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I'm excited to welcome you to today's conversation with Dr. Jenny Finn. For reference, this was recorded on August 17th of 2021. Jenny holds a PhD in sustainability education from Prescott College and a master's degree in social work from Colorado State University. She is an RSA fellow and a country lead for the USA for 100 An international collective highlighting educational innovations globally.
For the past 25 years, Jenny has been committed to creating healthy culture by starting with an unwavering commitment to her own personal growth and transformation. As a result of her own journey with addiction and cancer, Jenny understands that a healthy relationship with the world begins with a strong connection to ourselves and community in a culture that often fosters separation and disconnection, Jenny's research mentoring and teaching invites people to deepen the relationship they have with themselves in order to serve the world with greater clarity, compassion, creativity and courage. Jenny's work has taken many forms including nonprofit direction, trauma and hospice care, spiritual care and chaplaincy, private practice, community building through the expressive arts and educational design.
She is the founding visionary at Springhouse and sees place based education oriented around the source of life as a primary agent transformed culture. She's honored to work with the outstanding Spring House team and is deeply committed to the Spring House mission of designing vitality centered education and sharing source to design through Source design labs at Spring House, Jenny lives on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband Andy and their two teenage children Andrew and Lizzy.
To learn more about her work visit sourceddesign.org and springhouse.org. Here we go. Let's dive into our conversation with Dr. Jenny Finn.
Hi, I'm Lindsay Lyons and I love helping school communities envision bold possibilities, take brave action to make those dreams a reality and sustain an inclusive, anti racist culture where all students thrive. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach, educational consultant and leadership scholar. If you're a leader in the education world, whether you're a principal, superintendent, instructional coach or a classroom teacher excited about school wide change like I was, you are a leader. And if you enjoy nerding out about the latest educational books and podcasts, if you're committed to a lifelong journey of learning and growth and being the best version of yourself, you're going to love the time for Teachership podcast, let's dive in.
Okay, Jenny Finn, welcome to the Time For Teachership Podcast.
Thank you so much. I'm really happy to be here Lindsay.
I'm so glad you're here. Do you want to add anything to the amazing, very well rounded bio that I just read to further introduce yourself to listeners.
You know what, I think the bio says it all and I would just say, as I said to you earlier that this work is deeply, deeply personal to me. So I think when you, when you read the bio, you'll see that. But it really does, my own personal experience informs all of the work that I've been engaged in for almost 30 years now.
Amazing, thank you so much and thank you for the great work that you're doing. One of the things I like to start with is just kind of this big dream question around, you know, what is the big dream you hold for the field of education? And I really love Dr Bettina Loves quote about freedom dreaming in this, and I draw a lot of inspiration from her where she says really it's dreams grounded in the critique of injustice.
And so with that in mind, what is the dream that you hold for education?
That's a really, really great question. The first thing that comes to me is let me think and hope that I can get this right and I don't know who said this, but it's something that we often say at Spring House, which is the community that we'll talk about today that I co founded eight years ago. But it's it's basically a quote that says "A vision without a task is just a dream. A task without a vision is drudgery. A vision with a task is the hope for the world." So, my hope for education, how I see education is not as a noun. It is a verb, to me refers to intergenerational relationships that could foster anything any kind of agenda. So it's intergenerational relations at least at springhouse.
It's intergenerational relationships that foster vitality. So that life is at the center of everything. Taking care of life, no matter how old you are, who you are in the system. That those intergenerational relationships are there to take care of protect and foster life. So to me and Springhouse our vision is regenerative culture.
Somebody just asked me yesterday "What the heck does that mean?" That means a culture, I know that we really don't know what that means because many of us have never experienced it in our family system or in our educational system or the culture at large. Regenerative culture to me and to us at Springhouse is the big vision and the big dream. And that means a culture that orients around life and takes care of it. And then our mission is to create and activate vitality centered education. Where life and freedom are at the center of everything.
Not only happiness not only what we want, no that's not it, it's like how do we honor the full experience of life, the cycles of life, that life runs through human beings and beyond human beings, and to the other than human world. How does it lead us into wholeness? How does it lead us into joy? Those are the questions that we hold. So that's really it. And what I love is to experience and see our examples, living examples of people doing the messy work.
