Civil Discourse

Where has civility gone in our society? You don’t have to agree with what’s going on, but why are you screaming about it. Discourse is slowly dying in this country.

I have no problem with people being passionate about their beliefs. However there is a way of being passionate and civil that seems to be lost on many of us.

If you’re going to be rude, I am unlikely to listen to you. If you scream at me, call me names because I don’t agree with you, I will turn you off. So even if you have valid points they are not making it into my brain for me to even consider.

As Adam Grant discusses in his book, Think Again, we spend too much time being a preacher, a prosecutor, or a politician. We preach to protect and promote our ideas. We prosecute when we see a flaw in someone’s argument and want to prove them wrong. We politic to win others over to our side. In all three of those cases what are we not doing? Listening.

The first thing we all need to do is listen, really listen. We need to listen before we respond. We need to listen with empathy. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Does that always change our opinion or response? Not always, but maybe, just maybe the other person says something you agree with. Then what.

Then you must modify your opinion. Very few things in life are set in stone. Adam Grant describes this as thinking like a scientist. A scientist is willing to take in new information and modify their opinion based on that new information.

We will never always agree, but that doesn’t mean we have to scream at each other. We do have an obligation to change our opinion if and when information is presented to us that shows we are wrong. To do that we need to listen. For others to want to listen to you at the very least you need to be civil.

Empowerment

All three of the ideas I have spoken about in my last three blog posts, passion, inquiry, and understanding, have brought me to this final idea of empowerment. Wouldn’t now be the right time to empower teachers and students to remake education into what it could and should be?

You might say: Now? The right time? With all the uncertainty? Well there never is a right time. We always wait until the right time, but it never comes. We push things off because it’s not the right time, and then guess what nothing ever happens. But isn’t now as good a time as any?

Uncertainty is the rule, not the exception. It’s how we respond to the uncertainty that matters. That is a major tenet of Stoicism. We need to make teachers and students feel safe in taking risks in adjusting their teaching and learning in response to this uncertainty.

Whether we are in schools or in remote learning, the only people who really know what is going on in any classroom are the teacher and the students. Shouldn’t we empower them to make the decisions that are best for them?

We must allow them to use their passions to make classrooms and learning relevant. Empower them to look at curriculum through their lens and make adjustments that personalize the learning to them.

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek via The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

We also must encourage our teachers and students to question everything. Powerful questions are what drives innovation in any industry. Teachers and students should be asking questions that further their own teaching and learning. They are at the ground level of what can be done to make our classrooms, either virtual or in person, better.

“You don’t have to hold a position of authority to ask a powerful question.” – Polly Le Barre via A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger

If teachers and students are encouraged to us their passions and ask their own questions, they will develop a deeper understanding of whatever they are studying. They can use that understanding to push education forward toward what we envision: equity in opportunities for all children. They will also be happier in the process. What will you do this year to empower teachers and students to make education better?

“I encourage you to commit to empowering the people you serve to be part of the process of finding and solving problems.” – George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset

Understanding

Inquiry and understanding go hand in hand. You can’t truly understand something without asking questions. Unfortunately in our day to day lives we are made to believe that we have to have all the answers. Or do we?

We have created an illusion in our society that you are a expert by having all the answers. Having all the answers limits progress. If you have all the answers then you aren’t asking the right questions.

Nothing could demonstrate that more than the situation we find ourselves in right now, trying to figure out what is the best way to start school in September. I am not sure there are right answers, but there are a lot of questions. Whatever decisions are made will be questioned in the future. Always remember hindsight is 20/20.

Is it really that different from any other year? Sure it is more pronounced due to the health risks, but shouldn’t we come into every year having more questions than answers? We are all aware that the educational system needs to be fixed but yet we continue doing the same old, same old.

I think the first step forward is focusing on inquiry. Our schools should be places where everyone, students, teachers, administrators, staff, parents, feel comfortable asking questions about why and how things are done. By asking questions of each other we can build a common understanding.

We should be using our questions, especially student questions, to build a deeper understanding of our schools and ourselves. Teachers should help students find their own questions that will help them build their own understanding.

We are at a crossroads right now. We can continue to do the same thing we have done for the last 100 years with the only exception of doing it remotely. Or we can take this opportunity to ask questions of each other and create an understanding of what education can become for our 21st century learners.