Wrapping Things Up, III

I want to return to the theme of lenses from yesterday’s post, the theme sparked by Brendan’s comment on Friday.  But, as Brendan noted this morning, it can be difficult and problematic to ask people to try on different lenses:

One consideration is the how of suggesting new lenses for people to consider.  This can be complicated, especially when confined to the flow of a typical in-person conversation (as opposed to writing a long message, or giving a speech.)
It’s easy to come off as criticizing the lens they’re using — or, stir up the common resistance to anything that sounds psychological or philosophical.

One possibility is to try a what-if approach.  What if students actually aren’t and lazy — or they are for a very good reason, and with some changes they’d have a reason to try?

The catch is if the necessary change is to give students (or teachers) more autonomy, authority, and chance for initiative.  Wouldn’t it be chaos?  It’s a difficult transition to make from dependency on the factory structure and its assumptions.  The question is asked around here a lot, but it comes up again here: what might that transition look like?

The end of the school year, with its odd bursts of frantic rush and time to wait and reflect, isn’t a bad time to think about lenses and perspectives.  And sometimes, just when you least expect it, you run into someone in the very act of trying a different lens.
Right before lunch on Tuesday, I saw my colleague Ms. H, the French teacher.  She’s a kind, caring soul, a truly sweet person, a veteran teacher who came out of retirement because she still loves working with young people.  Adjusting to a new curriculum – and to a very different generation of students – has been a struggle for her, a struggle compounded at one point by some serious health issues.  But as she’s gained health and strength, and as her old fire has returned, Ms. H has been thinking – a lot – about change.
“I realized something,” she told me, “when I looked at my French 4 students, especially the one who got the award on Awards Day.  She’s a good student and a hard worker, but she isn’t really proficient at using the language. ”  Ms. H was concerned about that – and concerned that her “old-school” approach to teaching the language wasn’t serving her students well.  So we talked about proficiency and measuring proficiency, about building proficiency and grading for proficiency.  Ms. H will be participating in at least two training sessions this summer, a face-to-face one about proficiency-based language instruction and an online one about using web-based tools in her teaching.  And, after talking with her on Tuesday, I’m eager to know about the changes she’s suddenly willing, even eager, to make.

“It sounds to me,” I told her, “like you’re where I was a few years ago.  I had the perfect system for teaching Latin, and I tweaked and improved it every year.  And then, all of a sudden, it stopped working, and I was so frustrated!”  Yes, she said, that’s exactly what had happened.  And we both had realized that we were prioritizing that system over the students, the process over the people.  For both of us, the realization had been painful; we liked the good teacher label, and even in the midst of our system-focused days, we still took time to build relationships with young people and their families.  But somehow, without anyone directly telling us or confronting us, both of us had tried on different lenses, taken a hard look at the situation, and realized we needed to make some changes.
What’s the best lens to use?  Or is it different for each person?  For me, one key was the first alternate lens Brendan pointed out:
One way to look at this black-or-white thinking is through the lens of the factory model paradigm of people being “compliant or defiant” with their factory roles.  When people don’t “comply,” friction is applied to Ms. X and Mr. Y’s factory roles.  The same pattern repeats when Ms. X or Mr. Y don’t comply with directives from Powers, or expectations from students or parents that go beyond the expected factory routine.

The Myers-Briggs temperament and brain function lense

Another lens to use is Myers-Briggs temperament and the associated brain functioning in students and teachers.  Some temperaments, for example Sensing-Judging types, function best with a lot of expected structure and predictability, and disruptions lead to a depletion of mental energy.  That’s not to say SJ types couldn’t operate in a different kind of school, but given their adaptation to the factory rules, that’s what they are going to expect and be comfortable with.

Meanwhile, Sensing-Perceiving typed students, for example, may derive more mental energy and brain activation by staring out the window than paying attention in class.  This pattern has been shown on EEG, and provides a whole different way of looking at what’s going on in schools than the comply-vs-defy, good-vs.bad-and-lazy framing.  (“Sit up Straight! Sit still! Look at me, not out the window! ” http://forums.school-survival.net/showthread.php?tid=29190&pid=491155#pid491155 )

That work was done by Dario Nardi at UCLA, who explains in Dario Nardi Neuroscience of Personality.MP4 “Yes, there is evidence for type.  There is, in the brain, the neuroscience evidence.  And it’s not just book research, I can say, ‘it’s this and this and this,’ and all of them have coaching implications, learning implications, leadership, communication… once we look at the brain, we see type is there.”

So that’s another way to consider things, but by itself it doesn’t take into account all the factors in the factory.

As I started paying attention to thinking styles and processing styles, I had the stunning insight that different people see the world differently!  And as a language teacher, I was always attuned to the different cultural lenses that lead to differences in perspectives.  As Debbie put it,
aw, the “Fire of Truth”, not only the bigger picture where we listen to and respect the different perspectives (or lenses) but also the one within each of us – if we are willing to tend to it.
Being able to “see” different perspectives, through the different lenses is a valuable skill, especially for mentors. As we look for, listen to, and respect the different perspectives we develop our ability to best meet the needs of the moment and of the individuals we engage with. Basically, this is empathy. _”I understand where you are coming from; I hear what you are saying; I see what you mean.” _

I’m curious as to how much of our mentoring time is spent on developing this really important skill?

That was a natural beginning point for me … and possibly for Ms. H, too.  But what about folks who don’t regularly think about perspectives?  What about folks who just know there’s One Right Way, the Chapter 8 Way?  How can one invite Ms. X and Mr. Y to try on new lenses without criticizing or terrifying?  And what are the implications for joyful community if we fail or if we succeed?
Published in: on June 12, 2013 at 11:20 am  Leave a Comment  

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