Scripts! The Surprising Scaffolding Of The RoundTable


Over the last several years, the International Society of Systems Science has offered a daily morning “Reflection RoundTable” for participants who attend their weeklong annual conference. The ISSS version is an application of the GEMS RoundTable, an activity conceptualized drawing from my experience as a career teacher, educational and organizational social systems literature, and successful real-time models. The RoundTable was field-tested and refined by a half dozen interested fellows of the International Systems Institute (ISI), then investigated in my dissertation project in four fourth grade classrooms at Pennekamp and Foster Schools in Los Angeles County. The RoundTable was found suitable for schools, workplaces, and other social systems, and promising as a user-friendly program for systemic renewal. Systemic renewal is defined as: first, awakening new energy in people and social systems; second, possessing three minimum sufficient conditions for systemic change/renewal: (i.e., ongoing–e.g., daily, weekly, monthly; inclusive–of everyone in the system; and emancipatory–accelerating positive learning. A group of us are currently investigating it in our schools and workplaces.

RoundTable sessions are designed to last 30, 45 or 60 minutes, and to be used regularly (i.e., daily, weekly, monthly), depending on users’ schedules and preferences. A 30-minute RoundTable session consists of 5 minutes of readings or scripts (i.e., Facilitator Guide, RoundTable Guidelines) including a topic of the day. This leaves 25 minutes for individual comments or learning reports–time distributed equally among all present. Each session is facilitated by a different volunteering RoundTable participant. The co-operated RoundTable is not to replace, but to be used alongside, other agenda development methods: the lecture model, cooperative learning, whole language, dialogue, design conversation, etc.

The use of written scripts for the RoundTable facilitators is a surprise–especially for sophisticated learners. Scripts recall the rote reading of papers, or the memorization of reductionist lists or names, no longer valued in educational theory and practice. Some of our first questions are: Will the use of scripts be intrusive, boring, or stifling and repel people from the RoundTable? Or will there be advantages in scripts that transcend their limitations and accelerate emancipatory learning? Further, when and under what conditions are scripts rote? Stifling? Under what conditions are they emancipatory? We set aside our assumptions in an attempt to experience the RoundTable without preconceived ideas. Many and surprising advantages to the RoundTable rote readings were revealed.


Namely, the scripts were found to be:

• A tool for peer leadership.

      They allow rotating facilitation. Even a novice can facilitate.

• Surprisingly unintrusive.

      They allow all participants and facilitators, novice or expert, to direct their attention to the content of the RoundTable, rather than the process.

• Variety of a different sort.

      Even though the same readings may be read at every session, there is a variety of a different sort. As listeners, we hear the scripts (facilitator guide and 5 readings) read by a half dozen different people every session, and frequently act as reader ourselves. We experience the different reading styles of our fellow members and silently evaluate the effects of each style. In the ISSS application, at the end of five days, group members will have experienced 30 people as RoundTable facilitators, instead of only one. We may experience a new “take” on leadership qualities, moving towards stewardship as we note that our reading is of service in this way to fellow listeners.

• Time saving.

      The rote reading takes less time, which increases learner access to these organizing principles by increasing quantity and frequency of review. In fact, rote readings take less than ten minutes of the RoundTable. Moreover, the RoundTable takes only 60 minutes of the group member’s day.

• Time for reflection.

      The rote readings can be a welcome change, a chance for the group member to silently reflect on the topic, his/her own inner thoughts, or the meaning of the readings’ words, and to consider if other words might be more effective.

• Easy to co-design and improve.

      Because the scripts are written texts, the RoundTable management, agenda, and curriculum can be co-designed by the whole group. They can be improved and modified to condense more information as the group increases in maturity and expertise. This is perhaps the most important benefit of the script. It fosters and documents a simple form, method, and means for conscious guided evolution. With this in mind, the “RoundTable Guidelines” are intended to be scripts for a Level 1, Introductory or General RoundTable. A Level 2 RoundTable uses scripts selected or written by the users around their more specific purposes.

• Robust and harmonious principles for organizing group learning.

      In fact, users can select words for the readings that are their valued precepts to live and learn by, thus effortlessly preserving and evolving their group affirmations, core values, decisions and behavior.

• Accelerating to individual and group learning.

      The organization’s valued principles, read every session, are more quickly acquired and evaluated by individuals and more easily modified by the group.

• A new model for facilitation.

