Three professional duties…?

Curious, Share, AcknowledgeFIRST: ‘We have a duty to be curious’

The assertion that we have a professional duty to be curious is taken from the words of Lucy Sweetman (@lucysweetman) and, with her permission, I used her quote in this illustration from Full On Learning:

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 21.34.06

I would be amazed if there was anyone who works with children and young people who was not inherently curious. For therein lies the strength, if not the lifeblood, of not simply what we do but, who we are. We are insatiably curious. We exercise this curiosity every moment of our professional lives because it sustains us. And it is probably why we do what we do. Seeking out a battery of ways that enable very different learners to make a connection with the ideas, concepts and information that we lay before them is driven by our curiosity to understand, if not, decode the complexities of learning.

To exercise professional curiosity requires elements of introspection and outrospection in  equal measure. We need to be introspective and insatiably interested in our place in a world that is the world of our classroom and our school community. We then skilfully employ the powers of outrospection to reveal for our learners how what they are learning and experiencing relates to the wider world.

When it comes to outrospection, our creativity and ingenuity has an opportunity to jump to the fore. Forging connections between our world (that of our individual classroom and school) and the world  beyond (other schools and external research and evidence) is a natural process. The opportunity and challenge to be truly curious is to make connections between our classrooms and the worlds of business, engineering, fashion, design and scientific exploration, to suggest just a few. To consider the ways in which business and industry has created systems to engage their employees and / or their customers can provide valuable insight into ‘What motivates us?’ as in this post and to learn about the underpinning design process for the London Underground offers opportunities to devise powerful approaches to differentiation or even how to organise the traffic flow in school buildings, as in this post on ‘Phased Disclosure’. Just one look at www.Informationisbeautiful.net and the accompanying book, ‘Information is Beautiful’ by David McCandless enables us to see the power of visualising data to explain complex information and processes…and how we might encourage learners to use visualisation to present their learning.

For a great talk on ‘outrospection’, here’s an RSA Animate production. It’s a far-reaching talk by philosopher Roma Krznaric about the importance of EMPATHY as a powerful force to bring about change and there are some interesting applications to the realm of educational sharing and development which are too many to include in this post.

The professionally curious are the professionally enriched. It is because of this that they are also the enrichers, the inspirers, the synthesisers and the generators.

SECOND: ‘It is our professional duty to share’

This ties in with some of the themes covered in the RSA video above, but the importance of sharing as professionals was brought to my attention by a comment made by the fabulous educator, John Tomsett (who tweets as @johntomsett and blogs here), who simply stated that every educational practitioner, ‘…has a professional duty to share’.

Trying to encourage educators to blog, to document and to Tweet comes down to just this, a ‘professional duty to share‘.

Every day, we share our understanding, knowledge and our experience with our learners so that they can relate and connect with new knowledge. This is made possible through a repertoire of learning strategies, the skill of pedagogy and the design of the curriculum. When it comes to professional conversations, through informal and formal opportunities, most of us just can’t help ourselves when it comes to sharing our ideas about learning. It is, after all, what we do every day. Our business is, fundamentally, a sharing business.

Ensuring that our schools grow as regular and habitual places of such sharing comes about through a systematic approach that actively expects sharing to take place. Many schools who have this in place are now no longer in a position to require educators to share because it is now so embedded that it is part of the culture and, they might say, ‘just the way we do things here’. The challenge is for us to move to a place where the process of sharing is an institutional priority that underpins (and thereby facilitates) daily practice. It then becomes an integral part of the culture of the school and the habits of the members of the school community.

The aspect of Tim Harford’s book, Adapt: why success always starts with failure that most struck me was his proposition that the best ideas come from those who know their context best; from those on the front line, on ground level and who are front-facing. So the duty to share extends from an individual duty that all practitioners have to becoming a duty of schools to seek out and implement the most effective ways for those practitioners who ‘know best’ to connect.

