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Topics from the Fairbanks, Alaska, Training and Practice Workshop

(post-workshop progress reports posted below topics)

April 20-21, 2002

Added on day two:

updates from alaska...

Subject: Becoming A Peacemaker Conference
Date: Sat, 27 Apr 2002 11:53:50 -0800
From: Julie Smith <jsmith@mosquitonet.com>

Greetings ~

In so many ways, the Fairbanks Becoming A Peacemaker conference was birthed from this list. For me, that has everything to do with the quality of conversation that happens here. The conversations we had following September 11, and the next series of conversations (the ones that ended up in the user's non-guide) have had a dramatic impact on my life. It's like this wave of OSLIST energy met up with me and blew me (quite willingly) into a new relationship with my world. It somehow resonates with what Peggy said:

"An invocation connects the material world, the heart and the spirit. We humans are a bridge for linking matter and spirit. An invocation moves in, through and from us, making spirit matter. What is invoked must ultimately be dispersed in order to serve. So opening an OS is an invocation for spirit to move in, through and from us in service to a higher purpose. Closing a space is a dispersion of that service into the larger space of the world."

I don't have the right language here, but I feel like somehow I was breathed in here (and played for a time with you during that long inhalation), and then exhaled (with many others) the Fairbanks Becoming A Peacemaker conference.

When Chris closed our final OS space last week, he asked us to stand and turn our backs to the circle, reminded us that we were now each facing Open Space, and invited us to enter that space knowing we had each other behind us, supporting us along the way. That's exactly what the Fairbanks conference felt like to me, like I had turned my back to this OSLIST circle in order to give my attention and energy to the circle that was emerging in my community, knowing that all of what I had experienced here remained behind me and continued supporting me.

All of that is a very long way of saying that I won't feel a sense of completion until I come back to this place where it started for me, to tell the story of what happened on my journey out of this circle and into that other circle.

Leaving the OSLIST circle started for me when I first began talking to people in my community about creating an OST event in Fairbanks. I was suddenly leaving the space of this secure group of people who have developed a common understanding of this way of being in the world, and entered into a much bigger and more complex world where this understanding had not even been named, much less talked about or explored. What I found was an initial healthy skepticism followed rapidly by curiosity. During this period of curiosity I had many allies. Some were trusted friends I knew would quickly come on board, some were people in high places who surprised me by their immediate understanding, and some were people I didn't even know who emerged through chance connections and lent credibility to the idea.

The turning point between curiosity and acceptance came in the telling of the story of Michael and Judi and Chris. When I started describing each of them to the group who would ultimately decide whether to take a chance on the OST process, I began seeing smiles and sparkling eyes. There was a shift in energy, a new feeling of possibility, a collective sense that with their help, we could do it. There became this sense that we could push the envelope without falling off a cliff, that with these three on board, we would be safe enough to take this risk. The group said Yes.

Looking back, all of that was the easy part. The hardest part of the journey for me was the theme and invitation. This was the part that challenged me to take risks and grow in places that were still blocked. Michael was a catalyst for me when after countless e-mails he asked me to think about what I would want people to remember about me at my funeral. Naming the conference Becoming A Peacemaker reflected a very long personal affinity with peacemaking as well as acknowledgement of recent world events. Naming the theme in this way was a risk for me because people have always discouraged me from using the words peace and peacemaking. When I used these words in the past, I usually ended up feeling shut down, shut out, and misunderstood. The many conversations about peace and peacemaking on this list gave me courage to name the theme I have passion for.

I'm not sure how the process of naming and describing felt to others who were also responsible for the theme and invitation. It felt to me like a long, intense, confusing, and convoluted process, all of which reflected my fear of authentically expressing my self in my community. My experience of that time was that everyone else ended up stepping away from the question, and it became my choice. I had this feeling of the universe opening up to me and saying "Okay, you asked for it, now what will you do with it?" In that moment of truth, I was tempted to hold back a little, to not ask the question my life was asking, to hide behind what I thought others wanted. In the end, I stood up and asked my question. That was a scary thing for me.

Once that decision was finally made, the logistics fell together with ease. The people who were needed were always there doing what needed to be done.

What happened next is hard for me to fully grasp. It feels more like potency, like the ending of the inhalation just before the beginning of the exhalation. The best I can do is describe what I experienced.

Michael, Chris and Judi arrived in Fairbanks a day or two before the conference. Finally meeting these three who I already held in such high regard was a joy and delight.

On the day before the conference we made our way to the civic center where the conference would be held. The Alaskaland Civic Center is a 3-story round building decorated on the outside with huge Yup'ik masks. The building holds a theatre on one side and a meeting area on the other. The meeting area is a half circle that rises three levels, with a large central open area that reaches all three levels up to the wood ceiling, and balconies on the upper two floors that are open to what is above and below. The huge straight wall of the half-circle is a beautiful mountain landscape painting.

