Monday, December 17, 2012

Integrative Thinking and the Bill 115 Battle

Unlike the rest of the blogosphere, I'm going to refrain from writing about the terrible events in Connecticut. Instead, today's post stems from a Twitter request:

Sheila, Brian, Rodd and Heidi were having a very thought-provoking discussion via Twitter about discussing difficult topics online. Brian rhetorically asked "how transparent we really are prepared to be about educational issues in social media" and I found their conversation related well to a book I just finished reading. Brian recognized the book right away: The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking by Roger Martin. Now is a great time for me to reflect on the message of the book and how it can apply to our current situation in Ontario education.

I never thought I'd read a business book, but Anita Brooks-Kirkland (@AnitaBK on Twitter) has often encouraged cross-pollination of ideas (like in her article from The Teaching Librarian magazine). I first heard about Roger Martin at the People For Education conference I attended in October (and wrote about extensively here on this blog) and was intrigued enough to purchase his book on the subject of his keynote: integrative thinking. This is Martin's definition of the concept:

The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each. (p15)
The typical process of thinking and deciding usually involves four steps:
  1. Salience (What features do I see as important?)
  2. Causality (How do I make sense of what I see?)
  3. Architecture (What tasks will I do in what order?)
  4. Resolution (How will I know when I am done?) (page 29)
Integrative thinkers use these four steps in different ways:
  1. Salience (More features of the problem are considered salient.)
  2. Causality (Multidirectional and non-linear causality are considered.)
  3. Architecture (The whole is visualized while working on individual parts.)
  4. Resolution (Search for creative resolution of tensions.) (page 44) 
The "mental models" we use to construct reality simplifies and filters information. Causality is our subjective interpretation of data based on our favoured mental models. We see our theories as the truth, not as hypotheses or our own created models. (This made me decide to use the drawing game Telestrations with my grade 5 & 6 students, because their inquiry question is "What is truth? How do I know when something is true?" and one person's truth may be interpreted quite differently ["How could you think my word was 'tie'? I drew a banana!'] - although I didn't use the term "mental modes" with them.)

The second half of the book describes how to develop an "opposable mind". The three areas that need developing are:
  1. Stance (Who are you? What do you think about the world?)
  2. Tools (What are your theories, processes, and "rules of thumb"?)
  3. Experiences (Hone you sensitivities and skills.) (paraphrased, page 103)
Integrative thinkers, based on Martin's interviews and research involving some of the biggest names in the business world, have these thought patterns in common:

Regarding Stance
  • existing models do not represent reality
  • leverage opposing models
  • better models exist
  • I can find a better model
  • I wade into complexity
  • I give myself time to create
Regarding Tools
  • Generative reasoning
  • Causal modeling
  • Assertive inquiry
Regarding Experiences
  • Deepen mastery
  • Nurture originality (page 190)
Please forgive the lengthy summary - I'm still processing the ideas myself and found it easier to quote key sections. The book is written in a very accessible format, with plenty of anecdotes to illustrate the points made. I'm not fortunate enough to work at the TDSB school that is working with the Rotman School of Business at U of T on integrative thinking but the book is appealing enough that I thought I'd try to apply some of the ideas in my regular practice, especially that of assertive inquiry. It closely resembled the work on attentive listening that I was taught when I became a Tribes TLC (R) facilitator. Assertive inquiry encourages you to "investigate someone else's mental model" (page 157). Roger Martin actually has his students write "personal cases" of failed interactions for future productive resolutions.

Here's an example of me experimenting with assertive inquiry and integrative thinking: now that we are on official "work-to-rule" regulations, there are certain things that we are prohibited from doing. For instance, we are neither allowed to use student library helpers, nor are we to permit adult library volunteers to shelve books. I found this directive very frustrating. I am a teacher-librarian and I would rather spend my prep time planning lessons, assessing student tasks, or working directly with students and teachers. My job does not usually involve putting books away and adding this to my to-do list would be detrimental. The union representative's response was that books will just have to pile up, a physical reminder of our current battle. I really didn't like this either-or set up (either *I* put away the books or *no one* puts away the books) and I wasn't planning on breaking the union rules (I may complain but I do listen when it's required) so I decided to talk about different options with some of my colleagues in the staff room.

I realize that one of my weakness in developing my own integrative thinking is that I don't give myself time to find the best model - I want things to be fixed now, now, now. That made me push in my conversation to try and find an option I could live with. I described the pickle that I was in with the mountain of books that needed tidying, my prep time gobbled up by my attempt to keep my teaching area clean, and my concerns that the mountain would become a mountain range. (My students are allowed to borrow multiple books at once - 3 for primary students, 5 for junior students, and 7 for intermediate students -  and if they have clean records of return, they can increase that number by becoming a "silver star" member. Multiply 30 students by 5 books or more per person, and that's a lot of books to handle!) My colleagues offered all sorts of suggestions and I had to work hard to turn off the defensive answers that would pop in my mind (like "I can't limit the kids to borrowing just one book? That's not fair to them and they'd lynch me!" or "There's no way I could use the class' library time to make them shelve their own books - I'd have no time to teach anything because some of them already take 20 minutes just to pick their books, nevermind sort them!"). I tried to ask them to elaborate on their idea, so I could, in Martin's words, "recognize additional salient data and perceive more or different causal relationships" (page 166). Our Grade 6 teacher noticed some key salient data I had ignored when I first faced this issue: the borrowing exchange period is two weeks and most students do not complete all their books in one week. Why not allow a regular book exchange time one week (providing the usual twenty minutes of book exchange and twenty minutes of instructional time) and then the following week, have the students shelve books during their usual book exchange time (and no additional time would be lost for the lesson). This training on properly shelving books would also benefit them; they'd learn some valuable lessons on decimals, classification, and responsibility. I want to thank Lorna Chan for coming up with an innovative and creative solution to my problem.

I'm no integrative thinking expert by any means, but if my brief foray into this can already achieve some results, what might be the possibilities if our union and government or school boards employed this in resolving some of their conflicts? What if, like Captain Kirk on Star Trek, there's more than just Option A or Option B to handling a crisis, a third, unconsidered solution that everyone can live with and support? The union sees workers' rights as salient; the government sees economic frugality as salient - there are many more factors that we need to consider (like our students' needs, our parents' desires, and more!). We need leaders to design creative resolutions, not within a too-short time frame (December 31? Many of the school boards have said this deadline is impossible to meet), and by considering the whole as well as all the intricate parts. Roger Martin, are there any students there who can help us find a better model?

In the meantime, we prepare for our one-day strike action. Here are the posters I've designed that I will wear (with a special outfit) while I'm on the picket line. If I devise a creative solution to this mess while I walk the line for three hours, I'll let you know.

No comments:

Post a Comment