Campus Unconference, power of choice

When we shared the unconference with the families at our school, we did it after the fact and this was the blog post: 

Beit Midrash this week was a Campus Unconference. An unconference is a loosely organized meeting of people with something to say. The direction of the conversation is managed by the groups’ interests. To prepare for our unconference, the student government and faculty brainstormed areas of interest for our community. We narrowed these ideas to nine sessions and we were ready for the Campus Unconference.

Rabbi Greenberg introduced the Campus Unconference with a midrash. She explained that each person has the Hebrew letter alef on their face. The nose makes the center line, and each eye is one of the smaller lines. Alef is the first letter of God’s name. When we look upon one another, we are actually looking at what is holy. When we remember the spark of Godliness in each individual, we are able to approach our conversations and interactions with more trust, more honesty, and more compassion. 

Dr. Patterson explained the nine available sessions (see just below) and reminded our community that we are all equal participants – students and staff – in discussing these ideas of interest. Following the session breakout, we returned to the large group and shared some of our conversations. Students and staff were very present for these conversations. We talked about what we felt and thought. We also spoke about things we would like to see in the future, like a Beit Midrash on addiction. This is an ongoing conversation for us. We began at the Kinnus when we said Hinenei, here I am; and we continue today as we articulate our individual thoughts and the value of our community.

Kehillah Campus Unconference Sessions from this past Wednesday:

• Session 1: How we treat each other?
• Session 2: How do we express differing ideas kindly, respectfully, appropriately?
• Session 3: Social Media: how do we do it right?
• Session 4: Gossip
• Session 5: How and what is a role model?
• Session 6: What is our mission?
• Session 7: Who are we Jewishly and secularly?
• Session 8: Suicide/Depression
• Session 9: What does a strong and safe community look like?

If you want to know more, please be in touch with Rabbi Greenberg or Dr. Patterson.

Each week we have an hour long assembly, sometimes it is programming, sometimes a speakers, recently we watched the movie "I Am." (it was just about then Michelle and I really started collaborating.) 

The unconference format was one that Michelle and I had both experienced in different settings.  Figuring out a way to give 175 people choice and still have a good conversation was tricky.  We managed it in 2 steps.  The first step was with the faculty.
Last week in the faculty meeting we had the teachers generate topics and choose which discussion to participate.  We did this to give the teachers a sense of the structure and process of the unconference.  So from this process we had 5 topics.  The second set was to ask the student government to think critically and generate topics.  
This was a great option for our time constraints.  The student government generated topics overlapped with the faculty topics 100%, and most are reflected in the 9 topics we gave the group to choose from.
Choice   is huge.  Our community was suffering in part because everyone was taking it for granted and not engaging in the community.  The choice of session is a choice to engage.  This is so powerful and the kids have said just that.
In a debreif today the staff were also more engaged and thoughtful, we talked about next steps, but mainly we talked about the process.
We are going to have a second campus unconference in just a couple of weeks.
If you trust your kids, bring them this format and allow them to become engaged in their own lives.