The Conscious Classroom

Education Design that Works: Blending Visionary Ideas with Classroom Realities

May 06, 2024 Amy Edelstein Episode 67
Education Design that Works: Blending Visionary Ideas with Classroom Realities
The Conscious Classroom
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The Conscious Classroom
Education Design that Works: Blending Visionary Ideas with Classroom Realities
May 06, 2024 Episode 67
Amy Edelstein

In this episode we pack two levels of insight that are mostly at odds with one another when it comes to improving educational design. We examine the dual landscape of educational innovation, where grand visions and data analysis for systemic change clash with the hands-on challenges of classroom application. Working with systems thinking, the fact that we are all innovating around the same core issue, Amy Edelstein illuminates what can become  synergy between high-level design and practical program execution. For true reform to be meaningful and pragmatic, we must work with the tools that help us create a harmonious blend of scalable ideals and individual needs. Working with mindfulness and experiential systems tools, we can uncover ways to value and view insight from these two different vantage points. 

Amy shows how to work with  the Continuum Exercise, a simple yet powerful  tool that gives people the visceral experience that we usually focus on the specifics and differences and yet we could focus on the unity, context, or system we are all addressing.  Lifting above the spectrum of diverse opinions can catalyze a pivotal 'aha' moment that goes beyond bridging differences to transmitting  a sense of unity.

 Whether you're an educator, a student, or simply passionate about the future of learning, this conversation promises to offer invaluable insights into creating educational spaces where innovation, collaboration, and consciousness thrive.

Support the Show.

If you enjoyed this episode please leave a review!!!!

Subscribe so you don't miss any episodes, there's so much to share. The Conscious Classroom was honored by Feedspot in their Top 100 Classroom Podcasts. We are committed to sharing insights that transform outlooks and inspire with what's possible.

Visit Inner Strength Education for more on the great work of the Conscious Classroom.

Want to train to teach mindfulness, compassion, and systems thinking to students? Trainings and classroom resources are available at The Conscious Classroom.

Get your copy of the award-winning, bestseller The Conscious Classroom: The Inner Strength System for Transforming the Teenage Mind.


Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode we pack two levels of insight that are mostly at odds with one another when it comes to improving educational design. We examine the dual landscape of educational innovation, where grand visions and data analysis for systemic change clash with the hands-on challenges of classroom application. Working with systems thinking, the fact that we are all innovating around the same core issue, Amy Edelstein illuminates what can become  synergy between high-level design and practical program execution. For true reform to be meaningful and pragmatic, we must work with the tools that help us create a harmonious blend of scalable ideals and individual needs. Working with mindfulness and experiential systems tools, we can uncover ways to value and view insight from these two different vantage points. 

Amy shows how to work with  the Continuum Exercise, a simple yet powerful  tool that gives people the visceral experience that we usually focus on the specifics and differences and yet we could focus on the unity, context, or system we are all addressing.  Lifting above the spectrum of diverse opinions can catalyze a pivotal 'aha' moment that goes beyond bridging differences to transmitting  a sense of unity.

 Whether you're an educator, a student, or simply passionate about the future of learning, this conversation promises to offer invaluable insights into creating educational spaces where innovation, collaboration, and consciousness thrive.

Support the Show.

If you enjoyed this episode please leave a review!!!!

Subscribe so you don't miss any episodes, there's so much to share. The Conscious Classroom was honored by Feedspot in their Top 100 Classroom Podcasts. We are committed to sharing insights that transform outlooks and inspire with what's possible.

Visit Inner Strength Education for more on the great work of the Conscious Classroom.

Want to train to teach mindfulness, compassion, and systems thinking to students? Trainings and classroom resources are available at The Conscious Classroom.

Get your copy of the award-winning, bestseller The Conscious Classroom: The Inner Strength System for Transforming the Teenage Mind.


Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the Conscious Classroom podcast. My name is Amy Edelstein. I'm really excited to speak with you today about something I've been thinking about in terms of future of education design and the two levels of educational reform.

