Imagine this scenario: you are in a workshop. The facilitator asks for ideas or suggestions. You bravely put up your hand or speak out to offer something. The facilitator says, “Well, but…” What happens to you?
Or this one: you are in a conversation with your boss, who is a great person. She asks a question. You offer a piece of information or an opinion. She looks at you and says, “Why would you think that?” What happens to you?
John Clarke, Cognitive Coach extraordinaire and Adaptive Schools guru, would explain it this way: any hint of judgement shuts us down. Our reptile brain takes over and we retreat to safety. Then any possibility of a deeper conversation and learning can disappear.
I have experienced these kinds of situations in both my personal and professional life. Sometimes a sideways look, an abrupt answer or a pointed question has shut me down too, and my reptile brain as taken over. I have to say it: I don’t want to stay there! It’s easy to shut down or withdraw, but that doesn’t lead to change (my #oneword for 2015) and learning.
Here are three things we can all try to avoid the takeover of the reptile brain, whether we see it in ourselves or others:
1) Listen actively and openly. Begin conversations with a smile on your face and a light tone. Set aside what you think the right answer is and what to say next. As New York principal Tony Sinanis says in his post, The Three, being “the ears” is a huge part of the educator and principal’s job.
2) Ask open ended questions that invite thinking. Try “Say more about why this is important for you,” or “Why is this essential for you?”. We can also practise asking questions like, “How might we…” or “Can we think of ways to…”
3) Monitor our responses. When we know ourselves, we know what pushes our buttons. I try to be aware of when my reptile brain might be stirring, sometimes with limited success! But instead of jumping to defense, I try to sit back, breathe deeply (you can’t think without oxygen, another wonderful nugget from John Clarke) and regroup. I had great results with this once when a supervisor was questioning me closely. I could feel myself shutting down! I eventually was able to question myself and my thinking and realize that it could change. That was a good moment.
If this seems like too much work, consider this: of course it’s easier to fire out our questions or continue with our usual style. But developing trust and learning is about the way we talk. As Clarke says, “If we don’t attend to it, we can’t change it.” If we see others’ heads go down, eyes to the floor, then we know what we’re doing isn’t working. I want to bring forward people’s thinking and engage in challenging ideas, and I know I have a lot to learn.
I attended Edcamp Leadership this week: my fifth time at an Edcamp and a great day! Let me tell you why.
1) The Unconference Model: Educators want choice and autonomy when it comes to their professional learning. They want to decide what they need to learn to meet student and staff needs better. They want to find out about great resources and ideas. Educators also want to hear about what others are doing in their classrooms, schools and districts. They want to listen, talk and reflect with colleagues.
Unconferences, of which Edcamp is a variant, offer all these to participants. There’s no keynote. There are no vendors. The success of the day is up to you! Participants build the schedule. No one edits or crosses off. If you want to engage others in an issue or topic, put it up on the session board at the beginning of the day. Choose whatever sessions you want to attend. Offer your ideas, opinions and experiences in person, on Twitter, or take notes for your next blog post. If one session doesn’t meet your needs, leave and head somewhere else. Go hang out in the lobby and chat with a new friend. Oh, and it’s free. Yes, free.
2) Connections: There’s a strong link between Edcamp and Twitter. Many people who see the value of social media connections also attend these unconferences. I use Twitter to connect to educators around the world, but especially in Canada and the United States. One of my favourite things to do on Twitter is participate in chats like #satchat, #iaedchat, #ptchat or #cdnedchat. It’s a chance to have a real time conversation about interesting and timely topics in education. The 140 character limit forces me to distill my thoughts to the essentials.
It was super to meet many “tweeps” face to face at Edcamp Leadership and especially those I’ve met through Twitter chats. I even got to participate in a live #satchat with Brad Currie (NJ), Scott Rocco (NJ) and Tom Whitby (NY) – what a privilege!!
I have to give shout outs to Vicki Day (NY), Tony Sinanis (NY), Jimmy Casas (IA), Ben Gilpin (MI), Reed Gillespie (VA), Joe Mazza (PA), Tom Whitford (WI), Sue Bruyns (ON) David Fife (ON), Anne Marie Luce (ON). These wonderful educators are worth following through their blogs and Twitter feeds. Each one is making a huge difference to their students and to the improvement of education.
I also met a number of interesting and committed teachers, vice principals and principals in sessions and break time. I find the atmosphere at Edcamp open and friendly, much more than at a traditional conference. Folks are more than willing to meet and engage.
3) Learning: I love to learn through conversations. Edcamps offer the chance to engage in deep thinking. When you arrive, you hang out in the main room and watch the schedule being built by participants. It’s a time to chat with people and listen to their realities, successes and struggles. You really can have a conversation about all of that in a few minutes! Then it’s time to choose your sessions, where the “law of two feet” applies.
My thinking was challenged and stretched by sessions on leadership and struggle and how to put cultural competency in action. These discussions were so rich that I am drafting blog posts to address both.
You should go.