03 February 2013

The International Conference on Thinking

Just a week ago I returned from Wellington, NZ, where I attended ICOT 2013, a rich and varied conference on thinking. Every two years, a group of thinking experts get together and present the most recent research and practice in the area of thinking. This particular conference focused mostly on how current theory could best serve educators, both in their classrooms and their staff rooms.

The International Conference on Thinking took place over five full days as I also attended a Masterclass with Guy Claxton, whose work I have blogged about before. So interesting was the range of speakers and ideas, that I think it is the most thought-provoking conference I have attended in ten years. I won't attempt to deal with every aspect of the conference in one blog post as I will be returning to a number of the themes throughout the year. However, I do want to convey the most significant idea I took away from the conference.

Whilst in Wellington I learnt a Maori proverb that asks:
He aha te mea nui o te ao? (What is the most important thing in the world?)
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! (It is people! It is people! It is people!)

And what this proverb came to mean for me, after a week of thinking about thinking, was the importance of empathy. If we are to manage the 21st century with all its possible technological, psychological, environmental, social, and cultural challenges, it would seem that empathy is the key.

One particular speaker, Brendan Spillane brought this to life in his breakout session on the Thursday, but he also touched on it in his five minute ignite session on the Monday, which I highly recommend. He spoke beautifully about how our opportunity to communicate with others in a generative space enables us to be fully human. I have returned to work with that notion in the forefront of my mind. I know it has already coloured my relationships with staff and the planning of learning programs for students.

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!