“Success demands singleness of purpose.”
~ Gary Kelly, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
I recently read The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Kelly and was struck by its beautiful simplicity. Kelly posits when we try to do too many things at once, we’re highly unlikely to do anything well; and rather we “need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.”
Now if you’re in the field of education, you may have just read that quote and wondered if Kelly was sitting around your last staff meeting, or maybe even rhetorically asked yourself if he was mocking the last district initiative memo you received.
As teachers fighting to survive the rapidly changing educational landscape, we’ve all experienced feeling like we’re asked to do too many things, and as a result, do few things (maybe some days, even zero things) well. As an educator supporting teachers through project-based learning (PBL) implementation, I see this strife far too often.
How might we use Kelly’s logic to go about doing PBL with fidelity and quality? And not lose our teachers through the process?
Well, let’s just do ONE thing and do it well!
Assessment. Accountability. Benchmarks. Pacing.
These words all carry such negative connotations, yet they’re a driving force in the world we must exist in as educators today. As teachers, we must toe the line every day between progressive ideas tugging at our hearts and external standards with accompanying responsibilities.
Is it possible to move beyond this “either-or” paradigm?
Regardless of context, we’d all likely agree that facilitating student collaboration isn’t an easy task. And if we’re being fully transparent, we can confess that sometimes it’s downright painful! Somewhere along the secondary grades, we tend to lose sight of explicitly teaching students skills such as collaboration, and rather expect students to simply be able to successfully work in a group together.
With limited time, support, and resources available to develop our craft in regards to student collaboration, it’s easy to focus on other demands and hope that students will organically develop these skills. If this resonates with you and sounds like something you need support with, I’d like to invite you to sign up for one of the 50 open seats in a new learning experience starting on November 10th, with an online launch at noon Pacific/3 PM Eastern. Over five weeks, we’ll work together to try strategies for increasing student collaboration in the classroom, concluding our journey on December 15th.
Author’s note: This is a continuation of my post Design Thinking, Empathy, and Equity, that was published earlier this year. It feels particularly timely to share after the racially divisive and violent events that marked this past month.
I have no doubt that our students will return to our classrooms in August with questions we’re afraid or unsure how to answer, and possibly with fear and frustration. I want to offer up the following as one possibility for how we can move our collective equity work forward. Building empathy in our students is a beginning step toward the creation of a more loving society, and perhaps design thinking can get us there.
When engaged with fidelity, the design thinking process is a rigorous one that truly engages students in deeper learning. If we’re grounding this work in equity, the process shouldn’t be rushed. In fact, the seemingly fluid process of design thinking should include pauses. Such pauses should take place after students have started building their empathy muscles, and are approaching the stages of prototyping and testing.
I honor and admire Design Thinking for many reasons — its ingenuity, how engaging and rigorous it can be for students, and ultimately that it serves as a vehicle for Deeper Learning. But mostly I value Design Thinking because it gives me hope — hope in the power and potential that it holds for our students as human beings. Design Thinking has the unique power to leverage the intersection of equity and innovation through deeper learning and empathy.
“… a critical friend is someone who is encouraging and supportive, but who also provides honest and often candid feedback that may be uncomfortable or difficult to hear. A critical friend is someone who agrees to speak truthfully, but constructively, about weaknesses, problems, and emotionally charged issues.” — The Glossary of Education Reform
Being critical friends means that we can depend on our colleagues to help us reach our potential. We all serve as critical friends (and really, aren’t these two words synonymous?) who push our practice, help one another see bright spots, and offer resources and a clear path for steps to quality teaching and learning. And while critical friends are who we are for each other, it’s also what we do. Critical Friends is one of many protocols we engage in to provide feedback aimed at improving project design, quality of instruction, and deeper learning experiences for our students.
Why we give feedback
A phrase that I often hear in my work supporting schools is “the culture of the students will never exceed the culture of the adults in a building.” Engaging in the Critical Friends protocol requires a professional culture that is grounded in a shared sense of ownership. It requires a staff that deeply respects one another and can uphold professional norms when engaging with one another. What Critical Friends requires, it also generates — a culture of collaboration. Once a staff is able to successfully collaborate, then they are ready to become a learning organization that can grow together in their practice.