What (How) do you think? – Metacognition and Smarter Meetings

Written by: Jordan Tinney

Published On: August 10th 2012

IdeasHave you ever gone to present something to someone and thought “I wonder what X will think about this?” As a district leader, I have often found myself in a situation where people want to know “what I think” about a concept. Sometimes, it is helpful for your group or colleagues to know more about how you view the world. As we all know, the way in which we think and grapple with the world shapes much of what we do. Thinking leads to action so how you think is a precursor to what you will eventually do.

In a recent activity that I undertook, I found myself trying to explain to someone how I think my way through activities. In doing so, I discovered that I have three basic frameworks that I rely upon to grapple with topics or strategies. It had never really occurred to me that I have these frameworks and that I have come to know about them through reading and studying them. My end goal in using these strategies has normally been about trying to understand concepts and processes clearly so that I can explain these topics or concepts to others in large groups. These presentations/talks have become a big part of my work in that many of my district responsibilities include trying to explain concepts to large groups of principals or district staff. In this post, I want to share these frameworks, what they mean for leadership work, and how they may be relative to any leadership endeavor.

Recently, I have taken a bit of a break from postings. This is because I have been working on redoing my blog from the ground up. As I worked to make this blog revamp complete, I wrote an Activity Guide to help support some of the materials to come in future posts.  The process of writing the Ponder WonderGuide really caused me to think about how I think. Here are the frameworks I use and how I think that they could be of use to others.

  1. 4di – Know thyself – An individual process
  2. Ethical Dilemmas – Rushworth Kidder’s work
  3. One Smart World – Effective strategies for groups/meetings

The first framework is really in two parts. The work of Bob Wiele and One Smart World introduced me to the 4di. Many who read this blog will have taken personal inventories of your own style. These leadership or personality inventories are many and diverse. One of the best known of these types of tools would be the Myers-Briggs type indicator. No matter which one you choose or use, the bottom line is that they are about knowing yourself and your preferences.

In my case, I can share that I show a strong preference to scan and organize information, to seek more understanding and clarity and to ask questions. So this personal knowledge simply helps me know that when I am first greeted with a concept or structure, my overwhelming preference is to listen, to ask questions, and to gather information. I should be really clear that just because I have a preference to do this does not mean that I am good or bad at it, the whole purpose of such a personal inventory is simply to tell you what you prefer to do. The 4di has helped me understand a lot about who I am and how I like to approach problems. This is framework #1. Every person’s first framework likely will be built upon your personal style and preferences.

Framework #2 is about how you go about resolving issues where you have competing rights. The late Rushworth Kidder had a wonderful framework for resolving ethical dilemmas. His organization, the Institute for Global Ethics, has been a consistent advocate for developing a society that understands how ethical thinking can support a healthy democratic civilization. Rushworth’s framework for resolving ethical dilemmas structures competing rights into paradigms of:

  • Truth vs. Loyalty
  • Justice vs. Mercy
  • Short Term vs. Long TermDilemma Right vs Wrong
  • Individual vs. Community

Whether you lead a classroom, a school, or a district, you will no doubt face ethical dilemmas. This framework is exceptionally helpful for working your way through such tough times. My experience has found that in education, we very often end up looking at the greatest good for the greatest number of people and these decisions can flow from the paradigms above.

Finally, framework #3 is again part of the work of One Smart World. Their work remains instrumental in helping me think about how we can all work to have more effective meetings. As someone who spends huge amounts of time in meetings, I always want them to be effective use of our time on all fronts. The One Smart World framework has had me shift my meeting agendas (in my mind) to ask people to come to meetings seeking three things:

  • Do you want our advice on a topic?
  • Do you want to share information with the group? Or
  • Do you want the group to make a decision together?

Simply taking the time to frame any agenda topic in these ways has provided a simple and effective framework for helping move agendas along. There will always be the time for deep discussions about complex topics. The framework also allows a process for that as well by breaking things down into time for brainstorming, understanding, and making a decision. In every organization in which I have ever worked, people have complained about effective meetings. This simply is one tool in a larger repertoire that can help.

The purpose of this post was simply to share that likely you have frameworks that you use to understand issues, digest information and resolve dilemmas. Thinking about those frameworks and how they make a whole together in your toolkit of skills can not only help yourself but can help others by letting them know more about how you work as a leader in any group setting. The information shared above about One Smart World or the Institute for Global Ethics is deep work that requires more in-depth reading and practice. This is just really a commentary on their applicability. But perhaps the best place to start is just to consider the frameworks that you use on a regular basis in your daily work. Thinking about those frameworks cannot only help yourself, but can help others around you as they come to know you in your leadership work.