Like Dr. Bettina Love talks about of at one point, she said, you know, we just kind of we need to fully reimagine and redesign our school system. Agreed and eight years in the making here at Springhouse, that's what we're doing. And I can tell you it is not easy, it is not a path for the faint of heart, but we do need people who are really being midwives, cultural midwives, bringing forth new designs that orient around life. Long answer.
But it's a big question.
Absolutely. It's a big question and I love that answer. It makes me think too of all of the work... And so my research is in the student voice field and student leadership field and there's so much in there that I love with the youth adult partnership framing of, you know, it is that intergenerational relationship that you're talking about and we can create anything when we have that foundational relationship.
And that's such a key piece that I think often is missing when we think about, you know, traditional mindsets of education and the teacher has all the information and then we dictate that to the students. And so I'm curious to know whether there was a particular mindset that folks who started the school with you have adopted or if you're speaking to listeners who are in traditional schools and maybe have these traditional views of education or have colleagues who have adopted those traditional views, you know, what's that shift away from the traditional view? What's the mindset that will enable people to do the work in that way that that you're dreaming it about.
Mm That's a great question.
It's one I literally just came off another call around. I think it's humility. I think the mindset is humility and surrender. That the human will has limits. And I think because of that exactly the model you just discussed around the teacher has it and the young person doesn't, first of all is false. It's just, it's an illusion. It's not true and it causes an adult in that system to rest in a false sense of security, where I have expertise and wisdom in certain areas of my life and then there's a lot, I don't know. And that's great. that makes me human. that makes me hopefully curious and flexible and vital. Because I don't know it all and I shouldn't know it all.
It makes me actually really boring and kind of stiff to other people, especially young people. It also totally dis empowers our youth. It just does, it doesn't allow them to know that they have gifts to offer in their stage of development.
So I think it leads to really disempowered and dependent youth that lack an inner compass. And I mostly think that's because as adults we think we have one because we're orienting around our expertise, but that's not an inner compass, that's not, an inner compass is deeper than my expertise.
So those are some of the thoughts I have, but I also love talking about some solutions and example. And so one thing I'll say is that at Springhouse, you know, we see, I see as the founding visionary there, I see all of the adults well, I don't see them, they are regenerative culture builders, they're building regenerative culture now starting with themselves.
So they start with themselves. I'll say that again as adults and that's essential with the design that we are practicing at Springhouse. That it starts with the adults. It cannot be, we can't project all our problems onto the youth and try to fix it through them that we have to do our own work. And we do and it doesn't make us perfect and it just makes us more pliable and flexible and hopefully hospitable. And what we then do is we have a student, we have a learner leadership model where young people within Springhouse can apprentice with an adult who's a regenerative culture builder.
So they'll they may like one student may I have an apprentice with me who's a 17 year old who's the learner visionary. And so he's really learning about what it means to be a visionary. Where we have another team who's working directly with the, the regenerative culture builder adult who is working with adolescent development. So we have a 17 year old who is working closely with him, we have another person who, another young person who's working closely with our vitality centered education lead.
So it's like they partner and then they have something called the round table where the students meet together and then they bring their learning from their different apprenticeships together in service, not just like as a learning, like a relevant learning situation. It's more like they're actually, they're helping to guide Springhouse and like to make Springhouse stronger.
So it's a real life thing that they're doing that actually impacts them as well as our community. So that's just one example of how we know that we need their wisdom from where they are in their stage of development and they know that they need ours and there's mutual respect. And an orientation around the common vision. So those are just some of the thoughts I have around that.
Yeah, and I love that you're talking about, you know, I often called the brave actions, like the actions that are really required. The examples, the strategies, the things like this. I love that you're also talking structurally right structurally.
