What’s in Your Pockets?

For the past several years, my husband has been telling our children a continuing story of the time he was two inches tall. The story, which still has not ended, unfolds in his childhood home, and it has taken him from the bathroom sink drain, to rides on a June bug, to close encounters with a pet hermit crab. We never know where he will end up when he finishes an installment of the story. But we always know how he will start. He asks the kids to remember and list what things he had in his pockets when the story last ended. These assets have ranged from a piece of string, to dust from butterfly wings to a piece of pencil eraser. They will shape where the story goes, as he uses his assets to contend with the situations he encounters.

This is a good process, and an underused one, for approaching education too. How do we acknowledge, appreciate and use the assets that learners bring with them to the program? I have seen so many educators look for and describe deficits — what people don’t know, can’t do — as the reason for a learning program. The training is solving a problem, and it is a short leap to seeing the learners themselves as problems to be solved.

When we look for and describe assets — what people do know and can do — we move from problem-solving to “possibility-creating,” an idea that is powerfully described in John McKnight and Peter Block’s book, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods.  McKnight and Block describe the exchange of gifts as one of the core abilities of thriving communities. By starting with an acknowledgement and appreciation of what our learners have “in their pockets,” we are creating the space for this exchange of diverse gifts in our learning communities.


Guest Contributor Christine Little brings 15 years of experience in international organizational development, working with organizations on managing change and developing learning programs that work across cultures and across complex organizational structures. She has worked directly in 18 countries on five continents developing training, capacity building programs, strategy setting and change management processes at the community, national and international levels. Since being introduced to Dialogue Education™ in 2000, she has applied the principles and practices to the design of curricula, meetings, conferences and planning sessions discovering its relevance across many cultures, and for a variety of organizational processes beyond training. Christine lives in San Jose, Costa Rica with her husband Steve, and her two children, Jordan, 14, and Max, 11.