Speaker 1:

When people start thinking about revamping education, depending on their experience and where they tend to work and focus, they usually come at it from one of two ends of the spectrum either from high-level conceptual design thinking or from on-the-ground, direct service program delivery. Both of those are very important and valid perspectives to input. They're both dimensions that have a lot to offer. Melding the two can be very difficult, and especially if it's gone about without much consciousness or intention. High-level design design thinking that really looks at where we want to head to data goals, purpose qualities that need to be cultivated is what will help us think about education in terms of a whole system and how to support all of our young people to learn and grow and develop and find the joy and love of accomplishment. But high-level design thinking without the ground-level minutia of delivery might sound really great in theory, might check all the right boxes, it might be headed in a direction that's incredibly inspiring realities in young people's lives and the individuals that walk through any particular school door on any particular school morning that high-level thinking might be completely impractical or even impossible to implement. And then, at the same time, on-the-ground delivery, really are in touch with the details of what it is to work in a school where you have several hundred, 500, 600, 800 young people walking through the door on any given day, plus 60, 80, 100 faculty, all with their own lives and their own contingencies and navigating an environment and the transportation system, the weather and any myriad of other things going on in their neighborhoods. And those small details and the relatively small number of students that they are related to are really important Because navigating those means being able to teach and implement and transform lives or not, and, at the same time, simply catering to the specific needs in the moments of those human beings without a sense of where we're trying to head to and the larger goals of education and the cultural needs and the way the world is changing and mapping out where we might be in our unknown future landscape when these children reach the job market means that the on-the-ground details become small, mundane and without directionality. It really takes a stretched mind to be able to have conversations and strategic visioning sessions that take both into account and that allow the passion of each perspective to come through and advocate and impart the importance of those different perspectives without narrowing down.

Speaker 1:

Now, if any of you are into educational reform or if you work in any organization or business, you've probably encountered scenarios like this where, if we'll take just an example from the classroom, you have a group of teachers and they're trying to solve classroom management in the morning. They have one student let's call that student Johnny always needs to have the day's instructions repeated, always comes 15 minutes late, and because one out of 24 students comes 15 minutes late, it means that that teacher either has to repeat, to the boredom of the entire class, what was just gone over or not address the student and have that student dive in midstream and be out of step with his peers. And especially if that school is trying to implement some mindfulness, some centering activities, some community circles, some protocols that really help the classroom community come together and allow the students to arrive to let go of whatever's happened in their rushed morning getting to school and allow them to settle and center and be ready to learn. So very important and being adopted by more and more classrooms, particularly in the younger grades. But of course I will advocate that that's all the more important when you hit middle school and high school, when students just have so many different demands and emotions and complexities that they're trying to navigate socially, emotionally, home life, work, school, different subjects, relationships, work, school, different subjects, relationships.

Speaker 1:

So when schools are trying to implement that and one student is always out of step, that means that their classroom never gels, because 23 students gelling with one student not gelling means that the whole has a wobbly part of the circle and that creates all kinds of unseen currents and frictions for the rest of the class. So in that common planning, meeting, that small circle of teachers who work with on-the-ground issues, they'll come up with solutions. They'll think, oh, let's start with some independent writing and reading, let's give them a part of the lesson that they can do without introduction. Let them find their way and when the whole group arrives, we'll do our community building activity, we'll do our mindful settling, we'll start that collective process together and of course, that will work.

Speaker 1:

Now theory meetings for the same situation will say oh well, the data shows us that when we start with community building or mindfulness or social emotional learning activities that help the group come together, it's the best thing for students to let go of distractions, be ready to learn. We've tested in different ways. We've shown this to be the best way forward and after five or 10 minutes of reflective community time, students are ready to learn. So therefore, the high-level design thinking is going to say, throughout our entire school or system or district, we are going to implement 10-minute classroom start times. That must be mandatory social-emotional, mindfulness learning times and according to the data, they may be right. According to the data, in an ideal setup that might be the best way forward and it might keep the entire school on track together and it might develop a school-wide rhythm. But for those teachers on the ground dealing with anomalies in the form of human beings with minds and hearts and feelings and cares, and self-consciousness and dreams, that system might be the worst thing to implement and mandate. Both realities are true within their contexts. Simply aggregating data isn't enough and making large-scale recommendations from a few anecdotal stories on the ground that are absolutely true for one classroom setup won't help us create a tide of change.