There are structures in place for students to opt into an apprenticeship to have that space at the round table to come together. To be able to have the mindset and the humility that you're talking about, where leaders are open to the ideas that students are bringing from that round table. I think this is all so practical and helpful for people who are like, "Oh, you know, maybe I could do something like this at my school if it's not already." I know you have a lot of really interesting innovative ideas around curriculum and what learning looks like, and I know your website is a wealth of information with a bunch of resources that people can grab. Do you mind speaking to kind of the actions that your teachers take or your students take around how, how they learn and what they learn about in the class.
you know, I think it's so important to say that I can't stress this enough. And really, the only way to know this is to immerse yourself at Springhouse it is so different, it's so different that like, we don't refer to ourselves as teachers, not because teacher is a bad word, not at all, it's just not naturally the role, I can't in like classes in terms of like, there are courses and explorations.
So I know that maybe folks who are listening to me who are in a more conventional system may have trouble bringing what I'm saying into their paradigm and that makes sense because they're different. Because they have different orientations. They have different centers, they're after something different at the center of the design. And that's important to say to anyone who's listening, certainly though, and we'll get to the five principles of the design, which are not just Springhouse there as ancient as ancient can be, they're just not well practiced. So when we talk about that, people could certainly let's say take care of the vulnerability in their classroom. So in terms of, and maybe we go there, maybe we go there to those principles.
Okay, Because I think that's a way where if you are out there and I know some of you are, because I've worked with people around the world who are either really just trying to bring a different, just something different to their classrooms. But I'm also working with people who are saying I'm ready to really build something new, "How do I start?", "What do I do?"
So at Springhouse, we work with five design principles that were articulated mostly from the experiment of Springhouse. and we're articulated after a yearlong focus group, basically kept asking the question, "What is remarkable and unique about Springhouse?", "What is our identity?", "Who are we?" So we really took that seriously. We had teens community members, adults within the system asking that question and really exploring it for a year. From that we can we have, we named five design principles that are practiced daily and alive at Springhouse, which is great to have a living example of what's possible.
We're not out to replicate and scale like other places, use these principles in ways that respect your people in your place. And that's already happening and it's amazing to see how unified we are, but also how diverse we are at the same time. So those principles are the first one is take care of vulnerability. So at all costs, no matter what, we take care of vulnerability, if we're missing that foundational principle, forget about it, just forget about it.
So there's nothing more important than that. That's it. Take care of vulnerability inside yourself, in your community, with the earth, just take care of it. And we'll be living in a different world if we did that. And I know like I'm saying that simply, but I know I know personally the process of what that feels like to shift from living in shame and highlighting to living and taking care of vulnerability.
It's a lifelong journey and the second principle is to cultivate personhood. And so we do that in a lot of ways um, at Springhouse, but that basically means tend to your own personal development, no matter how old you are, you tend to that. One of the ways we do that is by radically reclaiming our relationship with our bodies. So in our vitality center educational design there and it's way too much to go into here, but there's three solid pillars in that model body, society and earth.
We tend to all of those things as a regenerative culture builder, our relationship to those aspects both of human culture, of earth culture and to ourselves, primarily our bodies. Because we're so disembodied. That's the result of a lot of that. That a lot of our issues are a result of that problem. So we're saying at Springhouse, we're taking the body back, we're taking it back and we're exploring it in all different kinds of ways, sexuality, race, gender identity, I mean all kinds of, all kinds of ways.
So there's that and one of the primary ways we do that is dance, we spend an enormous time with the earth and mentoring every single team has a mentor at Springhouse and every adult has a mentor. So that's that's mentoring is a cultural way for us. and that doesn't mean professional therapy, that's not what it means, it means, I'm walking with someone on the path, I'm maybe a little further down on that spiral.
I'm holding a lantern and I'm saying you can do it, that's what mentoring is to us. The third principle is build beloved community, one really specific way we do that is we sing a lot and we share power. We orient around life and we share power. And we take care of our power. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other to do that.
The 4th principle is respect the wisdom of the earth. So we do that in a lot of ways just by paying attention and learning and better relating with the earth, and our land, but we're also this fall really exploring, I can't remember what it's called, but like learning from the land and looking at, the indigenous people who were on our land first and and exploring the history of that by walking the land, not just sitting and listening, but by actually walking and and walking with people from our community. Another way we respect the wisdom of the earth is how we structure our financial model, our investment model.
