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Peer Leadership and the Practice of Community in a Diverse Society

Posted on Sep 25, 2017 in


Alan lecturing at the Necropolis.

Alan lecturing at the Necropolis.

In our present world when we talk about community in public at all we usually talk about it in terms of deficit, as an artificial entity that has to be fixed or made better, or as a story-line in Public Relations to promote ourselves and attract tourists.

For a Peer Leader these are both superficial understandings, and limited as practices of community.

Communities are extensions of ourselves, and express the ways we understand ourselves and interact with one another.

It would be more insightful, and more useful, if we understood that when you put a person with an innate sense of being attuned to his or her surroundings, and who is also socially ‘wired’, into close proximity with others, the result is the variety of human made versions of community we see in history.

But before we look at communities in history, it is more beneficial for a Peer Leader to look at the actuality of our present idea of community, what it is composed of and how it works.

Looking closely at any gathering of people living together in a defined space we see that any community is made up of:

  1. People
  2. Their Associations
  3. Institutions
  4. ‘Services’ towards the “common good” ie  maintaining some degree of equitable functioning of the whole
  5. Narratives – popular ideas and fictions- news sources local national      global – (all related to the functioning of our ‘Autobiographical Self’)

The primary dynamics, or motivators, for action in a community are:

  1. Meeting Needs – physical, social/emotional, intellectual, spiritual
  2. Expressing Desire, our core passion to live and experience
  3. Searching for and creating Identity

The ways that people meet their needs, express their desire, and search for identity, is then extended to their relationship to their physical surroundings-which would imply that physical communities are ultimately the expression of our prevailing consciousness in a particular era.

Consequently, primary energies in a community flow or manifest – in an order of importance determined by the consciousness of an era- in the following areas of endeavor:

  1. Commerce and technology
  2. Health
  3. Law
  4. Politic/ Advocacy/ Management of Services
  5. Art
  6. Education and Learning
  7. Faith
  8. Recreation and leisure

All these areas of activity in community are extensions of ourselves, and platforms for the exercise of our creativity, while remaining basically reflective of our consciousness of ourselves and our surroundings in a given period.

Consequently, any significant approach to community can not be primarily  conceptual or theoretical or managerial alone, but one that is based in the multiple demands and consequent complexity, or messiness, of real life, and inspired by the hope and intent that our approach will produce useful outcomes for the positive welfare of all its citizens.

Peer Leadership and Community – Part Two

Posted on Sep 2, 2017 in

Pawns on a flat surface connected by lines.


For me Peer Leadership is the leadership of the future.

For the moment I’m not going to talk about the individual characteristics and skills leaders need to be successful in a diverse society. But the way a leader and their community connect and in the end ‘create’ one another.

It is likely that leaders in the past were as much the product of their own skills as they were of their community. In a race-based society leaders were exemplary of either how their community saw themselves or wanted to see themselves.

Leaders also arose as part of the process of a great cause. And had to develop the means of expression, and the charisma of having ‘lived’ the cause in order to succeed.

The challenge with both of these experiences of leadership is that life in our diverse communities is not so simple anymore. And while race-based leadership and cause-based leadership are still around, the entire picture of our communities is so much more complex than either race or cause-based leadership can address.

A leader now finds him or herself among equals- or if this idea of equality seems like too much of a stretch given the last vestiges of patriarchy and the apparent high status of wealth and celebrity- let’s say the present leader finds him or herself among peers.

We are all peers to one another. Thanks to technology and the media we can find out just about anything we need to know about one another. Thanks to the constant flow of information we are all in communities- or indeed are community makers. We belong to all kinds of groups- based on friendship, beliefs, hobbies, activities, books, music, common experiences to name just a few – and add internet use and the opportunities to find peers and community building is endless.

While fame and wealth may still stratify our communities, most of us believe in some form of equity and justice in human affairs even if we don’t always experience them. Most of us can fend for ourselves- more or less- in terms of meeting our needs in everything from finding places to live to feeling part of significant friendships and associations. And for perhaps the first time in history the plight of those who cannot fend for themselves for whatever reasons is on the agenda of most communities.  So the role and expectation of governance and politics in communities is changing in terms of defining our sense of place or the degree to which they determine our vision of how we organize and run ourselves.

We are all peers in this new landscape. And in this landscape where one race cannot actually dominate, nor one cause- even if absolutely necessary like the sustaining of our global environmental commons of atmosphere, oceans, and icecaps- completely motivate, we must all develop the mindset of a Peer Leader.

This mindset will begin with greater attention to one’s personal growth and development combined with more engagement into community process and social development. As we take more responsibility for our personal growth, as well as our surroundings, our practice of community will change.

