Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Who has the answers? Who has the questions?

In a typical classroom in the not so distant past, teachers asked all the questions and looked for good answers from the students.  As much as we tried to call on every student equally and fairly, the best answers were almost always provided by the students that felt school was easy.  Whether the question was a simple question with one answer, or the question was open-ended and thought-provoking, good answers usually came from the highest-achieving students.

In a classroom that values questions, good ones can be provided by any student!  A question isn't right or wrong.  A question asks everyone to think.  Asking students to ask questions doesn't require kids to search their data banks for a singular answer and it doesn't require them to formulate a response to an open-ended question.  It simply requires curiosity and wonder!

When we ask kids for questions instead of answers, we level the playing field for participation by all students and we raise the level of thinking required!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Suspicious dissatisfaction

In a culture of continuous improvement, it is everyone's responsibility to ask questions about current practices in order to facilitate progress.  Some improvement needs are evident and clear by all involved parties.  When this is the case, the need to make changes is met with minimal resistance.  Any stakeholder can ask, "How can we do this better?" and the improvement process begins!

Other times, the need for improvement is much less evident.  There may not actually be any evidence at all!  Occasionally, someone merely suspects the need for improvement.  The suspicion may come from previous experience or feedback from stakeholders.  The suspicion may come from new learning or from a gut feeling that things can be done more effectively.  Sometimes the suspicion simply comes from someone who loves to ask why things are done a certain way.  (This one is me quite often!)

Unfortunately, suspicion can be a bad word.  Those that are innocent until proven guilty are suspects.  Elvis sang Suspicious Minds.  (Although I prefer the Fine Young Cannibals version and the Dwight Yoakum version!)  The idea of suspicion has generated more books and TV shows than any word other than love!

When a need for improvement is suspected, rather than known, the improvement process is usually met with some level of resistance and the one who suspected the need for improvement is oftentimes suspected of foul play.  More suspicion!

Regardless, suspicion is how experts and visionaries make things move from good to great.  They value excellence and celebrate success, yet they hold a certain amount of dissatisfaction for the status quo.  They ask, "Why?"  

Dissatisfaction is another bad word.  Too many folks see it as a sign of poor performance rather than an attitude of continuous improvement.  Several years ago, I worked for a superintendent who told the district to, "Be dissatisfied."  He passionately professed his belief that an attitude of dissatisfaction leads to continuous improvement.  I walked away feeling empowered to question everything!  Lots of folks walked away feeling like their good just wasn't good enough.

In order to truly make things better and better and better, be dissatisfied and question your suspicions.  Indeed, improvements will follow!  Healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo and a suspicious mind will drive you to ask good questions and create a culture of continuous improvement!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Between Stimulus and Response

I was thinking about Viktor Frankl's words,

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

While I am sure this may be perfectly obvious to most people, especially anyone who has heard Dr. Stephen Covey talk about this topic, the idea of the space between stimulus and response is the essence of being proactive rather than reactive.  When there is no space created, we simply react.  The more space created, the greater likelihood of a thoughtful response.

Does this idea jive with another oft-heard quip? "Trust your gut feeling."  Can you create a space between stimulus and response and trust your gut feeling at the same time?  It seems that an immediate reaction to something might be your gut reaction, but it also might not be a chosen response.  Oppositely, creating the space after a challenging stimulus is presented gives you time to respond after giving your actions time and thought.  Perhaps this is when you occasionally go against your gut instincts.

What about those questions you occasionally ponder that linger for months and months.  The response you want probably wrestles with your gut feelings until you are sick to your stomach!  What you really want, what you think you want, what your gut is telling you to do, and the sheer inability to make a decision just might be too much space between stimulus and response.

Is it possible that too much time can be created between stimulus and response?  I think so!  While I wholeheartedly believe that space must be created to choose your best response to any given stimulus, too much space will eventually cloud the entire decision.  This leads to indecision...and perhaps indigestion!

Another good quote to end this thinking, brought to you by the Canadian Rock and Roll trio, Rush.

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice..."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Passionately engaged learning!

I love seeing people passionately engaged.  It doesn't really matter what it is either.  Watching someone intensely study, work, practice, investigate, rehearse, repeat, or try to do something successfully for the very first time is intriguing!

Both of my boys play soccer.  They love soccer!  Every now and then, I catch one of them alone in the yard, working on a new juggling move.  They try it over and over and over again until they get it right.  Then they try it over and over and over again until they get it right pretty much every time.  There have been a few occasions where I watched them from a fairly close distance and they didn't even notice I was there.

This type of passionate engagement is magic!  It is where the brain grows and the deep learning occurs.  I have seen this same type of intensity in classrooms many times.  Amazing lesson design in an amazing learning environment makes it happen!  It is not easy.  It doesn't happen all the time.  But when it does, it is the kind of lesson that the teacher will always remember.

I have a few of my own teaching memories of these magical learning activities.  Building bridges, the Bike Accident Trial, and hiking in the dark come to mind rather quickly.  I loved these more than the kids.  I loved them because the kids learned from them and THEY loved them.

These are the lessons worth repeating!  These are the types of lessons we want more of!