Thinking in Bets

“Wanna bet?”

Former Poker Pro Annie Duke argues that offering a bet in any situation makes us refine and examine our beliefs, temper our generalizations and get closer to the truth by acknowledging the risk inherent in what we think we believe versus what we actually believe. By attempting to make explicit what is already implicit, we develop exploratory thought patterns that encourage open-mindedness and a more objective consideration of alterative hypotheses. By embracing uncertainty we can uncover biases and make better decisions. Acknowledging uncertainty then becomes an acknowledgment of a complex and uncertain world so that we are less likely to think in binaries, and more likely to think in probabilities.

In Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All The Facts, Duke provides a framework for decision-making that includes a variety of techniques, ideas and strategies for dealing with bias. Duke argues that organized scepticism needs to encouraged and operationalized. By providing permission and space for dissent, we invite others to play devil’s advocate by presenting the other side of the argument, to argue why a strategy might be ill-advised, why a prediction might be off, or why an idea might be ill-informed. By considering all perspectives the best decision can then be made. In order for this to become part of the fabric of how teams operate, some clear parameters need to be established so that dissent does not become about shooting the message or the messenger, but rather an open exploration of multiple viewpoints and perspectives.

Other good ideas for developing strategy with teams that resonated include;

    • Scenario Planning or Future Reconnaissance – identify possible future outcomes and assign a probability for each occurring. Build a decision tree and determine probabilities of different futures based on the information you have at your disposal.
    • Backcasting – working backwards from a positive future. Imagine you have already achieved a positive outcome, holding up a newspaper with the headline “We achieved our goal!” Then think about how we got there. A team leader asks the group to identify the reasons why they achieved their goal, what events occurred, what decisions were made and what went there way in order for this to happen. This enables identification of strategies, tactics and actions that need to be implemented to get to the goal.
    • Premortem – reveals the negative space. Imagine the headline “We failed to reach our goal.” A team leader then challenges the team to consider things that could go wrong. A premortem is an implementation of the Mertonian norm of organized scepticism. Once we frame the exercise as “Ok, we failed. Why did we fail?” that frees everyone to identify potential points of failure they otherwise might not see or might not bring up for fear of being viewed as a naysayer.

I read many books each year and don’t often take the time to summarize or reflect. It’s something I am working on going into 2019.

Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All The Facts is a book that gets a little repetitive at times but provides some useful frameworks and excellent anecdotes about decision-making.

Turning the Page

Only when you turn the page do you find out what happens next.

At the end of the year I will be leaving The Geelong College and finishing my role as Director of Teaching and Learning and also as Director of our Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation.

Goodbyes are particularly hard when you have grown to love what you are leaving. I will miss the staff, the students and the families that I have worked with so closely over the past five years. It has been an honour to work alongside some of the most dedicated and impressive teachers I have ever come across. I’ve learned so much during my time at the College, and so many people have been a big part of that. The encouragement, support and guidance of those in the community have allowed us to create a unique culture of camaraderie; one that I hope will continue for many years to come.

I am excited to announce that in 2019 I will be starting a new role as Deputy Principal at Mentone Grammar.

New adventures await.

But before they do, I will be sharing and celebrating stories here over the next three months. Stories about the inspirational people, programs and approaches that make The Geelong College such a special place.

Student-led Expedition

On Christmas Eve, together with a team of Year 10 and 11 students, I returned from a 3-week expedition in Nepal. The team travelled backpacker style throughout the areas of Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan, soaking up the incredible culture, trekking through the Annapurna region of the Himalaya, viewing Mount Everest, and contributing to the rebuilding efforts of a school damaged via earthquakes in the medieval city of Bhaktapur.

This was not your ordinary school camp or tour however. This expedition was 100% student-led. Preparations began in March of 2017 as the team of students designed an itinerary, conducted travel simulation days at the You Yangs, raised funds for the community service project and developed skills of leadership, communication and budget management that would be soon put to use.