Peer Leadership and Community – Part One

Posted on Aug 28, 2017 in

City Hall + Nathan Phillips Square


People have been gathering together in communities for a very long time.

But the way we do this gathering, as well as the dynamics actually at work in communities, have changed over the years.

We can safely guess that certain things were always present as catalysts in the forming of communities – the meeting of human needs (often around security issues) for instance, or the attempt to benefit from available resources.

As well, the members of the new community had to answer, either for themselves or through allegiance to a leader, their own version of the following questions- in our community what do we all more or less agree to as guidelines for conducting our daily lives together? What values and beliefs do we share which will inform the expectations we have of one another and how we settle our differences?

If we were to go back a thousand years in our Western history it would appear communities were in fact primarily expressions of racially alike people’s need for security – in essence what we would call today institutional racism.

Exclusion was a defining feature of all communities at that time – the exclusion of those who did not belong on the basis of race, and who it was necessary to keep out.

As communities developed they came to base belonging on ideologies, often religious, as well as race and exclusion.

In more recent history communities have based belonging- now called citizenship – not solely on race and beliefs but on processes of governance – things like law and the parliamentary system, the existence of human rights, and the idea of democracy etc for example.

And that brings us to where we are today – communities are still being organized by blood, belief and law – with the market and consumerism putting new ‘spins’ on old ideas of inevitability, absolute authority and the experience of mass behaviour.

But the basic questions for any community still remain- how will we live together and establish basic guidelines we can all agree to and which will bring every member of the community the opportunity to pursue a meaningful life?

The expectation of a meaningful life is a relatively new addition to the questions and actually makes answering now very difficult – difficult because pursuing a meaningful life is about more than meeting our needs or spending all your time with like-minded people – difficult because very few societies are one race anymore- and difficult because of our experience in history with great causes and different religions that lead to much bloodshed and/or ongoing acts of terrorism.

The issue in creating a functional community is made even more difficult because of the erosion of the political dimension to life with the constant discrediting of politicians and the political process that is happening in many societies.

Little more than 50% of people in our society usually vote. Many citizens, especially the young, think politics is corrupt, irrelevant, or boring. And this makes the difficulties I spoke of previously, and the lack of a coherent answer to how and why we organize into communities not just difficult but dangerous – since many are more than willing to fill the vacuum the lack of an answer leaves for personal or corporate gain.

So it is with this brief history and set of situations in mind that I will talk about the idea of Peer Leadership in a community in the next blog.

For Educators and Parents

Posted on Apr 21, 2016 in


2016 Leadership Lab Students

As my Co-director and partner Sandra Crockard explained in her personal blog last month we are learning a new practice of reaching out to our network. I’m using this occasion to address educators everywhere who have ever felt limited by the present tools and practices of education to reach their students- both concerning a subject and addressing their development as competent, resilient members of our shared society. We experienced the same sense of restraint with techniques in our theatre development.

Our Past

Trinity started working with the Toronto District School Board in 1984. In those early years we created plays, with teacher’s guides , on various issues. As we encountered the limits of this traditional play-audience format, especially in terms of empowering audience members, we moved through many years of exploration both in schools and the community. Through trial and error we ‘deconstructed’ the primacy of performance when using theatre, and moved to a more interactive practice between player and audience member.

As we worked in schools we were constantly asking ourselves, on the basis of our daily exchange with young people, what do students ultimately want from their school experience beyond the acquiring of information, skills, and marks.

What do teachers and other educators want to connect with their students, and fulfill their sense of vocation in meaningful ways?

Our Present

Out of this exploration we have created many presentations, workshops and courses. Of these, our Peer to Peer and Making Connections programs in particular embody what we believe begins to answer those questions re what students and teachers ultimately want in education.

Essentially both programs are mentoring programs that extend participants’ learning capabilities by addressing their social/emotional development, both peer to peer and intergenerationally.

What do Students and Teachers ultimately want?

So what did we find? What do students ultimately want? To be recognized, to be inspired, to learn.

What do educators ultimately want? To feel that their teaching has contributed to a student’s competency as a learner, as well as contributing in a positive way to their personal and social growth for the future.

During our explorations it became increasingly important to us that our programs help students and teachers see that our social/emotional lives are connected to our capability to learn. As well, we wanted to create tools that would help both student and teacher nurture recognition, inspiration and love of learning from one another

Ultimately, all of Trinity’s education work is informed by the belief that education is all about learning, a competency in learning that is achieved by skills development and knowledge and information exchange, combined with attention to an individual’s social/emotional development. This combination of learning and personal growth for both student and teacher enables personal transformation, and participation in social and community development for everyone involved in the act of education..

If you would like to know more about our approach to education please email us at for our free three day online mini-course Teaching Between the Lines

The other ‘educators’ I would like to address in this opening blog are parents.

