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.

A Little More Edge

My reading life is starting to converge around a central set of ideas. 2021 isn’t going to be great unless we roll up our sleeves and make it so.

Managing Self

If you have a penchant for potato chips and the couch in times of trouble, consider an “opposite signal” strategy that requires little mental effort. When your mind tells you to numb yourself, come to life, instead: Exercise precisely when you most want to cocoon; eat nutrient-dense foods when you most crave junk. A simple way to start practicing this is to go outside for a walk at the moments when you feel the urge to curl up. None other than Hippocrates called walking “man’s best medicine,” and researchers have long seen it as the cure for many of our physical, psychological, and even social ailments

This strategy acknowledges the paradox of well-being that so many of us fall prey to: Our instincts are often wrong, and we sometimes need to do the opposite of what they tell us to do. When your mind says, You feel sad—but you’ll feel better if you eat a whole pizza while sitting on the couch watching television, your mind is lying to you. The unhappiness you feel is actually diminishing your brain’s executive-functioning ability, making it more difficult to make good decisions. Pizza and TV won’t make you happy for more than a moment, but what will help now and in the long term is a good walk outdoors.

Source: Sedentary Pandemic Life Is Bad for Our Happiness

Managing Others

In my conversations with a wide range of leaders, they repeatedly emphasize how important it is to be able to do something instead of letting go. Perhaps you feel like staying in bed all day watching Netflix and eating pizza, or “snug under the duvet,” as one of my clients describes this type of reaction. Once in a while this may even work well with a bit of constructive denial and self-indulgence, but not every day and not every time things get hard.

Yes, the current moment calls for compassion, but it also calls for a little more edge and collective defiance against the injustice of the virus. You want people to say “enough is enough” and rise to fight against the gloom. As with good parenting, the key is to find the right balance between caring and challenging, between compassion and containment, between saying “you are good enough as you are” and “get moving and get to the next level.”

Source: How to Lead When Your Team Is Exhausted — and You Are Too