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Dale Chihuly is a renowned glass sculptor. His bold, colorful pieces come from a range of influences and include simple and exotic forms found in nature such as spheres and cylinders, sea creatures, and desert cacti. You can see them in museums, office buildings, hotels, and outdoor landscapes around the world. However, his most exciting contribution to the art glass world has to be his extraordinarily innovative idea of bringing together teams of artists with exceptional glassblowing abilities to create large-scale, spectacular glass sculptures. Led by Chihuly's vision and direction, these casts of collaborators engage in highly physical, dramatic productions in which they create pieces that result from the synergy of all the artists' specialized skills. By combining their talents, these teams collectively produce unique art pieces that would not otherwise come into being.
This artistic collaboration is a powerful analogy to the synergy that evolves during the teaching and learning pro cess that unleashes brilliance. Each of us brings our individual talents, skills, and knowledge to the process. Just as Chihuly does, the teacher leads with purpose and vision. But the outcome—the unique learning and results for each individual you influence—is completely dependent upon each learner's willingness to join in as collaborator in the experience. Establishing this valuable teacher-learner relationship is an art and an essential ingredient to everyone's success.
Synergy Gets Results
Synergy is all about working together and supporting each other's success. A quick look in the dictionary tells us that synergy means "joint work, to work together, combined or cooperative action or force." Wikipedia says "A synergy is where different entities cooperate advantageously for a final outcome. If used in a business application it means that teamwork will produce an overall better result than if each person was working toward the same goal individually ... a dynamic state in which combined action is favored over the difference of individual components." Take a moment to think again of Dale Chihuly's team of glassblowers. They are fired up, working together toward a common objective, bringing their individual strengths and talents forward, and supporting each other's work—everyone contributing to create the resulting masterpiece. Your outcome will not take the form of a glass sculpture that looks like a sea anemone or octopus. It will, however, take form as crystallized knowledge and empowered skills in the minds and practices of your learners, and it will fuel productivity as well as individual, community, and or gan i za tion al vitality. All this arises from the unique synergistic relationship you create with your learners throughout your learning session.
The Brilliance Learning System Starts with People: Learners and Teachers
The first component, and the foundation of the Brilliance Learning System, is people who create synergistic relationships. These relationships between learners and teachers can be defining and life changing. They can and must bring out the best in us and the best in others. Jaime Escalante in Los Angeles and my teacher David Wilson at UC Davis established relationships with their students that made them shift their beliefs, join in a common objective, and work extremely hard to meet high standards. Thomas Friedman, journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of best-selling books including The World Is Flat, once paid homage in a New York Times column to his high school journalism teacher, Hattie Steinberg. Friedman, who credited Steinberg with "inspiring in him a love of reporting and newspapers," took her Introduction to Journalism course in 1969 and never took, or felt he needed to take, another journalism class. In his column he described Hattie Steinberg as tough and "a woman of clarity in an age of uncertainty." He explained that he and other students hung out in Steinberg's room "as if it were a malt shop," not because it was cool but because they "enjoyed being harangued by her, disciplined by her, and taught by her." Friedman voiced his respect for his teacher and his gratitude for the lasting impact her lessons had on his life. He wrote, "I sit up straight just thinkin' about her." It sounds like Hattie Steinberg was as formidable and demanding as Jaime Escalante and as inspiring and courageous as David Wilson. She no doubt reminds you, at least a little, of a great teacher from whom you learned enduring truths.
When it comes down to it, inspired teachers who get their students to work hard and join them in a collaborative pro cess are people we want to be around. We trust them. They demand a lot from us, but they also give a lot of themselves. Their enthusiasm for life ignites our own. They make learning safe by turning mistakes into opportunities for learning. They create an environment of trust and mutual respect. They design and implement strategies for rigorous work and risk taking that we value. We work harder because we want to.
Learners trust teachers who demonstrate their authenticity and reliability. Their words and actions are in alignment; they walk the talk. So when a teacher says, "This learning experience is about you, and you are going to learn X, Y, and Z," that teacher is creating a learner-centered experience and indicating, quickly and per sis tent ly, that X, Y, and Z will be learned. Great synergies come from mutuality. The teacher creates an environment in which everyone really "shows up" and brings their best to the endeavor.
