Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thoughts about Lenses

Recently, our school community was fortunate enough to participate in a workshop given by Mark Williams, in which he brings to life the principles he has developed to describe how each of us view people different than ourselves. These “lenses”, as he calls them, are definable and each has its strengths and its weaknesses (or shadows). In the workshop, which was attended by all our school faculty, Mark appeared as different characters, each representing a lens through which some of us interpret race relations or differences between ourselves and others. The character interacted with the participants, challenging us both for what we said, and in the way in which he embodied the behaviors of someone who unconsciously adopts the “lens” in question. The experience was profound, particularly because it challenged each of us to evaluate our own lenses, while encouraging us to lead with the strengths inherent in the lens, and try to move away from the shadows.

His book is The 10 Lenses: Your guide to living and working in a multicultural world.

But the idea of lenses through which we view diversity led a group of us to consider the lenses through which teachers view change. Mark’s lenses on diversity offer an interesting parallel to the reactions of teachers to proposals for innovation. Fundamental is, of course the response of the personality that leads from “yes” and the personality that leads from “no”. Taking these two dichotomous positions and you can fill in a wide range of lenses:

Full acceptance of the new

Willing to be led by someone with conviction

Sceptic, but positive

Sceptic, but negative

I can’t start something new at this point

This is the way it’s always been done

If it was good enough for my grandparents, it‘s good enough for these kids

Then one must flesh out the “strengths” and “shadows” of each lens. This process is the most meaningful. On first attempt we begin to see the deeper meaning behind each lens and appreciate that it is not only valid in context, but has its strengths. With this perspective, we hope to take the shadows into account and move away from the.

For instance, if we take two extreme examples:

Lens

Strengths

Shadows

Full Acceptance of the New

Willing to try new things

Does not hesitate to participate, even when prospect is unfamiliar

Advocate for new ideas

Likely to stay on top of trends and keeps things fresh

Does not discriminate or ask enough questions about validity of change.

Invests time in new projects that may not, in the end, pan out.

Becomes known for enthusiasm and therefore is written off by colleagues who do not share this lens.

This is the way it’s always been done

Knowledgeable about teaching practices as he/she has practiced them.

Clear about what works with children and what doesn’t.

Has developed a successful teaching style, judged by the many years of continuous teaching.

Reacts negatively to any hint of proposed change.

Stands by his/her reputation but resists evaluation of teaching practices.

Does not see the need for professional development.

May, unwittingly, be out of touch with colleagues, students, and parents.

For a faculty as a community, there would be tremendous growth in beginning to understand, embrace, and then move on from the shadows of our lenses to our strengths. Each of us view change from a different place. If we were able to develop compassion and understanding for those who come to change from a different viewpoint, wouldn’t we be better able to negotiate the demands of a changing society and student population?

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