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The roots of deep change: Shift to meaningful connections at GIFTLearning

By Mitra Martin

In my first week at Princeton, freshmen were encouraged to have “conversations that matter.” We heard speeches and watched videos about this theme. But there wasn’t anything that helped an introverted girl like me discover how to actually access those kinds of conversations.

Agonizing over choices about what to major in, what kinds of summer jobs to look for, what type of career to move toward — I felt utterly alone. I can’t remember conversations with peers, professors, or advisors that helped me get closer to who I truly was, who I was becoming.

The experience a learner has at this graduate institute is completely different. The backbone of the Graduate Institute for Transformative Learning’s (GIFTLearning) Masters programs in learning and education is co-creative mentoring relationships between wise faculty mentors and energized learners, tuned toward revealing the potential of each learner.

What I find exciting is how deeply the pattern of emergent conversation infuses the whole culture of GIFTLearning. The school’s most long standing contributors live and breathe it, both modeling and facilitating the transformative one-on-one conversations that enable us all to tune into what wants to emerge through this institution — whether as board members, faculty, alumni, learners, administration, or advisory.

Renée Beth Poindexter

A culture in which leadership models deep, co-creative listening changes the game. The ease of having attuned one-on-one conversations, across roles, generations, levels of seniority, is fully embodied in our Transformative Learning Foundation’s Chair, Renée Beth Poindexter, who is catalyst of surprising and change-making conversations of all kinds.

Want to know more about GIFTLearning? Tour our new online space at this Free Virtual Open House


Paul Freedman

In his address as incoming president Paul Freedman invited us to be willing to receive, hear and hold each other’s deepest and most complex questions without attempting to solve them, offering a beautifully liberating practice to support this process.

Transformative one-on-one connecting can take place in many settings: sharing a car ride in traffic; asking someone question-after-question while sharing a meal; an epic, omnidirectional Zoom brainstorm and story-swap; a quiet walk in nature. Though I’ve only been a GIFTLearning board member for a few months, already I’ve experienced all of these. The resonance that has emerged between my life, and the possibilities inherent in this community, is so energizing.

Today, superficial connecting is easy to come by: mixers, meetings, meals shared with smartphones, tightly patterned socializing. Icebreakers may break the ice, but how to we find the bravery and space reach toward the depths? We need holistic learning environments that truly center relationship-based learning, more than ever.

I feel hopeful that a new generation of learning ecosystem designers will emerge from hotbeds of holistic learning like GIFTLearning, and help the Princetons of this world discover how to cultivate the kind of culture and social field that allows for the transformative connecting that our learners, and this planet, so deeply need.

Mitra Martin, Board of Directors, Transformative Learning Foundation

Mitra Martin is on the Board of Directors of the Transformative Learning Foundation, which oversees the Graduate Institute for Transformative Learning (GIFTLearning).

About Mitra Martin

Mitra Martin is the co-founder of the Oxygen Tango learning ecosystem in Los Angeles. From 2008-2018 she reinvented the way social dance was taught to adults by prototyping learning pattern innovations that leverage the power of cohorts, peer-to-peer learning, and self-paced experiential learning. Her courses and learning formats are now being used in communities across the U.S. She has led over 2500 learning sessions, including for Google, Ford Theaters, and Cal Tech, and has taught and performed all over the country. Her approach to learning experience design is deeply informed by her Montessori roots where she was both a learner and a teacher, and by the thinking of Chet Bowers and the work of Robert Gilman.

Want to know more about GIFTLearning? Tour our new online space at this Free Virtual Open House