There is little as depressing to a teacher (save perhaps the withering disdain of a Year 8 girl from under overly made up eyelashes) than a class of saggy-spined young children slumped in front as you as you talk. This gains even more downward emotional momentum when you ask a question and the same hand – the hand belonging to the quick thinker, the one perhaps desperate for the attention of a sympathetic adult – shoots up once again with just the hint of jazz hands waving for you to toss the biscuit of recognition. Urgh, I really recoil from this sort of activity yet it is the mainstay of most classroom practice. So, to address this, last week I tried something different – I focused on the thinking not the answer. More on that later.
Susan Cain, in her remarkably well-researched and eminently readable expose of the insidious cult of Group Think, makes it plain that Introverts are not shy. For the record – NOT shy – its all about levels of stimulation not the fear of being branded a social pariah by some imagined verbal misstep. The secret to life, she says, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert is “to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk.” But where that desk is and its proximity to others of its kind is significant. Introverts need what she calls ‘restorative niches’ where they can refuel from the demands of being amongst the hubbub of daily life. Whereas extroverts are buoyed up by the fast-paced interactions with others, gaining energy from such encounters, introverts are drained; particularly those who are hypersensitive to stimuli. Cain indicates that the exhaustion these people experience has a significant impact on their own self view and their ability to undertake complex problem solving. She also provides three challenges, one of which is to reconsider the need for constant group work. (You can access her 19 minute TED talk summarising her book here.)
This all has significant consequences for the 1 in 2 to 2 in 3 introverted students in my open plan learning space that seats 52 plus 2 teachers and potential support staff. (a total of 56 in some cases). We frequently work in groups. I constantly have to ask myself how is this moment of learning, this experience going to maximise learning for the Hermione Granger AND the Luna Lovegood seated before me. How do I affirm the extrovert and provide the quiet space an introvert needs to go deep?
As an INFJ myself (Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging type on the Myers Briggs personality scale), there is a persona I inhabit when I teach that is warm, gregarious, funny, a thoughtful but firm decision maker who, quite frankly, exhausts me. He is like a tiresome relative who won’t go home after an already over long family reunion. He is the extroverted Mr Hyde to my innately reflective Mr Jekyll. He puts on voices, pulls faces, makes amusing remarks to colleagues in order to gain a smile, offers resources and suggestions sometimes far too readily. He is loud and sometimes on the obnoxious continuum. The inner experience of Mr Hyde is not a wholesome one either. He is more of a Mr Hyper – stimulated, edgy, prone to fast decisions, a quick thinker – which cannot solely be blamed on the consistent application of coffee to keep him from collapse. He is created by the context and arises as a response to the stimulation as it flies from all directions.
Colleagues and others are disbelieving when I say I’m an introvert. Informing them that I have done multiple tests (even with a professional) does nothing to assuage their view that Mr Hyper and I must be one and the same. What is insidious about this situation is that this persona needs to exist at all. I don’t particularly like him and certainly not his taste in clothes.
But there is something even more troubling in this. Even worse, how am I in this very classroom asserting to those seated before me that the loud, the quick, the brash the snappy is somehow more appropriate than the thoughtful, the slow and the well-considered? How does an everyday lesson assert the value of the Quick over those who are Quiet? How can I provide opportunities for the introverts in my care (remember that’s 1 in 2 or 1 in 3) to have just the right amount of light? Well, crammed timetables don’t help that’s for sure.
So, back to the experiment in class when I asked a more significant question and waited for quite a while as the hands lost their flutter. This was the question- “Who finds it upsetting when the teacher only asks the ones who put their hands up quickly to give a response?” Two things of note occurred- firstly, the sagging spines and poor posture of the ‘defeated’ shot up, secondly, hands slowly sprouted from the emotionally barren floor. I affirmed that there were many ways to think – fast and slow- and that as far as I was concerned, the way we were to work together needed to acknowledge both for their relative strengths. By this time I had eye contact from everyone. I asked the last question and asked for no hands at all, “Please think of some other ways we could share our thoughts besides questions and answers from the floor.” That’s when I saw smiles as well as straight backs and saw some trust in those eyes.
