NLA Clarification: waiting lists issue
GEORGE E. DEMETRION
gdemetrion at juno.com
Thu Apr 5 10:36:35 EDT 2001
On Wed, 04 Apr 2001 12:03:39 -0500 Nancy Hansen
<sfliteracy at mcleodusa.net> writes:
>To David Rosen:
But as long as I *do* have a choice to serve as quickly as I
>am able, I feel that is the most important Mission I have in this
I would certainly agree with that and by temperament I'm inclined to say
come in rather than that there's no room in at the inn--if it's possible.
That's where it gets tricky. When I ran our centralized small group
tutoring site in the early and mid-90s, we could work well with about 125
students. That was manageable for one staffer and 35-40 volunteers,
especially if everything was moving swiftly, which was seldom the case.
Still, as long as the tutors were willing and able I would slip in new
students into their groups.
That kind of informal program development was essential, especially in
the beginning stages of our program when the goal, really, was to change
an organizational culture from the one-to-one to small group model (while
also maintaining individual matches where possible). We created sort of
a mass of chaos (some would say a community) where we didn't know fully
what we were doing, though I sensed an intuitive, implicit structure
moving the process along. I was less concerned whether tutors had
up-front formal training (many did, some did not) than that they:
a) had good relationship skills
b) were willing to experiment and could act on their own in a new
situation with only a minimal amount of support
c) could make a good faith commitment to the program
I didn't think a lot about numbers in those days, but did spend a lot of
time talking to students and tutors, keeping an eye and ear to the social
psychology of the site and worked hard to establish with the students and
tutors a satisfying learning community. Intentional chaos was supported
by chaos theory and a stable structure gradually emerged.
However, that kind of entrepreneurial energy does have limits as program
life shifts into a more stabilizing period, which ours did. For one
thing, though we always had a lot of students and supported them the best
we could, we never resolved the attrition issue. We had an exciting
learning climate, students felt supported, a lot of good learning was
taking place, student writing anthologies were created, etc., but still,
lots of folks were coming and leaving. Given our field, perhaps what Tom
Sticht refers to as such "turbulence," is normal. Perhaps that's the
price of doing business, or to change the metaphor, in having a learning
And for someone with my exceedingly right brain operational mode, such
"chaos" works. In fact, for some of us, and our students, too, it is
only through such structured chaos, can we find a source of direction and
voice and emerging structure. A lot of programs are built and even
sustained on such energy, which I think it's important for the 21st
century ABE system (or whatever this is) to sustain, because it is
through such an environment that so much learning often does take place.
We very seldom had waiting lists because of my "come on in" approach,
which as I have described, helped to create the environment that enabled
our program to shift from the one-to-one to small group instructional
Though as programs develop, increasing structure is often needed. I
decided to leave the program in 1996, in part because I thought that my
management style had seen its time for the best interest of the program
and a different kind of leadership was needed that could bring a greater
structure and discipline, yet without impairing the creativity of the
learning environment. Over several years that structure did emerge
a) a tri-semester program instead of open entry-open exit
b) a conscious effort to keep group size stable
c) more emphasis on retention
d) the implementation in the Basic Literacy program of the Wilson System
Of course, the latter I profoundly disagree with as it violates every
instinct that I have about adult literacy education. Though the other
three changes have helped a great deal and many would also argue that so
did the Wilson System. And there is, now, a modest waiting list and
certainly students have to wait for the designated period of enrollment.
What has remained from the earlier period is the strong social and
emotional support of the learning community, which is as strong, if not
stronger than ever. What also endures, though somewhat changed, is a
dynamic learning environment, still highly eclectic (even with Wilson in
BL), with many profound "teaching/learning moments" which speak volumes
about the value of adult literacy education, which is the heart and soul
of our work.
Hartford is a mid-sized city with a 41% rate on the NALS (for whatever
that's worth) with a large immigrant and Puerto Rican population as well.
Our program provides both literacy and ESOL instruction. One of our
agency's main objective is to construct a very stable and durable
organization, while also grounded in a student-centered mission.
Organizational capacity building is one of our major responsibilities
which requires a subtle balance between innovation and structure.
The business model is not the primary metaphor that would describe our
agency as it has a strong community and person-to-person focus. The
"commonwealth" model of active citizenship that Catherine King describes,
is closer to the vision for which we strive. Though as part of that, we
do take from the business model, the central importance of organizational
capacity building. Metaphorically, the program I've described within our
broader agency, has shifted from the Declaration of Independence to the
American Constitution--still grounded on democracy, individual rights and
citizenship, but one requiring greater attention to law and to structure.
Our enduring challenge is to remain grounded in this general framework,
while effectively responding to the many changes we perpetually face.
The creative tension between improvisation and structure is one of the
most powerful underlying dynamics that guide the work.
Literacy Volunteers of Geater Hartford
Gdemetrion at msn.com
Gdemetrion at juno.com
Gdemetrion at lvgh.org
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