The Ingredients of a Successful Community Education Program

Sep 12 2012 Published by under Reflections

Anna Batchelder, Community Education

This post was originally published on Dot Learnt.

As the Bon Education team continues our work on community education initiatives around the world, but in particular in DubaiRas al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi, I’ve been thinking a lot about:

What are the conditions needed for community education initiatives to thrive?

A few animated dinner conversations and back-of-the-envelope brainstorms later, I feel like I am finally starting to formulate a satisfying answer. But, before I share my thoughts, let’s quickly define community education so that we are on the same page:

Community Education: learning and social development work with individuals and groups in their communities using a range of formal and informal methods. A common defining feature is that programs and activities are developed in dialogue with communities and participants. The purpose of community learning and development is to develop the capacity of individuals and groups of all ages… [and] to improve their quality of life (Wikipedia).

Back to the question at hand… Here are some thoughts on the necessary ingredients required for community education initiatives to deliver true value (i.e. increased community skills, cohesion, happiness, health, etc.). Community education should be:

Demand driven and/or horizon expanding: People in the community should be calling for it (e.g. a particular course, talk, arts event, etc.) or be delighted by the opportunity when it comes. For example, at a recent education event at the Shelter (a community co-working and event space in Dubai) in which the topic of “permaculture” came up in passing discussion, it became clear that community members were intrigued by the topic. So, we organized a separate event on permaculture (a new topic to most people in the community) and now people are asking for more workshops, theory and practical advice on how to bring permaculture principles to their homes and workplaces.

Practical: From the topic, to the price, to the time of day, if an initiative isn’t relevant to people’s lives or easy to attend, it simply won’t gain the momentum needed to stand the test of time. In Ras al Khaimah we used to only deliver professional development to teachers on Saturdays. While this works for some teachers, we found that many female teachers (particularly within certain cultures) simply can’t take a Saturday “off” from family obligations and expectations. So we now offer courses on weekends and during weekday evenings. Also, because many teachers don’t have the extra cash to support their own professional development, we’ve had to find the right partners to fund workshops—partners that see value and that benefit from a local teaching force with enhanced skills in the areas of leadership, action research and technology.

The result of a strong listening process: Ask yourself, “What is my community calling for in this moment?” Listen without judgment or cynicism. Often the answers with regard to “what education to provide and how” are right in front of our eyes and ears.

Open and connecting: In honor of building respect and bonds between members of the community, initiatives should be open to all types of people within the community and all kinds of ideas. Be careful when using words like “exclusive” and “VIP” to describe a community education event, as such language can lead to community stratification rather than community cohesion.

Fun and friendly: As I learned when teaching English to businessmen in Japan nearly 10 years ago, “If the students aren’t having fun and they aren’t making friends with one another, they won’t come back!” If your community education workshop has a soporific effect, take the time to spice it up before word spreads that “It’s a bore!”

Dynamic and changing: What worked for learners of yesteryear, may not work for learners of today. Aim for community education initiatives to be current and to entertain—consumers of today expect “product updates” much more frequently than consumers in the past.

Respect tradition and place: Don’t discount the power of culture, history and location! If you’re expanding your initiative from one community to another, make sure you take the time to localize your offering first. A few years ago, we facilitated a series of workshops for a group of young business people in Lebanon and were later asked to bring the workshops to a group of young business people in Dubai. Due to time constraints, we delivered the second set of workshops without much modification (a mistake). Now, one of my mantras is “Localize. Localize. Localize!”

Organized just enough: As the Art of Hosting puts it, “Where is that sweet spot between chaos and order where good work can happen? What is the minimum amount of order we need to have in place to work together?”

With several community education initiatives on the horizon, I’d love to hear your feedback on the aforementioned list. Please leave your thoughts, questions and comments below!



Image available under CC licensure by Susan NYC.

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Education by (Good) Design

Mar 17 2012 Published by under Good Ideas,Reflections

The Bon Education team is nearly ready to launch our first book (Return of the Champion) in the interactive iBooks series for kids, The Adventures of BB and Sam. After a year of research (in Thailand!) and production, we are nearly ready to go live!