When we entered the civic center that day, there were stack and stacks of chairs waiting for us on the perimeter of the circle. When we left, there were over 220 chairs arranged in three concentric rings. Outside the circle we constructed places for topics to be posted and additional places to post the news of the day. Michael made posters of bumblebees and butterflies, the four principles, the law of mobility, and a teaser about surprise. Looking at the empty circle and all that surrounds it, I felt my heart expand. Even thinking about it now, I have a sense of power and potency, of goodness, of hope, of connection and community.

I have a hard time talking about the conference itself. I have this sense that more happened than I've allowed myself to bring to my awareness.

Judi opened the space, breathing, walking the circle, connecting with us, helping us connect with each other. The chairs were filled with over 100 middle school and high school students, and a roughly equal number of adults. Almost before she had finished speaking, one of my dearest friends was bounding out of his chair to grab a piece of paper and a marker. He was followed in quick succession by a stream of youth and adults. Then the topics started pouring in, tumbling one after the other. People of all ages walked into the circle to name the topic they had passion for.

The rest is a blur...... circles of people finding each other and talking, intense discussion, deep questions, affirmation, disagreement, insight, acceptance, questions....

Of all of that, I've only been able to meaningfully grasp two experiences. The first is Rosalie's gift. Judi has already described how at the beginning of the second day, Rosalie announced that our time together on the first day had changed her life, that she had experienced peace in her family for the first time in a long time that morning. When invited to explain what she meant by that in the closing circle, she told the story of telling her mother she loved her, and how that had changed everything for both of them. Rosalie's courage in creating her story and then telling it is so simple and so profound. It is so close to truth that I feel I could enter into that knowing and vulnerability and find a lifetime of inspiration.

The second event emerged completely outside my awareness. A seventh grade student posted the topic "What can we do to stop people from hurting themselves?" With the support of Judi and many others, Derek ended up facilitating four sessions around this issue which culminated in a suicide prevention plan at his school and other schools in our area. In reviewing the notes, I found someone had asked "how do we force adults and the schools to provide suicide prevention in the schools?" That was a wake-up call for me. I had no idea that students were seeking adult help on this issue. This marks the first time I felt invited by students to participate with them about a concern they identified. To have that happen over such a complex and serious issue jolted me. We've already started moving forward in response to Derek's invitation.

Sometime soon perhaps I'll give myself time to breathe through and experience what happened in a more complete way. For now, this is what I've been able to comprehend.

Already people around here are talking about what comes next.... school principals talking about holding in-services in open space, teachers talking about how to use OST in classrooms, discussions about how we can use OST to converse about complex community issues, thinking about our second annual conference to be held in open space.....

And yesterday I learned that Dan and Mia and others are starting to talk about the possibility of other communities holding a Becoming A Peacemaker conference next September 11, to be held in OST. And now we're thinking about what that might look like if we did it statewide, with proceedings pouring in from all over the state and posted on a web page..... and thinking that some of the 60 participants in our OST practice workshop might be willing to help facilitate OST in communities across the state....

Someday soon I'm going to sit with all of this in gratitude and awe, and then maybe I'll be able to complete this very long exhalation. Oh, what wonders I look forward to with the inhalation that is sure to follow.

Much love to all,


September, 2002

Michael, Greetings from Alaska. So wonderful that you emailed today. We just completed our second go around with open space last friday here at school. This time we invited another school to join us. The day was wonderful, productive and excellent. Just wanted to share that with you. Barbara Burch

September 2002, from the OSLIST email listserve...

michael, you wrote:

in the training and practice workshops we're doing around the world now, the focus is on practicing open space *as* organization...and i envision a time when we create practice groups not just in communities but in companies, so managers end up holding space for each other as co-practitioners... no need for outside OD people in OS cases... just a peer to come witness and hold space for what is happening. i think that managers and others who are doing the operations of the org learning to hold space for each other is one equivalent to having hold organizations 'wake up.'

Yes, yes, yes. This is the kind of thing we're seeing emerge in our school system here in Fairbanks. Two school-wide staff meetings were held in OST last May. The first district-wide principal's meeting of this school year was held in OST in August. I was involved in three (!) open space events in three different schools on September 11. One of those was facilitated by a student. I'm involved in two 2-day peer mediation trainings this week and next, and both are including a 1/2 day OST component. The one tomorrow will be facilitated by the organizer of the training. When I asked her if she needed posters, her eyes got really big, and she said sure! She hadn't given them a thought, and would have done fine without them. She's going to break all kinds of OST norms and I'm not bothered a bit by that. She'll probably post topics and participate in sessions and add her own two cents to things and not say a word about the importance of the circle and she won't ring any Tibetan bells, but what will come through is permission for everyone to think and express themselves authentically. Speaking of which...... now that I'm thinking of it, perhaps I'll invite her to think about inviting drawing and poetry and song and dance as well as written topics and documentation if any are so inspired.....

