The Roots of Deep Change: Transformative Conversations at SDGI

In my first week at Princeton, freshmen were encouraged to have “conversations that matter.” We heard speeches and watched videos about this theme. But there wasn’t anything that helped an introverted girl like me discover how to actually access those kinds of conversations.

Agonizing over choices about what to major in, what kinds of summer jobs to look for, what type of career to move toward — I felt utterly alone. I can’t remember conversations with peers, professors, or advisors that helped me get closer to who I truly was, who I was becoming.

The experience a learner has at SDGI is completely different. The backbone of SDGI’s Masters programs in learning and education is co-creative mentoring relationships between wise faculty guides and energized learners, tuned toward revealing the potential of each learner.

What I find exciting is how deeply the pattern of emergent conversation infuses the whole culture of SDGI. The school’s most long standing contributors live and breathe it, both modeling and facilitating the transformative one-on-one conversations that enable us all to tune into what wants to emerge through this institution — whether as board members, faculty, alumni, learners, administration, or advisory.

A culture in which leadership models deep, co-creative listening changes the game. The ease of having attuned one-on-one conversations, across roles, generations, levels of seniority, is fully embodied in our Director, Renée Beth Poindexter who is catalyst of surprising and change-making conversations of all kinds.

In his address as incoming president, Paul Freedman, invited us to be willing to receive, hear and hold each other’s deepest and most complex questions without attempting to solve them, offering a beautifully liberating practice to support this process.

Transformative one-on-one connecting can take place in many settings: sharing a car ride in traffic; asking someone question-after-question while sharing a meal; an epic, omnidirectional Zoom brainstorm and story-swap; a quiet walk in nature. Though I’ve only been an SDGI board member for a few months, already I’ve experienced all of these. The resonance that has emerged between my life, and the possibilities inherent in this community, is so energizing.

Today, superficial connecting is easy to come by: mixers, meetings, meals shared with smartphones, tightly patterned socializing. Icebreakers may break the ice, but how to we find the bravery and space reach toward the depths? We need holistic learning environments that truly center relationship-based learning, more than ever.

I feel hopeful that a new generation of learning ecosystem designers will emerge from hotbeds of holistic learning like SDGI, and help the Princetons of this world discover how to cultivate the kind of culture and social field that allows for the transformative connecting that our learners, and this planet, so deeply need.  

Submitted by:

Mitra Martin

About Mitra Martin
Mitra Martin is a researcher, learning experience designer, and improviser. Her focus is helping learning ecosystems access the potential of intentional peer-to-peer learning. She is the co-founder of Oxygen Tango School of Connection.

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