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driving thoughts

May 25, 2013

Driver's seat

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Despite the fact my mornings are mist-shrouded rather than neon dazzled, and Great Northern Highway offers truckblocks along with grapevines, a smattering of alpaca, and the odd tractor view, this photo captures the frenetic daily enterprise of school/life/work.

Cue the video I reimagine at critical points during the drive:

Of course, no renegade truck driver is out to ram me across occupied traintracks, but there are 35 minutes each morning and evening where I have space to think about curriculum, exam design, instructional strategies, and less altruistic ephemera such as passport photo acquisition for that September trip to Paris, largely pleasant reverie and rare, fleeting fears. Normal human psyche stuff, nothing too unusual, though I am mindful that meditative practice has potential to shape both my days and how I’m left feeling about events that occur within the brackets.

Cue a favourite from Twitter:

Thoughts and emotions come and go like passing clouds. #mindfulness

So, how to cultivate a sustaining practice of driving thoughts?

Music is one source of inspiration. This requested for the 100kmh overtaking lanerush:

More cinematic soundtrack?

Picturing low sunrise over the Darling Range, headlight-halo burning through fog, and the joy of traffic-toiling south towards Midland as you head in the opposite direction:

Driving questions also filled my mindscape this week as year 10s undertook a planned visit to year 1 & 5 classes so that surveys of potential customers’ tastes could be incorporated into their design process for ad campaigns. Driving question starters:

  • what appeals to young viewers?
  • how does advertising work?
  • what techniques can we use to create elegant ad campaigns?

Hmmmm… needs ongoing refinement given yesterday’s query regarding standards: Makayla (to me) is the draft good enough? She had a point. The year 1’s proved relatively uncritical. My response drew on cognitive coaching – evocation of states of mind:

Is this the best work you can produce to reflect your ability as a learner, or you are hopeful it’s just-good-enough for your teacher? 

In this instance, efficacy and craftsmanship were my focus for mediating thinking, and

In brain terms, a state is composed of a cluster of neural firing patterns that embed within them certain behaviours, a feeling tone, and access to particular memories. A state of mind makes the brain work more efficiently, tying together relevant (and sometimes widely separate) functions with a ‘neural glue’ that links them in the moment (Siegel quoted in Costa & Garmston, 2012, p.27).

We continued finalising business cards (they resisted the pitch) for the remainder of Friday’s period. Having reviewed images collected on the iPad, regaled each other with stories about what little kids say (one year 1 boy claimed to own two pets – a dog, and a sandwich), the process demonstrated responsibility while dealing with younger students.

Habits of mind came to the fore; students in their own driving seats.

So much for our collaborative practice in the classroom and across the school (one significant bonus of being on a K-12 site). Our Humanities team also drove considerable energy along reflective paths (performance management finalised), planning avenues (how to innovate in second semester given what we now realise about our current approach in 7-10 course outlines), and problem resolving to ensure that students at risk are given opportunity to access exam papers we are designing for week 5.

Like I said at the outset, frenetic. Your day-to-day is probably remarkably similar. Art comes into play while monitoring this process. Moment-to-moment judgement coupled with small-scale adjustments. But what happens when we encounter this:


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There’s my roadblock.

During a 3 hour professional learning workshop conducted this week, I engaged in an online conversation-post with one of my year 12 students (who had a relief teacher in front of them) via Edmodo in order to resolve concerns she was having with a planned in-class assessment. For this, in a private conversation, I have been chastised as unprofessional. What do you think?

Ethically ill-considered behaviour? Etiquette breach?

I have been floored by this remark for the past 24 hours; driving home last night (when I allowed myself to reflect) felt surreal.

Here’s balm according to system-thinking theory:

Whenever we deny life’s self-organizing capacity, leaders must struggle to change these systems by imposition. They tinker with the incentives, reshuffle the pieces, change a part, or retrain a group. But these efforts are doomed to fail, and nothing will make them work. What is required is a shift in how we think about organizing. Effective organization occurs as people see what needs to happen, apply their experience and perceptions to the issue, find those who can help them, and use their own creativity to invent solutions. This process is going on right now in organizations, in spite of efforts at control. People are exercising initiative from a desire to contribute… Can we learn to support people and leave behind fear-based approaches to leadership?

… Enough people drive to work wondering how they can get something done despite the organization – despite the political craziness, the bureaucratic nightmares, the mindless procedures blocking their way… (Wheatley, 2007, p.66-7).

Sleep certainly helped calm the turmoil, and affords me some distance. However, my current attunement to what was said reveals insights:

  • Not everyone thinks (as I do) that mobile devices are essentially time-saving tools designed for ubiquitous, invisible use in order to communicate freely with others
  • Not everyone believes (as I do) that students’ learning comes first, especially while working with students in school contexts and – more specifically in this instance – students in my classes.

One lasting legacy is my sense of being treated like a child. How I have been upbraided will stay with me for some time. What I choose to do in response to these feelings is entirely within my control.

Selected references
Costa, A.L. & Garmston, R.J. (2012). Cognitive coaching seminars foundation training learning guide. Moorabbin, Victoria: Hawker Brownlow Education.
Wheatley, M.J. (2007). Finding our way: Leadership for an uncertain time. San Francisco, CA:  Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Recommended reading on PBL:
And transforming curriculum:
4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2013 5:30 am

    Sam, I always love reading your posts. You are so generous to share your trains of thought, and your synthesis of theory and practical give me inspiration. I am really sorry to hear about your “etiquette” issue – and I think you did the right thing, anyway – we are in education to put the kids first. In a similar situation, a colleague advised me to always act from the moral imperative to put our students at the centre of all we do, and we can’t go wrong… hope you’re feeling stronger soon!

    • May 27, 2013 6:03 pm

      Thanks for this feedback, Denise; I feel my moral bearings have been affirmed.
      Perhaps the misplaced concerns arose because tech-facility outstripped cultural norms. As learners-with-mobile-devices, we may be used to simultaneous sharing of real space/ physical presence and online exchange.
      That others see my actions differently certainly gave me pause for thought about my own assumptions and expectations.


  1. undertaking shift | tolerance for ambiguity
  2. driving thoughts #2 | tolerance for ambiguity

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