Each day in Nepal a student or group of students would be responsible for leading the group. Nothing was pre-booked, so these responsibilities included arranging accommodation for the night, transport, logistics and navigation, deciding on locations for breakfast, lunch and dinner, ensuring the team had enough drinking water and most importantly, managing the team budget.

Our Vision for Learning recognises that students require an awareness and understanding of not only themselves, but also the world in which they live. Students need to explore the world in a variety of ways to develop skills and attributes to communicate across cultures while expanding their awareness of the world’s complexities and learning to appreciate difference. By giving students opportunities to lead and make real decisions, they become skilled at making good decisions and develop a greater understanding of what it means to be a leader and indeed, a good citizen.

Students did both themselves and the College proud by showing resilience, perseverance, leadership skills, teamwork, confidence in travelling and being independent and self-sufficient. College programs like this student-led expedition empower young people to uncover their unique identity, develop life skills and embrace the world beyond their own borders through a combination of adventure, cultural immersion and experiential learning opportunities.

This Expedition to Nepal will become a permanent addition to our College calendar and is an exciting part of our commitment to student leadership development and community service.

The Geelong College Student-led Exhibition to Nepal, 2017 from CLRI on Vimeo

 

Speaking in Public

I do a fair bit of public speaking at internal workplace events like parent information evenings, parent dinners, staff briefings, chairing meetings, staff professional learning workshops, presentations to councils and boards, VCE information sessions and community events through our Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation. I still speak at quite a few external events too, things like conference keynotes and workshops, facilitating panel discussions and chairing conferences.

Public speaking improves with deliberate practice and through studying the art and science of effective speaking and storytelling. I have no doubt about this as I used to be terrified of getting up in front of an audience. Sure, I still get nervous on occasion, but the minute I stop being slightly apprehensive about speaking in front of an audience is the moment I know I have become too comfortable.

Much planning goes into something like a keynote presentation but increasingly I am finding myself able to go off script and engage in a relatively unplanned presentation. This is absolutely true for smaller events where I am invited to provide a welcome speech or to provide a short presentation framing an evening.

Sometimes I still find value in writing out word for word what I am going to say. This doesn’t happen too often as I rarely have the luxury, but when I do I actually enjoy the process. I recently spoke at our Year 7 parent dinner to welcome exisiting and new families to our College. This is what I had to say.

Good Evening everyone. A warm welcome to you all on behalf of Dr Peter Miller, our Principal, who unfortunately can’t be here tonight as he is in Sydney on College-related business. My name is Adrian Camm and I am Director of Teaching and Learning here at the College and I have responsibility for the oversight, development and delivery of the College’s overall teaching and learning direction and the academic program from early learning through to Year 12. I am also the Director of our Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation that seeks to develop our staff professionally but to also offer educational events throughout the year to students, teachers and parents in our wider community.

Please be sure to keep your eye on our bulletin and also on our Facebook page for our many free events this year focusing on contemporary teaching and learning approaches, women in leadership and advice for parents in dealing with the many issues and challenges that present themselves throughout a child’s teenage years.

This is my 12th year in education and my 5th here at the College. I have had the great honour and privilege of receiving some humbling awards in my career to date including being named Australian Teacher of the Year at the 2009 Australian Awards for Teaching Excellence and in 2012 receiving the ACCE & ACS National Outstanding Leader of the Year Award. As a result of these awards I have had the great privilege and honour of working with and in hundreds of schools around the world, across government, catholic and Independent sectors, in areas of Japan, China, the US, the UK, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Singapore and of course in different parts of Australia. Having seen what other schools and education systems are doing, I can safely say that the experience that Geelong College offers its young women and men is right up there with the best in the world.

Our teaching and learning programs are underpinned by our Vision for Learning which I encourage you all to access on our College website if you haven’t read it already. Our Vision for Learning describes our teaching and learning philosophy not in terms of discreet subjects, specifics or narrow measures, but in terms of seven holistic and conceptual dimensions: Enterprise, Creativity, Creating, Contributing, Identity, Communicating & Thinking and outlines how the most important aspect of a modern education is “learning how to learn.”

