Sunday, October 31, 2010

How Can You Use a Culture of Thinking?

It's a great thing to attend a conference session that inspires you and gives you so many ideas to put to work.  A session at last week's Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums conference—presented by Heidi Hinish, Head of Teacher, School, and Family Programs; Elizabeth Diament, Museum Educator; and Christine Stinson, School Docent Candidate from the National Gallery of Art presented on the ways that a culture of thinking had been integrated into their docent training.   Before I get to what they talked about, I wanted to talk about how they talked about what they talked about.  The session was brisk and enthusiastic;   the Powerpoints were to the point;  the presenters stood up and walked around, rather than just sitting down; and there were several times for audience discussion, feedback and questions.   I love when a conference session is full of the buzz of ideas and this one was.

And now, a culture of thinking.

Although the education staff had done a great deal of thinking and reading  in revamping their docent training, this session focused on the ways they integrated the work of Ron Ritchard, who focuses on how to developing, nurturing and sustaining thoughtful learning environments.  His work is part of a larger initiative on Visible Thinking at Harvard’s Project Zero.

What’s a culture of thinking?
According to Ritchard, cultures of thinking are “places where a group’s collective thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of the ongoing experience of all group members.”

Ritchard has identified 8 cultural forces that shape cultures of thinking.
  • Modeling of the group leader
  • The way time is allocated
  • The way language and conversation is used
  • The interactions and relationships that unfold
  • The expectations that are communicated
  • The opportunities that are created
  • The routines and structures that are put into place
  • The way the environment is set-up and utilized
For the docent training,  the NGA’s throughline is “As a learner, how can I understand a work of art?  As a teacher how can I help students understand a work of art?’   which neatly frames a key statement from Ritchard:

“It is who we are as thinkers and learners and what we do, that helps create a culture of thinking.”

I’ll come back, I hope, in a later post to the ways that these ideas are used in docent training (and hope to implement them in some of my projects) but I was particularly struck by how relevant these ideas are to us as staff and board members.  Think about that list above in terms of a board, committee or task force meeting.  For instance:
  • Modeling of the group leader:  disorganized and chokes off discussion or encourages feedback and runs a well organized meeting.
  • The way time is allocated:  a board meeting that spends half an hour talking about the price of tickets for the benefit;  or a board that spends time talking about how to reach the goals in a strategic plan.
  • The way language and conversation is used:  every discussion starts with a negative;  or an open receptive, what do you think?  kind of meeting
  • The interactions and relationships that unfold:  committee members who make little effort to forge personal connections or, as one committee I worked with last year, always made time to share a meal together.
  • The expectations that are communicated:  "don't worry, we won't ask you to do anything on the board,"  vs. a job description for board members.
  • The opportunities that are created:  a board with no term limits or a board that has an active recruitment, training and board rotation program.
  • The routines and structures that are put into place:  unintelligible financial reports handed out at the meeting;  or boards that set expectations for both committee and director reporting
  • The way the environment is set-up and utilized:  is your board meeting space comfortable?  does everyone feel at ease?  are there "cliques" who sit together?
As I start new projects, I'll try to use this framework to ensure that in everything I do, I do at least my part to ensure a culture of learning.  Thanks NGA education staff!
Illustrations for this post are from the NGA's collections and have no real connection to the topic.  Just art to look at and think about!
Top to Bottom:
Edouard Vuillard
Four Ladies with Fancy Hats, 1892/1893
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Eyerly, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur G. Altschul, Malcolm Wiener, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation
Auguste Raffet
An Elderly Jew and a Muslim Tartar in the Crimea, 1837
Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
William Henry Fox Talbot
Leaf Study, 1839/1840
Gift of Mary and David Robinson

1 comment:

pritislandscapes said...

Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things