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Executive Director's Report - September 30, 2022

The Maple League is wired for hope – as educators, learners, and as members of a collective who are curious about the ways in which we can better deliver high-quality undergraduate education.

I had a chance to speak to an international collective of researchers this month and found myself talking about the work we do in the Maple League as a series of “hope circuits” in the work of renewing and renovating our systems. During this session, we wove together a critical framework for hope and exposed conceptual tools to do the “hard hope” work in their own disciplinary, institutional, and UK contexts.

Conversation helps us ground our experiences and builds an emerging critical framework to explore what hope is: by clustering our experiences of hope in a tour de table style in the workshop, we moved into a space that is post-critical, i.e. builds, illuminates, and expands definitions of Hope rather than narrowing thinking to one particular theoretical framework. Moving from the “to-be” list to the “to-do” list helped us anchor hope as something that we live in our daily practice.

Over the course of the session, participants contributed the following thoughts:

What is hope?

Hope is necessary for survival

Hope is a promise of future;

Hope is a seed before it germinates;

Hope is another candle on the birthday cake.

Hope happens - we just need to recognize it…

Hope is personal, reflective and generative…

HOPE IS Positivity for the future

Hope is overcoming challenges

Hope is a feeling of trust

Hope grows from messy conversations about learning - and we may not see the endpoint in the moment, but we are confident it will be there.

During this session, I also shared the conceptual tools I have used in Maple League collaborations to build hope circuits into the systems, structures, and policies that animate our institutions:

10 principles to build hope circuits:

  • Commit to Unlearning and re-learning

  • Practice Divergent thinking

  • Reframe authority and expertise

  • Engage in Critical reflective practice

  • Stay with the trouble

  • Take a systems-level approach

  • Build Intentional Community

  • Embrace the Messy and emergent over the impervious and static

  • Slow down when things get fast

  • Be attentive to the language we use and the stories we tell

As a Shakespearean, I have written elsewhere that our deep engagement in theatre – as spectators, learners and patrons – provides a roadmap for how we produce meaning in communion with each other; and that this model can map onto the classroom, organizations, and society more generally (Riddell 2019). In Shakespeare’s plays, there is no poet persona or narrator to guide (or misguide) us. Instead, the world is created in real-time over the course of roughly three hours through exchanges amongst the players onstage. As spectators, witnesses, and participants, we are inextricably bound up in the creation of an ephemeral moment produced by bodies in space, language and animated by the force of our imaginative energies.

The first step in building better systems, therefore, is to acknowledge that meaning is created through multiple and often competing perspectives. This requires more improv than scripted theatre because the ground shifts under us as situations arise, and scenarios unfold: we must embrace Freire’s definition of critical hope as the “need for truth as an ethical quality of the struggle” (Pedagogy of Hope 3).

In the spirit of improv, we need to relentlessly respond with a “yes, and...” rather than a “no, but...” As you can see from this month’s report, the projects that have flourished all share the “yes, and” approach - and in doing so, build hope circuits for humans and communities to flourish.

~ Dr. Jessica Riddell, Executive Director, Maple League of Universities

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