As the pieces of the book come together—text, illustrations, videos, photos, soundtrack—I’ve been marveling at our creative team’s work and looking to design blogs for further inspiration as I work with the education and outreach team. Imagine if textbooks, storybooks and online educational sites took visual cues from these awesome sites!

Decor8—created by Holly Becker (author, journalist, interior design consultant and blogging educator), Decor8 is filled with gorgeous images, stories and places that inspire readers to think about space, color, food and fashion in a more conscious and creative way. Favorite posts include: Water Colors from Miss Capricho and Meeting Sweet Paul.

Design Mom—Designer and mother of six living in a French country house, Gabrielle Blair blogs about DIY, fashion, picture books and great products. Check out: Instant Gratification and Featured Picture Books.

Chef Chloe—Chloe Coscarelli is the only food blogger that has inspired me to cook more than one recipe. Filled with colorful pictures, easy-to-make dishes and healthy alternatives to normally unhealthy dishes, Chloe’s recipe site will inspire even the biggest carnivores to learn how to cook something green and new. High on the yum factor: Harvest Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms, Roasted Apple Butternut Squash and Carmelized Onion Pizza and Raspberry Tiramisu Cupcakes.

What I love about the above blogs is that they inspire readers to action—to notice the subtle beauty of a piece of asparagus, to appreciate a well designed cotton t-shirt, to try cooking in a more eco-friendly way… How can we as educators and education product creators do the same?

As my Thai cooking teacher instilled in me, presentation, presentation, presentation! For more thoughts on design and education, check out my post, “Coke is it! Why all Educators should be Mass Marketeers”.



Above image by Marcosleal in the public domain.

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Slow Down!

Mar 07 2012 Published by under Articles,Good Ideas

Since writing my last post on slow education, the word, concept and feeling of “slow” has been captivating my attention.

Check out the above video where Carl Honore, journalist and author of In Praise of Slow, talks about the value of slowing down. He states:

Sometimes it takes a wake-up call to alert us to the fact that we are hurrying through our lives rather than living them. That we are living the fast life rather than the good life.

He ponders the questions, “How did we get so fast?” and “Is it desirable to slow down?” And, he looks at case studies of “slow cities” and children that do better in school when they have less homework.

Is the above 20 minutes of TED talk worth slowing down for? Absolutely!

To the “inner tortoise” in us all.


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Saying “No!” to Digital Mental Haze: On Slow Education

Mar 02 2012 Published by under Good Ideas,Questions,Reflections

This afternoon I engaged in my regular weekly catch-up of everything edtech. After blazing through about 50 articles from, “How to choose the right words for best search results,” to “Pearson says digital will drive growth in 2012,” to “Samsung readies ‘Learning Hub’ for Galaxy Tablet,” I felt that familiar digital haze set in—the one I get after too much computer reading and not enough thinking.

A quick comparison of my mental state post morning yoga, versus post afternoon online reading session and immediately two words came to mind — SLOW EDUCATION. This of course sent me on another digital article binge, but at least this time I took moments in between readings to ponder what I had just digested!

So, what is slow education? According to, “Slow Schools and Slow Education – Connecting children to life,”

“Some people use the term slow schools to refer to schools that are attempting to bring slow food to the cafeteria or dining room. For others it has far more implications and includes aspects of connection to knowledge, tradition, moral purpose and all that is important in life.  In this sense it refers to the curriculum, the way it is delivered, the process of learning, management of the school, and even if school is the best vehicle through which to educate our children. So in this sense, it refers to bringing the slow movement into education.”

What I like about the notion of slow education is that education in this sense is a holistic process and state of being. It is more about playing, savoring, connecting, reflecting and being in a journey than rushing to the finish line for that gold medal degree or certification. Perhaps this is the reason I love yoga so much—because it combines movement, meditation, connection to the Earth, pacing, timelessness, mindfulness and “no mind” all into one delightful practice. Yoga is the essence of slow education.

