Every school has a population of students who are incredibly complex. Complex can mean violence, they run, they hide under their desk screaming and crying, they are not learning in the classroom environment and are also doing their best to avoid learning as their brains are simply too busy with other pieces. These students require the system to look at them with a different lens, to step back and to dig in. This process requires everyone’s perspective and time. It is a wicked problem and wicked problems need the thinking to be special. It must be integrated.
We met Nogah about 6 years ago. We went to the Rotman’s School of Business’ I-Think for one day of exploring different models of integrative thinking. We were so intrigued we went back for the summer learning 3 day program and we could never unsee the need for thinking together, to check our bias and to use the models for possible solutions. Nogah used the word wicked problem. A wicked problem is a difficult, messy, real world problem.
Andrea was digging around online as only she can dig. I swear she has peripheral vision on twitter and can see things out of the corner of her eye as they whiz by. She also can search and find the “hidden gems” like no one else I know. She did just that as we were looking at going back to remote learning as a province. Andrea found what we call Halton… as we refer back to it as we have 100 times it is so juicy. Capturing Voices: Student and Parent/Guardian Focus Groups. Halton District School Board surveyed parents and guardians about their childrens’ experiences during the first lockdown and “rather than returning to normal, this report is an opportunity to learn, to get feedback and to build a better system that serves all students.”
Halton used an integrative learning model called the pro pro. This was inspired by integrative thinking. “Integrative Thinking is focused on constructively exploring how opposing models and experiences can lead to innovation. We can learn from the thinking that underlies each model to identify our key values and use these values to build new ideas.” The board looked at the positives of at school in person learning beside remote learning. The process was incredible. The naming of the tensions to then be explored that came of that thinking was an incredible move by Halton. The report ends with this statement, Since the end of March, few have felt well-served. As we redesign the system to serve our future needs, how might we find a means to uncover the voices that are not heard so that we can meet the needs of many more? Integrative thinking requires us to actually check our bias and listen first with empathy. Andrea and I, as a new and admin team and as who we are, entered this provincial lockdown with this lens. We looked carefully at the language used by the parents and the students and focused on what we could do to facilitate the pros during the remote learning and then somehow take the pros from at school learning and find a way to unravel them during remote learning.
How could we ensure that no one felt underserved and how could we take the pros of remote learning and learning face to face and facilitate a community, strengthen relationships and ensure that damage was not done to anyone. How do we hold everyone close and make sure they are holding their students or their children close too. The opportunity to work through this together is a change to create a learning community that, while not perfect, could serve the learning needs until we come back together. We could all grow.
We looked carefully at the language used by the parents and the students and focused on what we could do to facilitate the pros during the remote learning and then somehow take the pros from at school learning and find a way to unravel that during remote learning.
Our team is looking very closely at a complex student during this time as we feel we have no time to waste. We invited learning support teachers, educators, board personnel around a large piece of brown paper with our student in the middle. We channeled all of Nogah and the causal model to think integratively about our student and what each of us believed were the pieces we could go after and figure out beside our student. We also reached farther and pulled in their community partners as well as the parent. We are in a different place as a school team as a result of this thinking and learning. We have theories to try and work to do and we are invigorated. We are different for having been in the room with all of the perspectives. A wicked problem is just that… but never underestimate a group of passionate, empathetic educators who are focused on success for their student. It took me back to The Rotman School of Business, the glass walls and our thinking all over them. In the span of two weeks we were right back beside Nogah and inspired all over again.
Wednesday morning, 5 am… No alarm needed…
A: Halton gave us the perspectives we were looking for at precisely the right time. During the Spring lockdown, we actually got a glimpse inside our students’ homes which meant that we had all grown in our understanding of our relationships with families. It meant that our students’ lives, their identities and perspectives were unavoidable parts of the learning process. Halton helped us start and continue conversations about empathy, reconciliation and trauma. You noticed the 12 minutes it takes to put on snow pants – to stay that much longer connecting with the teacher.
K: The learning process, I have watched over the last two weeks, ebbs and flows… the backsy forthsy between educator and student. The learning to figure out remote school and to nestle right beside students, back in their homes felt different this time. Educators were relentless with their digital skills but our conversations with them about their students had a different ring than in the spring. Our work beside them felt different too. The need to pull them in, to get them in the Google classrooms was also relentless and to listen to them from their couches, their beds and kitchen chairs had to have changed all of us… our understanding of place and who our students are, had to inform the work and the feedback quite frankly. They were right in front of all of us.
A: I’m looking back on your words above… the way that integrative thinking checks our bias and returns us to that place of tension and wondering…figuring. It’s a constant feedback loop and we, as educators, are their researchers and their advocates. I was on the phone last week with a mom that was figuring out her son’s place in all of this while she, as an essential worker, was away from him all day. She was upset and uncertain because he could not be in the Meet or practicing his letter sounds. We talked about what learning would look like for him and she offered his relentless enthusiasm for his toy animals and pretend play. I know him well and I agreed that he was learning through play. She then told me about their experiences together, creating a medicine bag and reconnecting with nature – this would also be his learning. She felt reassured and said, as an Indigenous person, she truly knows that is where and how to learn – with family by your side.
K: …by your side – the arrows in this conversation are making me a little frantic as I cannot help but dash back and forth between educators and conversations like the one you had with a mom. She did not ask – “that would be learning right,” She knew. When we sat down as a team to think about our complex students with the cardboard, we knew what would happen – in that constant feedback loop – we craved it and we knew the depths of where it would go. However, like you did with that mom – your empathy, your powerful silence and listening – you do it with the marker in your hands and with your arrows. You are at the front, standing, as it tentatively begins. The words that begin as questions because we are not sure they belong on the cardboard… your silence in the documentation starts the feedback loop. The group of thinkers scroll back and forth over the thinking of each other and the nodes and arrows begin to take life and it is powerful. It did not come from the front… the front just gave it back. The pieces that each of us held now at the front but the connections to each, again so powerful. The bias checking, and the tensions created so much space instead of heading us off… you cannot unsee that kind learning.
A: Remember the food bank, the school garden, the Toronto Film Festival and the exhibition grounds? All of these pro pro examples had stakeholders in every direction. I’m thinking about how cross-pollination happened with those complex students and how we might pull in even more perspective. The more diverse the better. The nodes stretch further.
K: We leave with the nodes we had not imagined nor understood. We have theories we have to uncover and more perspectives to gather. WIth complexity knowing where to start actually makes you want to give up because beginning feels impossible or we cannot get out of our own way with respect to what we have already considered over and over. When we got up, after gathering perspectives, we had places to go we had not been and we were invigorated to begin again from another perspective. There was also hope. Integrative thinking puts it all directly in our way and we naturally start to “stretch the nodes.” Learning requires it. If we leave with what we came with, in a classroom, in a meeting, after a conversation, we were not listening.
A: Nogah knew that Covid-19 put us in beta. I am anxious to be rid of this pandemic, but I hope the tension and the space for listening stays.
K: If the admin team can pull just the right threads, are listening deeply to the stakeholders, and are dragging out the cardboards, the feedback loops will simply keep spiralling. You cannot stay the same nestled in those spirals. Beta lives there.