Everyday on my commute to work I listen to one of 5 things, depending on my mood that morning; the audiobook I am currently listening to; a podcast; a Ted talk or a speech; the morning show on the radio; or blasting music in which case I sing at the top of my lungs and arrive amped up to work!
This morning I decided to go for the third choice; a Ted talk, that also resulted in me arriving amped up to work. I stumbled upon an interesting title when I chose ‘inspiring’ from the categories. It’s the end of the year and I am thinking about my new year’s resolutions so I was looking to be inspired. I chose a talk by Srikumar Rao titled Plug into your hard-wired happiness, which was totally worth it, if you’ve got 18 mins, and I’m sure you do, check it out. Inspiring doesn’t even begin to cover it!
The main idea of the talk is that we have this ‘If-then’ mindset for happiness. That is we are always thinking ‘if (fill in the blanks) happens, then I will truly be happy.’ When however, we reach that outcome and we are still unhappy, which we all are, we think there is something wrong with the if part of our statement, so we end up changing that to something else; another goal, another outcome, another failed attempt at happiness. The reason this happens is because this model is flawed. You will always be working to achieve an outcome that is almost entirely out of your hands, and don’t forget that your goals change constantly so the if part of that statement was probably something completely different a year ago for example. So the point is to focus on the process, rather than the outcome because the actions you take during that process, during that journey, are almost always in your control, but the outcome is not entirely so. Rao said many inspiring and eye-opening things, so I won’t spoil the rest.
When I was listening to this, I couldn’t help but think back to a few conversations I had with my colleague about the benefits of process versus outcomes in pedagogy. The realization I came to this morning however, was as a result of conflicting views, or at least that’s how I see it. Since I started my career in the faculty development field, I’ve been hearing all about the benefits of backward design and designing with the end in mind, which entails that we set learning outcomes at the beginning and then design assessments and activities based on that. In other words, outcomes (beyond our control) are decided on first then we design the process or the journey (which we have some control over, but is still subjective and contextual for each learner). The benefits of process-focused pedagogy is that the emphasis goes to mastery of the skills, fostering student growth, creating a student-centered environment, increasing engagement in learning. When the focus is on these elements, performance will surely follow.
I know that in backward design the focus is on learning outcomes not grades, but the underpinned goal for each student in class is to perform well and have that proven through their grades at the end of the semester/term/year/degree. I am not saying backward design is flawed or a bad model, on the contrary, it is a great design model that is very useful in staying on track with designing all assessments and activities for the course, it might be limited though with regards to enriching the learning journey and process. I am suggesting, that we keep having learning outcomes, but make them more process/growth/skills/engagement-oriented. The wording matters as much as the execution and meaning of the outcomes. It’s important that students know that they are there in this learning environment to grow and engage in meaningful learning rather than get a score at the end that deems them “successful” or “high-achievers.” The irony of this is that while I am writing this I received my own semester grades. I did well. But that’s not the point and that’s not at all representative of my learning during this semester. In many instances I was not engaged, didn’t learn as much as I thought I would, and didn’t grow in the directions I had anticipated at the beginning of the semester. So in no way, shape or form does the letter grade represent my journey or process of learning during the 14 weeks of the semester.
It’s funny how all of this actually reminds me of what my coach always used to tell me during training; focus on doing your best and having proper technique, not what the score sheet says at the end of the training… The scores will surely follow correct technique. This almost always took the stress off me and out of my mind, in which case I focused on being in the moment, learning what I had to learn that day, applying it and seeing the results soar when I forgot about the score sheet. It was difficult to do this in competitions where the goal is to perform well, reach the target and have that reflect on the scoreboard. But the more I practiced with the process-oriented mindset, the less focused I was about the score during practice, which made me unable to perform well if I was actually focused on the score so I would slowly but surely get into the same mindset during competitions as well.
It’s all in the process, it’s all in the journey. Not in the outcome. This sort of also reminds me of expeditions, hiking, climbing but maybe more on that later.
I will leave you with this message for the new year; focus on how you want every day of 2017 to be, not what you want to achieve at the end of it. Make your resolutions process-based rather than outcome-oriented. When you change your mindset, you are bound to get where you want to be.
Happy Holidays and have a beautiful year full of growth, learning, adventure, laughter, joy and wonderful relationships.