Cahn Fellow Cohort Dr. Rhonda Farkas of PS 152 in Brooklyn would not be the first to suggest that arriving at an answer is not as important as the questions that got you there, but it’s definitely something that can get lost in the infrastructure of any learning institution. With that in mind, her staff begins where it ends in asking the most important question of all in its immersion of the implementing Habits of the Mind.
“What is next,” she says, “that’s our mantra.” In as such, the principal’s office at The School of Science and Technology does not serveas an autocratic focal point and decision making comes of shared ideas with people in mind.
From this model, leadership emerges at all levels and if students cannot master the questions they are expected to complete, at least the right answer more readily follows on the teacher side. “No matter what it is we need to do, we’re going to do it,” she says.
Defining the challenge, Habits of the Mind first accentuates the importance of problem posing. Modeling a questioning attitude and posing complex questions in hopes of unearthing the necessary data, she says, A good habit of the mind is knowing how to act intelligently when the answer is not readily apparent.
In accordance, PS 152 contends that if students can make sense of the source material and then reinvest in the material, the effects will be pronounced. “They become deeper more reflective thinkers,” she says, which will keep them well ahead of any curves that the state tests may throw at them, she adds.
The second key challenge is engendering creativity, imagination andinnovation. Taking someone else’s original idea, deconstructing and then reconstructing a new idea is the basis for innovative knowledge building, she says of the teacher leader role.
The creative impact is apparent when teachers see students voluntarily employing strategies that generate ideas for a new task. Additionally, students innovate when they produce a tool or method to solve an existing situation, she says.
Accelerating the cycle, PS 152 aspires to leave students free to let go and take risks. We have equipped our teachers with the linguistic skills and meta-cognitive maps for modeling questions that intentionally challenge students’ intellect and imagination.
In keeping up with the challenge themselves, teachers must look both inward and out. “Believe you are creative,” she says, but don’t stop there.
Seek out new experiences and be open to new sources of information. It follows then to break old habits and create a bridge between interests that seem unrelated. As a result, she says, there’s a greater chance of cross-fertilization in combining two or more things that have not been combined before.
Finally, returning to the beginning provides the only path to the future you are looking for as a professional. “Forget about how much you know because if you believe you know it, you’re not going to grow,” she concludes.