The power of ideas and a leadership development mindset

“… a big thread that runs through Dr. Wolfensberger’s work is his belief in the power of ideas …” 

“One big thrust of Dr. Wolfensberger’s work was the identification of promising people (especially young ones), recruiting them, and developing them … Dr. Wolfensberger truly believed the fundamental premises of the development model, as taught in SRV, about people’s capacity to grow, to meet high expectations, to do more than they were thought capable of, and he tried to put these ideas into practice.”

(The above quotes are taken from a talk given by Susan Thomas at the 2011 International SRV Conference in Australia; this talk was later published in the December 2011 issue of The SRV Journal.)


Even with his prodigious output–in writing, university teaching, workshop training, conference presentations and public lectures, study group sessions and informal conversations–Wolfensberger knew that the power of his ideas laid out in Social Role Valorization, Citizen Advocacy, the ‘moral coherency’ and the ‘sanctity of life’ workshops, needed to be shared and needed to be implemented if they were going to make a positive difference in the lives of vulnerable societally devalued people and groups. For decades, he thought deeply about how to help other people learn these ideas and put them into action. He was committed to developing other people to become teachers of these ideas, and further with developing people who could teach others how to be teachers, so that the ideas would be taught to many people in many different locations, for example, and would likely continue to be taught even after he was gone.

The various ways that his efforts continue to bear fruit are more than can be covered in a single blog post. One particular way though which I want to focus on in this post centers on an approach which Wolfensberger used around several of his longer teaching events, and which is also now being used in Australia specifically around SRV-10 leadership level workshops. Wolfensberger was deeply involved in two separate study groups based in North America, one studying his workshop on ‘how to function with personal moral coherency in a disfunctional human service world,’ and another group studying the workshop on ‘crafting a coherent stance on the sanctity of all human life.’ One of the concrete ways that Wolfensberger helped these two groups of trainers and students to deepen their understanding of the ideas taught in these respective workshops was to go through the relevant workshop material with each study group, section by section, slowly and methodically, sharing background material, stopping for questions and discussion, outlining the key ideas and connections between sections, highlighting universal principles, etc. This is a tried-and-true method of learning content with an eye toward acquiring mastery (e.g., small group with both motivation and dedication, practice, repetition, discussion, using a common set of materials, mutual feedback, etc.). Both of these groups continue to study the workshop materials in this fashion, among other related learning efforts. For example, from these two groups, some smaller local study groups have subsequently formed that are taking a similar approach to studying the material (either around ‘moral coherency’ or ‘sanctity of life’).

As mentioned above, one of Wolfensberger’s concerns was building up the capacity to conduct leadership level SRV-10 events with fully trained SRV teachers. This remains an ongoing concern in some circles in North American, Australia and New Zealand. In response to this issue, one specific and concerted effort in Australia to intensify leadership-development training opportunities for a small group of people, similar to that described above regarding the ‘moral coherency’ and ‘sanctity of life’ workshops, has been started and will have its first session of methodically going through the SRV workshop material beginning June 4, 2012. John Armstrong, a long-time SRV trainer in Australia and correspondent with the North American SRV Training, Development and Safeguarding Council, is helping to lead this effort. In an email, John shared the following with me: “We have some really keen people here, eager to take advantage of this opportunity, and we suspect there are more waiting for a crack at this.” The basic idea is to eventually hold five SRV-10 workshops over a two and a half year period. By the time members of this small group have gone through these five workshops, each trainer-candidate will have taught every SRV workshop module once. Members of the group will also be receiving and giving feedback on their teaching of the material. This effort will lay the ground work for these trainer-candidates to continue to learn and to teach SRV, and hopefully to gain even more practice, mentoring and feedback from other trainers in Australia and North America where SRV-10 workshops are regularly held. Ideally, this will be a big boost for each of the trainer-candidates specifically as well as to the larger SRV teaching movement in Australia, New Zealand and North America.

Joe Osburn, an SRV trainer and member of the North American SRV Council, is attending the first of these five workshops in Australia, as a way of offering his long-term experience and expertise with SRV training, and of building and deepening connections among those learning and teaching Wolfensberger’s ideas.

As I get updates on this effort, I will share in future posts. As I wrote above, this is just one exciting example of the fruits of Wolfensberger’s ideas and his emphasis on leadership development. My hope is that others will continue to learn from his ideas, use his ideas, develop his ideas, and also will learn from his open and generous support of developing leaders. In future posts, I will describe other ongoing leadership development efforts, such as local SRV study groups active in different locations, and the ‘trainer formation model‘ developed by the North American SRV Council.

Marc Tumeinski

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