There are some parts of a modern education that look very similar to when you were all in school – we still want our children to be highly literate and numerate and to have strong moral and ethical principles, teachers still ‘teach’, but with the world changing rapidly a modern education now also requires that young people be skilled in the use of technology, be entrepreneurial, to be able to solve complex problems in complex and unfamiliar situations, to be adaptable, independent, flexible and to develop the disposition of curiosity – because throughout their lifetime they will need to continually be learning. Gone are the days when you got your education in secondary school and university and that then would hold you in good stead for the rest of your career. To succeed in the future our young women and men need to see themselves as true lifelong learners.

Our teachers recognize this and engage in constant learning themselves, modelling for our young people what it means to be a learner. Indeed 17 of our teaching staff have this year embarked on post-graduate research study to ensure we continue to adapt and stay at the forefront of current approaches to teaching and learning ensuring the best possible experience for our young people. I know each of our 135 teaching staff individually. And I know that each and every one of them work late into the night, every night, preparing for the next day, and when they come through the school gates each morning they are all asking themselves the same question – they are asking themselves, “How do I make the next 6.5 hours, the most rewarding, memorable, personalized and engaging, 6.5 hours of these young people’s lives?”

Whether you are new to the College in 2018 or have been with us for some years, we look forward to working closely with you all for many years to come, in a partnership, ensuring your children all exceed their potential and are well equipped to face a rapidly changing world. Wishing you all a fantastic evening of conversation, food, beer and wine and all the best for the rest of the year. Thank you very much. Have a great night.

Thanks for the Feedback

Why do we dwell on criticism buried among an abundance of compliments and affirmations?

Feedback on a person’s performance which is then used as a basis for improvement is a natural element of some professions. Take sports as an example. An athlete has a constant stream of feedback to contend with. Whether this is the coach giving instructions from the sidelines, the roar of the crowd, the morale of team members, the look on the face of the opponent, or the physiological data collected on their cadence, heart rate or recovery time between hard efforts. Further feedback is then delivered post-game by watching game footage and analyzing positions, technique, work rate, commitment to the contest, adherence to the team plan or general game sense. Feedback is a natural part of being a sports person. If we put in a poor performance we want to know why and learn from it.

Not all professions are this open to feedback, however. Educators respond to feedback in different ways and with varying levels of comfort. An adverse reaction to challenging feedback can challenge our sense of who we are and what we stand for. Our identities are tied to a story that we tell ourselves. When feedback is received that challenges this story, our emotional bands are stretched and the elasticity of our emotions factor into the way this feedback affects us both physically and emotionally.

Thankfully, Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone in Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, outline how receiving (and giving) feedback is a skill that can be developed by cultivating a curious disposition, active listening techniques, and adopting an empathetic system thinking approach to conversation.

When we receive feedback we can question the substance of the feedback itself and thus dismiss it as wrong or unhelpful but often issues arise when we question the motives of the feedback giver. Our previous interactions, their credibility, experience, expertise and our level of trust all influence whether we can disentangle the feedback giver from the feedback itself. Heen and Stone invite their readers to recognize that we each bring a unique frame of reference and usually only see part of the problem (the part that the other person is contributing). Systems thinking corrects for the skew in any single perspective. We can seek to understand by asking questions like, “Tell me more” or “I hadn’t thought of it that way. Can you give me an example?” or even “Can you help me get perspective on your feedback?”

One of my big takeaways from the book is the fact that we often have multiple issues present in any feedback conversation that confuse, disorient and lead to conflict. When this occurs we need to be explicit and signpost that this is the case with a statement like, “I think that there are two topics here. Let’s discuss each topic fully, but separately, as both are important. Ok. Let’s loop back to the start and start with the first topic.”

I found this book to be a great compliment to the work that I am doing in the Growth Coaching Accreditation Program and highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to further develop their ability to give and receive feedback.