    Traditional facilitators might refer to notes secretly, but they aim to appear spontaneous and establish frequent eye contact with listeners. On the contrary, the RoundTable facilitator reads the scripts openly for many benefits. Facilitating-by-reading minimizes eye contact to avoid diverting listeners from their own silent reflections on the readings and topic. Facilitating-by-reading models a new value of “reading” over “improvising”: Reading the group-designed script or outline corresponds with doing the will of the group, which is the RoundTable facilitator’s role. In fact, the expert RoundTable facilitator reads overtly, avoiding making eye contact, in order to model the new method for future RoundTable facilitators. Facilitating-by-reading more fully transcends traditional models of “sage on the stage” to reflect a stewardship model, “guide by the side” or even “peer in the rear.” Spontaneity and improvising, not desirable in the RoundTable facilitator roles, are encouraged and cultivated in individual learning reports. Of course, when a RoundTable facilitator has the urge to improvise in the role of facilitator, this is of great interest! The facilitator may choose to improvise (if it does not take any time). More importantly, he or she should make note of the improvisation to bring up in the RoundTable redesign meeting as it suggests that something of value could be added to the facilitator script! In short, (too late!) while scripting may initially seem wasteful of the expertise of our expert facilitators, the opposite is true! Group-designed evolving scripts may help us secure, preserve, and distribute the expertise of our experts. Scripting can help transform our group roles of leadership into roles of stewardship. It can facilitate conscious guided evolution.

DISCUSSION. It is clear that facilitator scripts can be a highly evolved technique in peer-leadership. Consider that the RoundTable effectiveness does not depend on certificated or degreed individuals as does old paradigm “bureaucracy.” It does not depend on very skilled peer-members, as does “cooperative learning” (Johnson, 1975). It does not depend solely on its enlightened principles, as argued in “Principle-Centered Leadership” (Covey, 1991). Finally, it does not depend on charismatic leaders, whose skills are not replicable. In fact, the RoundTable session effectiveness resides, not in the intangible qualities of a skilled facilitator, but in photocopiable and modifiable scripts, easily managed by an average human being, easily co-designed by the whole group. The value of the RoundTable scripts is foreshadowed in Banathy’s work in education and social system design. Banathy’s offers statements of learning outcomes which tell “what the learner will be able to do and know” and which serve “as a guide to the learner and to those assisting the learner,” (1991, p. 99). Banathy suggests statements to act as group “guardians” in design conversation (1996, p. 146.)

All this calls to mind McPherson’s observation that neither the few destructive laggards nor the handful of brilliant performers are the key to organization health. Instead he urges attention to the “care, feeding, and unshackling of the average man” (Peters, 1982, p. xxii). The word average is interesting. Average often means mediocre, second-rate, inferior. I argue that these meanings are common assumptions of bureaucracy or meritocracy. I find other nuances in McPherson’s use of the word average: meanings such as, natural, common, humble, noble, dignified. These meanings seem more consistent with true democracy. In this context, the RoundTable meeting folder and script are easily co-designed by the whole group, so attention is given to the care, feeding, and unshackling of the average group. The groups I am thinking about are the members of the ongoing meetings/classes in schools, workplaces, professional societies (such as ISSS), any social system whose members choose to add a RoundTable to their routines.

However, let me be clear that myt argument for scripts is NOT that these or other human groups are average. On the contrary! These cutting-edge communities–ISSS, faculty groups– and other communities are clearly not average! They are exceptional in their search for new efficient group methods that facilitate conscious guided evolution. My argument for the value of scripts builds on Berliner’s findings of expert teacher’s classrooms where he concluded that “shared, scripted, virtually automated pieces of action …. allow [participants] to devote their attention to other, perhaps more important, matters… ” (Berliner, 1996, p. 5).

I am in awe of this potential of scripting! So, I return to the questions proposed earlier and suggest new questions: Can we transcend the apparent problems of scripts? Can the potential advantages of the rote readings balance out the apparent unattractiveness? At the least, can we create “scripts” that are useful organizing principles which accelerate our learning without being off-putting? At the most, can we create scripts that emancipate and inspire us? that help us secure and preserve the expertise of our experts? that help transform our group roles and values of leadership into roles of stewardship? that serve as helpful tools for conscious evolution? Can our scripts become the sacred rituals that unite a community? Let us prepare to leap out and remain open to all possibilities.

Banathy, B. H. (1996). Designing social systems in a changing world: A journey toward a creating society. New York: Plenum Press.
Banathy, B. H. (1991). Systems design of education: A journey to create the future.
Berliner, D., (1986, August/September). In pursuit of the expert pedagogue. Educational Researcher, 15, 5-13.
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications.
Covey, S. R. (1992 ). Principle-Centered Leadership. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Gabriele, S. F. (2003) “The RoundTable for School Learning and Planning Groups: A Seed for Systemic Renewal” Kybernetes: The International Journal of Systems & Cybernetics. 31: 9/10
Johnson, D. W. (1975). Learning together and alone: Cooperative, competitive and individualistic learning. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Peters, T. J. (1982), In Search of Excellence. New York: Harper and Row.


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