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Asking "What if?" to Change a Culture: I Double-Dog Dare You!

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I swear to you on a stack of dictionaries, I have not been watching Tony Robbins' videos.  Honest.  I really haven't. But I had one of those experiences. I was sitting at my table reading Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchart.  I know, I know.  It isn't "light reading," but I needed to finish it as our building is on the path to becoming a Cultures of Thinking School, and I was one of the organizers for our back-to-school professional development.  Ritchart defines culture as the reenactment of a common story.  In order for change to occur, the story people tell and believe must change.  So here's the "A-HA!" 

Using this metaphor, think about your own personal story from the past about school/education.  We all have them.  Especially us, as we're teachers. That didn't happen on accident.  Now, think of your current story about school/education.  We educators live this every day, and that story changes from teacher to teacher and is dependent on the country, the state, the community, the building, the students we teach, and the colleagues with whom we work.  Finally...and this was the BIG a-ha for me...Think about the future story of school/education.  Ask this question: WHAT IF?


Ritchart even says, "No yeah-buts" are allowed.  Give yourself permission to just dream for a minute.  So I did.  Here are some of my "What ifs."


  • What if my students wrote for real-world reasons and not just for prompts or assignments?
  • What if every Friday, we threw out the curriculum and maintained our focus on the standards using STEM projects and arts integration?
  • What if I brought in engineers, writers, poets, artists, and scientists from our community to supplement the curriculum?
  • What if my students had more control over their learning?
  • What if my students were excited about homework and projects that required more from them?
  • What if metacognition, creativity, and the application of knowledge were valued more than the rote learning of knowledge itself?
  • What if my students could identify where they fall on a THINKING continuum?
So, what's the big deal?  Asking what if was liberating and exciting.  On a personal level, I could see how far-reaching this strategy could be for me...

  • What if I ate five fruits and vegetables every day?
  • What if I took off the weight I put on when I quit smoking?
  • What if I started running again?
  • What if I found one thing to do every day that I identified as fun?
  • What if I stopped working every night at 8 p.m. instead of midnight?
Applying this strategy to my personal life helped me peel through the layers of...pardon the expression, CRAP.  It helped me identify what I really valued in my life.  It helped me also identify old and current stories that don't work for me anymore.  What's that saying? Something like, "If you continue to do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."  I think that's true.  Looking at my personal what-ifs, my past and current stories fit the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Now, imagine doing this as a whole staff. This exercise has the potential to establish a common vision, define significance, and liberate us from guilt and unnecessary practices.  It's not easy to do at first.  The "yeah-buts" do get in the way.  But I have to ask, "What if we committed to three what-ifs for the course of the school year?"  I can't help but think that having that kind of laser focus could change the entire culture of a classroom community, of a school community.  In a week, I will be asking my staff to complete this exercise, individually, with a partner, and then again in a small group. I can't wait to hear their stories.  I can't wait to talk about developing a thinking culture in our school community.  I can't wait to redefine our community values.

Something else happened when I completed this exercise. I felt a renewed sense of hope and purpose.  In our current educational climate in the United States, hope is often elusive, if not downright impossible at times.  Ask yourself, "What if...?" I dare you. I double-dog dare you!  If you do, please share in the comments below!

If you're interested in trying this strategy out yourself, click the picture below for a downloadable version. It's free! 
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Cultures-of-Thinking-Graphic-Organizer-for-Professional-Personal-Development-2738985


You might also be interested in Making Thinking Visible materials, if this post "grabbed" you. Click below!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Making-Thinking-Visible-Growing-MEGA-Bundle-2279599


9 comments

  1. I love the questions that you pose! Really gets me thinking about all of the possibilities.

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  2. This is a great post it really makes you stop and think! I'm now following lovely blog :)

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  3. So amazing how these two words can be so powerful and change mindset = create possibilities. A great read - thank you!

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    1. So glad you enjoyed! Thanks for stopping in.😊

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  4. I LOVE THIS...everything you have touched upon is so true. So many times in life we say ...what if we try this and someone or even that little voice in our own head says... YEAH, but blah,blah blah! Good advice and information!!! This demonstrates the empowerment of a flexible mindset and how we can change the way we think and respond to ideas! Super job!

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    1. Thank you, Kathy. It is a liberating exercise, for sure. I struggle a lot with turning "the voices" off.

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  5. Fantastic post! I love your writing and musings, but and you always get me thinking about some pretty big things!

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