In fact, reflecting on my 4-year yoga practice, many of my “Aha!” moments have come to me during or right after a yoga session—when I’ve consciously allowed my “buzzing brain” to slow down and let it just be in its natural flow.

Similarly, in the above short video clip, Feynman recollects a discussion he had with his father about the laws of inertia while playing with a small ball in the back of a toy truck. He states:

“He knew the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something… That’s the way I was educated by my father. With those kind of examples and discussions. No pressure. Just lovely, interesting discussion.”

As an edtech enthusiast, I get just as excited as the next geek when I read about the latest digital platform, who got venture funding and case studies of how real schools are using tools like Animoto, Flip cameras and Google Plus. But, between society’s pressure for schools/families to “get wired” and for learners to do well on the plethora of global standardized tests, educators and learners (for the most part – including myself) seem to have forgotten the art and joy of learning “on the slow”.

What would it mean to bring more mindfulness to our Internet self-education practices? What would be different? What would be enabled to express?



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Bringing the Art of Hosting to the Classroom

Feb 24 2012 Published by under Good Ideas,Questions,Reflections

Today my husband and I met with two amazing people that are working with and building upon the “art of hosting” – work, practice and ways of being that enable groups of people to fully engage in conversations that matter in spaces that hold meaning. (Note: I am new to the art – so if you can build on this definition, please do!)

Given that I come away from every conversation with these two people refreshed, energized and buzzing with ideas, I immediately went home to start exploring the art of hosting more and how I might apply the principles and essence of the practice to my own living patterns and work in school and community education.

I quite like the above video where host Tim Merry shares the paradoxes that exist when hosting conversations that matter. As I went through the video (twice!) I couldn’t help but notice how applicable they are to creating a meaningful classroom conversations and environments…

  • Relationships and results – “the quality of our relationships directly impacts the quality of our results”
  • Clarity and confusion – to have true learning (clarity) take place, confusion is often a precursor
  • Chaos and order - ”Where is that sweet spot between chaos and order where good work can happen? What is the minimum amount of order we need to have in place to work together?”
  • Action and reflection – being fully in an experience and then being able to step away and be conscious of what just did and is happening
  • Individual and collective – independent and collective doing and being
  • Process and content – applying collective models and opening to new ideas that provoke and invoke conversation
  • Kairos and chronos – letting time disappear some of the time and honoring time as well
  • Warrior and midwife – stepping into the action and knowing when to step out

Imagine if all educators and learners kept these “tensions” in mind while engaging in collective engagements and meaning making! What would be possible? What would be different?

Thinking about the art of hosting with a beginner’s mind…


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Just-in-time Education

Feb 07 2012 Published by under Articles,Good Ideas,Reflections

Just-in-time management and tech training of the sort you can receive at General Assembly will increasingly replace traditional just-in-case business degrees. Why get an MBA when you can start a company and get just-in-time support? Why take a crummy programming course from your local community college when you can get one free from Stanford or MIT? – Tom Vander Ark (former Executive Director of Education, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)

Agreed! So, agreed! I was recently asked by someone, “Do you think community organizations and the private sector should be involved in teacher training initiatives given that so many universities in the Middle East are expanding their offerings for pre and in-service teachers?” My response was, “Absolutely!” Why? Because…

  • Not all learning should end in a degree! – There are so many educators out there that want professional development that will help them in their classes now, but that frankly don’t want to spend the time and money getting a 1st or 2nd master’s degree.
  • People outside of academia can bring a lot of value to education – As I wrote in Unconscious Education, “How can it be justified that the teachers that are meant to prepare students for the world of work, so often have little work experience outside of schools?” Or, as Tom Vander Ark puts it, “New eyes with no loyalties other than to kids and community gives an observer a chance to ask tough questions about the strange collection of historical practices that make up the typical school day. While not valued in education, a breadth of leadership experiences and exposure to solution sets from other sectors is helpful.”
  • We need more “just-in-time” learning solutions – Learning is more meaningful when there is motivation and relevant context behind it. I remember being asked to take a real estate financial modeling course a few years ago when I was starting a new job. While I was excited about the course, I didn’t have the prerequisite modeling skills, nor was I working on or going to work on any real estate financial modeling projects any time in the near future. As a result, the course was essentially “a wash”. There is always something to be said for “knowledge for knowledge’s sake”. But, workplaces need to get more savvy at determining when and how employees receive professional development. Furthermore, employees and entrepreneurs need to “own” their learning and seek help (courses, reading, mentors, etc.) when the time is ripe.

