Reflections

Thinking about thinking…

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I’m not a ‘navel gazer‘, in fact I would probably get my back up against the wall if anyone accused me of being one. For many people, spending time doing various assessments to learn more about oneself falls into this category; I get that. We can get so fixated on taking self discovery assessment after assessment, after assessment in pursuit of self discovery…but to what end?
renderedimageSo where am I going with this, especially with a blog title of ‘Thinking about thinking’? In my lifetime I have completed many assessments: True Colours, What Color is Your Parachute?, Anchors, StrengthsFinder, MBTI, Values-Based-Indicators, DISC to name a few. Each one of them have contributed to my self-understanding, but to what end? In college, we use various assessments to help students learn who they are, how they perform, what matters to them, what they should do with their lives…again, to what end?

Ok, so this is sounding like a gloom and doom reflection…bear with me, that’s not where I’m going.

Lately I have been passionately curious about the whole idea of diversity, and loving every moment of it. In fact, in my previous few blogs I focused on diversity in the classroom, which really served as the impetus to keep digging into this intriguing area of thought. The intent of my attention to this matter was for the purpose of bringing students from multiple cultural backgrounds together, and through appreciating each one’s unique contribution, greatly enhance their own learning and that of their classmates. I left the semester feeling enriched, as did many of the students.

However, through conversations with my son, Nathan, we began considering the fact that the practice of many organizations is to design diverse teams based on such things as culture, gender, religion, ability, or age. The theory is that bringing individuals from diverse people groups together will result in heightened creativity which would then lead to greater innovation, which would lead to greater productivity and profit. Logical, and supported by research. But…is it accurate? Not necessarily…in fact, other research is showing that while much good can be generated from such diversity, there are challenges that can block the desired results. In an article entitled Diversity in Teams: a Two Edged Sword the authors remind us that there is more to receiving creative and innovative outcomes than simply putting together a diverse team.

The question then arises…If diversity truly is the key element in creating diversity of thought, how do we harness and grow it? And…how do we define diversity?

Here’s where I’m going with this. When most of us think of diversity, we think about the visible…the things we see that make us different: race, color, age, ability/disability, gender… But what about “Invisible diversity”? Bersin by Deloitte  defines this as… ‘the traits or characteristics of a person that may not be obvious, such as diversity of thought, perspectives, and life experiences (which may include education, family status, values and beliefs, working-style preferences, and socioeconomic status).’

Is it possible that the best path to creativity and innovation doesn’t lie in visibly diverse teams, but in teams that also strive for invisibly diverse teams?

Closing the loop…if I want to successfully work with an invisibly diverse team, one that embraces differenct ways of thinking based on such things as values, beliefs, experiences, perspectives…I need to understand where I’m coming from; I need to first be a student of myself before I can understand those unique individuals I will be privileged to work with.

Thus starts the journey into re-learning about, and appreciating, my own uniqueness, FOR THE PURPOSE of learning about, and appreciating others, so that together we can innovate and create amazing things.

The Appreciative Classroom.

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It is amazing how quickly 6 weeks goes by when you’re having fun…at least for the professor! I think the best way to sum up this recent teaching experience was that of appreciation; appreciation for the students, appreciation for the diversity they brought to the classroom, appreciation for the support they demonstrated towards one another, and appreciation for their appreciation!

Let me recap somewhat. I began this summer session with the desire to bring an appreciative environment and attitude into the classroom. In my previous blogs, Appreciating and Learning and  The Learning Continues , I expressed the challenges I was facing with an increase of international students in my class. In fact, I ended a previous semester rather discouraged and overwhelmed. In the process of researching appreciative inquiry, I made a commitment to not only change my attitude toward teaching, but to create a classroom environment where each student would feel valued and appreciated for who they are and for how they have contributed to the great moments in their learning journeys. Well, the semester is finished and I am excited about their feedback as well as my own learning.

Let me share just a few of the feedback comments shared with me by a few students:

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Results of a team activity.

* ‘I felt accepted, I was able to share my opinions without fear of judgement.’
* ‘Males from my own culture actually encouraged me to share my opinion…this is not the way it is at home.’
* ‘Students from different nations come here…professors respect this by not making the environment awkward for the foreigner.’
* ‘Our class culture is that of trust and acceptance; these are the foundations for establishing an environment in which students are empowered and comfortable. Because of this, students provide feedback to improve the classroom teaching and learning environment, which helps students to learn from their mistakes and gain achievements. Another element of the class culture was innovation; more ideas come from each students as we worked in a groups to solve the problems and teach each other.’

As already stated, I began this semester with the desire to experiment with appreciate inquiry in the classroom and it truly was impactful. Besides the incredibly positive manner in which the students responded, I learned some valuable lessons regarding cultural diversity in the classroom. Here are some highlights…

* Remember that our ‘North American’ approach to classroom facilitation can be both unfamiliar and uncomfortable for some cultures.
* Don’t make assumptions about everyone’s technical ability, no matter what generation they represent.
* Resistance to speak out in class, especially in front of the whole class, does not indicate lack of engagement…it can be an indicator of great lack of self-confidence. This lesson coming from strongly male dominated cultures.`
* Based on the previous point, small group discussion is appreciated by students and provides great opportunity to share from their own unique experiences.
* Provide opportunities for culturally diverse small groups…heterogeneous vs homogeneous.
* For many cultures, living in the moment overtakes the desire to get the work done…if a friend is in need, that overrides any other commitment, even to the point of personal failure.
* Making time to meet one on one with each student is time well spent! The time taken greatly enhances the ability to make the learning relevant…and builds trust between student and teacher.
* Speak openly about diversity…intentionally invite the sharing of opinions from various perspectives; and listen with respect creating a safe, enriched environment
* Don’t ever stop checking our own assumptions and stereotyping; don’t be afraid to ask students for clarity and understanding regarding cultural differences.

Each one of these lessons call for deeper reflection, in fact they compel me to imageruminate, to probe, to ponder, and to enter into meaningful dialogue to further explore the ramifications of each.

As I work through each, I then need to consider how these learnings will impact other aspects of classroom facilitation…evaluation being one area that comes to mind. In the past, team evaluations have taken the stance of deducting marks from those who did not equally contribute to an assignment…in other words, finding a practical way to deal with social loafing. What would a team evaluation look like if marks were awarded from the perspective of the great contribution each team member made to the outcome of an assignment? Would this appreciative approach help group members to focus on the strengths of their team mates rather than their lack of effort? Worth investigating!

This semester provided the platform for me to learn and experiment with one class made up of 21 students, representing 5 diverse cultures. Is it possible, or even realistic, to replicate and build on this with 4 different classes of 30-40 students each? I intend to find out and continue my learning journey. I love the idea of starting from a place of what works and building on that…appreciative classroom facilitation!