Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences: Polarity Thinking in our Schools
Publication Year: 2014
Subject: Conflict Resolution for Adults
In a recent (January 30th, 2012) New Yorker article on “Groupthink,” author Jonah Lehrer observes the following: The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together. It is the human friction that makes the sparks. Lehrer's statement, grounded in decades of research in social psychology, is that the most constructive form of collaboration is one in which a diverse group of people, i.e., those from different discipline areas and backgrounds, engage in “the vigorous exchange of clashing perspectives.” Educators who have participated in effective PLCs have learned that some degree of conflict between group members is not only healthy but, in many cases, necessary to move the group forward. However, when strongly-opinionated individuals are unwilling to even consider differing perspectives, progress is unlikely. Perhaps ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
Part I: Understanding Polarity Thinking
- Chapter 1: Introduction: Let's Put our Differences to Work for Us
- Chapter 2: Getting Unstuck in Education
Part II: The Big Picture of Polarity Thinking in Education Reform
- Chapter 3: Leveraging Education Goals: Academic Success and Whole Child Success
- Chapter 4: Ensuring Effective Teachers: Evaluation as a Measure of Effectiveness and a Guide for Professional Growth
- Chapter 5: A Math Wars Truce: Mastery of Knowledge and Mastery of Problem Solving
- Chapter 6: Making Diplomas Meaningful: Standardization and Customization
Part III: Putting the Small Polarity Thinking Tools to Work
- Chapter 7: Introducing Polarity Thinking to your Team
- Chapter 8: Guiding your Team through Polarity Thinking
- Chapter 9: Using Polarity Tools to Explore Initiatives and Opposing Experts
- Chapter 10: Working with Common Polarities in Education
- Chapter 11: Students and Polarities: A Tool for Critical Thinking
Part IV: A Closer Look at why we Believe what we Believe
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Copyright © 2014 by Jane A. G. Kise
All rights reserved. When forms and sample documents are included, their use is authorized only by educators, local school sites, and/or noncommercial or nonprofit entities that have purchased the book. Except for that usage, no part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Polarity Map, Polarity Thinking, Polarity Management, and PACT (Polarity Approach to Continuity and Transformation) are registered trademarks of Polarity Partnerships, LLC.
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For Brian, my favorite teacher and perfect partner for our lifelong dance of opposites
List of Professional Development Activities[Page vii]
- Activity 2.1: Using Polarity Thinking to Analyze a Failed Initiative 52
- Activity 5.1: Mastering Calculations and Mastering Mathematical Thinking 99
- Activity 7.1: A Forty-Five-Minute Introduction to Leveraging Differences 131
- Activity 8.1: Mapping by Moving Through a Polarity 142
- Activity 9.1: Reading With the Lens of Polarities 159
- Activity 9.2: Mapping Any Article 161
- Activity 9.3: Incorporating Polarity Mapping in a Book Discussion 163
- Activity 10.1: Demonstrating Respect 179
- Activity 10.2: Point of View Debate 182
- Activity 11.1: Student Discipline 195
- Activity 11.2: On-Your-Feet Arguments 199
- Activity 12.1: Reflecting on Biases 239
Not a word of this book could have been written without Barry Johnson, founder of Polarity Partnerships, who not only gave me permission to use his theories and tools in the arena of education but also invited me to training sessions, brainstormed ideas, cofacilitated with me, critiqued early chapter drafts, and in so many ways gave generously of his time and intellect. His passion for polarity thinking as a framework for helping people leverage the dilemmas of life is contagious! Thank you, Barry!
Barry also connected me with many of his colleagues in the world of polarity thinking. Yarrow Durbin was instrumental in helping me frame some of the book's ideas and navigate between theory and practicality. Todd Johnson shared his wisdom, exercises, and practical advice gained from years of working with educators on polarity thinking. Rebekah Marler provided stories and shared her experiences in using polarities in schools. Ann Deaton and Cliff Kayser also critiqued chapters, and Cliff helped me develop PACT assessments to use with schools. Leslie DePol of Polarity Partnerships provided guidance on how we might best make the tools available to schools.
