Innovative, Disruptive Education at the People of Color Conference

POCC ProgramMycelium participated in the 28th People of Color Conference (POCC) hosted by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) December 2-5, 2015 that was attended by 2700 adults. Simultaneously the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) was hosted with 1600 youth. It was an empowering experience to be amongst over 4300 people who are willing to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves because of our dedication to the Equity Imperative.

Affinity groups are a cornerstone experience for POCC and SDLC where conference participants who share the same race or ethnicity explore their racial identity in a protected space that is just for people who share that identity.

“Unlike other conference programming (which is open to all irrespective of race and ethnicity), affinity group space derives its meaning, integrity, and transformative power from participation by same-group members.”

Affinity groups are organized around 9 different identifiers including Transracially Adopted and Multiracial Heritage. Mycelium’s co-founder, Ashley Cooper, was a Lead Facilitator for the white affinity group — 450 white educators who are committed to exploring their white identity and undoing patterns of dominance and subordination in service to creating more equitable communities and learning environments. This was Ashley’s 2nd year facilitating the white affinity group.

IMG_4726Mycelium also hosted a booth in the POCC Hub/Exhibit Hall where Mycelium highlighted our dedication to innovative approaches to education and disruptive education that addresses systemic obstacles to healthy and thriving people and ecosystems.

Mycleium’s participation in POCC is thanks to Caroline Blackwell, VP of Equity and Justice at NAIS who’s department produces POCC and SDLC. Caroline is also a Mycelium alumni who participated in the Summer 2014 Learning Journey.

About the conference from the NAIS website:

IMG_4739The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools.

…This event is distinct among professional development experiences in the national education landscape.

…In 2006, the NAIS board affirmed that the People of Color Conference be “designed for people of color as it relates to their roles in independent schools. Its programming should include offerings that support people of color as they pursue strategies for success and leadership. Its focus should be on providing a sanctuary and networking opportunity for people of color and allies in independent schools as we build and sustain inclusive school communities.”

Practically, this mission means that unlike most independent school settings, the majority of the PoCC attendees and presenters are people of color. The wisdom and perspective of people of color tends to be a “minority” view in independent schools (and other businesses and organizations in the U.S., particularly), despite the fact that people of color comprise a world majority. Because of this, the NAIS People of Color Conference offers attendees the empowering experience of an interactional space that more closely mirrors world racial and ethnic demography, and the professional development scope and vision necessary to refocus their work and learning through an equity perspective.

Mycelium Exhibit Booth

In the center of the conference was the POCC Hub, a convening space with a Makerspace, Wellness Center, Bookstore, Education Corners and exhibitors. The Mycelium booth was designed based on disruptive, innovative education. In addition to sharing the core purpose and programs that Mycelium offers, the booth also served as a resource station for innovative ideas in education that educators could immediately apply in their classrooms and schools. Mycelium’s Director of Operations, Michele Henry, graciously welcomed people into the Mycelium experience.

Three top innovations that were shared:

  • ALNUGE – Game-based STEM and STEAM education that uses geometric codes to give children an opportunity to see things differently and communicate differently. Decoder cards and Brain Power Game Sheets were given away. ALNUGE was invented by Cleaster Cotton who is part of the Mycelium Network.
  • ENGAGE & INTERACT: Play it Forward Missions – Using Sneaky Cards and Mycelium-created Missions, these cards invite people to interact in fun and meaningful ways. The categories for the missions were: Grow, Connect, Engage, Care, Surprise, Create.
  • Conversation Starters – Mycelium’s designer, Mason Greenewald, prototyped his tabletop “Howdy Stranger” cards that invite “old fashioned human interaction” and for people to become a “Practicing Humilitarian.” These cards are perfect for breaking the isolation bubble at coffee shops and study halls.
    IMG_4729     IMG_4731

The tools for the classroom were greatly appreciated by courageous, caring and active teachers who were open to new ideas and disruption. Many visitors of the booth asked if Mycelium could come to their school and help train fellow teachers and faculty on facilitation skills for creating brave spaces for communicating about differences and equity.

We are looking forward to NAIS POCC 2017 in Atlanta, GA.

Let us know if you are interested in getting involved in future, related Mycelium programming. We are exploring offering Facilitation Training programs for educators, a Think Tank and Community of Practice focused on the theme of “Working Together Across Differences” and a White Affinity Practice Group. These are in addition to our 3-month Learning Journey and 3-month Venture Journey.

By |December 7th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Mycelium Alumni – Hosting Change in Her Hometown

MatticeBTAt the closing retreat of Mattice Haynes’ Learning Journey in October of 2014, she got an email from the City of Decatur (population 20,000 in the heart of downtown Atlanta and where Mattice lives). Her consulting organization, The Art of Community, had been chosen to run a community engagement process to help the city implement part of it’s 2010 Strategic Plan to “Encourage a diverse and engaged community.”

Better Together is a citizen-led, government supported effort to build deeper connection, understanding, and mutual respect among the Decatur community. It will culminate at the end of 2015 with the creation of a tangible Community Action Plan focused on cultivating a more just, welcoming, inclusive, equitable and compassionate experience for all who visit, live or work in the City of Decatur.

The city faces growing challenges such as housing affordability, rising taxes, and some recent events, particularly ones rooted in race. Officials have become aware that not everyone feels equally welcome and it’s time, perhaps even past time, to start shifting things. Mattice and her team are leading the city in a participatory engagement process that gives the people most effected an opportunity to give recommendations for the future.

The first phase involved creating a Leadership Circle of Decatur residents who represent a diverse cross-section of the community who, together with the police chief and a handful of city employees, have formed meaningful relationships, had challenging conversations about race and equity and have been guiding the Better Together process. Later this August there will be a 1-day capacity building training to support people working together across differences and a community-wide event to generate suggestions for a Community Action Plan.

Group Collage LG

In a recent meeting with her team, Mattice was reflecting on her Learning Journey with Mycelium and how pivotal it was in preparing her to take on a project of this scope and scale. She learned to pause, rest and take care of herself, connected with new supportive friends and colleagues, and learned participatory skills that have been valuable in the process. Listen to Mattice explain in her own words.

By |August 11th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Giving Space for Grief as an Agent for Change

Humans and the world we live in are complex. Being committed to change requires a fundamental acceptance that things will shift from one state to another. In that process, something is lost. Losing something that is a part of us can be painful. Allowing a complex system to reorganize after a loss is challenging. Acknowledging that the pain is real is essential.

There is so much suffering in our world due to a lack of attention, presence and connection to the experience of grief. In order to be an agent for change, one must recognize the presence of suffering, ours and others. We must also be willing to face that grief is a natural part of the change process.

Grief is about recognizing and tending to loss. It is a physical, emotional, spiritual and even social experience. Loss happens everywhere, occurring all the time. And from loss, when we compost it, tend to it, and allow it to run its course, something new is born.

What loss are you noticing right now that needs your attention?

As an agent for change, it is important that we tend to our experiences — the easy ones, the hard ones and the ones that are demanding for us to get real! When grief comes up, it is asking for your attention. Tend to it like you would a child. Nurture it, listen to it, hold it, let it go, let it return.

Often there is a cycle of experiences related to grief. Below Harrison Owen** describes how the cycle of grief and change shows up in groups, from his book: The Power of Spirit: How Organizations Transform.

Where would you place yourself on this cycle? What needs attention based upon where you or your family, organization or community sits on this cycle? Remember, it is kind to ask for help.

  • Stage 1: Shock and anger – How dare the universe change on me?
  • Stage 2: Denial – A way of catching our breaths when we are surprised.
  • Stage 3: Memories – We begin to recount again and again – and again the history leading up to the change. We humans have a need to acknowledge the past before we can let it go.
  • Stage 4: Despair — We come to the realization that the change is real. It has happened. We have no place else to go but forward. This is the time of crossing from one way of being to another. And we have to embrace that despair in order to get through it.
  • Stage 5: Stillness and Silence — The space for Holy and Creative work to take place in us at a very deep level. It’s a time when we search our own hearts and decide if we are going to stay and work with the new situation, or if we need to take a time-out or leave.
  • Stage 6: Questioning — We begin to ask each other “What if” questions – What if we change the way we do some things? Questioning invites people to imagine a new future that includes the best possible outcome for the changes they face.
    The task of leaders at this point is to help ask the Questions. Not to provide ready-made answers – because there are none. Owen says that people will find their own answers, if we leave the space open for them.
  • Stage 7: New Vision — A commitment to living life in a new way.

