Editorial: The Table of Knowledge (T.O.K.)

by Dr. Jill Klefstad - UW Stout

Happy New Year!  While I realize this is a phrase we use in January, not September, the start of a new school year does resemble the beginning of a new year in many ways. Teachers spent time in the summer exploring new subject matter they will teach. They may also have re-designed teaching strategies and practices to improve their personal and professional relationships with students and colleagues.

This summer I was fortunate to spend a great amount of time ‘up north’ at a campground that resembles somewhat of a ghost town during the week.  I enjoyed the quiet and solitude but also appreciated getting to know other campers from various professions and careers. More than once I was humbly reminded how fortunate I am to be a teacher who is granted time in the summer to regroup, rethink, and relax before embarking on another year.

Similar to beginning the month of January resolutions are emerging on a list for September. These September declarations may be easier to fulfill then those in January because of their professional focus. For example, this fall my goals include items such as writing daily, reading more scholarly articles, and developing techniques that engage students in learning.  This is in contrast to January goals that have a more personal flavor that include losing ten pounds, exercising more and eating healthier.

Conversations are always intriguing to me because if one listens carefully, there is much learning that takes place. The new insights shared sometimes become another goal on my list of resolutions.  This summer I had the privilege of having numerous conversations with a man known at the campground simply as Spike. Spike is a professional maintenance man that makes a living solving and fixing other people’s problems.  He is the first to assist in disposing of mice in my camper, fix my broken hydraulic hoists on my bed, help me remove brush and shrub to create a pathway and construct a wooden step to the camper. Spike certainly carries many of the same dispositions of a teacher: compassionate, respectful, trustworthy, industrious and creative. Like a teacher, he has a heart of gold and delights in helping others.

One of the greatest gifts Spike gave to me this summer was the gift of his time. During those moments, when we were engaged in conversations about anything and yet, nothing, I was struck by Spike’s wealth of knowledge acquired from the experiences he has had. When I asked him how he got so smart he replied that although age made him wise, his daily visit to the Table of Knowledge (T.O.K.) makes him even more astute. Upon further inquiry I discovered that the T.O.K. was a gathering of a group of men each morning in a coffee shop. The topics discussed varied from the top news of the day to personal experiences of these eight men. I listened as Spike spoke how important that time in his day is and how these men have grown to rely on one another and support each other.

In the past, I have been told that the greatest tribute to another person is to adopt their idea or thought and make it your own.  Spike’s adventures at the table of knowledge made me realize how important a T.O.K. could be as a means to foster collaboration with colleagues and students. It is intriguing to envision a place to gather together to share ideas and thoughts in a safe environment.

The concept of a table of knowledge is meaningful if you stop to think about the purpose a kitchen or dining room table serve.  As a child, I recall the table being the gathering place that occurred each day when we ate together as a family. It is rewarding as a parent to pass on those traditions to my own children as they grow up. Even now, when my kids return home, either alone or with their friends, we meet around the table where deep conversations occur. In a very real sense the table is a table of knowledge represented by togetherness, respect, and understanding.

This semester, with support from administrators, my colleague and I are beginning a T.O.K. on campus that will be held twice a month. We imagine this as a time where faculty and staff can come together to share ideas and thoughts, support one another, and learn from the wisdom and experiences of each other. In addition, it is my intent to create a T.O.K.  for the M.E.N.’s organization this fall.

As I begin my preparation for the T.O.K. there are certain principles I came across in regards to managing conversations.  From the document, A Resource Guide for Hosting Conversations that Matter, the following principles were shared: 1) Create hospitable space, 2) Explore Questions that Matter, 3) Encourage Each Person’s Contributions, 4) Connect Diverse people and ideas, 5) Listen Together for patterns, Insights, and Deeper Questions, and 6) Make Collective Knowledge Visible. These principles will serve as guidelines and a framework for the T.O.K.

Happy New Year!! As this New Year begins perhaps one of your resolutions will be to reach out and give the gift of time to a colleague and student. All you need are two chairs and a table.

[MenTeach: Dr. Jill has been working to increase and retain men in her education program. We asked her to write about her experiences as a woman facilitator. You can find the other articles here.]

Brown, J., & World Café  (2002). A Resource Guide for Hosting Conversations that Matter at the World Café.
Retrieved from: http://www.meadowlark.co/world_cafe_resource_guide.pdf
 
OLDWAYS (2011).  The Psychological Significance of the Kitchen Table . Retrieved from: http://oldwayspt.org/blog/psychological-significance-kitchen-table

Participedia (2013). Kitchen Table Conversations. Retrieved from http://participedia.net/en/methods/kitchen-table-conversation.