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Critical Friendships, Reflective Practice, Words and Glue

Posted on February 16, 2015
By Elayne Greeley

I am fortunate to have a reflective practice with friends and colleagues who are thinking about thinking. It didn’t happen over night, it took a few years and this blog is a shout out to Ann McCann, Carol Myles, Kim Cole, Jeanette Laanning, Chris Driedzic, Debbie Hynes and Zack Marshall. Some of you have never met but collectively you all bring richness to my head and heart. I am so grateful.

Last month was the fourth January that I choose a word to reflect, draw and write about. What it physically looks like is a writing journal with collaged elements and by month 12 is worn, loved and an artifact of my thoughts.  In practice it is a thousand gentle and supportive conversations with critical friends. You are my audience of influence.

Enough 2012

I’m not enough. I am enough. I’ve had enough – enough is enough! I had no idea how challenging thinking about the word enough would be. I dove in with critical reflection, defining what it meant and set intentions. I noticed the word popping up all over the place finding myself talking about it with people I trusted. Talking about the word and what came along was hard, it required a greater level of honesty with myself – I had to admit my shortcomings and embarrassments to others and it started a huge conversation about what being a lifelong learner really meant. All the ugly stuff aside I was hooked. There were things that I really needed to talk and think about and looking back now I realize that I was seeking out a reflective learning community and what that actually means it that I was asking for help to learn. No messing around here – being honest changed the story. I learned to ask better questions which helped a great deal and advice for advice on how to do a thousand different things.

Plan 2013

Make a plan. Follow through with your plans. Plan to do it. Year two with a reflective word was different. I felt supported because I wasn’t on my own. Jeanette and Kim were loving their word reflection for the second year and Carol and Ann chose a word also. The word plan challenged me in a different way. At first I was agitated about the number of the deeply held beliefs that were surfacing, but month over month I could see my story. I made some simple but significant changes that year. I made lists and prioritized differently so that I could have more balance in my life. I literally had to plan for joy and fun. Life had become all earnest work and no creativity. I had to plan to take vacation days, plan to go out with friends, plan to see an art exhibit. It really was rotten and I had to get back to my own truths. I found a little image somewhere that year and it said, “Remember who you have already fallen in love with.” The quote was a creative challenge one month to pay attention to little wisdoms. It was so funny because I found them everywhere that month. I was becoming more open and paying attention in a different way. I noticed that I was taking more risks and making small bets to be different in my thinking.  A brilliant element developed – our informal learning community became accountable to one another. The many gentle conversations happened. We were making time for our words and intentions and it all was leading to trusting critical friendships.

Measure 2014

I was looking for proof last year. I’d take evaluation workshops for the past year and it was making me curious for evidence.  The collaborative was maturing and was requiring new skills and thinking.  I was stretching further than I knew I could and the small bets were turning into bigger projects like evaluation activities and reporting. As is always the case, I took on more than I had the skills for brain power for. What do you do when you don’t have any idea? Pull in the people who know. And so I did. I pulled in trusted colleagues and learned by doing. I measured and counted and determined how to present learning. By the end of my year I realized that I am an expert generalist. It was an epiphany truth be told. I realized that a good partnership broker has skills that are broad so that they can drive the common goals of the collaboration. 2014 was a perfect storm of counting and illustrating impact. I fully admit that I have caught the evaluation bug – I’m a geek, who knew? And who doesn’t want proof of impact and change in their communities.

Space 2015

I‘m not quite finished with measure but I’m not finished with plan or enough either. The lovely thing about words is that they don’t go away.  They integrate into your thinking and become a special lens that you take out of your pocket when you need it. When I feel insecure about an area of my work, I figure out how to measure it then I can know for sure. I am not even sure about the word space​ for this year. I found it in my journal last year and I was curious. It isn’t so important the work you pick. What is important is that you pick them and reflect to grow and learn how your mind works. You challenge your assumptions and find critical friends who ask smart, wisdom offering questions.

Some of the fantastic words that my audience of influence have chosen over the years are: prickly, breathe, peace, complete, change, authority, feather, content, judgment, purpose, power, savour, strength, imagine and finish.


One Little Word:

Collective Impact, Community Innovation

Elayne Greeley

By Elayne Greeley

Elayne Greeley is a community developer and partnership facilitator through the Community Career and Employment Partnership (

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