Around the globe, people are being asked to throw out old ways of thinking and come up with new approaches and new solutions for solving problems. In the same vein, the problems our students are facing today and will be facing in the future are often not ones that can be solved with linear and concrete thought patterns. For students to be prepared for these challenges and able to come to the best solutions, we need to give them a variety of tools. Among these tools must be the ability to engage in deep dialogue to gain new insights and understanding, and to learn from the ideas and perspectives of others. They will need this skill to become able contributors to their future work and communities. That’s why teaching our students how to engage in deep dialogue should become a central element of our teaching. Tweet this
To encourage the best
solutions, teach simple secrets
to promote dialogue.
If we want to encourage dialogue around complex issues and give students the experience of coming up with the best and most well-thought-out solutions, then we must teach them some simple but important secrets. These secrets are predictable in their ability to draw out the best thinking of the group as well as individual students. In truth, students will be intrigued if we refer to these actions as secrets—for who doesn’t want to learn the secrets of success few others have learned or mastered?
Secret 1: Listen rather than argue. This sounds easy, but it’s not. This skill can only be mastered if students practice suspending what they already think they know or believe about a topic. They also have to truly believe that they can learn from others. To help students in this area, we can teach them how to reflect on and reframe their classmates’ questions and then restate what they think they heard another person say for clarification. By doing so, students will learn the importance of “taking in” all the information before making judgments or drawing conclusions. Tweet this
Secret 2: Learn rather than convince. This secret builds off the first, and is the key to developing deeper understanding. Once again, we need to teach students to probe by developing even deeper questions. “Why do you feel this way?” “What experience do you have that could tell us more?” and “What evidence do you have that supports your thinking?” These are the types of questions that we need to have students practice formulating. We also need to teach them to deliver these questions nonjudgmentally.
Secret 3: Search for the best solution, rather than trying to “sell” your solution. In essence, we are coaching students to resist immediately focusing on a “pet” idea or solution. It’s tempting for students to simply want to adopt a solution from a prior experience that they think will work. But this does not mean that it is the best idea or the best solution. Our work is to help students see that if they truly want the best solution to emerge, they must refrain from “selling” their solution. Assure them that the right solution usually emerges. It does not need to be sold. The key is to trust the process.
Secret 4: Search for insights that surface as a result of the interaction which no one has necessarily brought to the dialogue. A true search means that students learn to value examining what others say to find “hidden gems” they were unaware of or previously did not understand. It can also mean asking for the perspective of a person who may have knowledge about the subject, but who has been slow to voice it. Each of these actions is vital if students are to reap the benefits of the best solutions, not simply those that they arrive at the quickest.
Refusing to get
“locked in” to one way
of thinking is key.
Secret 5: Search for synergy. Synergy exists at the intersection of people’s intentions and knowledge and circumstances. When these three elements come together, great solutions can emerge. That’s why it’s important to teach students to look for what they agree upon rather than what they don’t and what they know after they have thoroughly explored the issue or topic. This is the point in the process to search for new insights, ideas, and solutions that combine multiple elements to form an outcome superior to what any one person likely would have discovered.
Secret 6: Appreciate that there are multiple ways to approach the same issues. This action requires a mindset that refuses to get “locked in” to one point of view. When students are exposed to how someone else would approach the same issue, they often find a rich source of ideas that enlighten their own thinking.
Secret 7: Focus on the problem, not people. It’s easy for students to get caught up in “who” is expressing an idea or opinion rather than the idea itself. We must teach students that finding the best solutions means looking for the best thoughts—no matter who expresses them. This also prevents spirited interchanges from becoming personal attacks.
The Master Teacher teaches
the secrets that allow the
best thinking to emerge.
The Master Teacher embraces the notion that becoming skilled thinkers and creative problem solvers is among the key abilities our students will need in the future. He or she knows that the most complex problems students face often need to involve the thoughts of many people in order to produce the best solution. That’s why the Master Teacher provides students with rich experiences to engage in dialogue about issues in depth. To do so, he or she teaches the secrets that truly value high levels of thinking and allow the best thinking to emerge—even if it isn’t his or her own.