them carrying the books around throughout the year. They were amazed at the fascination children had for each other's "expression." Teachers told us there was an upsurge of creativity during the years we published Children's World.

Other schools in our community heard about the project and began their own Children's World project.

 We later did a follow-up study to see if there was any impact of the books on the children in some measurable way. We were looking for any and all possible connections that might show the impact of the projects on how well the children developed - emotionally, socially and/or academically. At this point it was just curiosity. Low and behold, we did indeed find a positive impact from the few years we did the Children's World projects: There was a direct correlation to the number of children who were accepted into top universities - measurably more than in the years before or after.

Why might this be so? This experience suggests that there is something very important that happens inside when our view of the world is "validated publicly" -- when our voice is heard and acknowledged -- when we see we are not alone in our inner thoughts -- when our thoughts connect to other's inner worlds and tell a bigger story.

My feeling is that we all have bonding instincts. We have the need -- a strong instinct -- to connect with others and make music. When validated and fulfilled, our connections elevate us to higher levels of growth, wisdom, creativity and insight.

The contents of the book seems to speak to how children relate to their world -- how they figure it out, what they find interesting -- what turns them on. The book turned out this way -- 550 contributions:
  • I experience my World
  • I love the colors of my World
  • I grow when I am a part of the changing World
  • I experience joy from loving animals
  • I grow from belonging sharing and caring about others
  • I can imagine anything I want
  • But when no one tells me what to do I...
  • As I grow I learn how others reach out...
  • But when all is said and done...
We did the book twice -- and then I returned to school for another degree and passed it back to others to run. This past year I discovered that school children shared it with neighboring friends, and the idea caught on -- today all of the local schools in our Connecticut community publish books. It is now run by the teachers -- and is part of the curriculum. Imagine being published at the age of 8. What an achievement. More so, the experience raised the levels of writing and drawing in the whole school. Personal expression was supported. Kids believed they could do more and they did.

How to you drive self-expression in the workplace? How do you encourage speaking up? In what ways can people apply their talents to create the next generation products and services your company offers?

  • What we write and draw about reflects what we feel about our relationship to the world around us
  • Who we are is evident in how we express ourselves
  • We willfully seize opportunities to contribute when they call to us
  • Sharing our worldview validates our worldview and gives us confidence to live into our aspirations
Try These Experiments:
  • Think about how to craft an exercise like Children's World in your organization, your team, your school
  • Start a meeting by asking people to share a personal story and a business story that just happened that they are excited about -- watch how the meeting shifts
  • Collect success stories in teams and publish them -- watch how the team spirit changes
  • Publish success stories on your intranet. Ask people to include tips, and practices that underlay the success -- watch how the Cultural Intelligence grows in your organization

 Judith E. Glaser is the Author of two best selling business books:

Creating WE: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking & Build a Healthy Thriving Organization - winner of the Bronze Award in the Leadership Category of the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards, and The DNA of Leadership; and the DVD and Workshop titled The Leadership Secret of Gregory Goose

Contact: 212-307-4386



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