Dare to Disagree

I read this great blog by Dave Secomb on Inquire Within about Why Creativity is Important in Education. He references Ken Robinson‘s work in Out of Our Minds.  He explains how innovation is a process that requires three parts:

  • Imagination – The power to bring to mind the things that aren’t here in the present.

  • Creativity – Applied imagination. The process of putting your imagination to work and having original ideas that have value.

  • Innovation – Putting original ideas into practice.

This is a very clear description of words we are using in reference to education every day. Innovation is a word we hear a lot of lately, not only in education but in business and one’s daily life.

I  believe one more important aspect of innovation is the ability to think together.

This video (Vimeo, 2:44 min.) on thought leadership explains the process that leaders might go through to spread innovation.

Thought Leadership

It suggests that working with and supporting the critical mass is the best place to put one’s energies. Trying to convince the people who are not interested is a waste of time. Working with the people who already support the innovation, while it may be fun and energizing, is like preaching to the choir. In order to reach the ‘tipping point,’ work with the critical mass.

The critical mass, however, has a very important role in innovation. They are the ones who must dare to disagree. They are the ones who will listen critically and question the innovation. They are open-minded yet feel a responsibility to move cautiously.

In her TED talk Dare to Disagree, Margaret Heffernan  tells an inspiring story of Dr. Alice Stewart. In the 1950’s Dr. Stewart discovered a two-to-one correlation that children who died of cancer had mothers who had been x-rayed while pregnant. The data was statistically clear yet the information “flew in the face of conventional wisdom.. And it flew in the face of doctors’ idea of themselves, which was as people who helped patients, they didn’t harm them…The data was out there, it was open, it was freely available, but nobody wanted to know. A child a week was dying, but nothing changed. Openness alone can’t drive change.”

It took 25 more years before doctors stopped x-raying pregnant mothers. Stewart never stopped fighting. She had a fantastic model for thinking. She worked with a statistician, George Kneale. Kneale saw his job was to prove Dr. Stewart wrong and to create conflict around her theories. Through this, he was able to give Stewart the confidence to prove that she was right.

It’s a fantastic model of collaboration –thinking partners who aren’t echo chambers. I wonder how many of us have, or dare to have, such collaborators. Alice and George were very good at conflict. They saw it as thinking.

Abraham Lincoln had similar leadership skills (from Drive, by Daniel H. Pink, p. 203):

  • He was self-confident enough to surround himself with rivals who excelled in areas where he was weak.
  • He genuinely listened to other people’s points of view, which helped him form more complex opinions of his own.

As someone who will often ‘hop on the first carriage of the train’ when it comes to educational innovation, I appreciate that I work with so many colleagues who are my thinking partners. Sharing and discussing conflicting ideas is  a powerful way of collaborating.

Thank you to all of you who collaborate critically and respectfully. It is definitely helping me form more complex opinions of how  to revolutionize education.

Watch the full TED talk of Dare to Disagree here:

Provocative Questions or boring teacher questions?

The other day our PYP programme coordinator, Derek Pinchbeck, shared, what I perceived as a revolutionary new idea (sparked by Lynn Erikson) : why not turn our teacher questions into provocative questions. It’s one of those things that you just want to slap your head and say, “Of course! How could we not have done that before? It’s so obvious.”

For example, if the line of inquiry is: Making personal choices about our health. Here is what I would have done in the past:

Teacher question: What choices do we have? (Boring.  Ask a child this and you will get a list: eat healthy food, exercise, sleep, etc.)

Here is an example of what we might do now:

Teacher question: Do healthy choices differ between cultures? (Ask a child this and you will get questions, comparisons, thoughtful thinking, and debates)

Don’t you feel more engaged  emotionally by the second question? Don’t you want to start talking about it immediately, asking questions and sharing personal experience and beliefs? I do.

Read more here: Derek’s blog.

Teachers need feedback too!

I had asked my students to set learning goals for themselves and I wanted to set a learning goal for myself as well.

I gave my students a teacher appraisal form to get feedback from them about my teaching and their learning to help me identify areas for improvement.

On a scale from 1-6 (strongly disagree, strongly agree) the students rated me in terms of respect, care, explaining, feedback, etc. (see attached scale)

Upon tabulating the results, I saw that the kids loved learning in my class (“The teacher makes lessons interesting” – 5.8 out of 6), they loved the inquiries, they loved school BUT:

1. They felt they weren’t learning much and (4.1)

2. They felt I didn’t show that I really cared about them (4.6)

It was very surprising! I talked with my Teaching Assistant and our Grade 3 ELL teacher who both said, “If you don’t care then no one does!” and “These kids are learning so much! What do they mean?” We hypothesized as to what the results meant and then I went to ask the kids.

I shared the results with the students and asked them to help me understand how I could improve. Interesting feedback. The ones who felt I didn’t care were the very independent students. I realized that I was often sitting down and helping out the ones who needed more support and allowing those others to continue capably on their own. They need my attention too! That was easy to fix.

As well, to put the power of ‘proof’ into their own hands, I gave a class list to a student and asked her to keep a tally of who I asked questions to  and who I worked with. Kind of like a ‘don’t believe me, see for yourself’ type of data collecting. By looking at the data she collected, she soon realized she was getting more equal attention that she thought she was.

As for the students believing that they don’t learn much, we realized that ‘work’ to many students meant sitting at their desk doing pages and pages of math questions and being bored (their definition!). Because they were enjoying learning in school, they didn’t think they were learning.

We solved that problem by explicitly talking about what was being learned (e.g. “Hmm, so by doing this you learned that friction can cause a car to go faster or slower. That rubber has high friction and tiles have a lower friction. Interesting.” Or, “So, tell me what you learned today.”)

This process made me realize that as we develop students to be passionate independent inquirers, teachers are going to have to be activators, constantly reflecting out loud, asking questions, seeking feedback, giving feedback to everyone, showing they care and talking about learning.