Organisations such as schools who find ways to capitalise on the informal opportunities for sharing that in the frenetic pace of school life are already on the front foot.  By taking the next step and committing time to designing systems that create formal opportunities specifically and exclusively for the sharing of effective practice, for problem solving and solution-finding, the interactions and genuine collaboration will flow. The first step in this process is to make it a requirement for practitioners to share ideas and spend time with each other so that the second step evolves very naturally for practitioners and sharing in all manner of ways becomes a habit.

I read recently that Yahoo! has caused controversy by ending work-at-home arrangements. The anger from those affected resulted in the publication of this internal memo and the initiative was reported in “All Things D”.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of working from home (that’s definitely one for another post), but the rationale for Yahoo!’s change in policy is fascinating, particularly in light of the type of company that Yahoo! is. It would seem from Yahoo!’s stance that they have made human contact and physical interaction a priority for on-going innovation. In this, it would seem that they acknowledge that the value of both informal and formal opportunities for collaboration is too great an opportunity for the company to miss out on, “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts from being physically together…Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, its about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices”…interesting indeed.

Yahoo Memo

THIRD: ‘We have a duty to acknowledge’

GodfreyKneller-IsaacNewton-1689

Finally, we must never lose sight of the third point of the professional triangle, the ‘duty to acknowledge‘. In our collective endeavour to increase and secure our understanding of the oceans of information in which we swim, it is all the more important that we acknowledge the wise words, new insights and droplets of ingenuity that wash over us. Somebody once quoted the famous words of Isaac Newton to me when I was creating a bank of footnotes in an article, stating,  ‘The thing is, Zoë, we all know that we stand on the shoulders of giants…but there’s no need for the giants to be in the shot’. I have thought about this for a long time and I disagreed at the time and I still do. It is absolutely imperative that we keep the ‘giants’ in shot. The sharing of an idea  that is inspired by a conversation or reading is far more meaningful when the original spark of inspiration is placed centre stage in the spotlight. This acknowledgement is an integral part of professional curiosity.It encourages others to seek out and connect with the origins of the idea for themselves. So that others can adapt and create new meanings, thereby enriching the initial spark and fuelling it to shine brighter and for longer.

The way in which educational professionals engage with Twitter is, for the most part, an exemplary testimony to a shared professional endeavour to SHARE, BE CURIOUS and ACKNOWLEDGE. There are lessons in this for our students as they immerse themselves into the exponentially increasing banks of information that characterise all our lives in the 21st Century and when we discuss the uses and opportunities presented to us through social media.

So now, perhaps more than ever, as technology continues to give us the opportunity, we should actively embrace our individual and institutional professional duty to share, to be curious and with this, our duty to acknowledge.

8 thoughts on “Three professional duties…?

  1. Rings lots of bells for me – re. introspection have posted on my school blog recently about the need for teacher Empathy of the learning challenges our students face :

    FRIDAY, 22 FEBRUARY 2013
    Empathy: it can be a challenge!
    I was thinking during this week off that in order to develop and enhance learning we habitually encourage our students to tackle new situations and problems through the adaptation of existing skills or the formulation of new ones. Many of us have replied to cries of “I can’t do this”, ” I don’t understand”, “It’s too hard” with the heart-felt and knowing consolation,” trust me; you can do this”.

    Yet how often as teachers do we put ourselves in a position of uncertainty and challenge, whereby we don’t know if we will be successful ? Do we regularly take the risk to try a new resource; take a class outdoors; trust even the trickiest group with an open-ended task involving plastic rods and split pins ? ( an interesting lesson for me, that one!)

    Can we credibly encourage our students to embrace new challenges if we don’t experience daily empathy with their predicament of choosing the safe vs. the unknown learning landscape?

    Not sure about trying something new ?

    Well, we ask that of 1600 students every day.

    • Dear Ali,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment here and sharing your thoughts about empathy. The reason I included the question marks in the post was to reflect my belief that these three ‘duties’ do not make up an exclusive list. I really engaged with your thinking about empathy and I would certainly count as ‘duty to be empathetic’ as another duty, so thank you for your thought provoking questions here.
      Best wishes,

      Zoë

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