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The importance of thinking time

As I sit down to write my piece for this week’s newsletter, I find my situation acting as a microcosm of what happens in the national press on a daily, sometimes hourly basis; holding a mirror to two things which are at the root of so many problems within the national discourse.  

Firstly, having been away at the Heads’ conference in Liverpool for the first three days of the week, I find myself producing copy to a tight deadline. In inadvertent replication of every text journalist up and down the country, I have given myself little more than an hour to hone my subject matter (the equivalent of picking out the story deemed worthy of attention), what I want to say about it (the equivalent of choosing the angle and opinion manifested through word choice and information selection) and how I’m going to communicate these things in a way that asserts, persuades and convinces. (Indeed, if I were a journalist, I might well add ‘condemns’ to that short list of aims; for it seems all news stories take the opportunity to thread condemnation through the weft and weave of the story’s fabric in an act of moral and/or political posturing.) 

In facing this situation of copy production, I have been reminded of two essential truths which it is incumbent on all of us adults to help our children to understand as they are exposed to the tidal wash of news and opinion, and not just through formal media outlets; two things which the consistent push for news, audience and opinionated sway promote… 

Firstly, the result is a lack of genuine thinking time. We often use the phrase ‘critical thinking’ within and beyond education, but how often do we as adults actually bring together the conditions, opportunity and self-discipline needed in pursuit of this all-important skill? We rightly identify this faculty as one that is crucial to the development of the best learners, that is central to the development of good judgement; things that we hold dear at Pilgrims’. Feeling pressure (whether inwardly or outwardly applied) to hold an opinion and hold one swiftly, however, closes this down. There is little opportunity for any of us to really carefully – maybe even tentatively – make forays down the road of what we may truly believe and think for ourselves, free of the undue influence of others. How often do we hold space for those we are communicating with to really think? When giving interview practice, I frequently tell pupils they are not allowed to respond to my question for at least 10 seconds. It’s a useful discipline and helps build the confidence to manage silence and remind oneself that what one thinks merits the time to evolve. In lessons, the chance should be taken to ask, ‘Is that your first answer, or your best?’ 

This first issue (failure to allow for time and space) becomes especially problematic when it combines with the second – the perception that conceding some error of thought, consciously if tentatively revising one’s opinion, or seemingly worst-of-all, apologising for adopting a previous position, is weak. When was the last time we heard any politician do so? The ability to humanly tread this path, learn the meaning of honesty and the virtue of authentically representing ourselves – with all our inner vacillations – is one we deny one another, and our children, at our peril. It also scuppers one of the most productive means of thinking and arriving at a judicious conclusion – the group discussion. 

I was reminded afresh of the importance of time and space for thinking, and for producing numerous iterations of ideas in the process – many of which may be nonsense and ‘failures’ – by an excellent talk given at the conference I was at. The speaker was, until very recently, one of the leading designers for Dyson. He has led a fascinating life and career, filled with innovation and problem-solving playfulness as he creatively explores ways and means of achieving things that have not been achieved in that way before, or indeed at all. His case for the importance of trial and error, and creativity, was compelling. (Not that it needed to be, in a room full of educators!) Unlike the situation I have ended up in for writing this piece, let us be sure to champion the high worth of these areas to our children. 

Contrary to the thrust of this piece, I suspect this will not be an opinion I have changed by next week. 

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