Monday, January 17, 2011

Talent and Learning to Be

In a recent post I wrote that education is the process of “learning to be. It’s an enculturation as we slowly grasp how things operate within communities of practice. In time we discover ourselves and our place within those communities.” (Read the entire post here.) This development is crucial as a young person discovers her or his talent(s) on the path to maximizing the potential within.
Recently I read Marcus Buckingham’s First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. It’s essentially a meta-analysis of The Gallup Organization’s interviews of over 80,000 managers in over 400 companies. The book stresses many points which counter common thinking and practice. For instance, Buckingham says that a great manager does not treat everyone the same.
In a rather obvious point, Buckingham talks about how one of a great manager’s most important roles is identifying and nurturing talent. Synthesizing various responses, he offers a definition of talent as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied” (71). The initial obviousness of this echoes Ken Robinson’s definition of creativity: “coming up with original ideas that have value.” Both are simple on the surface, but they can become quite complex as you begin unpacking the implications.
Things become more interesting when Buckingham breaks this generalization into three subsets:

·        Striving talents explain the why of a person.” Where does a person draw motivation? What urges drive him on? What is her passion?
·        Thinking talents explain the how of a person.” What are her thought processes? How does he make a decision?
·        Relating talents explain the who of a person.” How do people interact and relate with each other? What ingredients from the foundation of trust? (85)

Consider the implications of this. Within any single individual, they are complicated. Throw another person into the mix.  Imagine a classroom full of young people just beginning to learn about themselves, let alone develop a sense of empathy. At the most basic level, as Buckingham points out, it’s “why any one type of education is doomed to fail” (115).  It’s why a great manager does not treat everyone the same.
            Along the same vein, education is not really about what is taught. It’s about what is learned.  Yes, certain curricula—both content and skills—are essential. But learning about one’s talents is what truly matters. The greatest educators understand that, per Buckingham, “Self-discovery is the guiding force for a healthy career” (194). I would add, a healthy life.


Sam said...

You wrote, "Imagine a classroom full of young people just beginning to learn about themselves, let alone develop a sense of empathy."

SJ does this so well!

I'm interested to see how you incorporate your forward thinking ideas to the academic program at SJ. Imagine a school where kids focus their time on the areas they excel vs. spending more time on the things they aren't as good at.

Mark Crotty said...

Thanks, Sam. In some ways your last comment resonates with me, but I also think that there are certain things that kids simply have to do/learn even if they don't excel at or even like them. Of course, it's hard to get kids to realize that some things just require repetition.

I remember one incident that really drove this home to a bunch of kids. It was during the 1994 World Cup, part of which was in Dallas. Some of the teams were training at my former school, where I coached soccer. Kids would grouse all the time about how much we made them practice very basic skills. We'd tell them that pros spend even more time on the basics. Of course, no one believed us--until they saw a training session and saw the Braziian national team spend an hour on simply controlling the ball in some very boring drills.

Having said that, your comment does hint at the importance of teachers trying to find hooks and provide some relevance. But again, as I said in the post, that's hard when you're teaching a room full of individuals. And that's what good teachers do more than they teach a class.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of one my college professors who refused to use the word "students". He thought that was a such passive term for young minds that were so active. Instead, he called us "Learners".

Mark Crotty said...

Dear Anonymous--

I like that. It's why teachers need to focus somewhat on what they are teaching, but more intently on what kids actually are learning and doing.

Plus it sure beats what some of my professors used to call me!