Embodiment

Educators are beginning to ask an important question in a number of ways:

1. “How do we make our best professional development efforts ‘stick’ and see that they are transferred to classroom practice?”

2. “How do we take what we learn in leadership classes and turn it into better leadership?”

It’s time for a fresh look at the ‘stickiness’ of our professional development efforts. I am a strong advocate of a new concept working its way into the conversation called “embodiment”. When we embody something we can take action without thinking about it. In order to get to a place where a new behavior or action is embodied, we must practice it.

A great example is learning to drive. We can read about driving and learn all the concepts involved in driving; but for it to be ‘embodied’ we must get behind the wheel and practice. At first, it feels scary. We may hit the gas pedal too hard and squeal the wheels, we may hid the brake too hard and stop short, we may drive too close to the shoulder of the road because oncoming traffic intimidates us. Everything we do when we begin to drive feels uncomfortable.

Fast forward, many, many hours of driving practice later; and we find ourselves driving, listening to the radio, talking on the phone, and sipping our coffee without any thought or effort, whatsoever. We embody our new driving behaviors. It is practice that makes things ‘sticky’.

How can we apply the driving analogy to our ed tech and leadership professional development?

1. Recognize that attending professional development is only the first step in our learning.
2. Create daily practices for participants in our professional development sessions.
3. Create learning teams that meet to discuss each individual’s progress and to support each other in their new practices and behaviors.
4. Require that the teacher of any PD course, monitor the Learning Teams and their practices.

Here is a concrete example:

Let’s say we do a professional development session on Leadership. In the session we present the material and content we feel is most important. Perhaps we feel that being an attentive listener is very important if we want to be effective leaders. Before we finish the PD session we assign the following practices to the class:

1. Every morning write your intention to be a more effective listener in a journal. Writing your intention each day brings your goal to the forefront of your attention. It helps it from being buried in an avalanche of operational tasks that can dominate your day.
2. Whenever you speak with someone, physically face up to them and give them your full attention.
3. Whenever your mind wanders or stops paying full attention to the speaker, bring it back to listening.
4. Don’t take notes.
5. At the end of the day write your reflection on how you did in practicing attentive listening during the day in your journal. Once again, writing this helps keep your attention on your practice.
6. Every few weeks meet with your Learning Team to discuss how you are doing and to support others in their practices.

The example above is just one example of using practice to make what we learn in PD ‘sticky’. Over time, like learning to drive, the practices will pay off; at some point we will automatically ‘embody’ attentive listening. It will feel natural to listen fully and deeply to others. People will begin noticing that we have changed.

Athletes, musicians, artists, actors, and many others that strive for excellence know the importance of practice. Educators are beginning to ask the right questions about ‘stickiness’. Are we ready to move from conversation… to action, practice, and embodiment?

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9 thoughts on “Embodiment

  1. I completely agree that practice is the only way to ensure that technology will be used to it’s full potential by teachers and students. I especially liked the way you compared learning about technology to learning to drive because both of those skills tend to scare people at first. Many people are afraid of learning to drive, but they learn anyways because they understand that there are many benefits of being able to drive. They see it as a necessary skill to live in society as an adult. Teachers need to make sure that sudents come to the same conclusions about working with technology. If students are afraid to use technology because they might break it or because it is just so new, they need to see the benefits of having skills with technology so that they do not give up. To do this, teachers need to fully understand and appreciate what technology has to offer. That way, they can show their students these benefits and make them more inclined to learn how to use different types of technology.

  2. I would have to agree that practice does make perfect! The four steps for applying the driving analogy to our ed tech and leadership professional development are awesome guidelines that should be followed by all educational leaders. Taking courses is the first thing that should take place. Teachers should know excatly how to use these ed tech tools before they try to teach their students using them. After learning about educational technology teachers need keep practicing and practicing to get completely comfortable with the technology. Teachers should also be evaluating one another to help learn new things and better your use of the technology. The more teachers use the technology the better and better they will be become until they are completely comfortable with the use and it is a great benefit to their students and the school system.

  3. Practice is truley the best way to learn and understand technology to the best of ones ability. At first the thought might be scary as it is when first starting to drive but, with trial and error, and practice confidence will set in and one will get a true grasp of techology. I also agree that teachers should fully understand and be able to use the ed tech tools before they go about teaching them upon another individual.

  4. People mistakenly think that practice makes perfect. Practice really does make a skill permanent. None of us can be perfect. Embodiement simply means being able to permanently learn a skill. Our focus should be on the application part of it but we tend to put so much premium on the theory.

  5. Pete:
    I agree with you that embodiment follows reflective practice. Without contemplating our own conduct and it’s effect on others, professional development remains in the talking stage. We betray our good intentions with contrary conduct. We fail to walk our talk until we realize our contradictory behavior or outcomes.

    I’m also hopeful that immersive practice will also become commonplace soon. There’s a long tradition of learning from apprenticeships before there were classrooms and professional development sessions. Our minds naturally pick up new routines and problem solving heuristics when immersed in unfamiliar and challenging circumstances. We unconsciously scramble to comprehend opportunities to advance, get approval and get results. We reflect on how we’re messing up, missing the point or misconstruing the challenge. We then embody the skillfulness realized from our experiments. As you said, we “do the right thing without thinking”. I’m optimistic that immersive apprenticeships will come back into fashion because lots of online and computer games make this experience seem natural and commonplace.

  6. Kristy, Emily, and Jr Ed;
    Yes, we can practice the technology skills we learn in professional development; but we can also practice new ways of being in our classrooms. For example, if we are control freaks, we may want to practice giving up some control so that our students can take more ownership. If we tend to like to be in the spotlight and entertain; we can practice letting our students take some of the spotlight. If we don’t ask many questions then we can practice asking more questions. If we aren’t creative, we may want to practice creativity.

    There are lot’s of things to practice that will make our professional practice as teachers more effective.

    pete

  7. Herman,
    I agree that we focus far too much on theory. I was leading a PD session on leadership when somebody raised their hand and said, “I already know about leadership!”

    To me, knowing (the theory) of leadership has little to do with BEING an effective leader. We have to break through this one dimensional view of learning. I think bringing the concept of embodiment into our conversation is an important step in that direction.

    pete

  8. Tom;
    Great comment. I am totally committed to the concept of returning to a learning model for teachers and administrators based on “Mastery”.

    Of course, to get there we need to break down the “cognitive only” focus of public education and broaden it to include embodiment and mastery.

    Another major change in thinking that needs to happen is that educators need their own “teachers/coaches” who work with them to improve their professional skills, monitor their practices, and support them on their road to mastery.

    It’s ironic that most professional educators and administrators don’t have someone teaching/coaching them.

    pete

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