We do not situate education as a commodity, it is not a transaction. It is a relationship. So our financial, our investment models based on trust, transparency and relationship. So that's a huge experiment and I can report after four months of experimenting, it's going pretty well. Lots of tears, lots of relationship building and lots of freedom happening.
Finally love and serve others. We foster vitality to better love and live in the world. What else are we? What else are we doing here? What else should education be for? What else should it be for? I mean, what to perpetuate an individualistic, unsustainable culture. I don't think so, not for me. So I know how hard it is. I know that we're not doing it perfectly, but I know that the good news is I'm not doing it alone and that our community continues to grow globally and that's because what we're doing is needed and it's ancient, it's ancient.
We're really just taking care of some wisdom that is ancient and we're just bringing it forward. So whether you're starting something new or you're thinking about your own family system or your own life, like maybe start by asking do you take care of your own vulnerability?
I asked that in every... and now we share our design globally through source design labs., so we have a global network work. If people are interested wherever you're listening, you can learn from the living example of Springhouse through this network. Um, and I can give that website later, but there's all kinds of people who do it. People who just want to foster vitality in their own life to start with or their own family or it could be someone who likes someone in Belgium who's wanting to start a school.
You know, it really is to start with the principles with yourself and then any of these could be worked out and applied in your, in your communities and I would say just the one who has done this for many years personally and in my calling.
We need support, we need each other, we need to remember that we're not in this alone, that's what Springhouse is really. It's like you're not alone, go for it, go for it. We're here to support you and we know we'll learn from you. So if you are out there doing design that's oriented around vitality, like has that at the center, I would love to hear from you because we can support each other and learn from each other.
That's amazing. Thank you so much for going through each of those. And I, there's so many things that I'm connecting with personally. I'm really interested in the sharing of power and how that happens and you know, what are the practices by which that happens. I also just love that you're going beyond like a land acknowledgment of like who you know, who are the indigenous people who have, who have lived on this land and started this land and to actually walk the land and to walk in community on the land.
I just, I feel like these are things that even if you are in a traditional schooling system, you can still do those things, you can go out and walk the land right? And so I think these are so valuable as practices that are concrete and transferrable to a lot of different systems as well.
I know you're saying you're doing something completely different, which is so true. And I hope that people will also take the inspiration from that to try to create these new systems that aren't so traditional in the way that we've been doing that aren't so siloed and more community based, more vitality based.
Yes and you know, it's so beautiful how you just said that because well I'll tell you in full transparency with the land acknowledgement thing. We had a land acknowledgement written and one of the staff members came to me at the end of the year and said, okay, we're going to move forward. Like we're gonna, will you read this, will you read this when we go into our graduation? And I looked at it and I said, it's not that I am not like heart committed to everything written here. I don't, but I don't even barely know how to pronounce the names of these people. I don't, this doesn't, this feels like it's not coming from the inside out. I want this, but I want our community to know who these people are, where we are.
Like we we have to do the work first. We can't just say this even though we really want to. I mean we could maybe, but I can't, I can't, I have to do, I have to do the work to know what I'm talking about that, this is rooted in my body and in this place in our communities body. And so what's happening now in the staff member. I mean we were both in tears and we were both like "exactly let's hold on this, let's make it top priority" that we walked the land with this community and we get to know it in that way that leads to a community written land acknowledgment that that is very rooted not only in Springhouse but in our place and in our hearts.
And that's an example of really truly like a design that's oriented around vitality. It's like around that it's real and we didn't I didn't want to like just slap something on to relieve my guilt or to relieve my I just I just wanted a deeper transformative experience to inform my actions and that is a norm that really is enormous Springhouse.
And then the other thing I'll say is for those who are listening to more conventional system. Whatever that means, is it really means basically if your design is oriented around anything other than that like that freedom in that life, it's really hard. Like I want to just empathize, people might want to go out and and walk the land and like do a community mural or but because the system is oriented around standardization, individualism, consumerism.