Thanks to everyone here for creating such a warm, inviting, creative environment for learning, unlearning and waking up.

JulieSmith?, Fairbanks North Star School District

from julie smith... october 2002

As I was spending time with friends a few evenings ago, talk turned to what we were doing and thinking about. I talked a bit about the Youth Summit I had been involved in that day, and about much I was enjoying the OST process. A friend asked me what OST was. As I began explaining it to her, a look of recognition suddenly passed across her face and she said "oh, I know what that is, we did that at our teacher in-service a few weeks ago." I was surprised, because I hadn't heard about it. As it turns out, the in-service had involved staff from three of our elementary schools. When I asked her how it went she replied "it was the best in-service we've ever had."

Earlier that week I had strolled by our School Boardroom and was amazed to see chairs set up in a circle, tables tilted on end holding flip chart paper, and our Superintendent talking quietly with another administrative staff person. When I inquired, I learned they were preparing for a short OST with the Teacher's Advisory Committee.

And tonight, I will meet with a group of teachers from across the district who experienced their first OST last Saturday in our Conflict Resolution in the Classroom course. The theme they had chosen for that OST was "Establishing Authority Apart From Power."

All of you have had a rather dramatic impact on many lives here in the Far North. Thank you.

Julie wrote:

 >  Earlier that week I had strolled by our School Boardroom and was
 >  to see chairs set up in a circle, tables tilted on end holding flip
 >  chart paper...

 Now I have to point something out about this.  Michael Herman may not
 have been the first to do this, but when we were in Alaska we discovered
 that our space did not have a good enough wall to put the agenda on.
 Michael, the seasoned pro that he is, just started opening up a bunch of
 six foot long folding tables and standing them on end which made a very
 serviceable wall.  And as the proceedings grew in number, so grew the
 wall such that it covered one end of the meeting space and rounded the
 corners and started coming down the side walls.  To my Canadian eye it
 really began to resemble the end of an ice hockey rink prompting myself,
 Judi Richardson and a player from the Alaskan youth hockey team in the
 Arctic Winter Games tournament to start playing an impromptu match with
 a black puck-shaped stone I had brought from my island.

 Now this may all seem like Greek to some of you (they are rolling their
 eyes in Israel and India as we speak) but the fact that an improvised
 hockey game broke out at the merest suggestion of an arena prompted
 Michael to refer to this particular agenda wall design as "Canadian

 And that's how it is known today.  "We don't have a good wall?  That's
 okay, we can use Canadian tables!"  I'm hoping that it joins the ranks
 of "Dead Moose" and "space invader" in the lexicon of the OST

 Thanks for the stories Julie.  I can hardly believe it has only been six
 months since we proselytized in your neck of the woods!


Date: Thu, 24 Oct 2002 15:17:15 -0800

 From:         Julie Smith <jsmith@mosquitonet.com>
 Subject:      wave of wonderful
 Content-Type: multipart/alternative;

 These past few weeks so many wonderful OST-related things have been
 happening….. I want to share just one more, the one from today….. this
 especially goes out to Judi, Chris, Michael, Dan, Heidi, Krista, Mia,
 Curt, and all those who attended the Becoming A Peacemaker Conference in

 Today I spent a few moments speaking with a student who attended our
 April conference, and who stood out for many of us as a single shining
 example of why we do what we do.  (During the closing circle on the
 second day of the conference she told the story of how the first day had
 changed her and changed her family….. how the day talking about
 peacemaking had helped her see things differently and how the new seeing
 helped her reach out to her mother in a new and more loving way and how
 her mother had responded in kind…..)  When I saw her today she was
 beaming.  Health and happiness oozed from every part of her.   She told
 me she’s working on creating a new class in her high school called
 Peacemaking.  She’s almost finished the curriculum, and has identified a
 teacher who will support her by being the teacher-of-record without
 taking over the class.  The class will be student-led and

 My heart is doing cartwheels.


Date: Sun, 27 Oct 2002 20:21:19 -0900

 From:         Brian Rogers <brogers@INFOINSIGHTS.com>
 Subject:      Re: a note from the trenches
 Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"

 We used Canadian Tables at an OS in Fairbanks last month.  It was a great
 gathering of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, about 160 people from 40 tribes,
 each sending an elder, a chief, a youth, and the tribal administrator, to
 develop a tribal vision for Interior Alaska.
 The convention center manager was very impressed with the Canadian tables,
 and said she'd use them again, even outside OS.  I told her the idea could
 only be used if the event had OS facilitators. :-)
 Thanks again for your training; come back to Fairbanks soon!
 Brian Rogers

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