adaptive schools

It’s About Time

Now that another academic year is drawing to a close, it’s a worthwhile reflection to think about how we have used our time to focus on learning.

It’s about time.

A school year for an international school runs for an average of 180 days. That’s only 420 minutes of learning opportunities structured in a day, and a total of 75,600 minutes of structured opportunities to learn in a school year.

When a school is not deliberate about designing how to use time effectively to maximize learning, the ultimate losers are students.

How do schools waste time, and what might be some ways to regain time in the next school year?

How Schools Waste Time

Ineffective use of allocated meeting time

If faculty groups meet once a week, this translates to around 36 meetings in a year. This is about 36-45 hours to make sure that there is a shared and common understanding of complex knowledge, such as how to write statements of understanding; how to plan units; standardizing criteria; how to effectively teach for transfer; developing progressions of learning; flagging concerns for intervention and developing interventions systematically. The list is endless of complex work that faculties have to revisit, resolve, and enact.

Ineffective meetings can put a halt to this complex work. Characterized by nostalgic monologues, tirades of problems without offering alternative solutions, and other soliloquy that are just plain resistance to change.

Procrastination of one becomes procrastination for the rest

Timelines are artifacts of interdependence. The actions in a timeline represent everyone’s success, and when one person or department drags the work back, it affects many others and their ability to successfully achieve something. So, one person procrastinating and/or resisting work effectively halts the group’s success.

Disregarding systems

Systems and structures in place ensure consistency and accountability. After all, school is predicated on a promise that the children we have in our care will learn and achieve [insert standards here] in any given school year.

Ignoring a system and its structures puts this promise at risk. Say a parent doesn’t like one of his child’s teachers, and he goes to another teacher who teaches the same subject without informing the current teacher of his child of his intentions. He asks to put his child in the second teacher’s class. This breach of communication lines for intervention creates a situation of conflict. Now someone has to mediate between the two teachers. Now someone has to spend time repairing the relational damage that has been done. All because a systemic procedure was disregarded (not to mention professional courtesy).

Drillers

Remember that famous anonymous analogy of organizations as a boat with everyone rowing? Well, sometimes we get people who are in the boat with everyone else and they hold drills in their hands. And they drill holes in the boat whilst everyone else rows.

Drilling can happen in many ways. One of the most unproductive behaviors that can drill holes in a boat is what the literature sometimes terms ‘parking lot meetings.’

Parking lot [or hallways or coffee break] meetings are essentially gripe sessions that have no other purpose than to not solve a problem. These private conversations usually do not involve the decision makers of the organization, so nothing gets done as a result except creating feelings of bad faith in the work.

Silos

So much research has been done on effective professional development and networking thinking. Standards for school implementation of programs like the IB, for instance, specifically ask schools to enact collaboration. The benefits of collaboration reflect the parallel pathways of globalization and the increasing need to nurture interdisciplinary problem-solving. After all, we know that problems aren’t subject-specific. World problems move back and forth across disciplinary lines. These interdisciplinary global issues necessarily ask of education to enact contextual resolutions in the simulations of the real world which teachers design into assessment tasks.

So when we insist on closing the door, ask people to remain within imaginary boundaries between subjects or departments, we invite obsolescence.

So how do we avoid these pitfalls given the fact that we understand the limits of time for co-constructing the school experience for our students?

Ways of Regaining Time

Use protocols, expect products

People have studied dynamical systems, which school is one. Adaptive SchoolsSM and its parent organization Thinking Collaborative have developed ways to use protocols to design the contact architecture for productive collaboration.

Clear expectations of what we want to achieve during a collaborative meeting helps to focus our work and supports the use of limited time.

Develop and clearly communicate timelines

Clear timelines for implementation is a necessity. Action plans, calendars and similar tools are readily available for faculty groups to use as they enact goals.

Breaking down large goals into manageable chunks of work help us to prioritize and celebrate incremental wins toward the big goal. Strategies like the target board and Gantt time management tools are useful tools in developing clear timelines.

Clearly communicate systems and how they work

Conscious thought as an interdependent individual is vital. Recognizing that as independent agents, our own capacities and work impact the effectiveness and success of others is a trait of people who are interdependent.

Communicating the ways that individuals’ work relates to the work of the group helps in increasing this mental resource of consciousness and supports thinking toward becoming more aware of how our own inaction impacts the direction and journey of others.

