A Learning Organization
By Katherine Higgins, Director of Community, Practice, and Member Development | February 12, 2018

Early in January, I had the privilege of joining a group of educators for the annual Southeast Supervisory Education Invitational. We met at St. Simon’s Island, GA, in a lovely Methodist retreat center. The bomb cyclone of winter weather ravaging the East coast was only a minor impediment to a time of connection, learning, laughter, and support. This outcome was the result of the hard work of all who gathered. I want to tell you about my experience of this work because I think it is a great example of our work as educators engaged in transformative work and evidence of the way we live our values and commitments.

Early Monday morning, the group learned that due to a scheduling mix-up, the gathering’s main speaker from the certification redesign team would not be joining us. In our line of work, we are daily faced with interruptions, changes of plans, and recalculations, and most of us are pretty skilled at navigating these. It was clear to the conference organizers and to me that this one was going to pose some challenges. We knew that underneath lots of good and practical questions about the new certification process, there were unresolved feelings about the changes in certification and in the organization as a whole. Emotions ran high:  anger, mistrust, and a growing frustration not just with the changes in the scheduled program but with the changes in the certification process and ACPE as a whole. We made room for these feelings to be expressed and processed, and also for the voices of those who felt determined to make the weekend worth the time away from busy offices and lives. In the midst of this important emotional work, we also identified the most pressing questions and concerns and committed ourselves to finding answers.

While the retreat participants broke up into groups for individual supervisory consultations, ACPE Certified Educators Jonathan Ball, Stephen Robinson, and I got on the phone with ACPE Director of Programs Marc Medwed – who thankfully, was available to spend about 1.5 hours talking us through the new process. We asked our questions, and in his calm, clear, and un-hooked-by-anxiety way, Marc helped us understand as much as we could about the new process. Then Jonathan, Stephen, and I came up with a plan for presenting the information that afternoon.

Stephen began the session by listing on a whiteboard the names of all CECs and Certified Educators who were or desired to be a part of the national faculty. These persons were then grouped by where they are in the process – from those engaging the first flicker of interest in supervisory education to those planning to meet an associate committee this spring. Then we began the painstaking work of talking through every stage of the process and how the process applied to each CEC – what their next steps were along with important considerations for the certified educator supervising them. We kept a running list of questions that we could not answer. By the end of the meeting, each person present had arrived at a sense of clarity about their next steps, as well as those of persons they were supervising in the process. And they considered the needs of their colleagues who weren’t able to be present.

The next day, it was clear that a shift had taken place. The group realized the importance of the work we had done, and they recommitted themselves to continuing the work as a community of practice, as ACPE Certified Educator David Hutchinson led them in a visioning and brainstorming process. It was clear that the work we had done was important not just because it gave people a sense of next steps for their organization or CEC but the engagement with the process, the identification of gaps, of uncertainties, of celebrations, of challenging language all made clear that this group had shifted from a place of dependence to a place of empowerment. The group had found its voice, and standing at the edge of the unknown, they had come to value it as vital to the organization as a whole.

What happened on that Monday in St. Simon’s Island represented the best of who we are and what we do. When faced with an unexpected challenge, we felt our feelings, expressed them appropriately, and used them as a catalyst to get to work. With names of real people ever before us, we remained mindful of the fact that this process is and will continue to be about real people with real circumstances and challenges and extraordinary gifts to celebrate. These real people represent the future of our organization and the commitment to them and to the future of the organization was palpable.

As I’ve travelled over the last four months talking with members of our organization about the changes we’re facing, many have commented on what they perceive as a growing centralization of our organization. While I agree that there are many functions of our organization that are becoming centralized due to (mostly financial) necessity, there is also an equal and opposite shift toward democratization. A scheduling mix-up on a cold January day in southeast Georgia illustrated this better than any consultant could have hoped. I’m honored to be a part of this learning organization.

Katherine Higgins is a Director of Community, Practice, and Member Development at ACPE: The Standard of Spiritual Care & Education. She may be reached at katherine@acpe.edu
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