Building Community—by Combining Classes and Teaching Together

Gwen Brown

As the Regional Reference Person for the Brandywine Region (Delaware; and Chester County, Pennsylvania, USA), I am always trying to help create the conditions that will allow our Region to grow, particularly in relationship to the four latest RC goals.

One of the conditions for growth is a sustainable corps of RC teachers. To grow such a corps and keep it growing we need to: (1) recruit and train more young adults, (2) make sure that new teachers are well supported, and (3) help new teachers have success, early on. If new teachers do not get a lot of support and referencing in their first attempts at teaching, and if none or few of their first students become Community members, they can become discouraged and decide that teaching is not for them.

A second condition for sustained growth is doing a better job of keeping people from oppressed groups, particularly people of color, in class and attending workshops. We need to make sure that (1) new people get a sense early on that this process is not just for “those other people” but also for them, and (2) class feels like a safe place to come to, week after week. Although respect and caring are essential for all people to feel safe, people targeted by oppression are often more interested in coming to class if other people from their identity group are present.

In an effort to create the conditions for growth in my Region, Ellie Brown (my daughter and an Area Reference Person) and I, along with other certified teachers, have tried teaching our fundamentals and ongoing classes in a new way. We’ve had considerable success. I will describe what I am doing. An article by Ellie follows.

BUILDING A CLASS IN WHICH PEOPLE OF COLOR AND WHITE PEOPLE CAN FLOURISH

Years ago I set a goal to create a fully diverse Community, particularly in regard to race, age, and economic background. I began trying to recruit and teach people of color, young people, and raised- poor people.

The other teachers in my Community were fully on board with* this goal—or got on board with a little counseling. In spite of our efforts, not many teachers successfully recruited people of color. Even the few people of color who became RC teachers were not particularly successful in keeping people of color in their classes.

We counseled a lot on dis-couragement and hope. We gained new insights and continued to try to teach people of color and keep them in class. Gradually we built a diverse Community that had lots of people of color in it. They are excited to come to workshops and are fully committed to using this process and helping us build the Community.

We want our Community to keep getting smarter. We want to learn how to create enough safety that people from all identity groups can stay in class and help move RC forward. We are still trying to build our relationships. We continue to look for ways to structure things that will allow us to discharge fully and to reclaim our full humanness and flexible thinking. We want to get good at offering this process to all people.

COMBINDING CLASSES

We recently combined three smaller classes, all with people of color in them, into one class. Apryl Walker, an African heritage young adult woman, was teaching one of these and I was teaching two. Her husband, Aubrey, and my son-in-law, Tim, were in one of mine. We decided that they and others might have a stronger class in which there were lots of people they might like to counsel with, if all three classes met together at the same time in the same house.

My house has many rooms available for counseling. We decided to try it. We knew that it would be harder to track people with a class of twenty. We knew we wouldn’t get to personally counsel each person each week as we had done in our smaller classes. However, we hoped the larger class would create a new kind of excitement, more Co-Counselors to choose from, and multiplied attention for demonstrations, just as workshops do.

At first I taught the class as an ongoing class. Apryl assisted me. She presented theory, led smaller groups, and led the whole class when I was not available to do it. We made sure that this larger class had more people of color in it than white people. I invited white people to attend who could think reasonably well about people of color.

Our experiment was a big success. People of color found it more appealing to come to class when they knew that they would see twelve to fourteen people of color each week. People from every group found the larger class more hopeful than a smaller class. We had the sense that together we can grow the RC Community and create a force for change. We decided to stick with the over-all format while each cycle re-thinking structural details.

STRUCTURING THE CLASS

Before each cycle Apryl and I put our heads together to think about how to structure the upcoming fifteen weeks. We share our vision with the class members, get their ideas, and then try some new version of the class. Sometimes we take new people and have a fundamentals section. Sometimes, to stabilize the group, we just work with ongoing people. Sometimes, we have an “upcoming RC teachers” section. Sometimes we divide along some other line.

Apryl and I, along with Sharon Moore, also an African heritage RC teacher, organize people into separate classes and teach these groups in different rooms. We usually meet together at the beginning for “news and goods” and a mini-session. Being together gives fundamentals students a chance to hear experienced RCers’ news and goods (often about workshops or successes they are having in their lives) and begin to build relationships with them. Then we separate for theory and counseling.

Every four weeks we combine classes and have one big class, taught by one of the three of us. We present theory that everyone needs to hear, have a demonstration or two, and then divide into identity groups or other groups. Sometimes we give an ongoing-class member a long turn, using the “counsel-the-leader” format. Then we divide into three-ways. Our goal is for all the ongoing people, whether or not they are leading, to have a counsel-the leader-type turn. This gives people a chance to think together about everyone in the class and sharpen their counseling skills. I am usually the counselor during these turns. After the session we talk about what the students saw and what I was thinking as counselor. Doing this has improved everyone’s counseling sense.

SUCCESS

Teaching multiple classes in the same house and combining them for some activities has been a success. Most of all, it has been easier to keep people of color in class and have them want to attend classes and workshops.

Most of us do not want to miss this class. Exciting things happen. There is more laughter than in most classes. Deeper distresses are discharged. I do miss counseling every person each week. However, people are building stronger relationships and developing their counseling skills faster. With so many people of color in the group, we white people are learning about fun and caring. We are having our tightness patterns challenged and are moving faster on our unaware racism. People of color do not feel so alone when they go to Regional workshops. They already have twenty or more good relationships with people from the class. Because white people have so many good relationships with people of color from class, they are not feeling so awkward around people of color at workshops. Things are more real and this allows everything to go better.

An additional benefit is that Sharon, Apryl, and I are well supported as teachers. Our combined strengths help people use this process efficiently, make their lives all they want them to be, and move our Community forward. Our teaching corps is expanding, more people of color stay in class, and our Community as a whole is growing.


*On board with means in agreement with


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00