Coaching Letter #115

Friends, I hope this finds you well. I know there are people reading this who have been ill with covid-19, and others who know someone who has died. I am very sorry. I know also that people in education have plenty offers of help and resources coming at them, so I don’t want to add anything that I don’t know to be absolutely on point. I will tell you that at the Center we are working very hard to provide structure for educators thinking about what the coming months are going to be like—more on that soon. In the meantime, you might want to check out Return to School Roadmap—everyone I’ve shared it with has found it very useful. I wish I could take credit for creating it—if you check out the bios of the design team, you’ll see they are an impressive crew.
I did start a list of online articles about the coronavirus that I want to keep—not the news or the politics, but the science and the psychology and some first-person accounts. I haven’t got very far. If you have suggestions for articles to add, I would love to hear them.

I am very grateful that Fran Rabinowitz hired the Center a few years ago to facilitate the development of the CAPSS strategic plan. She was very clear at that time that she didn’t want the planning process or the final document to be “business as usual”, and asked us to use a scenario planning methodology. I wrote about it in Coaching Letter #26. It’s not like we created a scenario for a pandemic (that would be cool), but I did have to do a lot of preparation and a ton of reading (see this bibliography if you want to know more), which has turned out to be incredibly useful.

One of my all-time favorite resources is the Red Team Handbook. I printed it out and it sits in a 3-ring binder within easy reach. It is the training handbook for members of the military tasked with being part of a red team—basically, a group charged with finding the flaws in a strategy, plan, website, or whatever. A lot of it has to do with upending assumptions, understanding biases, and learning how to listen. I would give a lot to see an army red team in operation. Of course, it’s not only the military that has red teams—the book by Zenko called Red Team is a really great read, with lots of examples.

Oh, and in a recent coaching letter I wrote about how we are limited by our previous experience, including that there is a name for when we cannot imagine beyond the worst thing that has happened—it’s called the Lucretius effect and you can read about it in this Farnam St blog post.

Speaking of mental models and their limits, this story seems very relevant today. I don’t know why it popped into my head—it happened 10 years ago when my boys were seven, and sorry if you’ve heard this before because I bring it up quite a lot. But the experience had an enormous impact on me—I’m not exaggerating. It gave me a whole new level of insight into how all my education and experience were not as useful as a more open and expansive way of thinking, and how I could be out-problem-solved by a seven-year-old. In psychological terms, experience provides you with a more elaborate mental model (which helps with problem-solving, strategy-building and decision-making), but it also gives you tunnel vision (which doesn’t).

I think this was the semester when my husband was out of town every weekend for work. We lived in Colorado. For a fun thing to do, I was going to take the boys on the light rail. I drove us to downtown Denver, parked as close as we could get to Union Station (which wasn’t very close), and walked to the light rail platform. We were going to take the train to Park Meadows (enormous and fancy mall way on the southern edge of Denver—we shall tell our grandchildren about such places) and back. Since we had been past the station before, I knew there were automatic ticket machines on the platform.

What had not occurred to me, and I had not looked very closely, was that the machine would not take credit cards. I use credit cards for everything. I had $9 in my wallet, which was not going to get us very far. I looked at the boys, I looked at the machine, I looked at my wallet. I told them I did not have enough money, and began thinking of a good alternative to the planned trip, while waiting for them to digest that there was going to have to be a change of plans. I braced myself to deal with disappointed boys.

One of them just looked at me and said “why don’t we go find the nearest ATM?” So we walked into Union Station where there was, indeed, an ATM machine. Half an hour later, we alighted at Park Meadows, and spent a very pleasant afternoon in the toy store, eating Ben and Jerry’s, and visiting the new Microsoft Store. I paid cash for everything.

Have a humble week. Stay well, and let me know if you need anything. Love, etc., Isobel

Isobel Stevenson, PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
istevenson@ctschoolchange.org
860-576-9410
@IsobelTX
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2020-04-27T15:50:07+00:00