Thank you, also, to my many education colleagues who willingly worked with me on early mapping of the issues in Part II of this book. Joellen Killion not only expanded my thinking on teacher evaluation but brought together a group of educators for a daylong workshop that was invaluable for tailoring the book to educators. Lois Easton provided key writing advice and feedback on early chapters. Robert Marzano, Marilyn Burns, and Lucy West listened to my early ideas and gave key suggestions. Bryan Goodwyn, Charles Kyte, Wendy Behrens, Lynnell Mickelsen, and Kari Ross all contributed to helping me present balanced views on the issues. Susan Powell, Erin Boltik, and Mary Rynchek allowed me to guide their teams in applying polarity thinking to real issues in their organizations as a way to develop the slides and scripts included in this book. And as always, Sue Blair, my psychological type colleague, helped me make these concepts practical and clear.[Page ix]
The advice of the peer reviewers was also invaluable, including Dr. David Petrovay.Publisher's Acknowledgments
Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:
Scott Bailey Assistant Professor, Stephen F. Austin State University Longview, TX
Janice Bradley Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University Las Cruces, NM
Lois Brown Easton Educational Consultant and Author LBE Learning and Learning Forward Senior Consultant Tucson, AZ
Ron Fielder Clinical Professor of Education Psychology and Leadership Studies University of Iowa Iowa City, IA
Ruth A. Rich Mentor Coordinator/Teacher (Retired) Matteson, IL
Dana Salles Trevethan Interim Assistant Superintendent Educational Services Turlock Unified School District Turlock, CA
Rosemarie Young Principal, Jefferson County Public Schools Louisville, KY
About the Author
Conclusion: Moving beyond Polarization in Education[Page 243]
Let's go back to where we started. Take a deep breath and hold it as you read this paragraph. Can you feel your anxiety increase? Or your energy drain away as you pursue this crazy notion of inhaling without exhaling? Perhaps a touch of panic, even?
Now exhale and feel your spirits lift as you acknowledge the value of both poles in this simple yet crucial system. Our brains excel at picking up early warning signs that we're out of balance on the breathing cycle. For example, if you turn up the resistance on a stationary bike and pedal as hard as you can, your brain, ever so protective of its own oxygen safety margin, will interpret the increasing fatigue in your legs as a sign that your oxygen supply is compromised and scream, “Stop!” well before your legs actually tire out.
In education, though, we aren't heeding early warning signs because we aren't recognizing polarities that are as essential as breathing in and out. We're too intent on action steps—or too afraid of the “problems” those action steps are supposedly solving—to note the downsides of our “solutions.”
One might even say we're seeing late warning signs for many polarities in education—warnings as obvious as the alarm that sounds when a patient's oxygen level sinks to dangerous levels. At least, we should be alarmed by repeated patterns in reforms and policy reversals that aren't moving us forward.
So how can move beyond polarization? By helping people see the difference between problems and polarities. As one of the early reviewers of this book wrote, “It's one of those ‘Why didn't I think of that?’ kind of ideas that, once you have it, you really can't see another way to do it.”[Page 244]
To start helping others “see,” pick an issue within your own team or building or education community where you now recognize that a polarity is at work. Think about who might be open to exploring it through this new lens. The slides in Chapter 7 are ready to go at www.corwin.com/positivepower to help you walk others through the concepts. Then show them a map on a relevant issue. You could use any map in this book. Or you might create a simpler map using the simple blank polarity thinking map available at www.corwin.com/positivepower. Pick out just a couple of the positive and negative results for each pole to begin a conversation. Or use the common polarity we used with Pete's team back in Chapter 1. Have they seen pendulum swings in how we support students?
Source: Map template copyright by Polarity Partnerships, LLC.
[Page 245]You can share some of the action steps on page 22 that turn this into a virtuous cycle, emphasizing how the system needs adjustment over time. The polarity is there; the question is whether it is being leveraged well.
Remember, though, that not all issues are polarities. For example, one problem absolutely needs to be solved in education:
We're wasting the energy of educators by channeling it into “solutions”
that are destined to create more problems
because in fact the problems are polarities that cannot be solved!
We can continue to see cycles of reform.
Reforms will continue to create new problems.
Problems will continue to drain our energy.
And the vicious cycles will continue …
OR we can start creating virtuous cycles by
Seeing polarities Mapping them
Assessing how well we're working with them
Learning from where we are as we
Leverage the positive power of our differences.
The latter sounds like a better plan, doesn't it? If our greater common purpose is a meaningful education for each child, then certainly we can find the motivation to pursue it together!
