The Scharmer U Theory and the Development of Welsh Education (for Adults in the Community) – Dafydd Rhys, Adult Learning Wales
The late and pioneering Arfon Rhys is to be thanked for introducing me to the Scharmer U Theory in 2007. Broadly speaking, this theory of ‘change’ states that individuals, who are responsible for introducing change, must take a number of mental and preparatory steps before they are in a position to implement new strategy to its full potential.
These steps include letting go of the past and ‘presencing’ (connecting with the deepest source of yourself, imagining the future and letting it happen!).
I was co-working on a Welsh Education Project for those providing Adult Education in the northern counties of Wales. There were very few community courses for adults through the medium of Welsh. This needed to be changed in order to provide a full service for our learners and communities, and to implement the strategies of the Welsh Government, Welsh Colleges and the statutory Language Plan of our movement.
We had financial backing from the Welsh Government to implement the project that would transform the nature of the education that was being offered. With the setting of the vision and the policies, their implementation depended on eliminating the barriers, supporting and appointing tutors, and supplying the managers and development workers with the tools to implement and introduce the changes. Above all key staff had to be convinced that the changes were worthwhile, and ‘win their hearts’.
A website Welsh Education Toolkit was developed targeted mainly at the regional managers and development workers. The longterm success of the plan would depend on them because they were responsible for developing curriculums, appointing, and supporting tutors.
As well as providing linguistic demographic information and bilingual teaching methods etc. the Welsh Education Toolkit introduced Scharmer’s U Theory to help them understand the steps in the process of presenting change, and the importance of ‘presencing’ and imagining the future. The Scharmer U Model was adapted in the context of Welsh Education and we turned our logo (a wave) on its head symbolically:
Adaptation of the U Model
The project seen above was combined as practical research into my M.A., Leadership and Management in Further Education, which compared the barriers to developing Community Welsh Education for Adults with Native Education in North Dakota. The philosophical and multi-disciplinary context of the research was Senge, Scharmer and Habermas’s theories of change, the conceptions of ‘thought maps’ from the field of geography and an injection of post-colonial thought.
Also, a statistical way of measuring barriers and motivation were applied to the development of Welsh Education or Native Education(Obstruction-motivation Method). Before starting the project it was discovered that experts on the Welsh Language could see many more barriers to developing the provision than the organisation staff. When the questionnaire was re-introduced during the project it was discovered that the gap between experts and staff had narrowed to a certain extent, suggesting that they had a better understanding of the barriers and challenges.
In terms of the U Theory, it was suggested that this (a number of courses which survived the project period) was evidence that the staff had started on their transformational journey. They had redirected or ‘let go’ but, without, maybe, adopting in full the change agenda in every instance.
It is seen that the U Theory can be a flexible tool in facilitating and inspiring change, also providing a useful perspective to the change achieved. It was also useful to have other means of measuring the progress. It also highlights that adopting policies and strategies are not in themselves adequate. The ‘thought maps’ of individual actors must be considered at it must be ensured that any vision is a shared vision!