Voyager August 2019

August 8, 2019

Margaret J. Wheatley

There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.

Dear Learner-Centered Leaders,

Summer vacations are coming to a close, and I find myself reflecting on how summers can be a time of great learning. This one was no exception for my family. Last month, I went to Kandersteg, Switzerland with my son and his Boy Scout troop—it was an amazing seven days of Alpine hiking.

We learned so much about Swiss culture and the mountain-based communities who make delicious cheese, milk, chocolate, and local meats. But, the most powerful learning experiences came from being with 12 teenage boys.

On our second night, there was an incident where several kids were bullying another boy (who just happened to be my son). Naturally, my immediate reaction was to pull my son out of that room and have him sleep with the other adults. Interestingly, my son was even-keeled about the whole thing, but I wasn’t.

Because this troop is boy-led, the adult Scout Leader said he would talk to the Patrol Leader—the boy leader who was elected by his peers—to get it resolved the next day. After I settled down, I was all-in on the boys figuring this out on their own.

While the boys took some steps to resolve the issue, they did not restore the troop to where it had been at the beginning of the trip. I noticed there weren’t any protocols for resetting the community after unsettling events took place. The anthropologist in me found this quite fascinating.

One of my two lessons learned (or reminded) from the trip and this particular incident was that community has to be intentionally built. Proximity to one another and time do not by themselves build sustainable communities. And, zooming out, for learner-centered education to be successful, we need to learn ways to resolve conflict so that it doesn’t endlessly simmer or leave someone scared to speak up or be themselves.

The second lesson learned was that the troop is learner-centered, and the adults in our troop are interested in developing youth into thriving, contributing adults by letting them try and fail. Leaders are made, not born. The Scout Leader recognized this truth and saw it as his responsibility to guide the Patrol Leader in becoming a more effective leader—always balancing the choice of when to step-in and when to let things take their course.

Having worked with many Patrol Leaders with different strengths and opportunities for growth, the Scout Leader saw every child as unique, capable, and curious. This is a powerful foundation to build from, and as new protocols are developed to guide our young people in how to cultivate community intentionally, our troop will continue to serve as a wonderful leadership program.

If you’ve had a high-impact summer with new lessons learned, we’d love to hear your stories!

With gratitude,


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