Priya Parkering School

Climate, Purpose, Generous Authority and Closure

“Gatherings crackle and flourish when real thought goes into them, when (often invisible) structure is baked into them, and when a host has the curiosity, willingness, and generosity of spirit to try.” Priya Parker

The way we gather…matters.

This year, more than any other in recent history, has reinvented the ways we gather. One thing that became abundantly clear: we do not need to gather more; we need to gather better. And, in many cases, we need to gather (and perhaps engage in many things ) less (see recent post -=+).

This is especially true in schools. The pandemic taught us that there are many ways to gather and to learn. As we finish this academic school year, we are deeply considering what school gatherings have traditionally looked like and what they could be.

Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering, digs into the topic of how we meet and why it matters. 

The big idea: invite students to learn 

Using The Art of Gathering as a guide, we have turned our attention to our own gatherings.  Priya Parker sees teachers as the original gatherers. Good classrooms invite learning with a vibe of inspiration, edginess, community, and purpose.

We had the pleasure of joining one of Priya Parker’s gatherings this year, and although she is an author and an expert in conflict resolution by profession, her gathering felt like the classroom of a great teacher. How can we make our gatherings, including our classrooms, feel like an invitation to our students for an exciting learning event?

Making big ideas usable: adopt a gathering mindset

  1. Climate setting

Rather than jumping right into instruction, taking time to acknowledge the climate of the class.  

“Your opening needs to be a kind of pleasant shock therapy. It should grab people. And in grabbing them, it should both awe the guests and honor them. It must plant in them the paradoxical feeling of being totally welcomed and deeply grateful to be there.” @priyaparker

In classrooms, such openings create belonging and can heighten both the experience and the outcome. Interactive rituals, even if brief, can help everyone exercise their voice and connect — to the bigger intention of the class, the specific intention of the day, and to each other’s individual intentions.

  1. Powerful purpose: why, where, and what are the rules?

Instinctively, we would be explicit about purpose if we were gathering a group of kindergarteners.

  • Why are we going on a field trip? To learn about dinosaurs.

  • Where are we going? To the Natural History Museum.

  • What are the rules? Stay with your partner, ask permission to touch an exhibit, and raise your hand if you have a question. 

We must ground everyone in the purpose of our gathering, every time we gather, even if it feels overly simplistic to do so. If we don’t, we leave open the chance for confusion.

Understanding of purpose comes from knowing: why are we here? where are we going? and, what are the rules for getting there? When students don’t feel lost, they can focus on their learning and their role in the success of the class.

  1. The host with the most…  “generous authority.” 

A misguided effort to make a gathering or class look effortless can have unintended consequences. Planning can be  associated with the uptight, enforcing rules with disciplinarians — neither are our first choice for a party host. But, the ability for a host, or a teacher, to truly relax, enjoy their gathering, to appear “chill,” comes from lots of preparation and a willingness to control.

A pre-considered plan that includes lots of optionality is the generous act of the host of a class or a party that allows the activity to move in a coordinated, yet flexible direction. Enforcing the rules of the gathering is allows gatherers to feel safe without the burden of being on guard.

  1. Leave them wanting (and knowing) more.

Most gatherings stop. They don't close.

A memorable closure doesn’t necessarily mean ending a gathering on a happy note. What is most important about the end of an event is the meaning we take away. Just as we set the climate at the beginning, closing with intention and reflection builds a shared understanding of the learning experience. Collectively and individually appreciating what we have accomplished (even if it wasn’t a happy outcome) allows us to anticipate and maybe look forward to what comes next. 

End with the things you want people to remember. Some ideas:

  • Tie an opening check in with a closing check-in to re-confirm empathy and connection: “What are one or two words that sum up your feelings about our time together?”

  • End with an appreciation, apology or aha to recognize the meaning made during the gathering. These can be out loud, or anonymously written on notes and read to all.

  • Leverage a climate of social-awareness to leave through a gratitude practice. Ask the group to acknowledge what they are thankful for with specificity. 

  • Create a collective energy and hold the group accountable through goal setting and organization. Use a shared planner, a calendar, or a to-do list to set next steps. Using participants can send their future selves a reminder of long-term goals.

  • Participants can share how they are going to reenter the world with the new information they’ve received from the gathering. Poetry, readings, take aways.

Looking inward is about taking a moment to understand, remember, acknowledge, and reflect on what just transpired. Turning outward is about preparing to part from one another and take your place in the world.

As we bring this school year to a close, join us in thinking of what’s possible when we invite students to learn by creating a gathering for their learning with the practice of an intentional host.  (In fact, literally join us this fall as we engage in an event hosted by BoogieDownBooks @boogiedownbooks.).

If you’re seeing this blog for the first time, you can read previous issues abs

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Would you like to read more? Another Big Idea and how to Make It Usable is here.