Thursday, August 17, 2017

Free Writing to Begin a Strategic Planning Meeting

Long ago, in 1988, when I was in a grad school class that prepared us to be Composition teachers, I learned about free writing.  The rules are simple:  keep writing, don't go stop, don't read, don't ponder, don't worry about grammar, just keep writing.  If you run out of things to say, just write, "I have nothing more to say," until you do have something more to say.  Don't censor yourself--let your mind go where it wants to go.  Above all, just keep writing until time is called.

I have used this technique with every class I've ever taught onground.  I've used it when I've been a retreat leader.  Yesterday I used it with colleagues at the beginning of a strategic planning meeting.

We met in a private meeting room at a restaurant, so it was the first time that I had people writing on cloth tablecloths.  But it still worked.

I was asked to lead the strategic planning meeting, and I wanted us to begin by diving deep into our own thoughts, without censorship.  So I began by saying that we would not be sharing our thoughts unless we wanted to.  Then I led us through the process.

I started by explaining what we would do.  I expected discomfort or protest, like I sometimes get with students, but everyone looked agreeable.  To start, I said, "It's a year from now, and you're at the Hollywood campus.  What do you see that makes you happy?"  Everyone wrote for 3 minutes and seemed sorry to stop.

I moved on to the next question:  "It's a year from now, and you look around the Hollywood campus.  What makes you sad?  What concerns do you have?"  Everyone settled into their writing.

I asked the same questions at 3 minute intervals, only the next 2 were set five years in the future.  Once again, everyone wrote without complaint and without stopping.  I wrote a bit too, even though I had to keep my eye on the time.

As always, I'm surprised by what I come up with, and how quickly I can dip into my subconscious--and what I find there.  In five years, I wrote about outgrowing our space and getting new space that came with a kitchen and a dining space.  I wrote about our new approach to community college:  colleges that eat together to build community.  I wrote about the slogan we created five years from now (verb tense is tricky here, isn't it?):  the school that breaks bread together breaks barriers together.

When I started writing, I had no vision of a kitchen and communal meals.  It took me less that 12 minutes to pull that up.  Was it already bubbling in my mind or did I stretch out to grab it from somewhere else?

We had a good day of strategic planning.  We focused mostly on what we can do in the next year, as I knew we would.  But I liked rooting us both in a short and a medium length of time.  I liked beginning in a place of quiet, with each of us diving a bit deeper into our own brains, with each of us writing separately but as a group activity.

Most of all, I'm impressed with the willing attitude of my colleagues.  Once again, I realize I am lucky.

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