In eco-psychology it is said that one of the greatest challenges to creating healthy life-giving systems is failing to tend to grief and the process of letting go. When we actually touch our grief and allow it to be seen, we make space for new life and new opportunities to come through. If grief is not attended to, it inhibits us from becoming who we are meant to be, from truly reaching our potential.

Loss is happening at every level — systemic, community, familial and individual levels. You may feel grief for the unjust loss of lives due to an unfair criminal justice system. You may feel grief from the death of a loved one, or from letting go of a belief system that no longer serves you. Grief can be felt when you realize you’re not living the life you were meant to live or when you realize that you’ve been living a life of great privilege that other’s haven’t had access to.

By tending to these griefs, and letting go, we make space for the new, healthy life wanting to emerge… both in ourselves and in the larger systems we are a part of. This, in essence, is transformation. In order for something new to emerge, something else must be recognized, tended to and let go of.

There may be some loss in your life and grief that needs your attention… that needs your tender care. If you find this to be true, allow yourself to stop and truly be with what you are feeling. Let it be the most important thing in that moment. Give it all your attention. Listen to what will feel nurturing to you. Do it with a loved one, a companion in your change work or alone, depending upon what will feel most nourishing to you. And remember to ask for help! We can’t do it all alone.

When we tend to our grief, give it our attention, hold it and let it go, we can be a support to others in that same way.

~written by Dana Pearlman & Ashley Cooper


**Grief Stages descriptions adapted from this blog post.

Artwork by Kara Brown


By |February 6th, 2015|Uncategorized|4 Comments

Bridging Between Worlds

I am a bridge between worlds. Sometimes I feel split in two, other times stretched like taffy, and in my most grounded moments, integrated and able to serve in this unique position.

Right now I’d like to share about two worlds where I feel this bridging and weaving strongly alive inside me.

New and Old Patterns of Economics
Mycelium is an organism that operates in a spirit of service. It uses one of life’s core currencies – water. Mycelium generally has an abundance of water and thus shares it freely with areas that are in need of water. The mycelium receives nutrients such as nitrogen or sugars from the surrounding soil, trees and plants. This exchange is not a transactional, if-then exchange – but a natural, mutualistic flow of service.

I feel stretched. I am inspired and motivated to support Mycelium the organization to operate in a service economy like mycelium the organism. It is in our DNA to function in this way. In real-time, however, we have not yet learned how to embody this pattern. And until we reach that level of capacity within ourselves as an organization, we need financial support to continue to exist. So we have shifted our efforts to include more transactional and explicit requests for financial support via fundraising and tuition costs. This is part of our learning edge to operate within our principles and keep our doors open.

I feel myself living in both worlds and in this area, I feel like taffy. I imagine a line down the center of my being – stretched between my head and my heart, my feet rooted in two worlds. I feel the inner tension as I try to live simultaneously and authentically in both.

Traditional and New Forms of Education
There is a quote from Buckminster Fuller that is loved by many and speaks powerfully to the work we are doing at Mycelium:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

While I see great value in this approach, I think there’s more to the story. YES to building new models! That is exactly what we are doing at Mycelium. Learning from the past, paying close attention to the present and imagining what will serve the future – we are creating new models of engagement and structures of support that foster authentic learning and empowered action. These new models will shine with their own merit and will eventually be so attractive that the old models become obsolete.

In addition, the existing education system is huge and diverse. It is filled with many efforts by dedicated teachers, principals and school founders who are successfully creating powerful learning environments for learners of all ages. I don’t want to fight this existing reality. I want to partner with it. Again, like mycelium, I want to connect with its roots, learn about what is working within it and spread those nutrients to other places.

In this realm, I embody a stone bridge with beautiful landscape on both sides. We are creating nutrient-rich soil for the new model to grow and flourish. We are also making pathways for these new models to connect with the alive and vibrant elements of the existing model. I am dedicated to finding ways for us to work together to allow education to be a vibrant force for good – supporting people in living their fullest potential, growing in their abilities to thrive in this world and working together towards a healthy and beautiful future for all.

Photo source

Some Reflections from the Open Road

walking the path

A calling to touch the hearts of humans in ways that bring about happiness and well-being for as much of humanity as possible is not an easy calling to follow… particularly if you’re a grounded, practical type that also draws heavily on your intuition. From time to time, I’ll be sharing some reflections from the road of walking the path while creating Mycelium.