Building better models as a leader and teacher
After 20 years of teaching, Jennifer Warren needed something new, something to push her forward as an educator and reinvigorate her classroom. She discovered Integrative Thinking and immediately got to work refreshing her pedagogy. Seeing how Integrative Thinking changed her own thinking, that of her students and even her own daughter turned Jennifer into an active promoter of the Integrative Thinking community.
Before building her Integrative Thinking practice, Jennifer described teaching success as creating a new crop of excellent readers and writers. Now, Jennifer sees her class as a think tank, with students solving problems together by leveraging the diversity of their thinking.
Her first activity with each new class is to have students create a causal model of what causes them to be themselves. These models then hang on the classroom walls throughout the semester as a visual representation of the diversity of mental models students can leverage each and every day. Kicking-off each semester this way, then exploring tensions and opposing models several times throughout the school year, Jennifer now sees success as developing students who walk out of her class as excellent thinkers.
Jennifer's advice for other teachers
"Do not make Integrative Thinking an add-on to what you already do. Give yourself the time and space to try the tools without the pressure of trying to fit in, in addition to what you already have planned. Thinking deeply takes time, and the payoff is great, but the stress and resentment can build if you are constantly feeling that you should get back to the "real" lesson you traditionally teach. Choose an activity you normally do, and let it go for this year."
"I want my students to have the same process I now have when problems occur or they see what appears to be a conflict. I want them to get excited because they know that at the end of the conflict, there may be innovation.
I feel like they’ll solve the problems of the world. I feel that a lot of the problems in the world, especially social problems, are based on us being entrenched and protective and defensive and that if we can train ourselves — and it really has to be legitimate — then you’ve learned and you’ve grown. If I can create those moments in the class where the students engage in a conflict and then realize that somebody else’s idea had so much value in solving the problem, then they will get addicted to this way of thinking.
That’s what I needed to realize. Now when I’m reading their work as an English teacher, I’m constantly wowed by the interesting insights that the students have. In the past, I was rarely being wowed because few and far between came up with something unique. Now, unique is the norm. Now, I’m in that position of being able to learn so much because I get windows into all their insights."
Integrative Thinking also pushed Jennifer as a leader. A new teacher in her department objected to the department policy of using the same exam in multiple classes. In the past, Jennifer would have said, "No, we must follow the policy", and move on. Instead, she engaged with the new teacher to learn from her thinking and create a better answer for their department.
"I’d always thought of it as my job to understand and interpret what is needed from the board and then help the people in my department to affect that in the classroom in some way. Doing that I felt I was successful. With Integrative Thinking, I realized that wasn’t successful at all, because there are all these different models of good teaching that I was surrounded by, that I tended to ignore. Integrative Thinking helped me look at and value other people’s models rather than trying to help them shift to my interpretation. I realized that I was missing out on a lot of great teaching and not capitalizing on the wonderful ideas of my colleagues."
Her ingenuity with Integrative Thinking continues to open new doors for Jennifer. In addition to speaking on panels and presenting at professional learning days, Jennifer also co-facilitates programs for educators with the I-Think team.
Jennifer's students problem solve with the Pro-Pro chart: