Stevenson Coaching Letter #35

Hi, I hope your week is going well.  I am at Babson College, participating in a Nellie Mae Education Foundation convening about discovering the root causes of inequity.  I am here as a technical service provider to Manchester Public Schools, and I would love to write about that team, who are terrific, but I haven’t had a chance to ask them about that yet.  So instead, I would like to recommend that you listen to this podcast from This American Life.

The podcast comprises two stories.  The first one is about kids who go on a field trip, and the cascade of consequences.  I know that’s a little slim as a description, but the creators of the podcast have clearly paid a lot of attention to how they want the story to unfold, so I’m going to respect that.  Plus my kids have made me very sensitive to the issue of spoilers.  It made me cry more than once, I’ll tell you that, and the ending was surprising in a good way.

I once saw an English teacher fill a whiteboard with student responses to the question “what is the book about?”  I don’t remember the book, but it was either the Odyssey or something similarly challenging.  She asked the question of every student, and she wrote the answers in two different colors, without explaining why.  Then she asked them to figure out what she had done, and they were able to say that the answers in blue were about the plot, and the answers in purple were about the underlying themes—they didn’t have that language at the beginning of the lesson, but they had it by the end.  It was a great lesson.

So a purple answer—but not the only purple answer—about this podcast is that it’s about the mental models that we carry around with us, driven by our experience, our own cultural understandings, and our own biases; they lead us to interpret information in constrained ways, that are frequently impervious to alternative explanations.  Sometimes the results are painful.

Humans as a rule are very quick to assign meaning to what they see and hear, and a lot of my work, and the Center’s work generally, has to do with asking people to step back from that, and to challenge their assumptions and preconceptions, which is very hard to do, and takes practice.  If we expect others to do it, we must also be willing to do it ourselves…

I look forward to hearing what you think of the podcast.  Best, Isobel

Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Program Coordinator
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106
Office: 860.586.2340

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