Doing our best thinking


Recently, I had the privilege to attend two very different types of professional growth: Ignite Your Passion for Discovery and a Facilitation for Leaders course.

Many Ignite attendees have tweeted about their experiences (see #yvrignite). I echo Chris Kennedy’s thoughts, written in this post, Affiliation and Ignite. The evening provided a forum to network with individuals interested not only in education, but also in learning with and from each other – “people connected not by role, not by location, but by passion.” I left inspired, energized, and have connected with more educators after this event than any other pro-D I have attended. I can’t wait for another Ignite event, or perhaps to begin Ignite-like conversations in my own workplace – to allow others the space to share 5 minutes of their current passions in the classroom.

This leads to my recent course. I initially balked at the title, Facilitation for Leaders. I’m ‘just’ a teacher… not a CEO leading a multi-billion dollar corporation, or a project manager leading a team of employees, or a government official working with conflicting groups to reach a solution – how would I fit in?

However, the definition of leading in my classroom and professional life means being dedicated to Learning, Engaging with others and yourself, taking Action, and being Diligent in all of these endeavors. So with this definition, I signed up. And, yes, I was the only educator among eight participants. Was I going to connect with these people in a shared passion, like Ignite?

I believe in the importance of getting out of our silos, as in our educational roles as teachers, administrators, and parents. However, I feel it is equally important for educators to connect with those outside our profession. To see education through their eyes, to listen to the challenges and successes in their workplaces, and to recognize that our diverse interests will make our learning – and the learning of our students – deeper, meaningful, and more relevant.

To support everyone to do and to share their best thinking.

This was the theme of the course and a description for the role of a facilitator. A theme that unites people in classrooms, boardrooms, living rooms, and coffee shops. Here are a few observations from my day that I feel can be applied to education:

Everyone contributes to and has responsibility for the process and the outcomes of the meeting.

There are four values that can be applied to staff meetings, working groups, class meetings, or even group projects:

  • Full Participation
  • Mutual Understanding
  • Inclusive Solutions
  • Shared Responsibility.

Educators follow these values but sometimes rush the time spent on shared responsibility. Sufficient time must be reserved in meetings and discussions to share the action plan, to inquire what participants are willing to do, and to identify the supports that are needed or can be given. We often stop at the action plan and may only include those who have quickly offered their support. This can also apply to our classrooms. Slowing down at the end of an activity and providing time for students to check-in with each other can ensure a mutual understanding and a shared responsibility in task completion.

Survey the territory

We can’t know where we are going, unless we know where we are. One of our group’s tasks was to fill 5 pieces of chart paper with as many questions related to the titles: Where, Who, What, When, How. The context was simply stated as this:

There is a big idea or concept with multiple solutions.

Sound familiar to educators exploring big ideas? The draft curriculum?

We stared at the titles and each other. Yet in less than 15 minutes we had 5 pages full of questions such as:

  • What are our common interests? What is the timeline? Where will we find the information? Where do we see this idea in 5 years? Who will benefit? Who is responsible? When will we communicate with others? How will we know we are successful?

Suddenly the unknown task seemed so much more manageable and tangible.

Another way to survey the territory is a context map. Although this context map seems very business oriented:

Here is an example of an educational context map for early childhood literacy:

This is a tool that quickly identifies what can be internally controlled and what cannot, and also identifies areas of focus as the implementation moves forward. Perhaps this is a strategy that could be utilized to identify needs, uncertainties, parameters, and influences when transitioning to the new curriculum in BC.

Creative Reframing

These tasks are easy to do, take little time, but can have a huge impact on perspective building:

  • Role-storm. Identify participants involved and then take on their roles. What are their perspectives? Desires? Challenges? This provides steps toward mutual understanding and also ways to ensure a final implementation addresses as many perspectives as possible.
  • Triz. Design a solution that reliably produces failure. Quite a fun activity as we sought ways to make our project fail. Yet we recognized things on our list that we were all currently doing in our professional lives. A great place to focus change! The purpose of the list is a reference point during discussions, research, and implementation stages – something to guide away from potential pitfalls. I can’t wait to use this with my students and have them identify things they might be doing to sabotage their end results, and ultimately to change their course!

The Groan Zone

Pushing beyond a simple solution can be challenging – solutions that are easily found and readily available are appealing. Seeking divergence is time consuming but can also lead to the groan zone. The groan zone is not necessarily an area of complaining. It is also an area of uncertainty that can be unsettling and cause unease.


Kaner, S. et. al. (2007). The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making

We have recently studied the new curriculum documents at our school, looking at the differences and similarities to current curricula, recognizing big ideas, or exploring the core competencies. However, there needs to be sufficient time spent on the task of exploration in order to reach the convergence point; otherwise, participants are left in the groan zone to feel unsettled and uneasy. Staff meetings are often constrained; there is not an endless amount of time to allow this process to occur. I don’t have an easy answer but perhaps the idea of less is more… allow longer time for exploration, divergence, unease, and then convergence. Or just a recognition that we are in the groan zone, we must move on, but we will pick up where we left off at our next meeting rather than move on to a new area of exploration.

I will also use this model in my classroom. When students are formulating their own inquiry questions, they have the tendency to stop after one or two possibilities. Encouraging them to go to the groan zone of divergent thinking may lead to unease – the end result can seem so far away. However, encouragement and exploration can also lead to a convergence point that results in a better or more relevant question for the student.

To support everyone to do and to share their best thinking.

That’s where we can aim… whether our email signature or business card reads leader, administrator, teacher, CEO, student, or parent. And if we all commit to this action, we will continue to engage, to inspire, and to ignite one another’s passions.

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