Ever since experiencing learning in a Thinking Environment on my level 3 course at Northern College, I’ve been intrigued by how such a simple set of concepts can have such a big impact. Reading Nancy Kline’s Time to Think and More Time to Think, so much of what she argues doesn’t just make sense but feels right to me.
Looking back across my career I can reflect on moments where the approaches advocated to build a Thinking Environment would have opened up the possibility of far better endings than the reality fared. What I love about the books is that they take ideas which could sound like more management mumbo jumbo meaningless platitudes and situate them in real lived experiences and dialogue.
And dialogue is at the heart of the Thinking Environment: dialogue that is respectful, equal and attentive. Dialogue to encourage thinking. Ease and turn taking and not interrupting, facilitating deeper thinking. I was initially surprised to hear Nancy Kline quoted comparing interruption to an act of violence (Mycroft, n.d.). As a victim of domestic abuse I can understand why this could be seen as trivialising the horrors of domestic violence.
But the quote stayed with me. Sometimes things people say or write or sing can feel so profound they stay with you, impressions below the surface, like the growth rings of a tree. This has become one of my growth rings. I have pondered it a number of times. Like almost everything that helps us grow, it makes me feel uncomfortable, it challenges me, yet still it resonates.
I had never been too conscious of people interrupting me, nor of me interrupting others. I do have a bad habit of trying to fill awkward silences and trying to help do others’ thinking for them. Usually I interrupt because I’m trying to be supportive but I realise now that giving people the space and time to think and speak is the most genuinely supportive thing to do.
Like most things, I have been able to challenge my own inability to leave people to find their voice, since becoming aware of it. On a less positive note it has made me acutely aware of people interrupting me and my thoughts. I’m usually pretty zen about most errors in social communication but now I feel irate about this particular one. Thinking about the times I snap at my children, it’s when they interrupt my thinking. I can’t handle the disruption.
I think slowly. Ideas sprout over time, they grow organically, but slowly. I collect different threads and keep them by until I think through how they weave together. Then, once I’ve been in a thinking space long enough, everything suddenly explodes and zips and pings, until ideas tumble out tripping over each other. They fall like confetti and I have to scramble around to catch each one before it becomes a lost thought.
But what does this new understanding mean for my teaching practice? What does it mean for my parenting?
To be continued…
Kline, N. (1999). Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind. London: Ward Lock.
Kline, N. (2015). More Time to Think: the power of independent thinking. London: Octopus Publishing Group.
Mycroft, L. (n.d.). About the Applications of the Thinking Environment. [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://teachnorthern.wordpress.com/about-us/about-the-thinking-environment/about-the-applications-of-a-thinking-environment/