Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Definite -v- Indefinite and Optimism -v- Pessimism

I was in an R&D meeting at school today.  During this meeting we were discussing the Map of the Decade, a 10 year outlook.  We were talking about the shifts that are happening and the impacts that these are going to make, and how these could or should affect education.

These discussions drew us to a book published last year by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters entitled Zero to One:  Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.  In this book the mindsets of societies and individuals are discussed.  These fall along the Optimist-Pessimist spectrum, about how a society thinks the world is going (getting better or getting worse) and the Definite-Indefinite spectrum, about how we are going to reach the future.

Scot Hoffman, our R&D Coordinator, related these to schools:

Indefinite Pessimism:  An ‘indefinitely pessimistic’ school looks out at a bleak future but has no idea what to do about it. For these schools the golden age is past; things are moving too fast; they don’t know what to do about the future or are hoping that somebody else can do something about it.

Definite Pessimism:  A ‘definitely pessimistic’ school believes that the future can be known and changed. However these schools approach the future by planning for the worst in order to weather the storms the future is bound to bring. This excludes planning to change the way things are.

Indefinite Optimism:  An ‘indefinitely optimistic’ school believes that the future will be better but they don’t consider how this will be so.  Instead of designing for the future, these schools focus on incremental change, improving efficiency and optimizing systems.

Definite Optimism:  A ‘definitely optimistic’ school believes the future will be better than the present. They pursue knowing what can be known about the future in order to take action. They envision what they want the future to be and how they might get there. ‘Definitely optimistic’ schools engage in creating big bold new things that will shape their future.

I think this can also be applied at the level of individual teachers within a school.  I have worked with people who look backwards and say "Things were better before when ....", or "Here's a new approach, but the pendulum will swing the other way again in a few years, so let me just keep my head down and sit tight and soon my method will be back in vogue again."  I've also worked with people who are ready to jump on a whole load of new initiatives without really changing or examining their underlying philosophy or pedagogy.

Of course, being in a school that has an R&D department, we hope that ASB is a definitely optimistic school.  We are studying and prototyping new teaching and learning approaches, transforming ASB for the future.

Photo Credit: tomylees via Compfight cc

Monday, October 26, 2015

Living with intention: passion, vocation, mission, profession

Last year in our Leadership PLC we discussed the hedgehog concept from Jim Collins' book Good to Great.  Collins writes about a hedgehog knowing and concentrating on one big thing, in contrast to a fox that knows many things and pursues many ends at the same time in a scattered or diffused way without a unifying vision. Central to the hedgehog concept is a deep understanding of 3 circles:
  • What you can be best in the world at
  • What drives your economic engine
  • What you are passionate about
At the time, our challenge as a Leadership PLC was to add a 4th circle: what the world needs. We talked about empathy, tolerance, understanding and compassion, and that an education that develops these values, that promotes international mindedness, is what the world needs.

And then a couple of days ago, in a post on Facebook, I came across the word "ikigai" and the graphic below.  Ikigai is a Japanese word - it means the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. It's what gives meaning and enjoyment to life.  This is what it looks like:

As you can see it contains the 3 hedgehog circles from Jim Collins, as well as the 4th circle that we discussed last year in our Leadership PLC.  Your "ikigai" is at the centre of all these circles.  It seems that at the core of a healthy and happy life is:
  • doing something that you love
  • doing something that you are good at
  • doing something that you are paid for
  • doing something the world needs
If you are intentionally doing all these things, it seems that you have found your "ikigai".

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Reinforcing, Reminding or Redirecting

In our staff meeting yesterday we were looking at teacher language. This was also a topic that came up last week during the Teacher Training Program that ASB runs one Saturday each month.

The first type of language is reinforcing:  this highlights the skills or attitudes that the students are displaying.  It's important to name the specific behaviours being observed, rather than making comments such as "Good job!", and often this reinforcing language applies to all students such as "Your backpacks have all been put away neatly."  This sort of language does not give personal approval - teachers don't say "I like how you ....." but it does reflect the goals and values of the classroom.

Reminding language can often be used to let students know what they need to do before something happens, though it can also be reactive.  Again this is based on clear expectations and is done in a calm way such as, "What do we need to remember when we line up so that we can walk out to recess safely?"

Redirecting language can be used when something is going wrong and we want the students to act differently.  Again this language is direct and specific and names the behaviour that needs to be displayed.  It is brief and always made as a statement, for example "Clean up your desk before sitting on the rug" or "Sit at a table so you can focus on your work."

