Oh my rank is an offence

The Hamlet reference in the title comes from our work in senior English yesterday.  We were examining Claudius’s dialogue with himself in his private chapel.  That speech opens with the painful, confused acknowledgment, “Oh my offence is rank, it smells to heaven” (3.3.36).  Since this post is basically about modeling learning, I have flipped his statement–for fun, even though the result sounds more urgent than intended.

On the way to this class, last period Friday, I walked with a senior who had attended a lunch session organized by the Student Diversity Leadership Council.  They had invited Frank McCloskey, Vice President for Diversity at Georgia Power.  He spoke in the library about his experiences before and in that position, a post he has held for ten years.  I would say that about sixty people chose to hear Mr. McCloskey, including this senior, myself and four other students from the last period class.  All five of us stayed to the end of the SDLC session, which made us about ten minutes late to class.  I consider those ten minutes a valuable investment, for a variety of reasons. For example, our late arrival gave me the opportunity to apologize to the whole class, from which naturally grew the chance for the four students to explain to their classmates where we had been and what we had heard.  As each attendee summarized his or her impressions, I had the opportunity to hear that individual response.  Afterwards, I added my response.  As it turns out, our being late pushed me to do what I had wanted to do anyway–make known to a wider audience the substance of the valuable program.

Anyway, as I was walking to class with this senior, I asked her what she thought of the session.  She remarked on Mr. McCloskey’s idea that leaders often influence others in ways they do not realize.  As an older sister, for example, she was struck by the notion that her younger sister looks up to her, and follows her model, more than she knows.  I think Mr. McCloskey addressed this notion within the context of his topic, “trusted leadership.”

In the next post, I will describe a brief episode, also from yesterday, about modeling learning.  More and more, I am convinced of the power of our modeling learning for students.  Making mistakes is part of learning; we have to be able to do this, and to let students see us do this.  Such transparent modeling gives us the natural opportunity to also show them how we respond to the mistake.  For example, how well do we adapt to the unexpected result?  In other words, how do we make thinking visible to them, as we learn from our mistakes?

p.s. Our department is discussing “thinking” as a skill.  If we reflect on how we make our own thinking visible–to ourselves and our students, we may have opened a window on what me mean by this term.  We may have opened a second window–on how we design work that makes the students’ thinking visible.  I know I have heard others speak and seen others write on this topic; Project Zero, I think, has done work in this area.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Oh my rank is an offence

  1. Stephen G. Kennedy

    As an “official” leader — and head of an independent school — I believe each of us is a leader, in one important way or another. Whether visible or not, the choices we make are manifestations of our character and our leadership capability. As a cheerful cynic, I do wish at times that some of our national celebrities and leaders chose actions that better exemplified “leaderly” qualities. Sometimes I find the behavior of big-time sports heroes, media figures, and politicians a little offensive, because their rank seems to grant them an entitlement to parade their success. Leadership ought to come with heads bowed, not fists pumped.

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