Appendix A: A PACT Process Case Study[Page 246]
While Chapters 7 through 11 of Unleashing the Positive Power of Differences are designed to help you begin using the tools of polarity thinking immediately, more in-depth processes that allow for collection and analysis of data, as well as analysis of multiple polarities, can be even more powerful. Let's look at how Central Middle School1 benefited from using a formal process for PACT Steps 3 and 4, assessing and learning.
Administrators and teachers at Central Middle School had implemented new homework and grading policies. Acting on the belief that all students can learn if given time and support, they were experimenting with accepting late homework without penalties and allowing test retakes.
Halfway through the year, I introduced the staff to polarity thinking, and we mapped the two poles of Teacher Responsibility AND Student Responsibility as they applied to these specific policies. At the end of the session, the teachers in general reported that talking about their successes and concerns with the new policies had been of great value. However, they weren't sure where to focus going forward.
The school's leadership team decided that it needed a survey for PACT process Step 3, assessing, before developing that focus. Drawing on the polarity map generated by the entire staff, we developed a survey to assess how frequently staff members were experiencing key positive and negative results for each pole.
Figure A.1, on pages 250–251, shows the resulting summary report with the survey statements and scores. Note that all of the statements use the stem, “Based on what I've observed or experienced in the last six months, I'd say …[Page 247]The Results
The results are consistent with other polarity thinking maps: The positive and negative results of each pole are in the four quadrants, with the greater purpose statement at the top and deeper fear at the bottom. The score contained within the black oval (65 in Figure A.1) is an overall indicator of how well the participants believe the polarity is currently being leveraged. Note that this score falls within the “good” range. Although this school chose not to, one can also compare answers from different demographic groups, such as teachers, administrators, and specialists.
The graphs given for the quadrants show the mean scores for each question; the mean scores for the quadrants are shown within the arrows that point to the survey questions. Note that every statement is phrased so that a high score contributes to better results on the overall score for the polarity.Step 4: Learning
Key themes of this step of the process are “How do these results inform our understanding of how we are leveraging this polarity?” “How did we get here?” “What is key to achieving/continuing a virtuous cycle?” The goal is to articulate a solid rationale for the next step of the process: designing the action steps and early warnings that will result in leveraging the polarity well in the future.
Rather than acting as a diagnostic, the results foster informed conversations about where to best concentrate future efforts. If the questions are well-designed, the discussion draws on collective experience within the organization rather than hearsay or the experience of just a few team members.
As the Central Middle School leadership team met, we discussed several key questions, such as these:
- What do these results confirm? What is a surprise?
- Which policies or actions might be tied to these results?
- Are our current actions, and any changes we have made, having the desired impact?
- On what might we concentrate more? Less?
- Where might we be most at risk as we try to sustain success?
While my goal as a facilitator is to allow conclusions to form via the collective wisdom of the group, I made the following notes as I reviewed the results and prepared for the team meeting.[Page 248]
- The overall score of 65 indicates that, while they see room for improvement, survey participants believe that the school is experiencing a virtuous cycle for this polarity. Our goal is to note where these results suggest that we create/refine/revisit action steps and early warnings.
- The higher mean scores on the Student Responsibility pole indicate that participants believe they are seeing positive results from the current focus on this pole—students have been encouraged to take more responsibility with the new policies and, according to the teachers, are doing so. What practices might be having this effect?
- Note that Item C in the lower quadrant of the Student Responsibility pole received a score of 55. “Sometimes” isn't a particularly low rating, but we might probe deeper into grading data for such items as the number of students chronically turning in late work or who fail to improve grades on test retakes.
- In the upper quadrant for the Teacher Responsibility pole, the “Sometimes” score for Question B may call for more discussion of action steps to provide in-school homework support. And with the “Sometimes” score for Question C, we may wish to investigate whether the policy of allowing retake tests is improving student learning outcomes.
- The lowest-scoring quadrant was the negative results of an overfocus on teacher responsibility to the neglect of student responsibility. If teachers feel the policies are burdensome, that may affect future leveraging of this polarity.
- Respondents could enter comments on each item. For Question A in this quadrant, three respondents indicated that many students do not seem to be studying for tests but instead are taking them “cold” to find out what they need to study. Developing potential action steps to ensure that students give their best effort each time might be a priority, especially since this is the lowest-scoring item on the survey.
- For Question B, comments about the workload focused on finding time for makeup quizzes or creating alternate-form tests. Is there an interest in looking at ways the school schedule might support makeup opportunities? Or ideas for lessening the workload of administering a test multiple times?