Speaker 1:

Change In meetings that contain both stakeholders. The design thinking level can sound cut off, insensitive, out of touch with the human realities of program implementation. In those meetings that contain both stakeholders, the ground level implementation can sound so small, so petty, so insignificant when you're talking about system-wide change, that either it'll be dismissed or those who have those insights to offer will feel that their observations and experiences are too small to matter, even though they may make the difference between a successful support and a failed support for actual students in their actual lives. In thinking about how to meld these two dimensions or levels or perspectives, both of which are important to system-wide change, is to really think about implementing some of the systems thinking, experiential modeling, those types of activities that get the planners and all the stakeholders in the room to do an activity together. That's an actual activity where you get up out of your seats and you work together to design something or accomplish something or move in a certain way. That requires each of the people in the group and then to step back and look at the principles, look at actually what happened and then what the actual experience indicates.

Speaker 1:

What these experiential systems, thinking exercises can do is imbue a visceral sense of flow, a visceral experience of the connection of parts, of contingencies, and of how precarious any flow or system of design might be if there's little wiggle room for error or change or inaccuracy or anomaly. And for those who are used to working on the ground, the stepped back approach of these exercises and really looking at well, what does this experience show us about the flow and the process of the system? And where might we be able to interrupt the system outside of the personalities of people involved, outside of the particulars of one individual, outside of the particulars of one aspect of the group? And that can give those on-the-ground program implementers first a sense of the principles that they're dealing with every day and it will also give a sense of the system as a whole and maybe upstream levers of change that will allow for adjustment of the system, outside of just maneuvering the parts right in front of them, because on the ground, program implementation changes usually involve just how do I work with this immediate situation? Do I wait for Johnny to come? Do I change the activity? Maybe there are other ways to flip a lever and allow more room in the system overall way, before Johnny gets to the classroom 15 minutes late.

Speaker 1:

The beautiful thing about systems, thinking activities and exercises is that they can't be done alone. The way they're designed is all. The stakeholders are needed to participate in order to see what is possible, and this very much rests on each individual's ability to allow for peripheral vision, to be able to see things freshly, to be able to discern and intuit and lean into the whole, rather than being absorbed and focused on their part, their perspective, their feelings, their solutions, their solutions. So often when I approach these ways of thinking or processing, first we do some mindfulness practice and allow ourselves to sink in and rest in that spaciousness of open awareness, allowing ourselves to focus on the quality of being awake and aware and attentive, not focused on any particular thought or any particular feeling or any particular memory or object in our field of vision. So just like watching the night sky above, focusing on the space, between all of the stars, the blackness that extends in all directions, being aware that in your peripheral vision that sky continues to extend and extend and continues to hold the satellites and meteors and moons and suns and planets.

Speaker 1:

Resting in open awareness exercises that peripheral vision. It helps us remove the blinkers that we build or put on when we're in the course of habitual ways of thinking, a busy life with lots of detail. Where focus is required, it allows us to be free in our thinking. And when we can really focus, when we become very practiced at the concentration of open awareness, the resting in that broad, expansive field of vision, when we become very practiced at that, our field of vision sharpens. We see anomalies and possibilities that bring change more quickly. We notice possibility in our peripheral vision. So the practice of mindfulness and particularly the focus of open awareness, the resting in that quality of being awake and aware and not bound or glued to any particular object, becomes foundational for our ability to sense new possibility in these systems thinking exercises.