Your role is crucial in both the social/emotional development and the academic development of your children. This, of course, is quite obvious in our children’s elementary years in school. But in many ways the parent’s role even increases in importance in their high school years.

From our thirty plus years of working with youth in schools we are publishing this June Surviving High School…and other challenging times in life. This eBook contains nine steps for students on how to make the most out of their high school years in terms of personal growth and developing life-enhancing strategies for their future.

As a companion to Surviving High School…and other challenging times in life we will be offering a free online series for parents, Surviving High School…a parent’s guide.

 The series will run online for nine weeks, beginning Earth Day Friday April 22, and each Friday after that. Each week in the series will match one of the nine steps outlined for students.

If you would like to receive the free online series Surviving High School…a parent’s guide please email us at to receive your free copy.

The ultimate goal of all education is personal and community renewal. As such the role of the parent as educator is ongoing, even though it appears to be lost in the fiction we call the generation gap. While it is true that new technologies continuously challenge an older generation, the common and continuing social/emotional challenges of personal growth and aging can only be successfully addressed intergenerationally.

For Teachers

Posted on Jan 26, 2016 in

It is time to talk about the role, work and presence of the teacher with a view to how he/she can play a productive part in the social/emotional development of their students. This is important to discuss because the links between the social/emotional sides of a person’s nature and their learning capacity are becoming more apparent thanks to neuroscience.

And important too for all of us, including teachers themselves, to develop more literacy around the role public education plays in our society’s vision of itself. What indeed does it say about ourselves and our communities that we want our young to be educated in this way? And consequently what are we actually expecting of our teachers, and what should they expect of themselves, as men and women of vocation?

The teacher is in many ways the most significant adult a young person meets after the adults in their immediate and extended family. And we have been assuming that the primary social/emotional development work is being done only in the nuclear family. But what if that primary ‘education’- given what we now know of the length of time involved in the developing brain through childhood and adolescence- is also being supplied by other adults in the community?

As well we should also examine whether we are assuming that a young person’s learning is primarily the result of a conscious act – meaning the parent or later teacher sits the young person down and transmits articles of learning. When in truth the child does not only learn but absorb information and practices from its adults and it always takes in far more than the adults actually intend! All of which makes the actual ‘education’ of the child a complex act.

There is a role for the teacher in the social/emotional development of youth. This is obvious at the elementary level of education, and largely dismissed at the secondary level. This is a mistake. There is a role for teachers with youth, possibly as guide, as mentor, as inspiration, as conscience, as model, and as friend.

What if the secondary teacher’s role lay beyond academics? What if that role was one that involved creating a pathway to community, by helping youth to learn how to learn with others- including how to balance the social/emotional aspects of one’s developing character with the engaged work/achievement aspects of conscious living?

There are simple ways a secondary teacher can introduce social/emotional development in the classroom without detracting from the academic subject they are teaching. Following is a list of some of those ways that we will elaborate on in further blogs.

(1) Use talking/learning circles.

(2) Become a peer leader in learning.

(3) Define your personal educational goals.

(4) Think like a river.

(5) Sweat the small stuff!

(6) Make it personal.

(7) Story the classroom.

(8) Strive for relevance.

(9) Make connections.

Becoming You

Posted on Nov 30, 2015 in



Playing Kitten

…expect that there may be several ‘versions’ of you in your lifetime

or another way of saying this?

what is essential in you may find ‘application’ in different professions or work pursuits in life

you will not find the truth of this idea in conventional thought

in conventional thought the dedicated practice of a talent is considered success

implying that the person displaying the talent really knows their self

while it could just as easily be understood as a person captive to that talent to feel fulfilled

finding yourself rests in finding what is essential in your nature

what desire or what passion is asserting itself within you

paradoxically you can find what’s essential in you not by looking deep inside yourself or by looking at your skills or talents

but by considering what you like doing

those activities that when you do them make you feel good inside

or feel like you’re more you when you do them

even if they involve certain challenges and difficulties

because we are ‘wired’ to love, to learn, to forgive, and to grow

and the deeper paradox here is that while we are essentially unique, we are also sharing a common store of essential human capabilities

like the ability to create thoughts, express ourselves in words and other media, be in relationships, extend ourselves in imaginative empathy, create beauty

right now the limited popular thought is that the personally unique and widely appealing expression of these essential capabilities are acts of genius by individuals

when we grow in discernment we realize that genius actually lies within each one of us in the act of being able to clear away the debris of daily living- its failures and successes, our attachment to ego, fear and the various other awkwardnesses that can drive our lives-

and doing one thing, one thing we care about, doing it as well as we possibly can

like raising and educating our children, writing symphonies, or managing an organization

strive to be the best you

you can possibly be

doing what you like

and finding yourself

will follow