We may also be mindful of the implementation dip and support each other as we learn to rise above the temporary dip.

Invite drillers to stop drilling and join the ones who are rowing

Often, drillers are not aware that they are drilling. They might think they are being helpful. Pointing out the differences between productive talk (putting ideas on the table, presuming positive intentions) and unproductive talk (rumor and complaint) might help drillers to increase awareness on how the ways that they communicate affect the ways the work progresses in positive or negative ways.

Build in collaborative time and communicate expectations for implementation, work on collaboration and operationalize a way of being

Breaking down silos is long, complex work. Collaboration is not a natural skill but is one that needs to be learned and developed. Adaptive SchoolsSM has developed a set of norms of collaboration. Deliberately taking the time to learn, rehearse and assess these norms is one way of encouraging collaboration.

Structures need to be in place for collaboration to occur. Placing collaboration in the work schedule emphasizes its importance to the organization. Carefully planning meetings so they are not memo-meetings but learning engagements, highlights the importance of working together to achieve common goals.

Time in schools and for schools is more than creating a calendar for 180 days.

Working with our use of time is about the reason why we gather each school year: to facilitate learning and achievement.

And how might we then use this scarce resource to maximize our purpose?

 

 

Photo Credit:

Featured photo Helping Hand By Emile Renouf (1845-1894) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Beach cottage life by (c) Rene Marie Photography.

The Target Board Strategy

Action plans have numerous practices that need to be implemented. Here’s a useful collaborative strategy for prioritizing implementation.

I’ve used this with different schools including Canadian Academy in Kobe when I was working with Stephen Taylor and the CA faculty to implement creative inquiry.

The Purpose of this Strategy

The visualization of priorities using a Target Board helps group members to

  1. Understand how program facets are interrelated
  2. Dialog on the most needful to the least urgent goals
  3. Discuss and decide on the progression of implementation points

Hopefully as the group collaboratively create the target board, the conversations reveal the time continuum supporting the implementation action plan.

The Target Board CC @alohalavina

How to use the target board

The target board can be used on its own for a sorting activity. Simply, it can guide ways to use time and urgency to justify when to do certain things.

When used with an Adaptive Schools protocol such as “Here’s What, So What, Now What” the Target Board can be a tool for understanding the purposeful work that organizes both time and tasks for implementation.

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Featured Photo credit: Target Board by MaxPixel CC Public Domain

I am grateful to Thinking Collaborative for their mission in creating capacity in individuals and organizations.

Orientation in time, place and space: inquiring into boundaries

Is schooling completely future-oriented?

What might be the boundaries presented to inquiring minds by orientation in time, place and space? The global context in the MYP “Orientation to time, place and space” presents the questions of “where” and “when,” as concepts organizing how individuals might think (IBO, 2015).

Consider a few of the recurring misunderstandings in schools:

  • Teachers emphasize engagement in learning for future benefits and students do not rehearse learning in the present (because some other activity is more tempting)
  • Schools emphasize future benefits of procedures such as school attendance and parents take their children away to a holiday, missing school days
  • Schools emphasize focused attention during class time by asking students to put away their social media devices during the school day and students and parents do not understand why
  • Parents ask their children to study and children prefer to surf Youtube or some other website during the time asked to study

What’s really at work here? In this inquiry we explore “peoples, boundaries, exchange and interaction” (from MYP: From Principles into Practice, 2015, p. 60). As we consider the misunderstandings in the bullet-pointed list above, a common conceptual thread that runs through the conflicting ideas might be orientation to time as a function of place and space.

“Orientation to time” presents multiple perspectives framing perceptions of time, and these perceptions impact how people create boundaries between present and past and future. In other words, the ways we think of time directly affect decision-making and consequent action.

The long-standing “Marshmallow Study” by Stanford professor Walter Mischel illustrates an aspect of time orientation through the action of delayed gratification. 40 years after the study, the longitudinal data suggests that children who were able to delay gratification at age 4 or 5– in effect being able to understand the long-term benefits of wait time at an early age— scored higher on achievement tests ten years later. These children also had “lower incidents of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures” (Clear, 2016).

In an interview with Atlantic magazine, Mischel clarified that the study was really about “achievement situations and what influences a child to reach his or her choice” (Mischel in Urist, 2014).