- During our original mapping exercise, we heard many comments about late homework interfering with curriculum pacing. However, notice that the answer to Question C in the lower Teacher Responsibility quadrant indicates that this seldom happens. We can probably concentrate action step planning elsewhere, although determining an early warning for this item may be important.
[Page 249]Note how the discussion has the power to focus the planning of action steps; all too often, action plans tackle too many different goals and strategies. The full PACT process, with the addition of a formal survey, provides a sound basis for selecting the most important areas for action.Pact Assessments and your Organization
The Polarity Maps Public Library contains several generic tools for schools. Mini-PACTs exist for the following polarities.
- Academic Success AND Whole Child Success
- Teacher Responsibility for Learning AND Student Responsibility for Learning
- Teaching Reading Skills and Strategies AND Student Choices in Reading Materials
Readers willing to engage in a free debriefing (via phone) of one of these tools may contact email@example.com to schedule a survey opportunity.
Existing surveys for all of the topics discussed in this book can also be customized for a team, school, or district. As can be seen in the preceding case study, the data often focus the action plans on the areas respondents view as most troublesome and may help you avoid the problem of the “squeaky wheel getting all the grease.”
Organizations about to embark on major initiatives or those in the midst of processes that seem to be not fully leveraging polarities may wish to engage in a fully customized process. In these cases, the surveys may contain questions for several polarities, including ones that deal with change efforts, leadership distribution, and other universal organizational polarities. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.polaritypartnerships.com to learn more.[Page 250][Page 251]Figure A.1 Sample PACT Survey Result
Source: Map template copyright by Polarity Partnerships, LLC.
Appendix B: Chapter 9 Reading: How do We Help Students Succeed?[Page 252]
Most teachers live for those moments when every student eagerly digs in to complete an assignment—not for a grade or a reward but because he or she is intrinsically motivated. We know that trying to motivate adults or students via extrinsic rewards doesn't work in the long run, unless the work is boring and repetitive (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999; Pink, 2009). Since we aren't working to create classrooms where boring, repetitive work is the norm, we want students to develop a desire to learn and to work hard—and that internal motivation involves self-discipline, right?
In the past, people thought that intelligence, not perseverance or self-discipline, predicted school success. Until the 1960s, dropping out of high school was an option since plenty of good jobs existed for people who lacked a diploma; the graduation rate was only about 60%. However, as manufacturing occupations diminished, earning that diploma became more and more crucial for earning a living wage—and schools found themselves tasked with educating all students.
Researchers quickly realized that students from poverty struggled in school. In the 1970s, Hart and Risley (1995) identified the huge vocabulary gap between students from families with different levels of income. In response, preschool programs provided richer language experiences. While short-term effects were promising, the learning gap grew again as students journeyed through school.
[Page 253]Researchers then found differences in the nature of parent-child interactions.
Extrapolated to the first four years of life, the average child in a professional family would have accumulated 560,000 more instances of encouraging feedback than discouraging feedback, and an average child in a working-class family would have accumulated 100,000 more encouragements than discouragements. But an average child in a welfare family would have accumulated 125,000 more instances of prohibitions than encouragements. (Hart & Risley, 1995, p. 5)
This “encouragement” gap is even harder to overcome, since discouragement affects curiosity, self-confidence, and willingness to take intellectual risks. Attention turned to whether interventions in early childhood education could teach these traits.
In How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough (2012) terms the vocabulary and other knowledge-based programs “the cognitive hypothesis”: If we fill young children with the right input, eventually they'll acquire the knowledge and skills needed for success in school. Many researchers and practitioners in psychology, economics, and education are challenging that hypothesis.
What matters most in a child's development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. What matters, instead is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. (p. xv)
Advocates for this position believe that K–12 character education can help students develop these crucial noncognitive skills.
The work of Carol Dweck of Stanford (2006) also supports the importance of noncognitive factors. Students with a “fixed intelligence” mindset, believing that you either are or aren't smart, are less likely to persevere on difficult problems. Further, the quality of their problem-solving strategies deteriorates as problems increase in difficulty. Students with a “growth” mind-set, believing hard work makes you smarter, not only persevere but also improve their strategies. Whereas “fixed” mind-set students made comments such as “This problem is stupid,” the “growth” mind-set group said, “This problem is hard, but it's more interesting.”
