Recently at an Adaptive Schools® Seminar, the cohort was invited to think about fractals, which represent the patterns of being and behaving that construct the organizational behaviors of a group.
These invisible fractals are the calculus of the architecture in and through which we build our relationships and collaboration in organizations. Fractals are repeating patterns, wherein the resulting geometry is composed of the repeating patterns of the original pattern, but in more pronounced complexity.
When we think of the invisible fractals forming the patterns of an organization, we might find that as these patterns are constructed:
- We add things that we value
- We multiply the things we believe and that we assume are good for ourselves and our organization
Our beliefs, values and assumptions are the woof and warp of the organizational identity we weave.
We always weigh our actions and decisions against the assumptions we hold about learning and relationships in which learning is undertaken.
We may not do this deliberately. We may not do this by design.
If we did cultivate a deliberate architecture for the relationships that hold up learning in our schools, we would see…
- That we value relationships in how they support learning and meaning-making around learning.
- That we continually seek to improve the ways we communicate – listen and speak both verbally and nonverbally – so that our communication respects and values all perspectives and allows a balanced participation within our community, not just of the extroverts and those who process by talking
- That we presume positive intentions and seek to understand the contexts and personal learning trajectories of all individuals
- That we are open to the examination of our assumptions, beliefs and values as they pertain to and impact the ways we learn and teach.
The analogy in schools’ work
Each iteration of the ways we communicate and treat one another becomes a part of the patterns of our community.
When we have a pattern of talking over each other, we begin to groove this unproductive way of communicating into the very expression of our organization. When we allow ourselves to hold meetings in which advocacy rather than inquiry is the default stance, we create a culture of debate, of winners and losers, of one-upmanship instead of creating a culture where all ideas are valued and there is a healthy, balanced cognitive discourse where ideas may be shared, tweaked, challenged, evolved, co-constructed.
Patterns of being are great teachers. Wellman (2013) suggests that “Patterns are the ultimate teacher.” When we are not mindful of the ways in which we create the invisible fractals of our organization, what might we be teaching those who are members of our organization?
When we have a pattern of talking over each other, we might be teaching any or all of these:
- That only some ideas are valuable
- That idea generation is competitive
- That you, my colleague, have to try to beat me by talking over my talking, to be heard
- That this is a place where the loudest person can triumph
- Introverts need not apply
Imagine the new person who comes into this situation. How long before they begin to either withdraw from the conversations, or begin to compete for air time? How long before they experience frustration with this dynamic of communication? The answer might be: immediately.
What an exhausting and unproductive fractal. Repeat this pattern over and over, and the results might be a tangle of ideas and communication wherein few ideas reach shared understanding, few ideas evolve beyond the initial expression by whomever is loudest. There might have been other iterations of the ideas, more effective iterations, but these are already lost in the silence of those who are drowned by the loud. There might have been intended shared understanding, and perhaps there might be resulting coherent practices among the group, but this potential for coherence and consistency has not had the opportunities to emerge because members are busy competing to be heard, but the listening is missing. Perhaps one take-away we might have from this illustration is the importance of examining our intentions in the collaborative work we do, and choosing congruent behaviors to make that intention happen through the actions we choose. Perhaps to communicate well, we must seek to understand the fractals of our communication.
Why patterns are important
Although we have evolved to be social beings, we are not naturally able to get in a group and collaborate effectively without learning, without rehearsal, and without feedback. Just like all learning, we need design and planning, design and instruction, feedback from assessment.
If we are mindful that the architecture of our small meetings affect the overall patterns in our organization, we might find that deliberate study of the ways we talk and form relationships ultimately teach our community the ways we become.
And if we are the adults, what might we be teaching the children?