Thinking before doing is not a strength of mine. I like to try new things, take risks, and jump in with both feet. Innovation is often my first thought and details tend to come later. Because of this, I'm a big fan of the thought partner concept. My thought partner, Kari Espin, often changes my perspective, helps me reflect in order to improve, and encourages me to take things to the next level by thinking beyond my comfort zone. I was recently thinking about how beneficial this is for me and how much more beneficial it might be in the classroom. Kari talks often about how much she enjoys being a thought partner and she is passionate about helping others take their thoughts, ideas, and even their careers to another level.
What if students had thought partners? What if they had someone in the classroom (other than the teacher) that they could talk with to share their ideas, ask questions, and reflect with as they learn and explore? It makes sense, right? So often, we talk about the importance of collaboration and communication. We put students in groups and encourage them to share and learn together. But, the idea of thought partners brings a new perspective as well as new opportunities.
In an article written a while back for Forbes, Rania Anderson, defined perfectly what thought partners are and the role that they play...
A Thought Partner is someone who:
Take a minute to think about what those opportunities might look like in your classroom. What if students were encouraged to challenge each other's thinking, change actions and assumptions, and provoke innovation and creation?
Because I am such an advocate for Genius Hour and giving students an opportunity to pursue their passions during the school day, I think about what this might look like during this time. Having a thought partner while working through a Genius Hour project can not only give students an opportunity to practice collaboration and creativity, but take projects to an entirely differently level. This is a perfect example of putting learners in a position to provoke innovation and creativity.
Consider behavior issues in the classroom. Because a thought partner can cause us to change our assumptions or actions, having time to share and reflect on bad choices or wrong decisions might have more of an impact than a direct punishment or consequence. Talking through why something was done and being given a different perspective can sometimes change everything.
I always say that if students are not given opportunities to reflect, they will not make connections to the learning. Thought partners can encourage reflection as they become accountability partners that make reflection a priority and help each other move from simply remembering to truly reflecting.
Causeit.org is a wonderful resource for understanding thought partners. They define thought partnership as "the practice of sharing ideas and experience with others to help them navigate complex challenges." In order to prepare students for their lives beyond the walls of the classroom, it is important that we help them understand and experience the reality of complex challenges. Having thought partners can help them make sense of such challenges and become more willing to take risks and try new things. The website also introduces different types of thought partners from Elisa Steele and Mark Bonchek. They shared their framework in an article written for the Harvard Business Review titled "What Kind of Thinker are You?".
Take some time to visit the website as it explains each of these in detail as well as the idea that "an organization needs to integrate all of these different styles of thinking in order to innovate." I believe the same is true for the classroom. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses gives learners an opportunity to realize how they can help each other and contribute to the greater good. For example, I am most often an Explorer. I enjoy thinking creatively, solving problems, and I absolutely love sharing big ideas. However, that means that I am not always great at thinking through the details, so it helps me to work with thought partners that are Planners and Optimizers. They are able to see my big idea from a different perspective and help me think through how to make it happen.
I think that students can act as different types of thought partners at different times. In other words, I don't think it's necessary to label someone an Energizer and assume that they cannot be a thought partner unless that is what is needed. Rather, it's about recognizing what is needed in each situation and adapting in order to make the most of the collaboration opportunity. As you watch your learners in these situations, it will become clear what they are really good at and what is most difficult.
Understanding the need to collaborate and work together will change the culture of the classroom. Instead of students going to the same people to get the "right answers", they will begin to build relationships understanding whose strengths they need in order to support their weakness. What reason is there to cheat or make excuses for bad behavior if students are given the opportunity to work with a thought partner to figure it out? When students understand their purpose, they are more willing to invest. If they realize that they have been chosen as a thought partner because of the task at hand, the work becomes more meaningful and real.
In this series of blog posts, I will also address how to make thought partnership a priority using the 4 Cs + 1R and throughout the 6 Ps Process of Genius Hour. Stay tuned as these will be coming soon!
REFLECT: How might the idea of thought partners change your classroom? What impact might it have on your learners and on your as an educator? Please comment below to share your thoughts and ideas.
Learn more about Kari Espin as a thought partner HERE.
Petroni, M. (2019). Being a Thought Partner — Causeit, Inc.. [online] Causeit, Inc. Available at: https://www.causeit.org/being-a-thought-partner [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019].
Bonchek, M. and Steele, E. (2019). What Kind of Thinker Are You?. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2015/11/what-kind-of-thinker-are-you [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019].
© 2018 Andi McNair