Deeply without Pre-determined

A colleague recently offered me this valuable reminder: “If we want this to be a place where people can think deeply without pre-determined answers, there needs to be time and space to do the reading together, not to mention a spirit of open-ended inquiry when we actually discuss it.” Don’t tell me that email is all bad!

With that eloquent challenge rattling around in my head, and working within my most immediate locus of control, I asked my still relatively new English class to think about how we talk to each other. I started with this slide:

Then I moved to this slide:

After that exercise, we had a huge repository of conversational possibilities to sort through and discuss. I reminded them that how we talk — and convene — can end up defining the kind of class we are, the kind of school we are, and even the kind of country we are.

My colleague’s original challenge sent me back to Peter Senge’s work, too. It’s an oversimplification, but the move from discussion to dialogue seems like a step in the right direction.

And if you want to meander a little bit further, there’s some interesting leads in this RW post.

Carrying Around Questions

Lately, I’ve been carrying around two sets of questions. One set is for teaching and one set is for leading . . . and they mix together when I’m doing a bit of both.

For teaching, I ask myself a set of questions I boiled down from a summer of thinking about the purpose of my AP Language class, a class focused on rhetoric:

  • Will this help us to know one another better?
  • Will this bring us closer to (the joy of) language?
  • Will this help us to reverse-engineer great arguments in order to both understand why they work and to write them ourselves?

For leading I ask myself a set of questions that I saw recently in the Klingenstein Center’s annual report. They come, word-for-word, from Nicole Furlonge’s introduction:

  • Who is in the room — and in the teaching and leading pipeline?
  • What ways of knowing have we valued, and what fields and bodies of knowledge have we muted in our curriculum?
  • What ideas do we amplify?

I use these questions when I’m planning activities for my students and my colleagues. They help me to remove and streamline. They help me to make hard choices.

I also use these questions — keep them in front of me — when I’m in the middle of activities with my students and my colleagues. They help me to guide conversations, to avoid digressions, and to honor the time, energy, and attention that we have.

I’ll swap out questions as I go along; I’ll refine questions that aren’t generative enough. Regardless, I’ve found that this added layer of intentionality has helped me to keep putting one foot in front of the other this school year, and equally important, to help others do the same.

Disrupting the Default

In today’s Stratechery, Ben Thompson suggests some new defaults for society and technology. Though it’s never entirely wise to rip out of context things said by thoughtful people, here’s part of one that I liked:

[It] should be the default that the status quo is a bad thing; instead of justifying why something should be done, the burden of proof should rest on those who believe things should remain the same.