Tom Vander Ark’s interview in the Creativity Post is filled with so many nuggets of edu-wisdom from an insider’s and outsider’s point of view. Read it! Ponder it! Share it! Then check out his blog!


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Unconscious Education

Jan 21 2012 Published by under Questions,Reflections

“When everything in your life appears to be organized, that is the danger-point, because what we call ‘organization’ is really just a story we’ve been told, but its not a story that can be sustained” – Paulo Coelho on The Zahir

Two equestrian riders, girls on horseback, in low tide reflections on serene Morro Strand State Beach

Today I learned that Paulo Coelho had an entire career in music, as an activist, etc. before launching into his career as a “novelist” around the age of 40—nice to know that not all celebrities are born at the age of 20! When asked about his writing process in an interview at the end of The Zahir, he responded:

I plunge into my unconscious. I allow myself to be guided by the questions my soul asks, but which my mind has not yet understood. In the process of writing, I discover my own answers.

If the unconscious of one person can produce literary works as widely loved as The Alchemist (most sold book in the history of language, Coelho biography at end of The Zahir) and Eleven Minutes (world’s best selling fiction title in 2003, USA Today, Publishing Trends), what would happen if our education institutions (schools, libraries, work places, etc.) allowed more space for “education from the unconscious” in all people?

About a year ago, a friend of mine sent me her concept for a K-12 school. I noticed that the school day was four hours. So, one of my comments was, “Compared to international standards, four hours is quite a short day. What will kids do the rest of the time? Internships?” On second thought, why should school be eight hours per day? Or, any set period of time for that matter? Thinking more about current “norms” in education…

  • Why should calculus be the pinnacle of high school math? Wouldn’t statistics be much more useful? (Note: I can’t remember where I read this comment from a college math professor, but I recall thinking about this during my travels in Greece in 2009.)
  • In fact, why should math and language be taught as the most important subjects in school (for more on this watch Ken Robinson’s TED talk “Schools Kill Creativity”)?
  • How can it be justified that the teachers that are meant to prepare students for the world of work, so often have little work experience outside of schools?
  • What would happen if words like unconscious, dreams, soul and love were emphasized in school curricula more than words like objectives, facts, standardized tests and grades?

As one of the characters in Coelho’s book The Zahir points out:

Going back to the story of Hans and Fritz: do you think that civilization, human relations, our hopes, our conquests, are just the product of some other garbled story?

What is the “story of education” that we tell now? Under what circumstances was that story created? Does that story still serve us? Is it the story we want to continue to hold for current and future generations?

- Anna

Image available under CC licensure by mikebaird

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Distilling the Wisdom of Elders: Lessons for Living

Jan 14 2012 Published by under Articles,Good Ideas

On Happiness—Almost to a person, the elders viewed happiness as a choice, not the result of how life treats you. A 75-year-old man said, “You are not responsible for all the things that happen to you, but you are completely in control of your attitude and your reactions to them.” An 84-year-old said, “Adopt a policy of being joyful.”

The New York Times just published a delightful article by Jane Brody titled, “Advice From Life’s Graying Edge on Finishing With No Regrets”. The article summarizes advice from over 1,500 older Americans that were interviewed by the Cornell Legacy Project—an initiative to capture “lessons for living” on topics such as love, marriage, work, money, health, compassionate living, values, war, peace and more from 70+ year olds across a variety of economic, educational and social strata.