Ideas about time and achievement present this inquiry with the related concept of boundaries. We might ask the following questions (and other, similar ones):

Factual questions:

  • What boundaries might exist for different people, as contextual frameworks for time?
  • What are some cultural orientations to time?
  • What are some cultural orientations to achievement?

Conceptual questions:

  • What other factors might influence ideas of time and its relationship to achievement?
  • How do our ideas of time and achievement influence decision making?

Debatable question:

  • Are all impulsive decisions (without a delay of gratification) a function of orientation to time?

A useful resource in this inquiry is Wittman and Butler’s Felt Time; The psychology of how we perceive time (MIT Press, 2016). In the book, Wittman and Butler discuss what they term temporal shortsightedness, temporal myopia, and provide useful studies to consider and gain some insights into the nature of orientation in time, place and space and the uses and limitations of perceptions which impact how we think of time.

Temporal shortsightedness

The conflict between the present, past and future requires a metacognitive layer of thinking about the thinking we do in response to time boundaries. For example:

  • A student may find social media updates more tempting than the present lesson on chemical bonds
  • A parent may find that the class of 1986 Reunion dinner is more tempting than the back-to-school night
  • A teacher may find that a collaborative dialog on authentic assessment may be less compelling than using a ‘tried and true’ test filed in a binder
  • A school leader might find that waiting for teachers to learn through an implementation dip is taking too long and teachers need to just square their shoulders and make it happen

When the above ideas about time and task present themselves, and when individuals do not consider their own thinking about time, conflicts may arise.

Wittman and Butler suggest that in many cultures, delayed gratification is built in to facets of cultural decision making. For instance, retirement plans have worldwide use, wherein working adults defer monetary reward for use much later in life. The choice of long-term investments is another cross-cultural concept which uses delays in rewards for later times. Most countries’ educational systems have prolonged schooling with the idea of greater gains in knowledge and skills of future professionals and workers. In many cultures around the globe, the ability to delay reward for future benefit is a feature in social institutions.

Temporal myopia

In adults as in children, waiting for some future benefit can vary.

Wittman and Butler define temporal myopia as “stretches of time standing closer to us appear sharper than stretches of equal duration lying farther off. In this context, temporal myopia means, in essence, that we perceive the difference between today and tomorrow much more acutely than we perceive the difference between tomorrow and the day after” (Wittman and Butler, 2016, p. 7).

In studies cited, impulsive people tend to go for lesser sums of money or rewards so that they do not have to wait. This idea of impulsivity is similar to the behavior of children and adults with ADHD, which is expressed in the tendency not to recognize the value of deferred gratification, which is an orientation to the present.

When the orientation of tasks is future-oriented (do now and benefit later) as it is in school, a present orientation (do not do now and benefit now) presents a conflict.

Emotional intelligence as a factor in time orientation and waiting

Emotion plays a big role in human decisions. Psychologist Philip Zimbardo posits research on time orientation and how perceptions of time orientation influence individuals.

Zimbardo and Boyd (in Wittman and Butler, 2016) developed questionnaires, which revealed patterns in how people think about time as framework for perspectives. The researchers found that:

  • People who predominantly have a present-orientation tend to take more drugs, have unprotected sex, receive more speeding tickets, and engage in other, negative risk-taking behaviors
  • People who predominantly have a future-orientation tend to be averse to spontaneity and are risk-averse (for example, will not venture to try new cultural activities or sports)
  • Past oriented people often reject new ways of doing things and prefer to follow past ‘traditions’ to the neglect of innovations

In brain-based studies of reward-and-time orientation studies, researchers found that adults who chose more immediate but lesser rewards (present orientation) showed high activity in the brain region called the paralimbic system, which has a strong link to emotional decision making (Wittman and Butler, 2016). However, when study participants chose to delay gratification for greater future rewards showed higher activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is an area of the brain connected to planning, decision making, and controlling impulses.

When Mischel’s study subjects were tested again 40 years after the Marshmallow Test, what they found was that people who had not excelled at delayed gratification when they were 4 or 5 showed fMRI scans that showed lower activity in the frontal cortex.

Neurologist Antonio Damasio (in Wittman and Butler, 2016) points to the influence of emotional assessment, which we learned earlier is located in the paralimbic system, on decision making. Damasio found that decisions that go against immediate gratification find value in emotional contexts. This means that for instance, weighing the values of (Choice a) watching TV now and (Choice b) going to the gym to exercise now goes through an emotional assessment. Further, Damasio suggests that emotional responses such as comfort and convenience play a great part in decisions of what people do in the present.

