Obsession and the Art of Teaching

There’s lots of good stuff in this podcast with Gary Stager on The Lost Art of Teaching, but I’m particularly glad to see educators talking about and centering obsession. Embrace obsession. Autistic Special Interest and ADHD Hyperfocus crush learning curves when allowed to pursue passion.

Less coercion, more obsession.

Selected quotes:

A teacher’s role, then, should be to create the conditions for obsession to happen.

Gary believes that deep, meaningful learning is often accompanied by obsession, and his focus is on answering the question: How can we create experiences and context in classrooms where kids can discover things they don’t know they love? This is done by implementing good projects that spur creativity, ownership, and relevance.

Through his professional learning conference Constructing Modern Knowledge (CMK), Gary has teachers put on their “learner hats” and learn how to create obsession, since, he says, very few of us have experienced what greatness looks like.

Around the time of Nation at Risk, legislatures all over the world removed the art of teaching from teacher preparation and all they left was curriculum delivery and animal control.

Knowledge is a consequence of experience.

The instruction might not be necessary at all. A good project can replace a great deal of reckless instruction.

Curriculum is so arbitrary and so arrogant.

When it comes to a skill like computer programming, the kids never develop enough fluency to be able to use it to solve real problems.

Curriculum is the most dangerous idea in education.

As we remove agency from teachers, they become less thoughtful in their practice.

The best projects are generative.

Not enough adults have experience with what greatness looks like, feels like, tastes like, sounds like.

Great artists reflect the milieu in which they live.

You can’t possibly be 21st century learners if you haven’t learned anything this century.

I never worry about classroom management because I never go into a classroom feeling like I have to manage it.

Much of the PD we see expects nothing of teachers.

Apparently, everyone needs a good seventh grade social studies teacher.

A great 80 year old pianist said: Nothing needs to be taught, only experienced.

There are folks in every walk of life who understand Piaget. You Go to Latin America or you go to Reggio Emilia and they say, “We get John Dewey better than you get John Dewey.” People who are living these ideas of learning by doing, of valuing expertise, of understanding the importance of an aesthetic…

Source: ML Podcast #42 – The Lost Art of Teaching with Gary Stager – Modern Learners

Embrace the obsession. Special interests are “intimately tied to the well-being of people on the spectrum“. “Special interests have a positive impact on autistic adults and are associated with higher subjective well-being and satisfaction across specific life domains including social contact and leisure.

Source: I’m Autistic. Here’s what I’d like you to know.

Strong Opinions, Weakly Held: Engage in Creative Doubt

I try to write and accept feedback with an open posture of “strong opinions, weakly held”, advocating for what I believe but ready to change and refine with new information. Letting go of or altering our pet notions is difficult. Confirmation bias is a cozy blanket. Practice at being wrong in public helps develop the necessary critical distance.

There is so much to know and so many perspectives and angles. None of us are experts, not really. We’re all amateurs on learning curves approaching infinity. We can distill in our writing only the merest fraction of what we know, and what we know is the merest fraction of what there is to know. Write strongly while knowing our ignorance and knowing the curve goes on forever.

A couple years ago, I was talking to the Institute’s Bob Johansen about wisdom, and he explained that – to deal with an uncertain future and still move forward – they advise people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” They’ve been giving this advice for years, and I understand that it was first developed by Institute Director Paul Saffo. Bob explained that weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. Bob explained that it was just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to “see” and “hear” evidence that clashes with your opinions. This is what psychologists sometimes call the problem of “confirmation bias.”

Source: Strong Opinions, Weakly Held – Bob Sutton

Everything in software is so new and so frequently being reinvented that almost nobody really knows what they are doing. It is amateurs who make all the progress.

When it comes to software development, if you profess expertise, if you pitch yourself as an authority, you’re either lying to us, or lying to yourself. In our heart of hearts, we know: the real progress is made by the amateurs. They’re so busy living software they don’t usually have time to pontificate at length about the breadth of their legendary expertise. If I’ve learned anything in my career, it is that approaching software development as an expert, as someone who has already discovered everything there is to know about a given topic, is the one surest way to fail.

Experts are, if anything, more suspect than the amateurs, because they’re less honest.

I’ll never be one of the best. But what I lack in talent, I make up in intensity.

To me, writing without a strong voice, writing filled with second guessing and disclaimers, is tedious and difficult to slog through. I go out of my way to write in a strong voice because it’s more effective. But whenever I post in a strong voice, it is also an implied invitation to a discussion, a discussion where I often change my opinion and invariably learn a great deal about the topic at hand. I believe in the principle of strong opinions, weakly held.

So when you read one of my posts, please consider it a strong opinion weakly held, a mock fight between fellow amateurs of equal stature, held in an Octagon where everyone retains their sense of humor, has an open mind, and enjoys a spirited debate where we all learn something.

Source: Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

As leaders we should always question new ideas and ensure they’re supported by fact. However, when there is mounting evidence and experience that shows our ideas and beliefs are wrong, we should not resist change. This is why wise leaders keep their strong opinions, weakly held.

When dealing with the complex practices of strategy, leadership and innovation in an uncertain and changing environment wise leaders keep their strong opinions, weakly held.

Strong opinions are not fundamental truths. Rather opinions are a working hypothesis used to guide your thinking, decisions and actions.

Wise leaders emphasise experimentation over theory. They understand that experimentation is a requirement for agility.

The fastest way of moving into the future is through defining and validating a series of hypotheses. Formulate an hypothesis based on the best available information – adopt a strong opinion. Then act, seeking feedback, adjusting as you go – weakly held.

Source: Wise Leaders Keep Strong Opinions, Weakly Held • George Ambler

The point of forecasting is not to attempt illusory certainty, but to identify the full range of possible outcomes. Try as one might, when one looks into the future, there is no such thing as “complete” information, much less a “complete” forecast. As a consequence, I have found that the fastest way to an effective forecast is often through a sequence of lousy forecasts. Instead of withholding judgment until an exhaustive search for data is complete, I will force myself to make a tentative forecast based on the information available, and then systematically tear it apart, using the insights gained to guide my search for further indicators and information. Iterate the process a few times, and it is surprising how quickly one can get to a useful forecast.

Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect – this is the “strong opinion” part. Then -and this is the “weakly held” part- prove yourself wrong. Engage in creative doubt. Look for information that doesn’t fit, or indicators that point in an entirely different direction. Eventually your intuition will kick in and a new hypothesis will emerge out of the rubble, ready to be ruthlessly torn apart once again. You will be surprised by how quickly the sequence of faulty forecasts will deliver you to a useful result.

Source: Strong Opinions weakly held : Paul Saffo