You are standing at a place you’ve never been. All you have is a map, your brain, and a will to find out.
Your map doesn’t have the GPS voice saying, “Enter the roundabout and take the third exit.” Nevertheless, the map is a tool from which you can glean useful information to make your next move.
You have to think about what’s next. You prioritize, you consider solutions, you venture forth after thinking critically about numerous, possible consequences.
Inquiry learning in the classroom is like taking a road trip to a place you’ve never been. If you’ve traveled with open-ended itineraries before, you get more confident each time. You cease to obsess about controlling each and every circumstance. You find possible solutions, hypothesize about possible results of each move, and think critically toward the solution, which optimizes your goal.
But it’s hard to shift.
It may be easier to keep doing the same thing that we’ve been doing for many years. It’s a source of certainty, control, and comfort.
Kegan and Lahey (2009) suggest that the problem to embracing change is not a lack of motivation but the “inability to close the gap between what (people) genuinely, even passionately want and what (they) are actually able to do.” In their book Immunity to Change, they show that people and organizations create an immunity to change, a defensive set of strategies to keep from the uncertainty of change.
The authors posit that becoming adaptive to change is something that marks an organization for future success and sustainability. As problems become more complex, people and organizations need to respond with a corresponding complexity in the ways they respond to new, previously unseen problems.
That’s a characteristic of situations requiring an inquiring stance. Full of ambiguity, needing some letting go of control in the classroom, and uncomfortable.
It’s a situation that might result in an implementation dip while we learn how to approach teaching and learning through a cyclical, iterative and open-ended process.
If what we want is for shift in thinking to happen, what we need is support as teachers close the gap between what people want and what they can do. Literature on adult learning and development has suggested that at the heart of adult learning is the cognitive challenge to align individual trajectories for learning with environmental expectations (Drago-Severson, 2009; Kegan, 1982). Providing ‘holding environments’ is necessary to safely transport individuals through their learning trajectories without compromising their sense of identity as they approach efficacy within the environmental expectations (Drago-Severson, 2009).
Providing a holding environment in the midst of shifting thinking and practice has several layers. We need to support individuals’ and groups’ growing understanding of practice.
How do we create holding environments?
The concept of environments does not just describe the physical and material but also includes the psychological. In the midst of an implementation dip, we can do some or many of these:
- Provide a workshop targeting the gap
- Provide collaborative time to explore shared knowledge and understanding
- Provide collaborative processes to inquire into a range of solutions
- Provide non-judgmental coaching conversations as individuals embark on unique learning pathways
- Provide clear guidance on the vision and expected products
- Create a cognitive space where it is OK to experiment, and that it’s OK when something doesn’t work because it’s just another opportunity to try something else
The mindshift it takes to embrace ambiguity, take an inquiring stance and iterate on the way out of the implementation dip is a matter of thoughtful design of time and engagement. Perhaps providing safe opportunities to learn toward implementation are the first steps forward.
Drago-Severson, E. (2009). Leading adult learning: Supporting adult development in our schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Kegan, R. and Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to change; How to overcome and unlock the potential in yourself and your organization. Boston: Harvard Business Press.
Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self; Problem and process in human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
Featured photo: Safety sign © Arnel Manalang