Mentor, mentor, on the wall…

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CC0 TobiasMuMo

Something I get asked a lot in my work with teachers and leaders across Aotearoa New Zealand is how to ensure people are ‘on board’ with the planned initiative for the school. It isn’t uncommon for leaders to say in hushed tones, “We have a … range of staff at our school, Philippa,” as if that were a situation entirely unique to their context, and not the reality of every classroom and every staffroom everywhere. In fact, the principles of Universal Design for Learning encourage us to recognise the diversity of people and to embrace this as a strength. Isn’t wonderful that we’re all different, with our own backgrounds, stories, brains, and ways of learning?

But I hear the sense of frustration for what it is: the desire of the passionate to share their passion. And I don’t have answers, nor, more’s the pity, a magic wand. But I do have some thinks, mostly due to reading Simple Habits for Complex Times by Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnson, having my own mentoring relationship through CORE’s uChoose programme, and exploring some of the work of Joan Dalton.

So here are a few things I’ve learned and that mesh with what I consider to be respectful practice.

Garvey Berger and Johnston remind us that we’re not logical beings like Spock from Star Trek. So outlining cold facts about why I should embrace a new initiative isn’t all that likely to be effective. Rather, we need to engage people’s emotions. The way to do this is through story and metaphor. These draw people in and help them to get excited about new directions. Garvey Berger and Johnston actually suggest that the kinds of metaphors that are useful are those to do with journeys – but not destinations. And that giving people the sense that they’ve already started the desired change is important.

I really focus on keeping in mind that everyone is the hero of their own story. This helps me to be curious about what stories other people tell themselves about their actions to frame themselves in this way. Seeking to hear and understand other people’s stories is crucial, in my opinion. And this does take energy, empathy and time.

Which is where I bring the following strategy from Joan Dalton into play:

  • Listen
  • Pause
  • Paraphrase
  • Inquire

For me personally, this is aspirational, but I know that on the odd occasion where I’ve managed this, it can be quite powerful. My goal is to support educators to reflect on the decisions they’ve made and to consider these deeply. What worked? What didn’t? What could I do differently next time?

I feel privileged to mentor some fine educators and am on my own learning journey about how to fulfil this role to the best of my ability, but it is an honour to be gifted with their stories and to hear of their challenges and their successes.

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From Quagmire to (some) Clarity

The eFellows learning journey continues!

A fortnight ago I was struggling to write the first draft of my abstract for ULearn. I have written abstracts for conference (research) papers before. And it would be fair to say I pretty much hate the practice. In Design Thinking terms, how on earth can I talk about where I’ve got to while I’m still in the immersion stage? And ‘immersion’ would be a very polite term for how I was feeling. Stuck in the mud of seemingly disparate ideas. Floundering to find footing. Lost.

I managed to bang something out (but you know you’re in despair when you start doing word counts on the eFellows14 abstracts to compare to your own) and was actually reasonably happy with it. Then it came time to firm the abstract up for submission. Cue wheels well and truly falling off.

It was time for desperate measures. I took myself off to one of the ‘phone boxes’ in the CORE Education Wellington office. I remained standing and looked hard at the messy ideas I had.

The two ideas that have really stopped me in my tracks during this learning journey have been:

  1. Design Thinking as play, and the role of play-based learning for adults. (Which has lead me onto a tangent as to what constitutes effective professional learning, and exploring the perceived differences between pedagogy and andragogy.)
  2. How the goal of disrupting teachers’ preconceived ideas about their practice conflicts with being respectful. This has lead me to re-evaluate my Design Thinking pedagogy and shift my personal emphasis from ‘bias towards action’ to ’empathy’.

And then – how on earth to mesh all this together with my original inquiry question of: How I might employ design thinking principles to invigorate teachers’ professional learning in order to nurture critical and creative citizens?

<Insert scream here.>

Luckily, as always, our amazing mentor Louise Taylor, had handed me the key by way of introducing us to the phrase: Disrupt with Humility.

<Insert angels’ choir and clouds parting here.>

Suddenly, on a square of blue note paper, it all fell together. My Design Thinking principles have shifted to put empathy at the centre. This allows me to work in a respectful way aligned with my personal morals and values. I can disrupt, but with humility. And for me, often times, this incorporates the element of play and fun. Design Thinking as a process aligns with this as it’s all about opening up conversations, being human-centred and creative; playing with ideas. When we’re having fun, even if it’s hard fun, we are engaged and motivated. In turn, hopefully, this prompts us to trial new things in our teaching context, and hence take action.

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So, in case you’re interested, my abstract is complete and submitted, and here it is:

Feed the Hungry: Applying Design Thinking Principles to Invigorate Teachers’ Professional Learning

In this presentation I will share some insights into my research as part of my 2015 CORE Education eFellowship where I have wondered about how my design thinking pedagogy might invigorate teachers’ professional learning.

Passionate about future-focused education and the role design thinking might play in this, I have moved from being a classroom English teacher and future learning facilitator, to being the Postgraduate Programme Director (Wellington) of the Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning) offered by The Mind Lab by Unitec.

Using a qualitative approach, I have listened to the stories of teachers currently completing the postgraduate certificate, as well as reflecting deeply on my own practice. I have found myself

wrestling with the idea of ‘disruption’, concluding that before we can disrupt educators’ mindsets we must first engender respect. Thus I will offer those with an interest in design thinking a different context in which to consider its power, and offer those embarking on their own professional learning inquiries, or designing professional learning for others, some food for the journey.

Delegates will:

  • Hear new research around design thinking mindsets and professional learning.
  • Be challenged to consider the centrality of empathy and respectful practice.
  • Be inspired to disrupt with humility.

You’re all cordially invited to attend if you’re at ULearn this year. I can’t promise I’ll stick to this plan as there may well be further disruptions to my learning journey ahead, but, for now, I’ll enjoy a moment of clarity.