So how do you ensure that everyone brings their best to the endeavor? How do you align your best intentions with the learning design?
Rebalance the Learning Equation: The 70/30 Principle
Rebalancing the learning equation is a great way to start. In Leadership from the Inside Out, Kevin Cashman describes two different approaches he calls "streams of leadership." One is an "extremely hard-driving ... 'I' leader who gets results." The other is a "more interpersonally connected ... collaborative and synergistic ... 'We' leader." Cashman explains that individuals, teams, and organizations thrive when we develop both the I and the We qualities in our leadership style.
These two streams of leadership are as applicable and important in any learning situation as they are in leadership. To practice and enable the kind of learning that unlocks brilliance, we need to be vigilant about the dynamics of the I and the We. There is greater synergy when the space is created for everyone to step forward to perform in a tidelike rhythm and motion of exchange—a rolling back and forth where the teacher steps forward more forcefully, then steps back and makes space for the powerful voices and contributions of the learners. This demands a shift in teaching style and a letting go somewhat of ego. We've all heard the expression "Leave your ego at the door." This is a reminder that the possibilities inherent in highly synergistic relationships are only achievable in an environment where everyone's voice and contribution is heard and where everyone has the opportunity to develop. By letting go of ego, we also let go of judging people, including ourselves. This is important because when we feel better than or less than someone else, we are separating ourselves from others and may miss opportunities to connect with them.
Close your eyes for a moment. Place yourself in a traditional learning situation. What's happening? The teacher is at the front of the room, right? Who is doing the talking? The teacher, right? Who is standing, moving around the room? Who is engaged with the ideas and the information? Whose voice do you hear most of the time? Who's excited? The teacher, the teacher, and the teacher. I created the Brilliance Learning System to revolutionize that learning model. It is based on this key premise: Whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning.
A shift in focus will help you rebalance the learning equation, place the spotlight on the learners, engender active rather than passive learning, and change how you teach so that you and the learners really do bring the best to the endeavor and bring out brilliance. Three shifts support the 70/30 Principle.
Shift 1: Learners Do 70 Percent of the Talking and 30 Percent of the Listening
The goal of the 70/30 Principle is for your learners to feel that they are at the center of the learning session and to get them actively learning. You can make this happen by shifting your focus from doing most of the talking and teaching (which often amounts to about 70 percent) to doing far less (about 30 percent). This establishes a more learner-centered focus and ensures greater ownership and success for the learner. It spotlights the learner, not you, as the focus of the learning session.
Shift 2: Teachers Dedicate 70 Percent of Their Preparation to How (Learning Design) and 30 Percent to What (Content) They Will Teach
It is common in most teacher-learner situations for the teacher to focus 70 percent of his or her time on preparing content and 30 percent on figuring out how to teach that content. With the Brilliance Learning System, we reverse that focus now and forevermore! Commit yourself to focusing 30 percent of your time and energy on deciding what your objectives are, what key takeaways you want for your learners, and what visuals you want to use, and 70 percent of your time and energy on how you will create activities and embed best learning practices.
That 70 percent effort goes into applying the ENGAGE Model, which I will walk you through in subsequent chapters. Learning Design, or how you teach, is the stage on which the learning story takes place, and it is the carefully planned central plot. It needs to be packed full of interactive learning opportunities and activities.
Shift 3: Learners Spend 30 Percent of the Time Learning and 70 Percent of the Time Practicing
Since learners are the stars of the play—the main characters on the learning event stage—they get to have most of the lines and action, which means they get to have a lot of time to practice new skills and information. In traditional learning models, teachers typically spend 70 percent of the learning event time teaching skills, and learners spend only 30 percent practicing those skills. As you see yourself more as the director of talented people who want to shine and produce amazing results, you realize that the more they practice, the greater their chance for success when they are on their own. Learners need to spend 70 percent of the total learning event time practicing the new skills, working with them, and teaching others, while you spend only 30 percent of the time teaching the skills to them (Figure 1.1).
