I-Think We Can Move Beyond The “But …”

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. 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 maybe integrative thinking could make its way into SEF (School Effectiveness Framework) Planning Meetings. 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 your thoughts!



8 thoughts on “I-Think We Can Move Beyond The “But …”

  1. Love the “but” list and how you’ve changed it to “when”. I agree that the “but” halts our own learning as professionals. We need to model that we too are life-long learners and willing to take risk. We can’t always just “throw the baby out with the bath water”; however, we can try new things, reflect on its impact on student learning and continue to grow as learners ourselves. Our professional journey should always be moving forward and never ending. We should be observing, reflecting on our practice and challenging/responding/extending on our learning too. Thanks Aviva! I really enjoying your posts! Kindred spirits I think!

    • Thanks for the comment, Tracey! I’m so glad that you enjoy these posts, and as I continue to read your tweets & blog posts, I see that we definitely do have a lot in common. You make a great point here about the need to be continually reflecting, learning, and growing. I’d love to hear how people make and/or suggest making this happen, especially when sometimes being immersed in the “buts.”


  2. Wow. This is some new stuff. I had to google “Integrative Thinking”, worrying that I was missing the new big buzz word in education. It seems that it’s a management idea that ties beautifully into teaching, if I’m understanding it correctly! The pro/pro chart is a fascinating idea. I’ll certainly be interested in reading about your journey to incorporate integrative thinking into your grade one class!

    • Thanks Shauna! Heidi Siwak has been telling me about integrative thinking for a couple of years now, and I’m so glad that I went to this workshop to learn more. You’re exactly right about what it is, and it definitely has some wonderful uses in education. I’m still thinking through how to best use integrative thinking in the Grade 1 classroom. I’m wondering about an oral pro/pro chart using a screencasting tool on the iPad. I’ll have to try it out and go from there. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.


      • I think it will be interesting to try to introduce pro/pro to grade ones, who may not even be familiar with a pro/con chart. Won’t it be lovely that their first exposure to weighing options will be so positive – looking at the good from both sides? I’m sure that will have a long-term impact on them.

        • Very good point, Shauna! I wonder how students will react and if there will be a long-term impact. Even though Grade 1’s may not be familiar with a pro/con chart, I wonder if they’ve considered the positives and negatives before. In life, we talk about the problems so often, I wonder what impact this has on our youngest learners. I’m curious to know what they’ll do when they can just consider the “good.”


  3. Interactive thinking sounds very interesting! Love the idea of Pro/Pro chart! Would love to hear how you will be able to integrate the Gr 1 thinking. You are right about teachers being positive when approaching new thinking. Always seeing the value of “when” is important because the process is for the students’ learning. We have an amazing team on Monday of new teacher in a summer session. They were keen to adapt and learn, they are eager to try and reflect.

    • Thanks for the comment, Rola! I’m hoping that the use of a screencasting app might help in Grade 1. Then students can orally share their pro/pro chart ideas. We’ll see how this goes. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about the process throughout. 🙂

      Attitude really is everything though, and it’s clear that you’ve see that this summer. I love hearing about your great experiences!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *