…or something like that. I’m misquoting from the biologist Lewis Thomas, talking about DNA changes and how they create the richness and diversity all around us on this planet. Yesterday was the first of the Diversity Programme study days, a strand of our EDIFund action research project. Fifteen educators, drawn from all manner of backgrounds, joined me at The Northern College to explore new models of diversity and differentiation, and how we could strengthen our practice as educators.
It was an education in humility.
Much of the past three months has been spent planning, discussing and thinking about this piece of work. Not alone – I blogged recently about how joyous it’s been to think and plan online with collegiate friends. But yesterday proved that, despite all of this rigorous brainwork, I was still making some significant pedagogical assumptions which did not, in fact, hold true.
Assumption One That I could not have as high an expectation of self-directed learning, with a group of students who came together for just one day, as I could of longer-term students. Well, “Da doi!“, as Britta would say to Jeff on ‘Community’, the adult-ed based comedy show which, just sometimes, has a flavour of Northern College. Despite riding a wave of adrenaline for several days, my energy seeped away at lunchtime, simply because my plan for the afternoon was downright dull. Luckily, a group of strong-minded individuals had the measure of my lack of ambition and the response when I suggested a nice bit of action planning told me we needed to go in a different direction, I was just at a loss to figure out where. I was rescued by a plea for more time to talk (and why not?) and within ten minutes we had begun two hours of critical friendship groups, fuelled by Open Space questions, in the squashy Blue Room Cafe chairs. By the evidence of the closing round, this fulfilled everything participants had wanted to get from the day. And good coffee too!
Learning Curve: don’t underestimate your students.
Assumption Two That I couldn’t trust my instincts. When do I ever not trust my pedagogical instincts?! I’m virtually famous for it, in my own head at least. But something about this day caused me to veer from my original thinking which had, in fact, been to have critical friendship groups in the afternoon. Afterwards, I apologised to the group for my lack of conviction and was blown away by a comment from @jfletchersaxon, who with kindness and great grace pointed out that I hadn’t been true to the Be Yourself model. I hadn’t, in fact, been true to myself. Wow. And what was I assuming that stopped me being myself? Ridiculously, it came back to that old chestnut, Impostor Syndrome, suddenly rearing its head…
Learning Curve: if you want your students to be themselves, you have to be yourself too.
Assumption Three That I am an Impostor and I am going to be found out. Oh please. I thought I’d dealt with all of this years ago. Something about yesterday brought it all back again and led to my temporary loss of faith. As I write this, I’m still in two minds about whether the trigger was the external funding context (some internalised capitalist tosh about providing value for money leading to me focusing on teaching, rather than learning), or whether I still feel unstable around the subject of diversity. A mini-Thinking session suggests that it’s the former. That, despite clear evidence that the Community of Praxis approach works, I took refuge in teacher education hegemony, that educators would rather be given ‘stuff’ than discuss pedagogy. No doubt that’s sometimes true (though luckily yesterday it wasn’t). But it’s not like me to buy into it.
Learning Curve: CPD is about creating the right conditions for educators to explore pedagogy for themselves. Believe it.
And what are the right conditions? Yesterday reminded me that these could well be the Ten Components of a Thinking Environment. We experienced EASE once we were discussing pedagogical questions in the squashy chairs, and PLACE too. We gave one another ATTENTION and built APPRECIATION into the day. We provided INFORMATION as stimulus, without letting it dominate. We built a manifesto based on values, to allow FEELINGS to be safely expressed. We created ENCOURAGEMENT for one another. We discussed DIVERSITY and allowed one another to be ourselves. We preserved EQUALITY in our respect for one another’s right to air time. And we unlocked all of this via a series of INCISIVE QUESTIONS, the most implicitly central of all being this:
If you knew that being here today would make a difference, what would change for you? And what would change for the world?