Action and Listening: A Balancing Act

I grew as a leader through the journey of a schoolwide project that incorporated music, community and environmental sustainability.

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  • I have a bias towards action. As an educator, grad student, writer and parent, this serves me well and pushes me forward. 

Learning to ideate, then put thought to form are important, if not essential, characteristics of a design thinking mindset. Leading a schoolwide project required something more than just my enthusiasm and willingness to act. 

I was introducing the concept of design thinking to my colleagues. Rather than learning about how to develop a design thinking mindset before embarking on a school wide, year long project, I developed the project so that the entire school, teachers and students, could learn about design thinking while simultaneously doing the work. 

Although the end results surpassed any expectations, navigating through the project was not always easy. Many teachers were uncomfortable with outcome unknown and the designing of authentic experiences where the curriculum met the field. 

So here was my test of character. I have learned to trust the process and to act. Here, rather than act or push my views on my colleagues, I needed to listen to the concerns and observe the actions of my colleagues, grounded in curiosity but also apprehension and fear. I listened, scaffolded, modelled, collaborated and provided different levels of support for anyone who needed it. 

As a leader, this taught me to expand my vision to incorporate different perspectives of the whole team. I have always related well to people but realized that in order to grow, people need to feel safe and supported, yet challenged in ways that are appropriate. Combining action and listening helped to keep it real and relevant for everyone. I can measure the success in the enthusiasm and momentum generated by the sound sculpture and the fine arts fair, and also in the number of staff members who are now actively pursuing design thinking as part of their pedagogy. 

Optional: What are some character strengths you’ve worked on with students in the past? Why did you focus on these?

Trust, respect and collaboration are essential building blocks to creating a classroom culture that honours a design thinking mindset. I discovered that when I focus on these character traits early in the year, we are able to delve deeply into experiences that foster creative development. In order to create, students need to feel safe and know that their ideas are valued. In today's competitive world, students are often learning the mindset of trust and collaboration for the first time.

Optional: How comfortable do you feel incorporating character education in your curriculum? (1-10, where 10 = very comfortable!)


Optional: Tell us more! What's one thing you wish there was more of / less of when it comes to character learning in schools?

Character learning is not a traditional unit or something to check off on the curriculum. It is also not a canned kit with pre designed character discussion prompts. Character learning begins with a deep understanding of ourselves as unique individuals and how each person blends together to create a unique community of learners. This work, these discussions, this building of culture takes practice. Revisit the values of the community often and whenever relevant.

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Character learning begins with a deep understanding of ourselves as unique individuals and how each person blends together to create a unique community of learners.