Because it's oriented around things that are disembodied not oriented around justice for all like those things, it's so hard because you're having to commit to this agenda, right? That doesn't have space to like take care of your body or get to know the land or even get to know the body who's in the next classroom. You might not even be able to chat or cry or play with your neighbor in your school system, let alone step outside of your school building.
So I think not only our young people suffering in the way we've structured education, I just want to speak on behalf of the adults who are in that system that are really fighting for creativity and and their own autonomy and all kinds of things in the system that just isn't oriented around that. So not that it's not possible, It is, but it may even start with like maybe go out of your classroom and do something radical like have a cup of tea with your partner next door. You know, or just talk to a student for five minutes longer, ask them some questions about who they are or what they love or what they're scared of.
Yeah, that's such a good idea, such concrete good ideas and also I just love that, you know, it reminds me of this idea of like it was from the nineties I think 'add women and stir' was like the thing that people were like criticizing that we're just adding women to these corporate environments and we're just stirring and it's still at the root, very oppressive, not just a space.
And I feel like a lot of the movement lately in education to incorporate things like justice, like well being of adults and young people is very much like we're going to try to add it into the system that is not enabling us to do it well. And then we're frustrated because we're trying to add when we don't have time to add and we're trying to, you know, do all these ways and all these shortcuts that aren't going to work. And so I really appreciate that you named that in that way.
Yes, yes. Because we ended up symptoms., I just told this story to someone on my 8:00 meeting in Finland actually. And, it's really this, you know, there's a, there's an Appalachian tradition called, well that's basket weaving and it's pretty intense. I mean, it's a rite of passage to, to weave a basket and I've gone through it and there's a certain design where you put the loops together. And then you start with what's called the God's Eye and it's where the two loops are linked.
And then the whole basket weaves from the eye. If you don't get the God's eye, not perfect, but pretty close to center. The basket really unfolds in a way that doesn't make it a usable basket. I at first did not get the God's eye, not even close to the center, It's kind of like when you're a potter too and you're making a pot, it's like the centering is key. So like the centering and I had to unravel. My instructor said if you want this to be a usable basket, you need to unravel and start over. And I was like, oh god, part of me just wanted to move the basket and just be done with it, right? I mean, what, what am I doing?
But I unraveled and now I have a really usable basket that I get are chicken eggs and then I can use it. and it's beautiful actually, my point with that nice basket story is that when we don't have the eye of the design is centered as it can be around and if it is centered on something that's not life giving or it's trying to be, but it doesn't know what it is.
The basket, the design has some problems and to say it lightly. And then what we end up doing is symptom management, we end up over here trying to manage the symptom when the thing actually is the problem with the center. And I just think it takes a lot to go to the center and that's not just with a system that's enormous, right? But even as a person, like think about ourselves where it's like "Gosh, I really wish my life was taking a different design, what's going on?" And then we end up symptom management over here rather than just like sitting down and really being with ourselves and being with like, what's at the center of me? What's at the center of me? Am I living a life that's unfolding out of fear or out of reaction to something or what's true for me?
And unfortunately education, at least to me and my experience, it never really asked those questions that helped me get to the center to the God's eye. And my hope at Springhouse is that we are doing that, but that means we're shifting the whole agenda.
That's the thing. And so many would call it like the last questions like, is this legitimate? Uh is this education? Is this an after school program? Is this social emotional learning? Is this what, what is this? What is this if it's not after? Does everyone go to college? And do they go to the best college so they can get the best job and make the best money.
It's like or get the most fame or it's like, we're just not even orienting around that. And so it makes sense that as a culture, it would be like, well, is this legitimate or is this like just a play school or after daycare or whatever the thing is, and it's like, no, it's just just reorienting the God's eye on the basket. And we're just doing it one day at a time together, but it's definitely not easy. It's not easy. I love that analogy.
Thank you so much. Now, I want to take a basket weaving class, very curious about a lot of work.
But it is, it is I threw my basket on the floor many times.
So as we kind of start to wrap up the episode, I think we've talked about so many different practices, strategies, values, things that people could be thinking about.
