Teaching-As-Persuasion

Daniel Pink’s talk at The RSA discusses how everybody today is involved in some form of selling. We all have to, at some point in our working lives, persuade other people to listen to us, to change the way they are doing things or get somebody else to allow us to do something different from what we may have originally been assigned to do. The art of persuasion is, Pink suggests, akin to the art of selling.

Similarly, every day in every classroom, every educator is engaged in the gentle and not-so-gentle art of persuasion. Of ‘selling’ learning.

From the first to the last bell, educators around the globe are engaged in this complex and necessarily sophisticated act. We operate in a world where goal of the educator is to constantly persuade learners to make a transaction. To give their attention to the lesson topic and to invest their time in doing something different from what they may ordinarily prefer to be doing. Teachers who manage this are rewarded by learners who are motivated enough to chose to invest their time and indulge their curiosity. To explore new and alternative ideas and, in doing so, build their resilience as they stick at the task in which they have been persuaded to engage.

Day in, day out, hour upon hour, succeeding in this is no mean feat.

After all, the task of educating learners out of their own immediate context and into the one that we are persuading them to try out requires us to have expert negotiation skills. We have to convince them that it is worth it for them to jump into the multifaceted world of learning. A world that is full of complexity and unfamiliarity and where for many of them, there is no certainly of success and only small crumbs of comfort in their pre-existing understanding. Just to make it even more perilous for them, this is a world where will be expected to trust their peers. Peers who themselves are either driven or held back by their very own unique uncertainties and fears. And that’s just the first lesson on any given Monday morning.

Pink goes on to say that whilst we are all involved in some way shape or form in the act of persuasion or ‘selling’ as he refers to it, the art of selling (persuasion) itself has changed.

We all know that it is vital to be aware of how the learner feels when we are teaching as we can use this to adapt lessons to accommodate emotional needs in order to sustain their cognitive development. This is just as true, according to Pink, in the context of selling.

But, Pink goes on to say, research suggests that it is far more useful to be aware of what the buyer is THINKING. Pink says that to adapt our persuasive strategies according to what the buyer is thinking results in a far more sensitive and accommodating approach to how we chose to present our ideas and information. In the context of education, this resonates very strongly with what Hattie refers to as the need for teachers to be ‘error seekers’ (there’s more on this on the Marginal Learning Gains blog). This is where we ask not, ‘Who understands this?’ but instead, ask, ‘Who doesn’t understand this?’. This question is a double-impact question in that it produces benefits on two levels.

At one level, it enables teachers to reveal the information they really need to make their teaching the most effective it can possibly be in promoting the best possible learning outcomes; ‘What do I need to do in order to re-frame or re-explain this concept/ idea/ process so that everyone can secure their understanding before I move onto the next topic/ concept/ idea?’. At the second level, it communicates an explicit culture of learning where it’s made crystal clear that it’s okay not to understand it the first, second or even third time. A culture where it is absolutely fine, if not expected, for learners to get it wrong, use this to feed their ‘mistake monsters’ and to struggle at times during the lesson.

There are many more connections in Pink’s talk here with the complex art of teaching, so enjoy the talk, particularly the pen-bit (you’ll see!)…

There’s also a lovely and very speedy RSA Animate Short you can watch here…

 

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