When we have some more alternatives to affirming fast teacher-pleasers, Year 4 and I will get back to you. In our own time.
In the meantime, you might care to reflect on this marvelous image about how you could really NOT help an introvert.
A few weeks ago MLC School was energised by the presence of two powerful thinkers, Ewan McIntosh and Tom Barrett who came to introduce staff and students to The Design Thinking Process as a means of re-envisaging learning. The men from NOTOSH did much more than that in the short time they were with us. Through a number of reflective practices, collaborative activities and robust discussions we reshaped aspects of what we used to term ‘curriculum’ and isolated a number of areas that we believed needed radical rethinking. We each pledged to work towards changing just one area for the better. I like a challenge, so I chose one that appeared in many places and in many guises over the two days – even in the workshops themselves. See the picture below to know what I want to work on.
At MLC School we are proud to be a school that is embracing the ‘Learn Anywhere, Anytime‘ philosophy that is enabled by our innovations with online learning, virtual spaces, mobile devices and immersive experiences. We are risk-takers and future-makers. But this can lead to a ‘Anywhere. Anytime. All-the-time!‘ approach that favours stimulation over reflection, consolidation or even down time. When do we stop, turn off the email, stop updating our online units and rest the mind? Sometimes everything is just too fast, too connected to others and not to our own state of being. The drive to be connected all the time means that we can lose an awareness of our own needs and sometimes even what we value most. On a most basic level I am troubled by how many teachers who revel in the use of IT (including myself) complain of poor sleeping habits, primarily due to late nights updating online resources. What impact does an unrested mind have on professional practice and personal lives?
So how does one, amidst all this creative energy find space to stop, to rest, to reflect and to open the heart? Well, I just share what works for me and the millions of others around the planet- we meditate. So, in addition to the much-loved ministry of the school’s reverends, I have been offering meditation classes on and off since 2008. This year these sessions became weekly and increasingly well attended. Last term, many teachers, executive staff members and some senior students attended the early morning sessions whilst this term, up to 20 middle and senior school girls have been meditating in our new retreat space. They report increased levels of calm and reduced busyness of the mind. More needs to be done to support creativity with receptivity in order to alleviate the stresses supported by the Culture of Quick
This week I was invited by our new Principal to lead a reflection/meditation following on from her feedback session on our school’s new Master planning process. Being sensitive to the impact all the changes have had on staff, and the diminishing energy levels we face towards the end of a school year, the session was devoted to developing gratitude and kindness towards ourselves and the school community.
We shared what was on our minds, what we were feeling and what our needs were. Responses were recorded on different coloured paper and then randomly distributed. Its a curious experience to have one’s own personal responses shared by another. It can soften attachment to one’s own problems and open up to a more empathic response.
Some of our needs were for-
To help us move into a more reflective mode, we watched the startling TEDxSF presentation by Louie Schwatzberg in which he invites us through stunning time-lapse photography and the reflections borne from youth and age to reflect on how much we have to be grateful for. You can see the ten minute presentation below.
Taking the cue from Schwatzberg’s words, ‘We protect what we fall in love with‘, the participants were challenged to open their hearts not to the wonders of nature on the scale put forward in the presentation but in our own school context. Meditating after wards, we called to mind those in the school who have supported us, both those we know well and those perhaps who we are not so close to. We recalled moments of connection with these people and brought appreciative ‘eye’ to bear on them, wishing for their welfare, imaginatively expressing our gratitude. This was extended to even the challenging people in the workplace and, most significantly, ourselves – what within ourselves and our lives are we most grateful for?
The same reflection task with the coloured paper was repeated after the meditation and the changes in emotional states and mental preoccupations were significant. Many were moved to think of their families and loved ones and the prevailing emotional state was one of calm. The final reflection was subtly altered from ‘What do you need?‘ to ‘What you can give?‘ The results are worth repeating. What can you give?