At the staff meeting yesterday we talked about the power of teacher language using the Responsive Classroom approach.  Teacher language helps students to develop their own self-management skills as well as helping them to feel part of the classroom community.   There are a number of similarities between this language and the language of coaching.  The guidelines for teacher language are as follows:
  • Be direct and authentic - don't point out the behaviour of other children who are doing things right as this can lead to students simply behaving in order to win praise from the teacher, or can drive a wedge between the students.  
  • Show your faith in the students' abilities and intentions - when we show we believe that children want to do well, they are likely to live up to our expectations.  In Cognitive Coaching this is called "positive presuppositions".  When you notice positive behaviour it's important to name it and comment on it.
  • Focus on action - often we ask students to be respectful, but children have a hard time understanding what that means.  Instead focus on what action you want to see "When someone is speaking you need to listen."  Sometimes it's good to ask a question so that the student can come up with and name the positive behaviour him/herself.  Again as in Cognitive Coaching we talk about moving towards the desired state, Responsive Classroom does not dwell on the undesirable behaviour, but shifts towards to positive and shows the student what he or she can do.
  • Keep it brief - children understand more when we speak less.
  • Know when to be silent - pausing allows students to think.
Photo Credit: duane.schoon via Compfight cc

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dialogue -v- Discussion

I used to use the words dialogue and discussion interchangeably, but since sitting in on a Responsive Classroom session last month I've realized that they are actually two very different things. Dialogue is simply about understanding others' viewpoints, whereas discussion involves critical thinking in order to come to a decision. Let's consider these in more detail.

This is where members of a group or team inquire into their own and others beliefs and values, and as such listening - in particular listening to your own inner voice - is as important as speaking.  It's important that in dialogue ideas are able to flow without judgment.  When we start a dialogue we need to be able to "listen to our listening".  We need to check that we are not running though our own personal anecdotes in order to compose a reply, but instead listening to others and then deciding what the best course of action is. This could involve paraphrasing in order to check that everyone has the same understanding, asking a question to inquire further into the ideas of others, or putting a new idea on the table to widen the dialogue.

Dialogue is not about decision making.  Often poor decisions are made when there is not enough dialogue to build understanding, but instead a rush to action which leads to conflict. Misunderstanding is at the bottom of most group conflict, so going slowly during dialogue, can mean that when it's time to discuss and make a decision things can go quickly.   Dialogue, in fact, can and should produce "productive tension" - if we are not comfortable with this then we lose the opportunities to learn.

This is much more focused on proposed actions and solutions.  Often discussion is ineffective as it is simply a sharing of ideas without inquiring into the thinking and proposals of other team members. Sometimes decisions are made through voting or trying to come up with consensus, but without prior dialogue these decisions can be low quality and simply represent the ideas of the most vocal people in the group.  These decisions are not ones that the group as a whole has committed to, and therefore often don't stay made.  In a skilled discussion the focus is on one topic at a time, and the group is also committed to one process at a time.  The group facilitator needs to provide a clear structure and to keep everyone on track.  Effective group members are responsible for sharing knowledge and ideas and listening out for areas of confusion.  A discussion should not degenerate into a debate, where people take sides and challenge others, instead it should be a place where ideas are generated, organized, analyzed and a decision made considering the alternatives.  Some ideas will need to be eliminated so that stronger ideas can be decided upon.  It's important that these decisions are based on the ideas, not the individuals proposing the ideas - the group must collectively own the ideas and then shape them.

Understanding the difference between a dialogue and a discussion has already impacted my role in the various meetings I've attended over the past couple of weeks, as I've been trying to put my learning into practice.

Photo Credit: Marc Wathieu via Compfight cc

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Adapted -v- Adaptive

Right before our recent holiday, ASB hosted an Adaptive Schools Foundation Seminar.  Having already trained in Cognitive Coaching, I was keen to know more about Adaptive Schools, which has been described as cognitive coaching for groups.  Over the course of 4 days, ASB's teachers were presented with a model for creating and sustaining high-functioning professional communities.

Since this seminar was taking place right outside my office, I was lucky enough to be able to engage in some of the activities.  One discussion that took place early on was about how many occupations have gone through transitions in recent years.  Examples are:

  • Librarians have evolved from resource providers to learning facilitators
  • Hospitals have evolved from healers to health promoters
  • The police force has changed from law enforcement to focus on public safety
  • Schools are changing their focus from teaching to learning - and not just for the students.
Following this the participants were invited to consider the difference between the terms adapting, adapted and adaptive.  Adapting refers to making shifts to changes in the environment, but there are different sorts of adaptations.  One example that was shared was of the monarch butterfly which has evolved and adapted to very specific conditions.  Another example was that of deer or monkeys who have moved into urban areas and are now adapting to eat different food.  The butterfly is adapted, the deer and monkey are adaptive.  We talked about how schools need to be adaptive and how the goal of the seminar was to develop our capacity as collaborators and inquirers in complex systems.  Schools need to adapt to changes in order to deal with constant learning.  They are complex systems as when one thing changes it leads to a change throughout the system - we can't just come up with a technical fix for one thing.  Complicated systems are different from complex ones - they also have many parts, but in those systems it is possible to "fix" the parts.

A technical change will extend or refine a past practice while still maintaining the organizational way of working.  These sorts of changes can be implemented with current knowledge and skills.  Many changes in education have been these technical changes.  Adaptive changes, however end past practices and require new practices and new ways of working.  These changes require new knowledge and skills and  often challenge our values.

Teachers discussed the need to support the professional community in school to continually develop to improve student learning.  There is the need to ask on a regular basis who are we? why are we doing this? and why are we doing this this way?  We know the power of adult communities to impact student learning, and so important to develop a collaborative culture so that there can be a communal application of effective teaching practices.

Look out for more posts on Adaptive Schools.