Sunday, December 10, 2017

"I inquire into my practice all the time!" Yeah right.

I got stuck in traffic a few weeks ago. I decided that I would use the time productively by dictating a blog post to my phone (thanks to Richard Wells for the voice dictation inspiration!). This post has been distilling in my head for some time and seemed a fitting post at this time of the year where we often have a moment to reflect on our practice.

When the subject of Teaching as Inquiry or Spirals of Inquiry is discussed in schools, one of the phrases that I have heard numerous teachers say over the past few years is "I inquire all the time, I just don't write it down". Sometimes this sounds like "I reflect about my practice all the time, I just don't write it down." Well, today I would like to go out on a limb, put on my devil's advocate horns, and say... I think that is nonsense, baloney and rubbish. I better explain...
There are two reasons for this, the first is the nature of memory. The way I memories work, is that every single time we access a memory, we modify it slightly. The more times we have recalled a memory, the we have manipulated it and changed its shape. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the video below from Dr Julia Shore.

Dr Shaw's research into memory showed that people who had never been involved with a violent crime, could be 'memory hacked' to believe that they committed one. Alarmingly, the memory hacking experiments was so effective, that the research had to be shut down early. While Julia's work is targeted at criminal psychology, this is very relevant for all of us who have a "but I inquire all the time, I just don't write it down approach". The reality is, that unless we write things down, we are like to bend and flex our memories to suit us. And, every time you recall a memory, you bend, shape and flex it even more. So while you thought you were inquiring into your practice, what we might really doing, is modifying your memory to suit our purpose. And every time I remember it, I convince myself just a little more. In other words, the retrospective recording of your inquiry just before your appraisal meeting is not great for critically reflecting on your practice...

The second bit of research worth paying attention to is the work of Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his book, Thinking Fast and Slow. One of the key ideas that Kahneman talks about is cognitive bias. Through great examples in his book, he shows us just how biased we are without realising. Have a go at some of these problems that illustrate our biases if your don't believe me! What this means is that if we are "inquiring all the time but not writing it down" and not formally collecting data, and attempting to analyse it objectively, it is very likely that we might in fact be feeding into the cognitive biases embedded in our thinking.

I’ve been reading Ann Milne's book, Colouring in the White Spaces.  What really stands out from this book, is the generational prejudice and bias in our system that we don’t even notice. We are biased and prejudiced in ways that we are not even capable of identifying. The same is true for biases about women, race and more.

Consider for example the following,
"In 2003, Columbia Business School professor Frank Flynn and New York University professor Cameron Anderson ran an experiment to test perceptions of men and women in the workplace. They started with a Harvard Business School case study about a real-life entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen. The case described how Roizen became a successful venture capitalist by using her “outgoing personality … and vast personal and professional network [that] included many of the most powerful business leaders in the technology sector.” Flynn and Anderson assigned half of the students to read Heidi’s story and gave the other half the same story with just one difference—they changed the name “Heidi” to “Howard.” Professors Flynn and Anderson then polled the students about their impressions of Heidi or Howard. The students rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent, which made sense since “their” accomplishments were completely identical. Yet while students respected both Heidi and Howard, Howard came across as a more appealing colleague. Heidi, on the other hand, was seen as selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.” The same data with a single difference—gender—created vastly different impressions." Exert from Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Kindle Locations 723-728). Ebury Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

Ultimately, if we are really committed to make a positive change, it is necessary that we become aware of our biases. For many generations now, we know our education system has not served our Māori and Pasifika students well. We know that not as many girls stay in the STEM subjects. Whether we like it or not, some of this is as a result of our biases, and unless we are able to identify, critique and address them, change is very unlikely. Fortunately, Teaching as Inquiry and Spirals of Inquiry models help us to do just this. By forming a hunch and seeking ways to test our hunches, it allows us to challenge our assumptions. However... when we adopt an "I inquire all the time, I just don't write it down" attitude, we are in fact at risk of continuing to be subject to our biases, particularly given how our memories are modified every time we recall them. Additionally, perhaps when we write things down, when we deeply challenge our assumptions and beliefs about the world, the need to change ourselves comes to the forefront. Once we realise our bias, we have to do something about it. But making genuine change requires an investment of physical and emotional energy. Often making change is really uncomfortable. So perhaps when we can't be bothered to write things down, to do the work required to make change, what we are really saying is that we are not prepared to make change.

So here are my questions for you. How well did you record your inquiry? Did you do so regularly? Did you collect data in such a way that you could challenge your own assumptions? Just how committed were you to making change? Or will 2018 be the year where you inquire all the time and write it down?