Pre-COVID, one of my annual trips was to the book sale at a local library, once in the spring and once in the fall. Since it was a “pay what you can,” I would bring plenty of cash and as many giant canvas bags as I could haul out, knowing that I had nothing to lose.
The last haul before COVID netted me a copy of Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. When I finally picked it up to read a few months later, I was catapulted into a Gladwell reading binge, ending with Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. In no particular order, and with no particular connection, I share my responses to various quotes that caught my attention.
First Seconds and Implications for Teaching
“How long, for example, did it take you, when you were in college, to decide how good a teacher your professor was? A class? Two classes? A semester? The psychologist Nalini Ambady once gave students three ten-second videotapes of a teacher–with the sound turned off–and found they had no difficulty at all coming up with a rating of the teacher’s effectiveness. Then Ambady cut the clips back to five seconds, and the ratings were the same. They were remarkably consistent even when she showed the students just two seconds of videotape. Then Ambady compared those snap judgments of teacher effectiveness with evaluations of those same professors after a full semester of classes, and she found that they were also essentially the same.” (pp. 12-13)
This research tells me I need to make sure those first two seconds are something more than putting my best foot forward! Instead, I have to embody the best of what I can be, which is often NOT what I am feeling, as the first days of a new school year are chaotic and stressful to the nth degree, not bringing out the best in me. It’s also when we have zero relationship with students, so we don’t have a shared collection of inside jokes or stories or ways to tell each other that we are stressed for reasons that have nothing to do with the people was are as individuals. We are often in a situation that puts as at our worst….but without the tools that we have during the school year that allow us to do our work at our best.
The Power of Simplicity or Essential
“The second lesson is that in good decision making, frugality matters. John Gottman took a complex problem and reduced it to its simplest elements: even the most complicated of relationships and problems, he showed, have an identifiable underlying pattern.” (pg. 141)
“Snap judgments can be made in a snap because they are frugal, and if we want to protect our snap judgments, we have to take steps to protect that frugality.” (pg. 143)
As teachers, we sometimes conflate “interesting” and “engaging” with “complicated” and “complex.” And I’m not advocating for simplifying things, especially as life is generally complex and messy and confusing, so we need to use our time as teachers to support our students in experiencing the mess and the confusion so they can develop skills to be successful dealing with the mess and confusion. However, I think we need to be willing to simplify on the spot, to choose a different problem or text or writing prompt when the one we thought we would use is generating so much confusion it has such down the learning. We need to be able to turn on a dime, to know what is core and essential in what we are asking students to do, so that we can be flexible with what we can remove, replace, exchange, excise.
A Commitment for Change
“Our first impressions are generated by our experiences and our environment, which means that we can change our first impressions–we can also alter the way we thin-slice–by changing the experiences that comprise those impressions. If you are a white person who would like to treat black people as equals in every way–who would like to have a positive set of associations with blacks that are as positive as those that you have with whites–it requires more than a simple commitment to equality. It requires that you change your life so that you are exposed to minorities on a regular basis and become comfortable with them and familiar with the best of their culture, so that when you want to meet, hire, date, or talk with a member of a minority, you aren’t betrayed by your hesitation and discomfort.” (pg. 97)
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Gladwell, M. 2005; Little, Brown and Company.