Cleary, it was a rewarding experience for the participants. An attitude of gratitude takes time to develop and when it does, time is what it want to offer others. It’s ironic that we often feel we lack time to achieve our aims but when we take time, our perspective shifts so we want to share even more time with others! Our self-orientation is reduced and the heart is opened to the needs of others. We feel calm, centred willing to act from that space.
I look forward to offering more sessions of this kind.
Like many growing up in the late 70s and early 80s bright boxy video games were a favourite way to escape from the tribulations of adolescence. They shaped my view of the world. But so did the novels I read, the late night deep and meaningful conversations, the big ideas raised in school, the ubiquitous hormone induced arguments I had with my parents and the hours daydreaming in my treehouse . David Perry in his TED talk elevates the role of video games to the status of some god-like omniscient being that has shaped the generations since Pong and space invaders landed in our lounge rooms. And created what?…
Before I say any more you might like to view the whole talk here…
Before you think me a techno-luddite, I confess to being a gamer myself who recently has joined World of Warcraft after starting with its far superior younger cousin, Lego Universe. I agree with Perry that games have (or will have) the power to move us creatively and emotionally. They do have the potential to engage us fully in increasigly real-world issues in ways that model consequentiality, reflection, community and imagination. A potential. Not a consistent reality. Also. it’s impossible to ignore the economic statistics Perry revisits – computer/video games are a growing force in the world’s economy that, contrary to public opinion, appeals to women and young adults far more than we think.
Yet I am troubled by his talk.
Well, its not the self-confessed ‘addict’ whose powerful life-story evokes the pain/joy of gaming that upsets me – I can relate to so much of it. If anything the honest addictive aspects drew me in to reflect more deeply. My issue is with the field of games her drew on, the examples, the content of the presentation. All the games that he presented were combative, aggressive and violent. (Yes, he remarks about not many games having adult content, but what did me mean by that?) Games, for whatever reason, seem stuck in this ‘Defeat something, get something’ model. Richer stories that dabble in character and cinematography seems to make this more palatable. Whilst the graphics and cinematic qualities are phenomenal, why is it that the discourse of this pinnacle of art is all about me and my mates getting things? If games are so creative, so powerful, so god-like why are they so stuck?
Now, again, remember I play games and enjoy them but am questioning about the values they present. For me, games are at their best when they allow people to connect and forge friendships. They are awesome when they are strong allegories. They are epic when the skills and perspectives gained within them transfer to the outside world. (Do driving games make you a better driver? Do basketball games make you a better gamer? Do ‘Gangsta’ games make you a better abuser of women?! WTF?!) This is why the new generation of games needs to evoke our emotions and cause us to question our fundamental self-cherishing notions. Games like Quest Atlantis remove combat altogether, choosing the conflict to be in the arena of ignorance vs wisdom. But how many do that?
So, as this blog post was part of my training in 3D Gamelab, it might be prudent to reflect on how this TED talk might impact on my use of this new methodology. Here’s the thing, when I discovered Gamelab, I was so excited. Racing through the initial quests there was early success and, proud of my achievements, I posted my scorecard on Facebook, tagging my fellow Facebooking Gamelabbers in it to roar of my XP and slap their faces playfully with my virtual glove.
Finding myself waking at 4am to complete more quests and stay ahead of my colleagues was an alarm that something was a but askew. Later I would sneak away at lunch time to squeeze in more questing time. Meanwhile morning teas and conversations happened around me. People sought help for various personal crises and I was barely there to hear. What began as a means of exploring game-based learning became a full on assault on beating the game. Thus Competition wrestled with Curiosity for control. (By the way, this blog was written at 7am on a Saturday morning so I’m not out of the woods yet…)
Where in game-based learning is a recognition of a space to stop and get perspective. Why the constant rush to move on? Can the games reward pressing STOP or even PAUSE rather than having the thumb on PLAY all of the time? Or even worse, SHOOT. Is there more to be learned in not playing for a time?
Anyway, big questions aside. It’s 8am. I’m off to work out my frustration in WoW with Milarepa my 13th level Dranei Shaman. or I could meditate…
*sigh* Choices, choices. This time, I’ll press STOP.