Archive for the 'Effective meetings' Category

The link between “deep thought” and solitude

Depth of thought matters in classrooms, in meetings for decision making, and in meaningful professional learning.

While depth requires time, a lack of time is not a sufficient excuse. There is always time to do what matters, and depth always trumps superficiality.

Depth requires:


Habits of mind and behavior that value slowness over speed, focus over multi-tasking, nuanced understanding over superficiality, and problem-solving over complaining;

Protocols that keep participants focused on paying attention to both the accomplishment of tasks and the quality of relationships; and

• Solitude.

Most of all, solitude.

Cal Newport offers 2 “lessons” about solitude:

“Lesson #1: The right way to define “solitude” is as a subjective state in which you’re isolated from input from other minds.

“When we think of solitude, we typically imagine physical isolation (a remote cabin or mountain top), making it a concept that we can easily push aside as romantic and impractical. But as this book makes clear, the real key to solitude is to step away from reacting to the output of other minds: be it listening to a podcast, scanning social media, reading a book, watching TV or holding an actual conversation. It’s time for your mind to be alone with your mind — regardless of what’s going on around you.

“Lesson #2: Regular doses of solitude are crucial for the effective and resilient functioning of your brain.

“Spending time isolated from other minds is what allows you to process and regulate complex emotions. It’s the only time you can refine the principles on which you can build a life of character. It’s what allows you to crack hard problems, and is often necessary for creative insight. If you avoid time alone with your brain your mental life will be much more fragile and much less productive.”

What are the conditions in your personal and professional lives that enable depth of thought?

“Next action thinking” + “just do it”

I’ve noticed that people who have important things they want to accomplish in their lives (like the self-care practices I discussed in my previous post) often lose momentum either because the next step isn’t clear to them or because they defer taking an action assuming that it can be done just as easily tomorrow.

I’ve also noticed that people who work in both large and small bureaucracies, which inevitably have their own build-in forms of inertia tend to postpone action, often passing decisions about next actions to someone above them in the organizational hierarchy or to a committee “for further discussion.”

In those bureaucracies, having a meeting becomes a substitute for doing the work that the meeting is actually about. Or, put another way, organizations confuse the activity of a meeting with the doing of the tasks that actually lead to accomplishing the goal.

As a result, at both the individual and collective level, action is deferred and personal responsibility avoided.

While there are many reasons important work doesn’t get done, two of the biggest ones are:

• a lack of clarity about the specific next action that must be taken, and

• the lack of a “just do it” attitude that breaks through individual and organizational inertia.

“Next action thinking” requires that we know the specific and concrete next step in accomplishing our goals.

For example, if it is essential that we talk to a supervisor, we may think that the next step is having the conversation. But the meeting is likely dependent on scheduling an appointment for it, on preparing for the conversation, and so on.

“Just do it” speaks for itself, and although it seems obvious, individuals too often wait for someone else to initiate action.

In your experience, what are the major barriers between the highest aspirations of individuals and organizations and the realization of those aspirations?

Seeing the world through the eyes of others

People act based on the way they see the world. Every single time. Understanding someone else’s story is hard, a job that’s never complete, but it’s worth the effort. —Seth Godin

There is pretty much universal agreement that empathy is a desirable human quality, and it’s an attribute often found in resilient people.

• Empathy is the basis of clear communication. Understanding the view points of others is essential to effective communication in families and work settings.

• Empathy enables us to have deeper and more satisfying relationships. Without it people cannot really understand one another.

• Empathy enriches our lives by opening our minds to the experiences and perspectives of others.

• Empathy decreases the likelihood of unnecessary conflict and even wars.

Given its importance, why is empathy so often difficult to achieve for so many of us?

• We may believe that demonstrating understanding of others’ points of view is the same as agreeing with them.

• We fear that our willingness to fully understand others’ points of view will signal weakness on our part.

• We are aware that empathy opens us to being influenced by others, which, in turn, may create cognitive dissonance that requires us to change our viewpoint and perhaps even our behavior. Put another way, we understand that empathy may be the first step on a slippery slope that will lead us to significant change.

“Tell me a story.”

In my experience the most effective way to see the world through the eyes of others is to invite them to tell us a story about an influential elder, a formative event in their lives, or anything else that seems appropriate.

Better yet, tell others a story from your own life related to the subject at hand and invite them to do the same.

Storytelling is a powerful way to:

• deepen understanding of others’ points of view,

• establish common ground for resolving conflicts and making decisions, and

• strengthen relationships with significant people in our lives.

