Andrea and I exchanged texts last week. They seemed a little frantic in nature. I was mostly frantic. I had been reading everything in site. If it passed by me on Twitter, if I was tagged, Facebook, Reuters, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, MacLean’s… all of it. Nothing settled me. The news baffled me and made me anxious and as I prepared myself to settle into a couple of book clubs I sat looking at the books. I did not crack the covers and they sat brand new and untouched.
Andrea and I met at Starbucks (the same one where The Beast was born) and we opened our sketchbooks and simply talked about our consumption of late. She too was reading everything. I had not seen in her in about a week and The Beast was on a mini break as the end of June work frenzy left us exhausted. I was not expecting my brain to go to mush. I had been incredibly excited for a little break and was looking forward to renewed and refreshed. As it turns out, my mind had some things unfinished, new questions and connections that needed addressing. I needed to think about my thinking.
I no longer wanted to figure it out alone and draw a conclusion and let it pass by. I was craving the bump. I wanted to ask Andrea why I couldn’t open Seven Fallen Feathers? I felt angry and anxious as I knew the mess I would become when I read it. I also knew it wasn’t about how I felt. It was part of my Canadianess and how important my relationship is with my country. Like all relationships over time – the good, bad and ugly are part of it and moving forward is the only way to reconcile who I am in all of it and how I listen and read the words is important. I could not open it. Andrea admitted she had not either. We would together and we would join the conversation online. I had not spoken to anyone before about my thinking about the thinking I was avoiding.
Design Thinking for School Leaders’ book club was meeting and I was going to skim. I have since discovered I am not able to skim. I am too damn curious about all of the bits that bring a book with deliverable together. I want to understand other perspectives about leadership and empathy and listen to the stories…We arrived at book club having yapped all the way there about the book…the book club was interesting because in the end, each of us was reading for something different and that comes out in the conversation. What we miss on our own we are drawn back to by other readers. The ride home continued our yapping and yesterday Andrea sent me a text about Blog 20 and The Beast. Metacognition?? I answered YES! And then sat in the garden and considered what I do with my own thinking and even more so how I spiral back around to it.
About 10 days ago I printed two copies of every Beast for Andrea and I. I brought them to her. It was a satisfying stack of 18 blogs. We were curious about relevance and how we had changed over the last 7 months. Would we still have shared the same story when we were wondering and could we go back and talk about it some more given the opportunity? We did – we ruffled and folded and highlighted and scribbled and laughed. 19 was born out of the conclusion that we actually still did not know. My brain was remarkably unfoggy.
I drove away wondering when do we give students, educators and administrators time for this? What’s different now? Go back and think about what you were thinking about and think about how you feel about it now?
Seven Fallen Feathers is waiting for me. It will take me to Troy and to Joe, to Dr. Susan Dion, to Senator Sinclair, to Peguis, to our new provincial government, into myself and to Andrea. I will spiral and I will re-enter the thinking. I will be changed. But I will not be changed alone. My thinking has to join other thinking and new thinking and the mash up that occurs will spiral back again. I somehow understand a little bit better why The Beast cannot rest.
I’m returning to my home school just for a morning. I’ve brought with me a tote of robots and gadgets for coding that I schlep up 100 year old steps to the grade 6 classroom and spread out across the counter. It feels like home. I know the teacher and the students well. The teacher and I go over our intentions before the bell. We will see how they respond, we will play off of each other as we have in the past, we will find out where her students are at. I am prepared to start with a mini-lesson, which I would have flipped to the end or another time or given to a student if this class were my own. They tuck in at the carpeted area in the centre of the classroom. They are so comfortable and efficient with the space – some on ottomans, desks, chairs, carpet – it belongs to them. I have a singular goal: the reason for coding language. This idea presents itself in a picture book and they catch on quickly to problem solving, commands, cause and effect, and variables. We begin a game of physical coding with playing cards. I throw in a wrench – you must write the complete script and start over if it fails, and another -there is only one wild card, and another – I’ve run out of forward cards. They have to get their classmate from the doorway to a specific chair in the room. She will only follow the script that is written, as any robot would.
They eat it up. I am loving the opportunity to stretch their thinking. But it’s not because of me or the game – they are learning for each other. The ideas and perspectives bounce and settle and rewind. They listen. I know my time is short and I’m thinking about the time they’ll need before getting into flow with the robots I’ve brought. My mini lesson was becoming not so mini. Just when I’m about to act on this default teacherness and anxiety, something happened. They were so backsy forthsy that their teacher had taken over the facilitation of their problem solving discussion. Two students stood up to get closer to the cards and to point at the path and to justify their opposing solutions. The moment when my jaw dropped all the way to the ground was when the teacher said “Wait. Could the two of you please continue on. The rest of you,” she motioned a line between the two and the rest of the class, then continued in a whisper, “I want you to watch what is happening. I want you to notice how this conversation is happening and I want you to think about the things we noticed about ourselves as problem solvers when we were working on the skyscraper problem yesterday.” She pointed to a list that included persistence, creative thinking, and perspective taking. Boom. It was incredible.
