The Science of Doing relies on The Art of Being

Very recently, I wrote about the project of transforming BC’s curriculum and the renewed educational focus on skill acquisition. In a great blog post from way back in May 2012, Lauren Davis, Eye on Education’s Senior Editor, explains the importance behind this focus:

We can’t merely teach students a bunch of facts; we have to show them how to learn. If we simply fill students’ heads with information, they may forget it days later. But if we teach students how to research, discover, question, and obtain new information on their own, then they will be more able to think critically on their own and achieve success in the real world, beyond school doors.

The three popular ways to embed this educational direction in classes is through project-based learning, problem-based learning, and inquiry-based learning. However, at the heart of this is not the science of doing but rather the art of being. And at the core of this “art” is a focus on an interpersonal conversation between teacher and student: a conversation that promotes intimacy, interactivity, inclusion and intentionality.  

The importance of this conversation was the topic of a recent HBR article by Boris Groysberg and Micahela Slind entitled, Leadership is a Conversation. For them, interpersonal conversation can promote flexibility, engagement, and strategic alignment. This, in essence, is what we want to promote in our schools – without it, innovation, indeed learning, cannot flourish. So before we look at the nuts and bolts of educational delivery, let’s ensure that our halls of learning promote real conversations with the following requisite elements:

Intimacy

Seek and earn the trust of your students by speaking to them directly and authentically. Let’s shift the focus in our classrooms from a top-down distribution of information to a
bottom-up exchange of ideas. 

Listen well. True attentiveness signals respect for everyone in your learning community, a sense of curiosity, and even a degree of humility.

Don’t be afraid to get personal and share the narratives that have shaped who you are. This sharing can promote a vocabulary that expands our students’ ability to express themselves in ways other than frustration or anger. It serves to develop their emotional literacy.

Interactivity

The pursuit of interactivity reinforces, and builds upon, intimacy. As educators, it compels us to shun the simplicity of monologue and embrace the unpredictable vitality of dialogue. Interactivity lends itself to the plethora of communication channels available to us. Classroom blogs and wikis can foster a genuinely interactive culture that helps establish the values, norms, and behaviours that create a welcoming space for dialogue.

Technology and social media give teachers and students the ability to invest an educational setting with the style and spirit of personal conversation. It can disrupt the one-way structure of traditional classrooms and in so doing buttress social media with social thinking.

Inclusion

Whereas intimacy involves the efforts of teachers to connect with their students, inclusion focuses on the role that students play in that process.

Inclusion calls on students to participate in the conversation by generating the content that makes up their learning stories. In allowing students to define their experience through the inquiry they pursue, we enable them to provide their own ideas and become frontline content providers.

Isn’t this how we raise our students’ emotional engagement with school? If they feel passionate about what they are doing they will become living representatives of their respective school communities; they will ‘talk up’ their experiences on their own time – money doesn’t buy that kind of advertising!

Intentionality

An interpersonal conversation, if it’s truly rich and rewarding, will be open but not aimless.  Just as there is structure behind inquiry/project/problem based learning, so too, in a classroom, should there be order and meaning on even the loosest and most digressive forms of chatter. All of us, participants in this conversation, must have some sense of what we hope to achieve.

Over time, the many voices that contribute to this interpersonal conversation must converge on a single vision of what that communication is for. In other words, the conversation that unfolds within a classroom, a school, a District office should reflect a shared agenda that aligns with the respective learning objectives of the group.

As a teacher, it means I will guide intentionality not by assertion but by explanation – by generating consent rather than commanding assent.

In the end we can talk and write about new ways of doing but before we get into the nuts and bolts of it all we have to ensure that the communication we foster in our schools is dynamic, sophisticated and respectfully interpersonal. Students (and teachers) will listen and participate if the conversation is intimate, interactive, inclusive and intentional. Why? Because an interpersonal conversation is, to quote Groysberg and Slind, an equal opportunity endeavour:  it enables teachers and students to share ownership of the substance of their discussion and, by extension, their learning.

Interpersonal conversations and the art of being: nurture this and the science behind the new ways of doing will have the heart it needs to ensure a living pulse.