Nudging toward Conversation

Conversation is still the best PD tool we have, so how might we create more "nudges" that create conversations about growth?

Photo of Moss Pike
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In my own experience, I've learned more about education from conversations with other educators, whether formal or not. Conversations of the sort that happen at Edcamps have proven to be simple yet effective means for professional growth, but a significant number of educators claim that they aren't having enough of these kinds of conversations with each other. As Steven Johnson wrote in Where Good Ideas Come From, "the most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop" (61).

Behavioral economics and Richard Thaler, in particular, have shown us that certain "nudges" can push people toward desired behavior. For example, requiring people to opt-in to organ donation programs has proven difficult; but when we instead ask them to opt-out, enrollment has significantly increased. Thaler, along with Cass Sunstein, discusses more examples of ways we can design for behavior in his book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

We teachers rarely have spare time, both during teaching days and in their own time, and it's often the case that even while on campus, we're too busy to socialize with each other (and/or we lack the space, if trapped in our classrooms all day). Using the idea of a "nudge," how might we design more systems that welcome educators to have conversations about growth, with a view toward collegiality, not just cordiality? Some examples include:

  • Offering Edcamp events on your campus
  • Hosting CoffeeEDU or "happy hour" BrewCUE meetings
  • Pitching in to buy a Nescafe machine for a faculty-room coffee club 
  • Starting a campus book club for discussion
  • Regular faculty outings to sporting events, museums, movies, etc.

I'm interested in learning more about how educators define quality conversation. When does it happen and where? What might inspire you to take some time out of your day to talk with other educators?

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Photo of Jay Nickerson

I think an important part of this, perhaps in a school, or district version, would be creating some parameters... Perhaps we outline the things we don't need to discuss, or state specifically that this time is for new and different conversations, not rehashing things, or having an extra staff meeting.

Photo of Moss Pike

That's a great idea, Jay; thanks for sharing it! I too think you're right that we should be more proactive in making our expectations for a conversation clear and holding ourselves to them. I'm still trying to think of other behavioral "nudges" that bring people together in conversation. More soon, I hope!