The Open Mindset

This week I had the privilege of attending the #OpenEd18 conference in Niagara Falls.  This conference (centered on the leverage of Open Education Resources to freely share content, expand learning opportunities, and lower costs for learners of all ages) was challenging – troubling – and encouraging all in one.

At the three day conference I had the opportunity to listen to, and even participate in, several thought pushing discussions.  Sessions from @saratrettin , @thatpsychprof , @NicholasColvard , and @new_edu filled my Open toolkit while discussions from @ckmcguire @jesshmitchell & @txtbks pushed the edges of my understanding and grated against my comfort zone.  In the traditional sense, I felt privileged to attend and grateful for the chance to be surrounded by such engaging and thoughtful contributors and disruptors in our field.   Some self reflection and consideration early on though, highlighted just how privileged I am.  My conference attendance was made possible because of the privileges that my background, history, context, race, health, and social status all afford me.  My race, social class, and family history afforded me the opportunity to serve in a position that sponsored my travel, registration, and accommodations, making getting to the conference relatively easy.  I now have the blessing and benefit of continuing to connect with conference presenters and attendees thanks to readily available reliable internet access, on demand content on a variety of devices, and a healthy profile that allows me to access all of this with ease.

I’m left considering how my innate (or acquired) bias and privilege influence my thought patterns, my interactions with others . . . and make my teaching. . . inherently ‘closed’.

The mission behind the work we do in our field is closely related to Open Education (the ‘opening’ of educational resources and practices to enhance accessibility, spark creativity, improve depth of understanding, and promote equity).  Education’s purpose, after all, is to help prepare each learner to valuably and uniquely contribute to their community, family, workplace, and our democratic society.  Each learner.  

How often do our individual experiences and backgrounds (and the inherent biases that accompany them) contribute to classroom practices that actual ‘close’ off learning for some of our students?

Common Classroom Procedures that May Perpetuate Inequity

  • Homework:  Homework is one of the few school requirements that transcends the boundary between students’ home and school lives (@realhomeworkldy).  Because students do not have equitable access to resources, assistance, support, or time in their homes, homework assignments often contribute to the equity gap already present in schools (@joboaler).
  • Traditional Questioning Techniques:  When teachers pose questions to a large group of students and call on those who raise their hands (or cold call on unprepared students), we unintentionally exclude some from participating in class discussions (and often from earning high class participation grades).  Meaningful class discussions and the connections they facilitate may be inaccessible or ‘closed’ to students who need longer think time, additional scaffolds to make connections, or who battle social emotional hurdles.
  • Presentation of Content:  When we present content to students in singular modalities (solely visual or auditory presentations for example), we close off access to the content to students who need or prefer content presented in other ways.
  • Traditional Grading Practices:  Grading and late work policies that expect all students to achieve the same standard in the same amount of time place value on completion and compliance (over learning) and may further perpetuate inequity in our classrooms.

Overcome with Open

Ways OPEN can help us overcome:

  • Present in Open Forums:  Present in open spaces (blog, publish work under a Creative Commons open license, or tweet content) in a way that invites critical feedback.  Invite others to comment on your work and value diverse perspectives on your contributions.
  • See Learning as Iterative:  Humbly accept that true understanding adapts, molds, flexes, and grows over time.  Be humble enough to accept that our current iteration of understanding is not final.
  • Ask for diverse perspectives:  Actively seek diverse perspectives on our thought patterns and educational practices.  Ask parents, students, and colleagues for their perspectives on our classroom procedures.  Seek diverse vantage points on the learning tasks we assign and the content reading we promote.  Resist the urge to pretend to know what we cannot know due to inherent bias and unique experience.
  • Identify inherent bias: Find ways to engage in critical self reflection.  Consider videotaping lessons to analyze instructional strategies.  Do we favor certain learners or groups of learners?  Do we unknowingly prohibit some from participating in our lessons?
  • Embrace the uncomfortable:  Invest time in (or at least don’t shy from) uncomfortable conversations and instructional strategies.  Recognize the exponential learning that comes from stretching past tradition, what you’ve always thought’, or ‘how it’s always been done’.
  • Embrace empathy:  Great teaching requires a relational commitment to our learners.  Listen to their diverse perspectives, interests, likes, dislikes, needs, and wants with respect and empathy.  Seek to understand:  it’s their learning, after all.

Mission > Me

When looking for open practices and resources to include in my courses or suggest to schools, I often find myself asking ‘is this idea/resource open?’ to assess how useful certain resources might be for the task I’m looking to complete.  OpenEd18 and @txtbks challenged me to shift our mindsets from ‘me’ to ‘mission’ and consider instead, ‘how open is this resource/practice?’ and ‘for whom is it open?’.  This shift in thought moves the focus from me to mission – and pushes against the limits of my understanding and comforts.

The challenging, rewarding, frustrating, oh so important work of teaching and learning has immense value and promise.  It is high stakes work that necessitates a commitment to others.  Let us see that opening education for all is a mission bigger than our own comfort levels, and greater than our biases may allow us to see.



*Diverse & multiple perspectives on this post wanted! My thinking on this has only just begun!

2 thoughts on “The Open Mindset

  1. Valuable reflections to you personally and now to me because you shared so well and passionately. Listening and absorbing is still practiced by those ahead and above me, as you are. That in itself is enough. Being humble. Being hungry to be better and do things (teaching) better keep biases from adhering to and forming us negatively. You live up to your title: brave pedagogy…


  2. Pingback: The Illusion of Objectivity in Schools & A Case For Letting ‘Gray’ Have a Say | brave pedagogy

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