In the beginning of this inquiry was the question, Is education really future oriented? The suggestion is not to advocate for a future-only orientation in schools. Far from it, the gentle suggestion in this inquiry is that we pay attention to the time orientation of others and the boundaries inherent in these, so that we can presume positive intentions in our interactions and exchanges. As Jelaludin Rumi once wrote, “Out beyond the ideas of wrong and right, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

What might we find?

 

References

Clear, J. (2016). “40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely to Succeed “| James Clear. Retrieved September 26, 2016, from http://jamesclear.com/delayed-gratification
Hadad, C. (2015, July 10). “What ‘marshmallow test’ can teach you about your kids.” Retrieved September 26, 2016, from http://edition.cnn.com/2014/12/22/us/marshmallow-test/

International Baccalaureate Organization. (2015). MYP: From principles into practice. Geneva: Author.

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. (2014). Sci Am Scientific American, 311(3), 92-92. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0914-92c

Wittman, M., & Butler, E. (2016). Felt time: The Psychology of How we Perceive Time (MIT Press) [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Photo credit: Eastman Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

Summative Season and the Self-Directed Learner

It is summative season once again. IB Exams are in progress. Summative teacher evaluations are due. Report cards are on the horizon, and schools are scrambling to get the last bits of data that will inform the next academic year’s instructional goals, both for children and adults.

During this summative season, when we are reflecting on the actions that have been enacted and continue to be until the last day of school, do we ever consider how much of what we do actually builds a culture of self-directedness?

In the Twitter chat on self-directed learning, collaborating minds raised the following points.

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 07.21.13 Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 07.21.35 Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 07.22.36

The views from the Twitterchat on Self-Directed Learning suggest what Costa, Garmston and Zimmerman pose as a guiding principle of self-directed learning, that “the gates of learning are only opened from within and that motivation to learn or change cannot be externally coerced” (2014, p. xvi in Powell & Kusuma-Powell, 2015).

I left the Twitterchat with more questions.

If schools want self-directed individuals, how do we reconcile the reliance on external assessments of learning with our aim to promote self-directed learning? When the assessments of learning are significantly anchored to someone outside of the self, how do we shift learners toward internal motivation?

Asking these questions in their latest book Teacher Self-Supervision; Why teacher evaluation has failed and what we can do about it (John Catt, 2015), Powell and Kusuma-Powell present schools with the task of examining our assumptions about self-directedness and how the adult learning structures as they exist might use a lot more reflection.

Assumptions guiding teacher evaluation

Powell and Kusuma-Powell (2015) suggest the following assumptions guiding current practices in teacher evaluation:

  1. External feedback systems gives teachers ways to improve instruction and hence student learning.
  2. Student learning is like an algebraic algorithm and deficits can be addressed technically as in the equation, if x then y must follow.
  3. Schools can be operated like factories.
  4. Relationships, especially trusting relationships, are not significant aspects of schools as learning organizations.
  5. External rewards and punishments are necessary to coerce teachers to be better at facilitating learning.
  6. Teachers need to be praised and affirmed by someone else all the time.
  7. Principals and supervisors are the best source of knowledge about teaching and learning.
  8. One principal can mentor 40 or 50 teachers at a time and be effective at it.
  9. Compliance is more important than personal investment.
  10. If you cannot reduce something to an algorithm or a quantity, it does not exist.

The above assumptions, if they guide teacher evaluation, direct us to a culture wherein:

  • Teachers are infantilized.
  • Internal motivation is not a resource for school development.
  • We waste a lot of time, and we do not guarantee that teachers learn how to facilitate learning better for our students.

Patterns are the best teacher, suggests Wellman (2013). If school patterns of behavior hinge upon the premise that the adults in the school learn best with external coercion, how will those adults facilitate self-directedness in themselves and in their students?

We need a new set of assumptions if our schools are to create cultures of self-directedness. What if we created our schools based on these assumptions?

  • That each person, including teachers, learn best when they are motivated internally.
  • That each person has the capacity to self-assess, self-monitor and self-modify.

And what if we created systems in our schools, which honor and respect the learner within each individual?

References

Garmston, R. & Wellman, B. (2013). The Adaptive School: A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups. NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

Powell, W. & Kusuma-Powell, O. (2015). Teacher Self-Supervision; Why teacher evaluation has failed and what we can do about it. Melton, Woodbridge: John Catt.