I can’t stop thinking about it and the thinking we do about our own thinking. Kelly, myself, and our colleagues have thought a lot about whose thinking. If we model thinking, it belongs to us. If we explicitly hit-you-over-the-head refer to our own thinking, it belongs to us. If we create a formula for thinking, it belongs to us. When does thinking belong to the learner – you know, the thinker? We have found that learning through stories is different. Stories are an invitation to infer, make meaning and bump ideas against your own. I would risk putting the Arts into the same category. Your thinking is your own. Is it a surprise to us then, that the thinking of others is not the same as our own? Do you see yourself thinking? To what end?
I was recently asked to complete a reflection template. It’s important to make time to reflect, they said. My reflections are now 20 blogs long in public. I can see myself thinking. The Beast is public but it is also documentation of our thinking within our context. It is ours. It’s not a record. It’s a process and during the process the unexpected comes to light. We discover.
The grade 6 class found out that the reasoning behind coding language is very much like the reasoning behind mathematics. That wasn’t in my mini lesson. They went on to construct and code a giant piano – yes like the one in the movie “Big”. I wish I could have been there to listen in on every second of their thinking in the process.
5 am… summer has finally settled in…
K: You sent me a blog at 4:47 am – 13 minutes before we are going to start our conversation about Blog 20. The Privilege to Look Away. I read your story twice and I read the blog. There have been times in my life – that moment when you wished you could change your answer. I wanted to jump back up to my part of Blog 20 and change my answer. Did you know that would happen?
A: No way. When I read your story I thought about the waiting. I wait and look away to avoid the pinch. Level 2. Summer should be easy.
K: Tanya walked into Alvin Fiddler’s office with the questions to the story that she was going to write. He was so quiet, he listened but he kept saying to her words she had no intention of listening to. I think Alvin has not been listened to a lot. He would not stop until she listened. I saw him in her words, crawl under the desk and pull out the suitcase with the pictures. It was important and he did not relent. Seven Fallen Feathers came forth. Summer is not easy – not this time. Now Debbie Donsky – I don’t get to look away anymore Andrea, nor not read because it hurts. It’s not about me. Level 2 selective white privilege learning is not allowed in 2018. Our students need us to listen but more than that – they need us to learn right in front of them…for real.
A: More than thinking about thinking – feeling. That is the real part. Might we see ourselves, as educators, in the mess, the questioning and gut checking…not knowing? Are we listening?
K: What if we are listening but we stop when we hear what we were not listening for, we interrupt and alter it or we simply stop because we don’t like what we hear? I am stuck on education’s obsession with the right answer. I am not even sure students, or adults for that matter, ever really tell us what they think – what if they don’t like what I say, or it’s not going to be what they are looking for? They know the feedback is going to come in the form of some kind of improvement or change. Why would you actually say something? The gut check can be level 2…I caught myself this week. We can insulate ourselves. I am not sure we are actually listening… The Beast is rolling around in my head.
A: We can insulate ourselves. I drag around the institution and say things like appropriate. There is a cap on how much I can feel because I have a grip on my position within it. I’ve actually had an adult Google the answer to a reflection question.
K: Fear of not the right answer or not wanting to consider how they actually feel – regardless – you do not have to look far nor wide to see what happens when you are wrong…or not listened to. It feels terrible. The part where we feel, when we make the journey Troy speaks about from our head to our heart – when the learning becomes our own…where not knowing is like floating – I am questioning it – I got to not know what I didn’t know by choice and to like the learning because I chose it. Not opening the book and the blog you sent this morning – damn it. I went back to Chris Cluff and the scratchy sweater – it might need to feel like the tip of a sword in our ribs – my privilege – move nearer or away if it’s too sharp. How is that me listening at all?
A: Not knowing by choice – do you mean ignorance? Not knowing to stop ourselves from sprinting toward the right answer, not knowing to avoid standing at the front, not knowing to start listening to perspectives other than your own – is this different or also ignorant? I don’t think that reflection is selfish when you remove the insulation.
K: The insulation removal may be the real part. As you were typing I was reading the words over and over – not knowing…not just saying it and not using the phrase as a way to mean I am listening…not knowing is not a shiny thing to get a deep, honest thinking and and learning…it may have been drifting there. Thinking about our thinking – metacognition – where does thinking about and listening to other thinking squeeze into this and is it even meta if we don’t?
A: Alvin was relentless. And the basket…you have to mend your own, not pick it up and move it someplace safe. Hold what you believe in, for now, in front of you.
K: When we are holding what we believe we have to hold it out – like an invitation – willing to unbelieve it and learn and think differently. I am scrambling in my head to figure out how this looks and feels day to day in the summer – the Fall – the true test – when the knowing begins.
A: Terrifying and uphill. That or trodden and not listened to.