I like to read quite widely. My RSS feed is full of all sorts of seemingly random things that inform my thinking and sometimes these ideas provide real me with real challenges to what I believe. The challenge bit is quite intentional. One of the issues we sometimes face in education is the echo chamber we live in. We subscribe to the feeds of people we agree with or whose ideas have grabbed our attention. On Twitter we follow the so-called ‘thought-leaders’. We go to conferences where the EdTech and educational rock stars are speaking and running workshops.
But, will this give us a wide and varied diet of influences, ideas and inputs into our thinking? I was reading today about the Medici Effect. This refers …
“… to being open to transferring knowledge from different fields, e.g, from business to education. Education is excellent at being reflective and looking inwards, but very rarely does it seem to draw from other fields. Constantly be on the lookout for things you could use in your classroom. …. Having an open mind to ways those outside of education engage and educate is very valuable.”
(p43, Forget being the favourite: 88 ideas on teaching differently by Tim Bowman)
I agree with Tim completely here (and his book is an easy and enjoyable read). But it is the message in this quote that is key. How many of the influences on our thinking do we consciously look out for that are different from our own? How many from outside of the closeted world of education? How many from people we profoundly disagree with?
This blog post from Corrine Campbell sums things up quite well too, and specifically in relation to Twitter. Corrine addresses the power of what some are calling abrasive tension or positive abrasion. A few people like George Couros picked up her post and commented on it too:
The beauty of genuinely engaging with someone I don’t agree with, rather than trying to argue against them, is that it stretches me. It forces me to re-examine my beliefs and put them under scrutiny. I may emerge with an even stronger commitment to a particular stance, or I may find myself shifting on issues and adopting a new position. This is healthy, and it is to be encouraged.
Out of disagreement or challenge comes a forced deeper thinking. After all if you can’t provide the strong and cohesive counter argument to something do you really know what YOU think?
Also, in what areas of our work in schools do we consciously work to find influences outside of education? Schools are not the only places in society where we manage people, want them to learn, manage conflict and institutional change, juggle competing demands for scarce resources, and so on. We could do worse than look beyond our own sheltered garden for ideas and inspiration.
So in my current reading I have people like:
- http://redteams.net/ – who are security and counter insurgency specialists. The interesting part though is that so much of their thinking is hugely applicable to strategic planning and change management processes. Red Teaming is loosely the good guys trying to break into computer, military and other secure systems. In order to do this you have to plan effectively, manage change and be hugely agile, and look for weaknesses in systems and processes. It would make a big positive difference if we ‘Red Teamed’ things we are planning to do in schools before we implemented them.
- Shawn Blanc and Patrick Rhone – who both write about technology and simplicity. The beauty and elegance of simple things done well is amazing. The catch is, simple is HARD! Having minimalism and simplicity at the core of what we do in education would help in many situations however, where complexity and ‘bloat’ are sometimes stifling creativity and effectiveness. (As an aside Patricks Dash-Plus system is gold as a simple task management system!)
- Bruce Hammonds and Allan Alach — who I sometimes agree with absolutely and sometimes leave me shaking my head.
- On Facebook my feed is full of things from conspiracy theorists as well as family and friends. Again sometimes there are interesting provocations and sometimes some head shaking on my part.
My wondering here for us all is this: Who do we listen to who challenges us? Who makes us want to throw things at the computer screen or the TV? More importantly … if we were in the same room would we be able to put a convincing counter argument to what they are saying? If the answer is no do we really understand what we claim to believe well enough yet?
Getting outside our echo chamber and actively utilising the Medici Effect may well have a lot of positive benefits for our own thinking and the learners we work with as well.