I recently ran my first, official, “Time, Space, Education” workshop at Mt. Scopus Memorial College and have come away with plenty to think about. This will be the first of several posts in which I reflect on my experiences there, what I gained from running a workshop and what I gained from the feedback received from participants. This first posting is based on Edna Sackson’s posting called Communities of practice in which she refers to a “culture of thinking”.
Bill and Ochan Powell recently said:
“You can tell a huge amount about a school within the first ten minutes just by watching how adults relate to each other.”
I was struck, very quickly, at Mt. Scopus, by a willingness amongst the staff to have disagreements. People would regularly challenge each other openly, and remain friends. This is quite different to the culture I have found in international schools. Something about them frequently seems to prevent people from having disagreements, perhaps out of fear of “rocking the boat”, “wasting time”, “causing conflict” or worrying about being tainted as “difficult”. International school teachers frequently hold in their disagreements or challenges and can sometimes let them fester into negative emotions like resentment or isolation. I am wondering why this is and I definitely think we have a lot to learn from schools like Mt. Scopus.
Another key ingredient to a culture of thinking , in my opinion, is that people have the confidence to clarify their thinking if someone is misinterpreting them – or even simply not listening properly to them. Many times, as I observed or took part in conversations over the two days, I witnessed people saying things like “no… what I am saying is” or “hang on, that’s not what I mean” or “wait a minute, you’re not really listening”. I really loved this, simply because whenever someone does that it inevitably leads to a more powerful conversation for all the people involved, and everyone walks away feeling that they have been understood. Again, this is not always the way things are in international schools.
On several occasions, and particularly when challenged to really bash out ideas to try and reach consensus on what units of inquiry are actually about, the staff at Mt. Scopus displayed genuine, heartfelt emotions. People’s emotions about what and how they teach can often be interpreted as a negative thing. Perhaps they are upset because they put that unit together or because they really like that unit themselves or because they are resistant to change. When things became emotional at Mt. Scopus, however, it was very clear that the emotions were connected to a real sense of how important some units are to the students’ lives. These emotions are positive and are a very clear, outward indicator that you are working with people who care about their job and who take learning seriously. When we respond to something with emotion and then take the time (and are given the chance) to explain our feelings and thoughts, it leads to greater focus, creativity, innovation and ultimately improves student learning. When we hide, suppress or stigmatize emotional reactions to professional conversations, we forget why we are teachers in the first place.
These three things are essential if we are to continue to develop as teachers, and as communities of teachers. It was very exciting to be immersed in that kind of culture for a few days.