Practicing New Strategies

 · 3 mins read

Despite only being about halfway through PSEL, I can already see some of the lessons I’ve learned showing up in the way I perform when collaborating with others.

One of the lessons I’ve learned that has had the strongest impact is listening and asking the right questions. In the past, I’ve been driven more by the need to provide answers to problems in the name of efficiency, but sometimes people are willing to compromise efficiency for the right solution. It reminds me of shopping in a way – sometimes, we’re willing to pay higher prices for the perfect pair of shoes or a really great dress. Other times, I’m willing to sacrifice quality for a cheaper price under the right set of circumstances. Parsing out those circumstances when it comes to my job responsibilities is the key that I’ve been missing in the past.

This was most recently apparent when I was working with a group of instructors on a culminating assignment for a course. As discussion went on about the merits of the assignment, there were some clear themes coming through that I could observe based on my “outsider” seat, but some folks kept coming back to a certain handful of points that seemed to be overlooked or weren’t being addressed clearly by others in the room. In particular, the issue of the amount of time to complete the project kept coming up as a sticking point that was brushed over a couple times.

I waited for a natural pause in the discussion and spoke up, but instead of providing a solution, as I am naturally inclined to do, I thought of a few questions based on the conversation that I could ask instead.

My question was something to the effect of, “From what I’ve heard in the last few minutes, it seems like there is a concern about the length of time this will take. What do you envision as the final deliverable for this project? How does that fit in with the amount of time you would like students to spend on this?” I also asked, “Does that version of the deliverable still meet the goals that were laid out for this assessment?” These questions helped us refocus our energy on relevant details instead of getting distracted by other points that kept being thrown into the mix.

I think my questions helped narrow the conversation down to what really mattered and made the decision-making process more efficient. Eventually, a new factor was brought up – whether the team thought it was feasible to make a major change to the course this close to the beginning of the semester. Ultimately, decided that some people in the room would pilot the new assessment, while the rest would run the course with the previous version and wait to hear the feedback for the next semester of the class, which is a fine compromise that also prioritized the necessary reality of the fixed timeline they were working under to prep the course, but still allowed the flexibility to try a new strategy that meets the course goals in a more engaging way with the intention of doing a full rollout the following semester.

In the end, I suppose my takeaway from this experience is that success isn’t always defined by one person, but by those you are working with. It’s important to listen to the goals and objectives of others when working to help lead them to a solution, and the solution has to be good for them by their definition of good, not mine. For this group, exploring ways to improve the culminating course assessment was the goal, not necessarily implementing something new right away.