Metasaga Tales

Event Leadership and Learning in Education Metasaga
When September, 2009
Where Country House in Central Scotland
Who A small group of leaders in education on a learning journey

Metasaga Guide Lesley Wilson, Dreamcatchers

The assignment began as a request to work with a small group of
leaders in education across Scotland to explore and gather the learning
that was emerging as a result of a study visit to the US earlier in the
year. Specifically, a focus was to understand the impact of the visit at
individual, organization wide and sector levels. It should also seek to
add value to the design of future study visits and enhance leadership
development for those participating.

The project was designed around an appreciative approach gathering
information through taped conversations with each participant. We
considered what happened in the lead up to the study visit, during it
and what had happened in the months since return from the trip. We
then gathered as a group for a day of conversations to make sense of
the learning. Towards the end of the day, we moved to considering the
future development needs of each participant.

To stimulate some different thinking, I designed a short metasaga
through the grounds of the old house where the event was being held.
It sat in parkland and there was an interesting history to the area,
the house and grounds.

We wrapped up well and headed for the front door, stepping out into
the world.

Stop 1-The House
Built by a successful industrialist for his son on the event of his
marriage in the early 20th century, the house was welcoming,
manageable and elegant. A lot of care and attention had gone into the
arts and crafts design and it had many modern conveniences for the

It is a house that has changed hands several times and is now a
wedding and conference venue and it has adapted well. It was build as
a man’s legacy and gift to his son.

To begin this metasaga some questions for the group were:

What is your legacy to your organization and/or the sector or what
would you like it to be?
What are you building towards? What is your plan?
What do you lavish time and attention on?
How adaptable are you in the face of change?

The conversations began slowly at first as we each reflected on our
experiences of change or recent changes we had instituted. The
questions built on some of the discussions we had been having earlier
in the day.

Stop 2-The Terrace
We walked around the house and onto the south facing terrace
overlooking a well structured garden. On the terrace our eye was drawn a summerhouse from which there was opportunity to appreciate the house. Some questions were

What is the structure that supports you in your life and work?
What do you focus your attention on?
When did you last stand back and appreciate the opportunities and
challenges from a different perspective?

Although the garden was past its best, we explored the possibilities
each season offered.
The metaphor of the seasons has similarities to the cycle of change.
Spring-preparing the ground, sowing the seeds of change
Summer-appreciating the blooms, maintaining the garden, some
autumn planting
Autumn-harvesting to gain benefit from all the effort, preparing the
garden for the next year
Winter-a fallow time in the garden, a time for renewal and a chance to
take stock before planning the next year for the garden. Often some
wonderful shows of colour appear and the first signs of the new year’s
growth provide a lift to the spirit in the darkest days of winter.

Stop 3-The Walled Garden
The walled garden was viewed through a locked gate. It was a sad,
neglected sight made sadder by the fact that at one time this was a
very productive area and could be again with care and attention. The
conversation that ensued raised some big issues for leaders in

What do we do when staff cease to be productive? Do we let them lie
fallow or do we seek to re-engage them?
What can we do to support people at times when new growth seems
Something that happened in the past?
What are the assumptions that we, as leaders, make when staff do not
perform as we would wish? If we were gardener,s what would options
would be open to us?

These questions slowed the group down and they became more
reflective as they considered their own responses and their own
organizations responses.

Stop 4-The Secret Garden
We walked on and came to a break in the hedge and stepped into a
very different place-almost a secret garden, hidden away, untidy and
natural unlike the structured garden we had just left. We discovered a
woodland water feature and some stange, almost ugly, plants. Like
children we were drawn deeper into the garden by our curiosity. We
stepped off the path and explored. As we did this, questions bubbled
to the surface:

What is it that makes us curious? When did we last feel the curiosity as
we did when we were children?
What draws us away from the set path?
How do we change as we move away from safe territory?
What treasures might we discover if we were brave enough to step off
the track?

I shared a phrase that resonates with me-the joy of getting lost
because if we don’t deviate from the set path we are likely to miss
something amazing. For many of the participants the study visit to the
US had provided a taste of being unsettled, curious and more open and
this had been a great feeling but do we need to create more of this
sense of uncertainty or not knowing.

Stop 5-The Cracked Pot
In the secret garden, we came across a broken urn which triggered a
story that a friend shared with me.
The story is set in Africa. An old lady walks several miles each day with
a pot on each shoulder to the water hole where she fills the pots with
water and she brings this back to her family. One of the pots is perfect
and is full at the end of her journey whilst the other pot is cracked and
water leaks out so that it is only half full when she gets back to the
The pot is concerned. It says to the lady that it is leaking water and
she may want to replace it with a new pot. She says she is happy with
how things are. Over time, the loss of water continues and again the
pot raises its concerns with her. The old lady reassures the pot saying
‘Have you noticed the green shoots that are growing all along the
route from the watering hole? There is new growth and it is welcome’.

This story began a conversation with some key questions:

What do we seed along the way in our leadership roles?
Do we consciously seed ideas or do we trample new growth as it starts
to develop?

The formal part of the metasaga concluded and the group dispersed in
one’s and two’s to reflect on the day we had spent together. We
agreed to meet up in half an hour for a closing conversation.

As we shared what had been significant for each of us some further
questions were highlighted from our walk in the garden.

What is it that I am seeking to create?
How do I find the courage to know when to step away from the path?
How can I increase my awareness of what impact my actions and
behaviours make?

Participants then spent time journaling and reflecting on what next for them on their leadership journey.