Gaining the Skills, Knowledge and Dispositions of Thinking Together: Essential Educational Goals as We Help Our Students Meet Their Futures

I believe that getting good at thinking together is an important goal to strive for.   As teachers we need to help our students to develop the skills, dispositions and attitudes helpful to engage in thoughtful, productive conversation.

The complexity of the world can lead adults to respond to problems in ways that are almost devoid of interdependent thinking in spite of the potential good that can come from collaboration as a “co-creator”.  As our students move into adulthood may they be much more comfortable thinking together in our world full of complexity.

Academic_conversation Kegan and Lahey explain, “when we experience the world as ‘too complex’ we are not just experiencing the complexity of the world.  We are experiencing a mismatch between the world’s complexity and our own at this moment.  There are only two logical ways to mend this mismatch – reduce the world’s complexity or increase our own.”  Kegan and Lahey conclude that, despite the challenge of developing interdependent thinking skills, adults can develop their thinking.  In the interest of more effectively addressing the many challenges adults face, it is clearly worth increasing our own complexity by becoming thinkers who are good at thinking with others.

The promise of people thinking interdependently through contentious problem situations is that such efforts can ultimately achieve significant positive outcomes for society and/or for the individual. When we engage in interdependent thinking, we can all influence and be part of positive change.  We all will not get our way or be the ‘argument winner’.  But if we invest in the concept of thinking together with an open mind, a willingness to understand how others think and feel, and a desire to reflect and rethink throughout the process of coming to an actionable decision – we can accomplish much together.

Block asks the question, “How are we going to be when we gather together?”   This is a crucial question.  My answer is that adults need to intentionally develop abilities for thinking interdependently.  We must actively deploy these skills to effectively work, listen and think with each other.  It is our shared responsibility to engage with one another with the goal of producing positive change for the future.  And we must intentionally commit to having schools that encourage all of today’s youth to work, listen and think together as they develop.  Because it is also our shared responsibility to do more than grow ourselves – we must nurture the growth and development of today’s youth so they might fully participate in tomorrow’s world.

1)              Kegan, Robert, and Lahey, Lisa L. Immunity to Change. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Press, 2009 page 12 – 14

2)              Block, Peter. Community: The Structure of Belonging. San Francisco, California: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008 page 10

3)              Much of what appears above I wrote and has been published in the Foreword  I wrote to: The Power of the Social Brain: Teaching, Learning, and Interdependent  Thinking by Arthur L. Costa and Pat Wilson O’Leary, Teachers Colleges Press, 2013 page xii

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