Photo Credit: Toutes direction By Dyon Joël (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Polarity: Rigor and Inclusion

There are some ‘problems’ that surface every year in schools. One of these is the tug-of-war between being rigorous and inclusive. Sometimes, we think that the solution to every issue is to become more rigorous: raise the standards and the engagement and achievement will follow. Other times, we think that the solution to every issue is to be inclusive; if we offer enough personalized learning, everyone is happy and the issues disappear.

But with many of these ‘problems,’ we realize that one-sided solutions do not work very well. If we are too inclusive in the sense that we offer personalized solutions for everyone, we begin to question whether our criteria for success are relative and hence not able to be guaranteed in a consistent way. If we are too rigorous, we could potentially alienate so many students that we end up with an unhappy school.

The problem is that we treat these ‘problems’ as problems even though they are not. Barry Johnson (1996) suggests that there are tensions in organizations, which are not actually problems, but polarities. Polarities are conditions that co-exist, which cannot be solved by focusing on one to the detriment of focusing on the other. Rigor and inclusion for instance, must co-exist in a school in order for the school to guarantee the leaving credential but also to allow each individual to have access to the learning and the capacity to successfully learn.

By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga Commons)(Lmbuga Galipedia) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsBy Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga Commons)(Lmbuga Galipedia) via Wikimedia Commons

Johnson suggests that polarities are unsolvable, and that they are better off managed in their co-existence. “Polarities to be managed are sets of opposites that can’t function well independently; they require both-and thinking. Because the two sides of a polarity are interdependent, you cannot choose one as a solution and neglect the other,” writes Carolyn McKanders (in Garmston and Wellman, 2013).

A faculty mapped the polarity between rigor and inclusion and learned the upsides and downsides of focusing on one to the neglect of the other.

IMG_2397

Polarity Map® is © 2016 by Polarity Partnerships, LLC, All Rights Reserved.

Here is an application.

While reviewing the assessment policy this year, the group dialogued on the goal to be both inclusive and rigorous. The faculty wanted students to have multiple access points to learning and multiple ways to show they had learned. They also wanted students to engage in the rigorous program and to achieve at the highest levels for which they possessed the knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes to do so. The school wanted to be both rigorous and inclusive.

One of the solutions to become more rigorous was to revise the policy so that students:
• Invested in their own learning every day
• Became conversant in the criteria for success
• Used approaches to learning they had learned to perform well on each summative assessment

In order to foster rigor, teachers decided that students had to:
• Show up every day ready to learn
• Learned and used self-management skills to keep track of their learning
• Reflected on approaches to learning—how ATL skills worked, how to get better at them, and how to evaluate them so they might decide which to use for what tasks

The faculty also had to provide action plans for how to become more inclusive. Being inclusive meant finding approaches for students to have personal entry points to learning. It also meant designing assessments, which had personal significance to the student; had multiple ways to express understanding; and called upon a repertoire of skill sets which may differ from student to student.

Solutions to become more rigorous and inclusive at the same time meant that teachers had to inquire into powerful questions such as:
• How do we motivate students to invest personally in the learning?
• How do we empower students to follow personal trajectories into units of inquiry?
• How do we inspire students to make connections?

Questions such as these fueled teachers’ reflective practices. They began to ask, what needs to happen, to inspire personal investment and self-directedness in the students? What needs to happen to provide an environment where risk-taking and inquiry are at the heart of learning? And what can we do to encourage students to unlearn unproductive habits like coming to school late and being absent, and to learn ways to become curious, inspired and motivated to be better at who they are? How do we create the belief that we are here for important reasons and that the learning we do is relevant?

The inquiry goes on. The value of the polarity mapping for this faculty was not in finding answers that stop inquiry, but in providing the spark that allowed the adults in the school to find relevance in the inquiry process itself. By deciding to map the polarity between rigor and inclusion, the teachers began an inquiry, which has launched a journey of school improvement with leadership from the classroom.

When polarities are present, as they are in every organization, they can become resources instead of problems. Harnessing the cognitive conflict, which resides in polarity management is an adaptive response to the recurrent issues that revisit a school unceasingly. Through inquiry and collaboration, these issues can become inquiries that can revitalize a community of learners.