Create a Continuous Flow of Connections
How can we ensure that everyone brings his or her best to the endeavor? How can we bring out the brilliance in ourselves and in learners as we work toward objectives?
In addition to the 70/30 Principle, another way to rebalance the learning equation is to establish a learner-centered mindset. This is an important underpinning of a more synergistic style of learning. When you walk through the chapters regarding the use of the ENGAGE Model, you will see how this is put into practice through many conscious choices. You also will see that each of these choices is necessary to create a continuous flow of connections. You want to connect learners to themselves by inspiring and celebrating who they are—their capabilities and contributions. You want to connect them to their purpose and hopes, and their sense of community. You also want to connect them to your content and to its meaning and application. As you work to make these connections, your energy fuels their energy to embody and embrace your content because of its deeper connection to who they are and what they want to become. You have reinforced and put into language what they know to be true. The cycle is constant, demanding, and energizing. Everyone feels a sense of fulfillment. Powerful relationships form between the teacher and learners and also within the group of learners itself. This is a powerful paradigm for learning, and much of it arises by nurturing a mindset that starts with you—who you are as the teacher and the contribution you bring to your learners—and radiates to how you feel about your learners: your genuine belief that you want them to succeed.
Brilliance Starts with You
Brilliance starts with you, the teacher—your mindset and your investment. Both of these factors are crucial in catalyzing your strengths and those of your learners. Developing your learner-centered mindset, belief in learner success, and commitment to creating learning experiences that support that success are critical, so it is important to invest in yourself as well as your learners. You might think of preparing for learning events as you would prepare for an athletic event such as a marathon, triathlon, or even an Olympic event. Being your healthiest, strongest, most skilled and talented self requires many layers of training and practice. Such a demanding and exciting process begins, like anything else, with a willingness to do the work of learning more about yourself and connecting with or working synergistically with others. In the rest of this chapter we'll explore how you can consciously develop a mindset that supports optimal learning and how you can consciously invest in yourself and your learners to bring out brilliance.
While it is important that you be the expert in your content, it is perhaps more important that you know, constantly learn about, and accept yourself. Self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and is essential for authentically growing into your full potential as an individual, a teacher, and a leader. It also is the foundation for connecting authentically with your learners.
REFLECTION : Exercise
In an ideal world, some of the first work you do as a teacher is reflection and self-awareness. If you have done something like this before, that's great—but there is always more to discover. Take the time to think about the following important questions. Write down your answers in a notebook or record them as an audio file. Date your entries and save them. Try to do this exercise at least once a year.
Who am I?
What is important to me?
What are my gifts and strengths?
What are some areas that need improvement?
What inspires and motivates me?
What are my goals? (What do I want to achieve?)
What are barriers to my goals?
What are my passions?
What is my purpose?
What energizes me?
What do I need to sustain my passion, my purpose, and my energy?
What have I done recently that makes me happy?
How could I do more of that?
What has become clearer to me after answering these questions?
How do I best learn?
Connect with Self and Others
The drive for self-awareness is motivated not only by a personal desire for continued learning and growth (which fuels happiness), but also by the knowledge that the more self-aware people are, the more fully they can connect with others and their experiences. This connection is an expansion of our emotional repertoire and it makes us far more effective as teachers and leaders who help people claim their greatness.
Approve of Yourself
Bill George, professor at Harvard Business School, former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, and author of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, says, "The key to self-acceptance is to love yourself unconditionally." He reminds us that this means acknowledging and accepting our strengths and weaknesses. He further offers, "Loving yourself unconditionally requires self-compassion." It is "that level of self-compassion [that] enables you to get to the source of your True North and to accept yourself as you are." It also is the first level of being able to connect authentically with others, to respect and trust them, to learn from them and empower them, and to support and challenge them.
Excerpted from BRILLIANCE by DESIGN by VICKI HALSEY Copyright © 2011 by Victoria Halsey. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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