Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Raising up teachers, planning for clusters, and the power of collaboration

This article is a report of an event held last month at Green Acre Bahá’í School entitled “Teaching: the Greatest Gift”. Its goal was to raise up more teachers of the Cause in the Northeast region. What is especially noteworthy is the level of planning, preparation, and collaboration among several institutions and clusters to create an event that would enable as many of the friends as possible to build their capacity to teach and to become actively involved in the teaching activities in their clusters. As you can see from the report, it was a time of inspiration, of learning, of building confidence, and getting direct experience in the field. Moreover, not only did this gathering empower scores of individuals to teach, it also involved coordinated planning for clusters in that area.

A very innovative experiment was held at one of the national schools, Green Acre, to raise the capacity of teachers of the Cause and contribute to winning cluster goals. It involved an enthusiastic collaboration among national, regional and local institutions and agencies representing four clusters, supported by the Auxiliary Boards and resource people identified by the Continental Counselors.

Preparation and planning was crucial. For example, the expansion phases in nearby clusters were scheduled to be in synch with this seminar. Green Acre offered scholarships for the event in order to allow any person who wanted to teach to be able to afford to attend. In many ways, the Green Acre environment and facilities themselves became a force for mobilizing individuals and focusing the power of the spirit.

Overall, 70 participants from 8 clusters attended this milestone event.

The learning framework

The course description: The challenges facing the human race have never been clearer—and the call to arise to teach the Cause has never been more urgent. Clearly, this is the day to arise! But, how do you really teach and which methods are most effective? What is the “framework for action” of the Five Year Plan? How do teaching teams work, what is “collective teaching” and what is “Anna’s Presentation”? In this lively, hands-on weekend, participants brought these questions and delved into the Writings, recent letters from the World Centre, and real-world examples from around the country to explore the critical role each can play as a teacher of the Cause. The participants were able to leave with a plan of action and the information needed to “advance the process of entry by troops” in their own clusters back home.

Goal: To help raise the capacity of teachers of the Cause through:

Intense prayer.

Study of key excerpts from Book 6: the spiritual nature of teaching, qualities of a teacher, creating a personal teaching plan, and participating in collective teaching project.

Orientation to the framework for action of the Five Year Plan.

Stories of Bahá’u’lláh.

Examples from around the country.

Direct teaching using Anna’s Presentation with community of interest and in a scouted receptive neighborhood in the Lower Maine/New Hampshire cluster.

Debrief on teaching and praying experiences to advance learning.

Personal teaching pledges to nurture personal and collective efforts in each cluster.

“Something more ambitious than before”

The Regional Bahá’í Council had been searching for a way to give those who participated this time the opportunity to have practical experience in the field. After attending the Dallas Teaching Seminar, participating in collective teaching projects in the New York City cluster and teaching activities in several other clusters, the presenter felt ready to attempt something more ambitious than before.

From the first phone calls with members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Eliot, Maine and members of the Lower Maine/NH core team to explore collaboration, it was clear that the excitement and enthusiasm for teaching was rising in the cluster and that by working together, the teaching weekend could become a galvanizing moment for the clusters surrounding Green Acre. A remarkable level of consultation and collaboration emerged that guided the program forward to meet multiple goals, including enabling as many of the local friends to participate as possible, raising the capacity of the teachers of the Cause through practical experience, and meeting Green Acre’s needs. The loving and highly collaborative spirit among the individuals and institutions created a spiritual experience. Collaboration included:

Guidance from the National Spiritual Assembly.

Working closely with the Auxiliary Board member and the secretary of the Area Teaching Committee about the direct teaching component, and consulting with them about how to use the course to boost the coming expansion phase in the Lower Maine/New Hampshire cluster and raise capacity of teachers in the Upper Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont clusters. These individuals met with the Local Spiritual Assembly of Eliot and made presentations at Feasts in two communities to share the vision of the process and invite participation.

Consultation with the National Office of Education and Schools and with Green Acre on how best to collaborate with the cluster entities and create a successful program. Green Acre graciously offered scholarships and discounts to participants from the four above-mentioned clusters.

Collaborated with the Regional Bahá’í Council and Auxiliary Board member to invite participation from the four clusters.

Consulted with the secretary of a Local Spiritual Assembly to help inform that Assembly’s consultation on direct teaching, as well as to draw on its experience.

Highlights of the weekend included:

A sense of spirituality, excitement and mission seemed to permeate this program. Participants were unified in their desire to understand the framework for action and how to teach effectively. A passion for teaching emerged and replaced the anxiety some participants felt about teaching and the role they can arise to play in the Plan.

More than 70 people participated in various portions of the weekend.

8 clusters were represented: Central Jersey; New York City; Westchester County, NY; Boston Area, MA; Vermont; New Hampshire; Lower Maine/New Hampshire; Upper Maine.

1 study circle of more than 10 people from the Westchester cluster participated—a first for Green Acre.

More than 32 people participated in the direct teaching in the field.

More than 12 people stayed behind and said the Tablet of Ahmad for the duration of the teaching work in the field. They had an intense prayer experience and were deeply touched.

There were 2 enrollments and numerous invitations for return visits.

One team brought a new believer and other seekers back to Green Acre for the evening program. They stayed through all parts of the program, including a presentation on Baha'u'llah and a debrief by the teaching and praying teams. They loved the presentation about Baha'u'llah and loved being included for the teaching stories.

8 youth, including weekend participants and Green Acre volunteers, asked for more information about teaching and a special late-night session was arranged for them. An animated discussion of teaching included their stories, how to work the framework of the Plan and more. These youth are excited about teaching and are committed to following up with the new Baha'is. Some have started going door-to-door in Eliot and were excited to share about it.

Goals and personal teaching plans were formed

Of the 70 participants in the course at various points in the weekend, more than 40 remained Sunday morning for the session on personal goals and collective action. Participants studied a section of Book 6 and then created personal teaching plans in the context of their cluster’s plans.

Here are some examples of the numerous pledges made by participants:

Start weekly devotional.

Host at least one direct fireside this month.

Carry out home visits.

Carry out 10 consolidation visits.

Finish Book 7.

Learn and practice Anna’s presentation.

Share Anna’s presentation with neighbors and friends.

Share Anna’s presentation with 10 people.

Participate in teaching projects.

Pray daily for teaching.

Widen circle of friends.

Consult with neighborhood team about starting a junior youth group.


“What a wonderful, empowering weekend! I loved the stories of Baha'u'llah—the one about Ruh'u'llah looking into people's eyes has done something special for me, it has me looking more deeply into people's eyes. The reminder that the greater challenge will be the consolidation helps me realize how determined and systematic we must be to learn how to consolidate effectively. Being shown how to keep on with the presentation and not get derailed before giving the gift in the most effective way possible—This is all so good. Thank you so very much.”

“It was a great weekend of teaching and being with the friends. The thing that I took away was the remark that Mr. Furutan read the Plan of the Universal House of Justice every morning—it made me realize I need to be more diligent in reading the Guidance. Thank you! I also left with renewed energy and insight to pursue the teaching work. Thank you and I look forward to teaching with you again and again.”

“I just wanted to thank you for a wonderful weekend at Green Acre! I know those of us who attended were able to draw a great deal of learning and inspiration from the session and collective teaching activity; and it is my hope that it will inspire the friends to arise and play a greater part in the Five Year Plan and the teaching efforts.”

“Thank you for an excellent weekend at Green Acre and this fantastic learning opportunity. We were able to take home a 'substantial' amount of learning, and our study circle is more than ever ready to proceed forward.”

“The weekend at Green Acre brought alive to me the task at hand. It is very easy to understand something intellectually, even well enough to pass it on to others, as to what it is we are/should be doing more of. The gift of the weekend is coming together with assembled Faith and courage together, and actually doing it! The name of the weekend suits the outcome for me. "Teaching: the Greatest Gift" I can't imagine being able to knock on a stranger’s door without help in this way, ever. Re-reading the Guidance beforehand about what we are doing, and why we are doing it, all gave me new and fresh and a stronger understanding, and willingness to act. Responding to our Guidance, and moving immediately into this very important a task! I prayed and was given the courage to actually share the presentation. Thank-you again for this wonderful opportunity, it was the first time at a learning weekend that I was helped to be able to act on my learning immediately! "Let deeds not words be your adorning." Hope to be able to come again in the fall, with a friend.”

“The weekend at Green Acre was amazing! Everyone is on fire!. I am amazed at how inspired everyone became in just a few days! We are working on getting through books 2 and 3. Thank you for all the information and energy you brought to the weekend! I am so glad it was so successful! We are working on having a similar weekend up here to get people trained up on Anna's Presentation and then do the door-to-door teaching as a group.”

“Allah'u'Abha! Just a short note to say "thank you" for the excellent program and all your effort. It was very productive. It was especially wonderful that we could put our learning immediately into the field of action through direct teaching! I could also benefit by becoming more familiar, and feel more confident with direct teaching using Anna's presentation. I hope that we will have more such programs in the near future and that more and more friends will be benefiting from it.”

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