Last month I shared a post on the lack of deep conversation, primarily on social media – mindlessly retweeting content and reading blog posts without connecting to the writer or ideas. At the time, I shared the hunch that a lot of surface level conversation is driven by a lack of focus, but I didn’t offer any suggestions on how we can get beyond the surface and dive deeper. After some thought and action, here are four steps to get beyond the surface conversation – both online and offline.
- Find a focus – Be a reflective practitioner. Think about your practice and identify the gaps, things you’d like to improve upon and learn. In my practice, we are focused on creating our vision for teaching and learning. One of the steps I’ve recently taken that has helped me get focused is to clean out the list of people I follow on Twitter. I was finding that there was far more distraction in my timeline than I needed. Spending 10 minutes scanning my timeline would frequently lead to nothing more than a waste of 10 minutes. I also tweaked my lists to more easily filter the people and organizations I want to connect with.
- Find a collaborator or two – To engage in a conversation, you have to find people to talk with – be it face-to-face or online. My colleague, Lynn Fuini-Hetten, and I published a podcast on this topic earlier this year. When you find a collaborator, you find someone to help you problem-solve and provide you with feedback. You find someone to take the conversation deeper. While most of my conversations around a vision for teaching and learning have been with my two work colleagues, Lynn and Ross Cooper, more of our work will be moving online as we begin making connections and engaging with the thought leaders in the field. More to come on this exciting work!
- Take an inquiry stance – I’m all about questions. I end each blog post with a question because I want to prompt some inquiry in readers. I find that I am on a never-ending quest to find the right question and am always problematizing practice. It’s not easy. It can often be humbling. But it is important that we as practitioners take this inquiry stance if we are ever to change. While the first two steps – find a focus and find a collaborator – are important and cannot be bypassed, conversations take on a depth and substance when we approach them with an inquiry stance. Some people find questions threatening because questions mean there is something we don’t know, something that might be better. The fact is when we take an inquiry stance there will always be more questions, even when we think we’ve found a solution, when we’ve “arrived.” Those of us comfortable with inquiry embrace a growth mindset and therefore open the door for endless possibilities for deeper conversations.
- Embrace the growth mindset – During the inquiry process – where the deep conversations happen – we bump up against new ideas and thinking we didn’t know existed. It’s important for us to understand why we are connecting and having conversation — because we want to make something about our practice better. We don’t have the answers. But we are open to discovering answers by engaging in the inquiry process and deep conversations with those who might have pieces of the solution. During these conversations, we may get push-back from our collaborators on our ideas. That’s OK, if we approach the conversation with a growth mindset. What we thought was “right” or the “best idea” might now seem not-so-great when we synthesize your thinking with new learning. Anything but a growth mindset shuts down any possibility for deeper conversation.
I will admit – deeper conversations happen easier offline than online for me. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it has to do a lot with #3 — take an inquiry stance. I think inquiry is the behavior that takes us from the surface to deeper levels of engagement. While I don’t have the answer, I know I’m open to listening and learning what you have to say.
What if we took an inquiry stance in our online life? Would we have deeper conversations? What if we were more aware of our mindset as we engage with others online? Are we engaging with those that might challenge our thinking and compel us to grow? Are we open to this?