Friday, February 5, 2016

What might someone have learned because you were in the room today?

  • What is one idea or strategy that you are taking away with you back into your school?
  • In what ways might you apply one of the strategies to your next instructional sequence?
  • What is a word or a phrase that continues to resonate with you from today’s session?
  • In what ways has the content and processes of the day informed your current role?

These questions, or ones like them, seem very familiar to us. We often pose them at the end of a meeting or a professional learning session. Participants may be asked to share their thinking with a valued colleague or to write about it on an exit slip. In some instances, there is time set aside to reflect and respond and at other times, they are offered as a “take away.” In any case, these questions call us to consider what we might have learned from the content and/or the processes presented and used.

What if we would end our time in professional renewal by also proposing this question: What might someone have learned because you were in the room today? That is, at the end of these gatherings, we pause to also think about the ways in which our words and actions might have impacted upon the learning of those beside whom we have been working. And what if, as facilitators, we pose this question at the very beginning of our time together. We signal that, as we close, we all will be thinking and talking about our responses to that very question.

The question itself presumes a stance of positive presupposition and a sense of community. It suggests that we are all responsible for the learning in the room. Oftentimes, norms of collaboration state this very notion. We may even review those norms before we begin; but before we know it, we forget about this shared obligation.

Instead, when we begin in this way, we ask both others and ourselves to think about the ways that we will “be” in this learning space today. In other words, I am reminded that my actions, my words, my inactivity, my silence, and my behaviour can be the very thing(s) that provocates someone else to deeper thought, that causes someone else to pause and rethink a previously held position, or that presents to someone else a new strategy or idea.

Over the past several months, I have started my sessions with this question. Educators have provided me with feedback that they have appreciated the reminder that they are all responsible to the community of learners gathered. Some have reported that they believe others may have learned something not as favourable, such as “It is hard for me to not check my phone for texts and emails.” or “I noticed that I interrupted several people today.”

Nevertheless, when we are reminded that we are not only responsible for our own learning, but that of others, it can call us to be our best selves. And then when we reflect at the end of the learning session, we not only think about what others have done with and for us, but we are afforded an opportunity to reflect on our performance, words, behaviour and interactions. In this way, we turn the mirror back to ourselves to reflect upon our impact on others, not just what others have done for and to us.   

Perhaps a powerful question such as, “What might someone have learned because you were in the room today?” can, in fact, help us and others to close the knowing and doing gap.