So, what did the interviewees have to say?

  • On Careers—Take the time and energy to find the work you love. For more on this read what Bertrille has to say.
  • On Raising Children—Spend time with your children even if you have to sacrifice in other areas. Don’t play favorites and lay off the comparisons. See more tips here.
  • On Regrets—Be honest, travel, make that bucket list and start acting on it now summarizes what the interviewees have to say according to the Project’s founder and chief researcher Dr. Karl Pillemer.
  • On Aging—Adapt to getting older with a positive attitude. See what Rebecca (92) and Sharon (76) have to say about aging here.
  • On Worry & Stress—Life is short. Learn to live in the moment rather than fixate on long term plans. For more on this, read what John (70) has to say here.
  • On Everything Else—Visit the Legacy Project and make sure to take in a few video interviews.

For a gal (me) new to her 30s with a strong penchant for future planning, I found the advice of the elders soothing and refreshing (especially the bit on travel… just have to figure out the whole “focus on present bit!”). More than that, it was a reminder to call my grandmothers! Finally, the article reminded me of how important it is for educators and education institutions to think beyond books, standards and exams and to get learners 1) to explore and identify what makes them happy, 2) to listen to their intuition and 3) to make the most of now.

“The world is our oyster!” Now, there is a lesson for living!


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Is “Western Knowledge” Good for the World?

Nov 18 2011 Published by under Questions,Reflections

A couple of months back a friend of mine posted the following status update on Facebook:

“Don’t confuse education with intelligence”.

Struck by the statement, I started to tally all of the things I learned from school and all of the things I learned outside of school. As it turned out, living life outside of the classroom had taught me quite a lot! After which I started thinking about my friends with degrees and those without and to be honest all seemed quite intelligent. This got me thinking…

While not overtly stated, there is often an implicit assumption by those who teach and attend “institutions of knowledge” that “the educated” are somehow “more intelligent” than those who have not had the “opportunity” to attend (Western) schools of doing and thought.

***Pause. Think about the last paragraph.***

While the spread of Western education can be associated with tremendous evolution in medicine, communication, transportation… It is worth asking ourselves, “At what expense?” Or rather, “What has been pushed aside by the spread of institutions of ‘modern’ thought?”

This week I had the honor of watching and discussing Munir Fasheh’s TEDxRamallah talk on “The Occupation of Knowledge” at Open Diversity and “Schooling the World” at the Global Education Conference. Both films call into question the assumption that Western schooling is somehow better than other (more traditional) forms of education.

Some key questions that were raised in the films and subsequent community dialogs included:

  • What is the impact of the spread of Western education institutions?
  • Does quality of life improve with schooling?
  • What kind of thinking does school promote? What kind of thinking is lost as a result of being schooled?
  • Will “modern” education systems raise people out of poverty?
  • What is the value of a degree absent modern day education institutions?
  • What happens when you are under the “occupation of knowledge?”
  • What are alternative models of bringing children into adulthood?
  • How should education institutions evolve to allow for more humanistic, compassionate and sustainable ways of doing and being?

As a graduate of many Western education institutions and an active participant in the “education industry,” I am thankful for my schooling and I love what I do. But, as these films point out, one must not march blindly forward without thinking about the bigger picture and the impact of one’s thoughts and actions.

Is “Western knowledge” for the world?


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On Sharing: The 10 – 20 – 30 Rule

Nov 16 2011 Published by under Notes

The Bon Education team and I are currently developing an education app that we plan to release in early spring. As “producer” I am spending a lot of time thinking about strategy, business plan, partnerships, etc. In this article on pitching, I was reminded of a simple and elegant rule of thumb for presentations (by Guy Kawasaki):

I am evangelizing the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points. While I’m in the venture capital business, this rule is applicable for any presentation to reach agreement: for example, raising capital, making a sale, forming a partnership, etc.

Although more than 10 slides, the above presentation (as Kawasaki points out) is a good example of the 20-30 part of the rule!

To short and sweet presentations!


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