Day 3 – 3rd September 2014

Today’s #reflectiveteacher challenge is to discuss one observation area I’d like to improve upon and I knew immediately what I would like this to be, my area of most anxiety:  Thinking Environment pairs.

There, it’s out.  And it looks as weedy on the page as it does in my thinking.  There are more than a dozen applications of a Thinking Environment and some of them are pretty complex.  The full Thinking Partnership looks like complicated plumbing; a gynaecologist would have a simpler road map.  Thinking Pairs are one of the ‘building block’ applications and couldn’t be simpler:  in pairs, each person has a specified amount of time (usually 3-5 minutes) to speak without interruption, following the stimulus of an initial, agreed question.  The role of the listener (‘Thinking Partner’) is to express silent generative attention throughout the timed exercise. Roles are then reversed.

How hard is that to facilitate?  Yet I squirm, clock-watch, forget to breathe…make an internally stressed-out meal of it.  Hopefully, this doesn’t show too much (and participants are focused elsewhere) but it’s agony.  I hate and dread it, whilst at the same time utterly believing in the transformational potential of the pairs.  I’ve tried to think about this in an ordinary way, so maybe this is the opportunity to go a little deeper.

So…what am I assuming that makes me dread Thinking Pairs?

I’m assuming that people will find it hard.  I’m assuming they’ll find it pointless and that they won’t do what I’ve asked them to.  I’m assuming that this is a difficult thing to do, in our society – to shut up for three minutes!  I’m assuming that it’s a shoe-in for saboteurs, that this is the moment when the people who don’t buy into the Thinking Environment can privately stick the knife in. I’m assuming that the one-to-one nature of the pairs is the weak spot when there are saboteurs – it takes courage to publicly sabotage a thinking round.  I’m assuming that everyone is capable of listening for three minutes.  I’m assuming that I can’t go over and say, why are you talking?  Yes, I dread seeing that someone who should be listening is in fact talking.  I dread it because I will then assume I have to do something about it.  And if I don’t go over and challenge, I’m in dereliction of my responsibility.  I’m assuming that you can’t interrupt in a Thinking Environment.

Ah yes, but when the pair isn’t holding the Thinking Environment, it’s not a Thinking Environment.   So it is OK to interrupt.

I’m going round in circles here and I’m needing the questioning framework to support me.  So, I’m going to ask myself:

Of those assumptions, or any more which come to mind, which is the one that most makes me dread Thinking Pairs?

I’m assuming that I can’t handle people who don’t do as I ask them to.  (Hmmm, a new one).

Is it true that I can’t handle people who don’t do as I ask them to.

It’s possibly true.  I guess the assumption is really that I will alienate one or both of the pair.  But, truthfully, they are already alienated from the exercise, even if one has sabotaged it for the other (and they may have colluded, of course).

So it’s possibly true that I might further alienate at least one of the participants, but what is it about that assumption that makes me dread Thinking Pairs?

Do I think they are going to complain?  Or shout at me?  Or not like me?  All of those might happen someday, but that won’t stop me believing in Thinking Environment processes.  There are all sorts of reasons why people resist silence (as speaker or listener). And I know the question to ask, even if I don’t always think to ask it:

What are you assuming that’s stopping you from participating in the exercise?

That in itself, perhaps as part of a debrief (“I noticed that some of you chatted, rather than participating in the exercise…”) might shift the focus of self-responsibility, and another opportunity to be in a pair (with someone different) might ease participation.  But whatever, it’s got to be better than doing nothing, which is what I do now…

2 thoughts on “Day 3 – 3rd September 2014”

  1. Hi Lou, I’ve been wondering a lot about that moment when people don’t do as I say. Wondering if in a lot of cases its people self-differentiating. Yes, its not just about individuals; you have to take into the account the experience of – in your case – the other person in the thinking pair, and a lot of our responsibility is to help people achieve things they didn’t think they could, but like you say, if the debrief is supportive and inquisitive, something valuable will be learnt. It just might not be the official Learning Outcome. Half way through the youth program I was working on this summer I decided to step back, be supportive but not tell anyone what to do, even when some of the group were being carried by a few hard workers. There were two factions that developed, and a bit of an argument to go with it, but in the end the group achieved amazing (differentiated) things together, and they’ve decided to continue the group beyond the project, something that’s never happened before. I think that’s partly because I stopped telling them what to do, so by the end of the project they could see how doing it on their own might work. I think the lesson I learnt was that although intervening is important, the time to do it is quite a while after my instinct to intervene kicks in.

    1. I read this the other day and I’ve been mulling it over, Ellie. You’ve helped me see why I felt so uncomfortable. I’m thinking of one incident in particular, involving one of the ‘folded arms brigade’. I got pulled up by Ofsted, so that smarted a bit and has maybe skewed my thinking, I need to let that go! You’ve helped me see that why I’m troubled is that my values lead me to setting the exercise up and then passing responsibility for actually doing it to the students. I’m still exercised about how I can stop one person ‘spoiling’ it for the other (though that can maybe be dealt with by providing more than one opportunity and mixing people up). But on the whole, I can see that people have got the right to choose whether they participate or not and if the debrief is good enough what needs to be learned, will be learned. As for the ‘disadvantaged’ partner, maybe having two very different experiences might even enhance how good it is when it’s done right. Thank you.

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