Coaching Community Innovation at the University of Montevallo

Dr. Meredith Tetloff’s advanced Social Work class.

On April 5th the DMC hosted a Moderator Development Workshop to discuss the issue of economic vitality, and what that looks like in Alabama as the state prepares to mark its bicentennial.

DMC Executive Director Cristin Foster moderated the Coaching Community Innovation workshop with Dr. Tetloff’s senior class in the University of Montevallo’s School of Social Work. Moderator Development Workshops are designed to build moderating skills and techniques, and to get participants thinking about ways that these skills relate to civic engagement within their own communities. The advanced seminar of twelve students came together to reflect on the unique obstacles that Alabama towns and cities must overcome on their way to creating economic vitality and ensuring equality of opportunity.

Using the DMC’s Moderator Development Handbook, Executive Director Foster introduced the students to the format of a deliberative forum and then, turning to the issue guide, led the group through the process of mapping existing assets and emergent challenges specific to their own communities.

Foremost among the challenges to building economic vitality that arose were the issues of substandard public education and lack of accessible transportation — both which came up repeatedly throughout a larger conversation that emerged organically on the socio-economic divide between rural and urban communities in Alabama. This geographic division was a persistent leitmotif among the personal experiences of the students, and the lack of public and private investment in rural communities was identified by the class as a premier barrier to creating economically vital places.

The students deliberated on three different approaches to addressing the dearth of economic vitality in their hometowns:

  • Making the community attractive to good and stable employers.
  • Preparing workers and communities to be more self-reliant.
  • Providing everyone in the community with opportunities for success.

By deliberating on these three approaches, the students were able to identify possible action ideas tailored to their own community’s needs and capacities. Rather than settling on any one approach as the solution, the students were able to extract their own ideas and hybrid solutions from the very process of deliberating on these three approaches.

Afterwards, the class was able to see the value of the deliberative method, along with the challenging work that comes along with becoming a neutral moderator and impartially facilitating a productive discussion among a diverse group.

We thank the University of Montevallo, Dr. Tetloff, and all of her students for their continued interest and thoughtful engagement with us.

If you would like to see a Coaching Community Innovation workshop in your community, classroom or workplace, please contact DMC Assistant Program Director Rebecca Cleveland at rcleveland@mathewscenter.org

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