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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Intentional Interruption: Lifting the Quality of Professional Collaboration

I just read Intentional Interruption; Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform Professional Practice by Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack. Initially I was drawn to this book because I was looking for successful ways to share new ideas with colleagues.

This book was both challenging and enriching to read.  I gained a number of valuable ideas for future collaboration, professional learning, and teaching. I recommend that you buy this book and keep it as a guide and resource as you continue to build and develop your professional learning communities (PLCs).

The foundation of the model for Intentional Interruption is that "Student achievement is most influenced by classroom practice, and classroom practice is most influenced by teacher learning."  and "The investment in learning how to learn is the one that will yield the greatest return." (p.5-6) Katz and Dack use psychology's definition of learning: "Any relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as a direct result of experience." (p. 14)

The book emphasizes that "to change student achievement, it is necessary to change classroom practice, and changing classroom practice requires new learning.," and lists three factors that enables true professional learning including narrow, targeted foci, collaborative inquiry that challenges thinking and practice, and instructional leadership. (p.7)

The authors listed a number of barriers that stand in the way of optimal professional learning including the following:
  • Educators and leaders often don't spend the necessary time up front trying to understand the problem at hand, and instead spend a lot more time on activity or "doing."
  • "The gap between knowing and doing is huge." (p.25)
  • Professional development activities often don't "meet the urgent and real needs of many of those it is intending to cater to." (p.26)
  • Professional learning endeavor doesn't take into account "how hard learning is," and the many psychological barriers that hinder new learning for most individuals:
    • "Our natural tendency is actually to be lazy when it comes to hard thinking." (p. 52)
    • ". . humans are quite poor at thinking through all possible options when making a decision." (p.56)
    • ". . . people tend to engage with the world in a way that confirms what they already think, believe, know, and do, and work hard to avoid evidence to the contrary." (p.57)
    • ". . .When something is salient--or when it produces a vivid memory--is that people tend to overemphasize the likelihood of its occurrence." (p. 59) Hence we have to substantiate points by ratios, true statistics not just our memory or myth. 
    • "People place greater value on things that they recognize than on things that they don't" (p. 61)
    • "People tend to overestimate their own strengths and underestimate their shortcomings. . ." (p.62)
    • "They are so afraid of the potential downside of action that they sometimes choose inaction." (p. 63) People are risk averse. 
    • ". . .people keep their questions to themselves and work hard to hide their vulnerabilities (real or imagined)," and "When being wrong is seen as a weakness, it gets in the way of learning." (p.65)
I hurriedly read through the book waiting for the answers about how we can lift the quality of PLCs to invigorate successful and engaging student learning.  Katz and Dack describe this action as intentional interruption, purposeful action that creates permanent change for the better. They clearly identify, define and discuss the following processes in this regard (p.91):
  • Using protocols
  • Making preconceptions explicit.
  • Ensuring that activities and interventions are rooted in problems of practice. 
  • Recruiting contradictory evidence.
  • Viewing mistakes as learning opportunities.
  • Encouraging a growth (rather than a fixed) mindset.
  • Ensuring that problems of practice (foci) are questions that people are curious about.
  • Giving people autonomy in time and task.
Intentional Interruption is a book that will help you and your colleagues create "the conditions for real new learning" that interrupts the culture of superficial niceness and personal biases (barriers) that exist in order to move teams forward with the true professional learning that needs to be in place for effective instruction and engagement for all students.