To learn more about polarities and managing them, visit these resources:
Garmston, R. and Wellman, B. (2013). The Adaptive School; A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups, 2nd Ed. NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

Johnson, B. (1996). Polarity Management. Amherst, MA: HRD Press, Inc.

Polarity Map® is © 2016 by Polarity Partnerships, LLC, All Rights Reserved. For more information on resources, please see www.polarityresources.com.

Photo Credit: Photo of Child By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga Commons)(Lmbuga Galipedia) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Thank you for reading The Learner’s Toolbox. We are passionate about self-directed learning. Join us on Twitter for a chat on Self-Directed Learning on May 12 1600 UTC by following the hashtag #sdlchat. Co-hosted by @alohalavina and @EricDemore.SDL_graphic_small

Changing where Learning Lives

A quote that caught my attention on Twitter the other day is “So much school reform, and so few results.” What are our hunches why?

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Granted, there are a lot of moving parts to change leadership. Change is a layered, complex set of needs, thinking, action, assessment feedback, and iterations.

As we reflect on the shifts in the ways we think and work in schools, we might notice that there is a relationship between the complexity of the facets of changing schools and the ways educators need to respond. Our responses need to be framed within the complexity of the problems we face as we work toward coherent, aligned systems in which people –whether they are students, teachers, administrators, parents and the communities in which schools are situated—respond to the shifts we aim to enact.

At the Thinking Collaborative conference at Hong Kong Academy last month, a takeaway that resonates with me is that in the complex work of change management, there is a constant guiding principle of education that educators and school systems seem to seek: to be self-directed. To convey individuals and groups into becoming self-managing, self-monitoring, and self-modifying people.

If we aim to develop self-directed learners, how might the following support that aim:

  • If students are always told by adults what they have learned, how they have learned, and why they have learned and do not become invested in these facets of learning themselves through self-management, self-monitoring and self-modification, how will students learn how to be self-directed?
  • If teachers are always evaluated by someone else, in a process in which assessment of practice is something done to them instead of something they manage, monitor and modify, how will these teachers become self-directed?
  • If teachers and students both are assessed through mainly external processes on their learning and practice, how will they develop growth mindsets?
  • How might change leadership in schools allow for a change in the narratives of these schools, if the systems and processes in place do not allow for self-management, self-monitoring and self-modification?

Bob Garmston’s session on Adaptive Leadership mentioned the four facets of adaptive leaders: character, courage, compassion and capacity. Of these, we reflect on what might become an inception of systemic change so that schools can enact a culture of self-directedness. Courage stands out as a prime need.

Courage in change leadership might include some of these considerations:

  • How might we lead students to become self-managing, self-monitoring and self-modifying individuals through a stubborn and explicit embedding of approaches to learning skills in our programs?
  • How might we allow teachers to become self-directed learners through a practice driven self-assessment process in which teachers plan, monitor, and assess their own growth instead of relying on external evaluation?
  • How might we launch a culture of growth through structures and processes, which honor individual learning diversity, and how might this diversity in our communities fuel our own inclusive approaches to learning?
  • How can we align our school missions, in which “life-long learning,” “reflective,” “independent inquirers,” and other attributes populate our words, so that these words become the actions that populate our day to day results?

Alan Bowring [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Alan Bowring [CC via Wikimedia Commons]

It seems that when we change pedagogy or process, whether it is the approach to learning or the approach to teacher growth and other learning processes in schools, we change where authority or ownership lives.

By changing to more student-driven pedagogy, we transfer ownership of learning from teachers to the students.

By honoring teachers as developing learners themselves through a self-directed, self-monitored and self-modified process of assessment of practice, we transfer ownership of the art of facilitating learning into teachers’ hands.

By building an environment that values inquiry and intellectual risk-taking rather than just ‘the right answer,’ we transfer the improvement of a school into the hands of those who learn, and we bring to the forefront of our day to day actions the value of learning, which is a process enriched by mistakes and iterations.

Results are mere by-products of purposeful engagement and cyclical learning. In well-supported cycles of learning, we get better at what we know, understand and do. As we master the approaches to learning that we meet as cycles of learning increase knowledge, deepen understanding and strengthen skills, we gain the confidence to approach complexity –those open-ended, non-linear, dynamic problems that are usually unfamiliar.

By changing the conditions of places where learning lives for young and adult learners in our communities, we become self-directed organizations. And in these brave spaces, learning lives.

 

 

 

 

Fractals by Aloha Lavina 2012

Finding patterns

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?