Speaker 1:

Now, one simple exercise that doesn't require a ton of focus is allowing all the stakeholders to just do a series of events on an imaginary line that you draw. You can stretch an actual string or a piece of tape on the floor and there are two poles and people will position themselves on either end of the pole or somewhere in the middle. You can start with very simple things Are you a morning person or a night person? Are you a spring person or a summer person? Do you like sweet or do you like salt? Do you like to be alone? Do you like to be in big parties? Do you like to work with others? Do you like to figure things out by yourself? It doesn't matter what you use and keep switching up and allow all the participants in the activity to choose a polarity and have everyone shift on the lines and then afterwards debrief. So what did you notice? What did you notice about where people clumped? What did you notice about differences? What did you notice about where they're unexpected Places? That you were surprised that people held those preferences, that you were surprised that people held those preferences. Now, all those aspects are important.

Speaker 1:

One significant part of this continuum exercise is to bring everyone together and say while some people are on one side of the continuum, some people are in the middle and some people are on the other side of the continuum, what's common about all of us is that we're all in relationship to the same question. We're all on the same continuum, although different parts of it, parts of it, we're all responding to the same question and whether someone holds one opinion or the other, one preference or the other, we are all still relating to the same thing and there's a universality about that. There's a connection to that. There's a relevance of each person to the question at hand. Usually, we're looking for whether people clump on one end or the other, or whether they clump in the middle, and who's like whom, who's different? Who are the outliers? What are the outlying data points? What is the mean? To promote the unity of thinking and the sense of being as a whole system.

Speaker 1:

What we're actually focused on is not the difference but the connection, all responding to the same point. And there are many ways to tease that out. You keep asking what did you notice? What did you notice? What was the same, and see if anyone steps back enough to see that we're all answering to the same question. We're all connected in the same exploration and when everyone shifts from noticing all the differences, all the particulars, or trying to find a pattern, or trying to find a mean, or trying to understand what the outlying points are, and when they click into seeing the single question or context that everyone's in, it can really produce an aha moment. It can really produce that sense of shared discovery and a sense of focus, and a sense of focus and interest in the difference, without the charge of those differences superseding the sense of being part of one question. It's a powerful contemplation. Now there are many, many ways to affect this ecosystem mapping In your work, whether you're working in a classroom trying to bring more social, emotional mindfulness skills, more wellness, more holistic thinking, or whether you're a principal trying to map the score, or whether you're a concerned adult trying to figure out how to care for the next generation so that they're healthy and well and responsible and caring and heartful and authentic.

Speaker 1:

Keep in mind that there are always ways to point back to the sense of the whole, the sense of being part of a universal, single event, while we look at all the small particulars and the differences between individuals or subjects. Part of learning is identifying distinction, part of our social, emotional contemplation and cultivation of our classroom as the incubator for wise human beings is to return back in many small ways, to the sense of the whole, the sense of all being part of a larger organism, whether it's a social organism, you see it as a social organism, or a global organism, or a classroom organism. All systems are like living, breathing organisms where your finger may not know what your lung is doing, but certainly what your lung is doing is essential for your finger because it needs to pump that oxygen back to the finger and carry away that carbon dioxide.

Speaker 1:

And the more we point out the systems and the wholes, the more we prepare our students with a framework to deal with complexity, with a framework to work in what seems to be a very fragmented and divided world, which emotionally it is. And yet we still are in one living biosphere, on one single planet, all part of one incredibly beautiful and complex system, unified in that, even if we carry diametrically opposite viewpoints on politics or other issues. It takes a lot of sensitivity and heartfulness to resist the fragmentation of our times and yet this is such an essential part of our education and teaching of young people, our approach to our own responsibility as adults who are always serving as role models to someone and as important nodes in this vast ecosystem that we're a part of. So I wish you all well, take care. Thank you for listening to the Conscious Classroom. If you enjoyed this please leave a review and share it with a friend, pass the love on. See you next time.

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Exploring Systems Thinking and Mindfulness