What practices or tools enable you to create empathy with others?

Together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone

Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the “power of one” in a manner that multiplies: it took a village to translate Park’s act of personal integrity into social change. In a mass society like ours, community rarely comes ready-made. But creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. —Parker Palmer

Resilient people understand that sustaining a commitment to significant change requires the support, guidance, and inspiration of a community.

But not all groups are created equal in their resilience and effectiveness.

Groups that make a difference:

• have skillful, committed leaders who maintain focus and momentum over time,

• ensure that group time is used productively to achieve the group’s goals,

• have a stable core membership,

• engage in high-impact activities,

• follow through on plans with accountability for results, and

• train group members to successfully complete agreed upon activities.

In schools such collective work requires strong teamwork which can take a variety of forms.

In the area of social justice and political change the group RESULTS sets the standard for grass roots advocacy. Its purpose is to end poverty by “improving access to education, health, and economic opportunity” through advocacy and education of policy makers.

More recently “Indivisible” groups are forming and beginning to take action in many communities throughout the United States. Their purpose is to create local pressure on members of Congress to counter the most destructive policies and actions of the new administration, and even at this early date it appears that they are beginning to have some success.

Indivisible’s advocacy is based “…on a simple idea: Donald Trump’s agenda doesn’t depend on Donald Trump. It depends on your elected members of Congress and whether they go along with him—or whether they fight back.”

If any or all of these approaches are appealing, I encourage you to get involved.


• that demagogues win when citizens feel overwhelmed and become resigned to the status quo, and

• that together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone.

Deep work matters


I’ve attended countless meetings during which some variation of the following happens:

Person A makes a point about a topic.

Person B comments on Person A’s statement.

Person C brings up another subject.

Person D returns briefly to person A’s comment and then makes a point on a totally different subject.

And so on as participants skate across the surface of important topics.

This type of “superficial work” is all too common in meetings, even those where important decisions are being made.

Likewise, professional learning can be deep or superficial.

So, too, professional reading and writing can be deep or superficial.

Deep work is obviously essential when decisions are being made and when learning is the goal, either for adults or young people.

While deep work typically takes time, a lack of time is not an adequate excuse for superficiality because there is always time to do what matters.

Deep work requires:

Intentionality. It is essential that we are committed to deep work when we examine our individual and collective beliefs, values, ideas, and practices.

Habits of mind and behavior that value slowness over speed, sustained focus over multi-tasking, problem solving over complaining, and meaningful professional learning over “sit and get.”

Protocols that help participants pay attention to both task accomplishment and the quality of relationships.

What other things promote deep work?

Conversations for learning


Some of our most important learning occurs in conversations. And because learning is a prerequisite to sound decision making, good decisions are often preceded by good conversations.

Conversations for learning matter so much that virtually all meetings and even one-to-one discussions with colleagues, parents, and students within the school community should be designed to maximize learning.

Unfortunately, some leaders believe that effective leaders make decisions independently. Such decision making, they think, is a sign of decisiveness and strength.

For these leaders the purpose of meetings is to tell others about their decisions.

Their subordinates are so accustomed to a passive role in which they simply receive what their bosses tell them to think, say, and do that it may be hard for them to even imagine participating in conversations for learning and decision making.

But not all conversations are created equal.

Conversations for learning require: 

• Intentionality;

• Deeply-attentive listening;

• A willingness to go beneath the surface of conventional assumptions and understandings;

• Slowness that provides space for thinking and elaboration (think “wait time”);

• An openness to learning based on a deep respect for the experiences and perspectives of others; and

• A belief that everyone has something worthwhile to contribute….

How is it in your setting— are conversations for learning an essential part of professional learning and decision making, or are “conversations” more often monologues that communicate what has already been decided?

Deep work


A man sits alone in a courtyard with a pad of paper in front of him.

He writes and then pauses, looking off into space. He writes again.

As I watched I realized that those are the essential ingredients of “deep work” – solitude, a process that allows us to externalize, clarify, and elaborate our thinking (in this case, writing); thinking about what we think (metacognition); and then beginning the cycle again. Deep work is essential in classrooms and meeting rooms. It is also an essential ingredient of professional development that leads to professional learning.

Because focused conversation enables us to externalize, clarify, and elaborate our thinking, it is important that schools provide generous opportunities for well-designed group work in classrooms and among teachers.

But it is also important that schools value the solitary activities that are often a prerequisite to the deep work that is the foundation of meaningful learning, teaching, and school leadership.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,778 other followers



Recent Twitter Posts