And so I'm curious for the listener who is taking it all in and thinking about, you know, I just want one step to start with, what would you recommend that someone do as they end the episode and and start to implement some of the stuff. What may be a first step for people to kind of live in alignment with what we've been talking about today?
Yeah, that's a good question. one that's really important to me. I would well, I would first ask myself, am I taking care of vulnerability in my life? And if the answer is, I don't know, then I would explore that. If the answer is no. Then I would say I would explore that and then if the answer is yes, then I would say, how do I get to know more of that?
Because with each one of us, our personhood is the greatest gift we can offer. And if people don't know what I'm talking about, a great person to read is Parker Palmer. on that where it's like you're... and and he's just one person, I mean there's many, many ancient teachings and many people out there now who are speaking to this, but it's like you're very present is a gift, so take care of it.
And it matters a lot. It matters a lot and it matters a lot and how you relate with youth because if you know your presence is a gift and you're taking care of it, then you're truly doing what education is at its root, which means to draw out, it means to draw out.
And if you don't know what's in you, how could you possibly, I mean, how could you possibly be, your very presence could draw out what's true and authentic in someone else, but it has to be true and authentic in new.
So I would start by doing that and if you are like, I don't know exactly what that means, then I would offer, if you are resonating with anything I'm saying, then I would go to SourcedDesign.org. That and that's spelled Source S O U R C E D design dot org. and there's a lot there about what I'm saying. All the way from taking, there's a whole section and it's all open sourced. So if you go to the curriculum part of it, you'll find so many resources that are there to support you and then if you're "Like oh God I'm really interested in this." Then we have sourced design labs and those are, we keep them very small and intimate.
We have 12 people from around the globe who really are just committed to working these principles together through their own individual projects in their place and that's another option, the fall is full but the winter is open so people could, you know, I think it's that on the ground, community mentorship and a personal practice.
Those are the three pillars for me that build a new way of life, whether that's a person or a community practice and mentoring learning from someone who inspires you. So I would say those are, those are three things that I would focus on.
That's amazing and I know this next question I like to ask just for fun. I know you've talked about so many things that you have learned or are learning, so I'm just curious we're all lifelong learners, every guest seems to be really excited about that development and that growth. Um So I'm curious to know what something you have been learning about lately. It could be related to education or it could be anything.
Yeah, I well I'm getting ready to facilitate co facilitate of course with an artist friend of mine that is called reimagining work in zombie culture.
So we're doing that.
Isn't that amazing with teens could be offensive, I understand, but welcome. so what I'm reading right now is the myth of Icarus and I'm also reading the Icarus deception by Seth Godin.
So if you're looking for a little bit of strength and like chutzpah to really step into your life, I would suggest the Icarus deception by Seth Godin and then maybe read the myth after or before. But but it really speaks to how it's our birthright to live the life that we came here to live and and it's just really yeah, really inspiring and I don't know when this will air, but if anyone's interested in that reimagining work in zombie culture, I've put out a call on linkedin to adults who are not offended by that, but who are really interested in who are either leading the life they want to live because I'm looking to bring in examples of people who are really engaged in like really meaningful, risky work in the world. And also an opportunity for adults to learn like if they don't know what I'm talking about, there's also room for adults to learn more about that through this course, So that's another option.
Yeah, but I'm loving it.
That is super cool. How fun and what a creative name, I love creative names and I think you shared some websites already where people can go to learn more information. Is there any other places that people should be able to go to connect with you or to connect with your school or anything we've talked about today.
Sure. So people can go um, to springhouse.org. That's well you, you'll learn all about Springhouse there and then to learn about the design. Like I said sourceddesign.org. Springhouse is on facebook. Springhouse is on LinkedIn. I think we're Twitter and Instagram too. We are definitely on those things. And you can find me on LinkedIn too, I'm there.
Awesome. Thank you so much Jenny for being on the podcast.
Thank you so much Lindsay. This has been such a pleasure. Thank you for doing the work in the world that you're doing. Thank you so much.
Thanks for listening amazing educators. If you loved this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me @lindsayblyons or leave a review of the show.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.