[Page 254]Related research found that teachers trained in a “fixed” mind-set complimented underachieving students to improve their self-esteem. Those trained in a “growth” mind-set actively worked with the students to understand why they weren't learning and brainstormed new ways to assist them (Feinberg, 2004). Thus, both teachers and students needed to internalize that working hard would make them more successful.
But is it possible to nurture self-discipline? Many educators remembered the “marshmallow experiment.” Walter Mischel (Mischel, Ebbesen, & Raskoff Zeiss, 1972) of Stanford offered preschoolers a marshmallow to eat but told them that if they waited to eat it until the researcher returned to the lab room, they could have two. When Mischel followed up on his subjects years later, those who had waited the longest had better social skills and higher SAT scores. His early conclusion was that the ability to delay gratification is key to success.
However, Mischel (Mischel et al., 1972) himself pointed out that those able to wait knew how to distract themselves. They sang songs, played with a toy, or made up stories while waiting for the researcher to return. Mischel concluded that using willpower to “bear up” is the wrong approach, especially for difficult or boring tasks. The essential skills involved distracting oneself or changing circumstances so that temptations are less tempting! These strategies involve skills that can be taught. Organizations such as the KIPP schools have created measures and progress reports for attributes such as politeness, self-control, and the ability to focus.
Then, subsequent researchers found that a predictable, trustworthy environment had a major impact on how long students would wait for those marshmallows (Kidd, Palmeri, & Aslin, 2013). They recommended that schools focus on creating trustworthy learning environments to support students from more turbulent homes.
Critics, though, think the pendulum is swinging too far toward noncognitive skills as the key to success. E. D. Hirsch (2013), founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, faults How We Succeed for downplaying the importance of knowledge. He contends that in the era of No Child Left Behind, schools have emphasized tests, not knowledge. “On the contrary,” Hirsch writes, “‘mere information’ has been disparaged in favor of how-to strategies and test-taking skills. What Tough calls ‘the cognitive hypothesis’ with regard to academics might better be called the ‘how-to hypothesis.’”
Hirsch (2013) points to research from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth; it shows that the biggest single predictor of student success is a general vocabulary measure that serves as a proxy for general knowledge. The second biggest factor is fine motor skills, which also ties to cognitive [Page 255]skills. Noncognitive skills come in third. Self-discipline can't overcome a lack of knowledge.
In his article “Why Self-Discipline Is Overrated,” Alfie Kohn (2008) provides more reasons to be concerned about the emphasis on self-discipline, which he defines as using willpower to accomplish desirable things. In contrast, self-control helps us avoid temptation or delay gratification. People with too much self-control have problems, too, lacking the spontaneity, flexibility, and creative expression that lead to a balanced life. Further, there are limits to the value of perseverance. We need to be able to ask for help, focus energy toward our interests and talents, and learn from failure. He summarizes that success comes from knowing when to persevere or follow the rules and when these actions will not be helpful.
Most troubling to Kohn, though, is that if schools focus on buckling down and trying harder, then it becomes easy to ignore unjust societal, economic, or educational structures. We may fail to question whether schoolwork is meaningful, requiring self-discipline, or not worth doing, requiring self-control. He concludes that
to identify a lack of self-discipline as the problem is to focus our efforts on making children conform to a status quo that is left unexamined and is unlikely to change. … Aside from its philosophical underpinnings and political impact, there are reasons to be skeptical about anything that might produce overcontrol. Some children who look like every adult's dream of a dedicated student may in reality be anxious, driven, and motivated by a perpetual need to feel better about themselves, rather than by anything resembling curiosity. In a word, they are workaholics in training.
At KIPP Schools, which emphasize both cognitive and noncognitive skills, the college graduation rate for low-income students is four times the national average. However, their graduates receive a level of support that society doesn't offer to every high school graduate—and it still isn't enough. KIPP's own website states that they have a long way to go toward their goal of graduating their students at the same rate as high-income students. Do we understand how to help every student yet lack the national will to support them? Or have we yet to find what really helps all students succeed?
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Suggestions for Further Reading[Page 265]2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York, NY: Pantheon.(2006). Differentiated coaching: A framework for helping teachers change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.(2013). Intentional leadership: 12 lenses for focusing your strengths, managing your weaknesses, and achieving your purpose. St. Paul, MN: ShareOn.(2002). Polarity management: Identifying and managing unsolvable problems. Amherst, MA: HRD Press.(2010). Managing polarities in congregations. Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute., & (