Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be involved in the one day HWDSB I-Think Workshop. Heidi Siwak, an amazing teacher in our Board has been working with the Rotman School of Management for a couple of years now, and looked at ways to bring integrative thinking into the classroom. Thanks to Board support, more and more classes in the system are learning about integrative thinking and moving the ideas into their rooms. I’ve always been intrigued with the ideas that Heidi shares with me, and as I explored inquiry last year – and intend on using it more in the classroom this year — integrative thinking just seems to fit so well. The one-day workshop gave me a lot to think about, and I’ll admit, that I’m continuing to reflect on what integrative thinking may look like in the Grade 1 classroom. I have no doubt that I’ll share many future blog posts on this very topic, but this post is about another reflection from yesterday: how, and why, could integrative thinking be used with staff?
Much of our time yesterday was looking at using pro/pro charts to see overlapping ideas between extreme models: ultimately looking at how we can use the best ideas in both models to build new models. As our superintendent, Mag Gardner, said in her introduction, “Integrative thinking is about embracing the ‘muckyness’ of learning”: playing and getting creative to solve problems in new ways. It was as I was sitting and thinking about Mag’s words and participating in a pro/pro chart activity that this question came to mind:
Here is something you need to know about me: I don’t do well with the “but …”. Often in teaching, educators will sit around and discuss new ideas. They’ll learn about new approaches. And without a doubt, there is often a but …
- But my students aren’t strong enough.
- But my students can’t all read/write/do math calculations (you decide).
- But there isn’t enough time.
- But we don’t always get home support.
- But I tried that approach earlier in the year, and it didn’t work.
- But I don’t have enough support to make this effective.
- But the needs are different here.
- But my students are too young.
- But, but, but …
I’ll admit that at different times in my teaching career, I’ve offered my own “buts …”. It’s always with student intentions in mind. We want students to meet with success. We know our learners. We know our own comfort level, and we know what seems to work well. Why change?
The problem with this “but” is that it stops growth. We could be doing a “good job,” but with a change, it could be “better.” When the “buts” enter the conversation though, the new ideas are rarely tried because there is so much reluctance. Yesterday though, we learned about the pro/pro chart, and that changed things for me.
Imagine at a Staff Meeting or PD session, you were given two opposing ideas:
- Letting students always choose their way to show their learning in all subject areas.
- Having the teacher always decide on how students show their learning in all subject areas.
After defining what both ideas look like (as a group), you decide on the stakeholders that would be impacted by these decisions (e.g., the students, the teachers, the parents). Then you create a chart where you list the “pros” for each of these stakeholders for both ideas. You only focus on the positives. After completing the chart, you look at the overlapping ideas from both extremes. You try to sum up both sides with one or two main words. From there, you can start looking at how you can use the things you deem are important from both models to build a new one: providing the best of everything.
This is a simple explanation, and probably doesn’t take into consideration all of the nuances of integrative thinking. As someone that’s just learning about integrative thinking, I don’t know if you can really pick and choose what you do and how you do it, but assuming that you can, I think there’s benefits for staff in even doing the first part of this activity: looking at the opposing sides, listing the positives for the different stakeholders, looking for similarities, and summing up the viewpoints in one or two main words. You see, as you do this, you start to see value in something that you never thought you would. Even if the group never decides on a perfect “new model,” maybe by analyzing the positives of both, everyone will come to appreciate something new and move from a “but” to a “when.”
- When the right supports are in place.
- When students can share orally as well as in writing.
- When students can choose to work alone or together.
- When I can run a guided group to assist those students that need it.
- When this is done in small groups instead of as a full class.
- When I’ve shared the information with parents, so that they can support the concept(s) at home.
- When there is a gradual release of responsibility.
- When I have established some key classroom routines first.
- When, when, when …
I kind of like the sound of the “when,” and I think that integrative thinking can help us move in this direction. Now I realize that Staff Meeting times are limited and there are usually pre-established plans for PA Days, but may integrative thinking could make its way into SEF (School Effectiveness Framework) Planning. I think of what my principal from last year, Paul, used to say about focusing on the positives, and this pro/pro chart definitely allows positivity to have an impact on teacher choices and attitudes (or at least, I know that it did for me). What do you think? How can you see using integrative thinking for staff professional development? What benefits or drawbacks do you see? I’d love to hear what others think!