I remember the first time I heard the term “lens shift.”
It was in my educational leadership program.
“Instead of looking at issues from just a classroom perspective, you’ll begin to look at them in the context of the whole school, or even the entire district. This is part of the lens shift you’ll experience as you transition from teacher to administrator.” This paraphrases what my professors said at the time, but captures the context in which the concept was first introduced to me. Throughout the program we would repeat the phrase when reflecting out loud about our new views, and watch as classmates and professors would nod their heads in agreement. In one particular course, our cohort said the term so many times, we joked about creating our own buzzword bingo game!
Joking aside, the idea of shifting one’s lens is critical to personal and professional growth. Seeing issues and opportunities from different vantage points allows you to zoom out and see the operation of the entire machine, or to zoom in and focus on a few key gears. It was the former idea that seemed to be the emphasis in my program – systems-level thinking.
Having a few years of administration now under my belt, I’ve come to realize that a lens shift shouldn’t just be reserved for admins. It’s something that teachers should benefit from as well.
In the back to school announcement for families and students in the Upper School of Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, Tyler Thigpen articulated a profound lens shift as he introduced new faculty members to the community. Below are excerpts from the announcement, should the online one come down:
[pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”left”]Teaching real world problem solving through the lens of foreign language…[/pullquote1]
[pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”left”]Also teaching real world problem solving through the lens of Spanish language and civilization…[/pullquote1]
[pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”left”]Teaching real world problem solving from the lens of Latin language and culture…[/pullquote1]
[pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”left”]Teaching real world problem solving from the lens of English and social studies…[/pullquote1]
What makes this so profound is the permission that it gives teachers to look differently at the content they are teaching. No longer do they need to focus on “What?” They can broaden their lens to consider “How?” and “Why?” with equal importance. It could even be said that the purpose of what is taught in now the priority.
It reminded me of the philosophy I had in my math classes. I always told my students that my job wasn’t to make mathematicians out of them, but to make mathematical thinkers out of them. “Math is just the tool I’m using to help you learn to think,” I would tell them. In my makerED courses, I use the same philosophy. I’m not trying to create electrical engineers or computer scientists, I’m trying to instill learning dispositions that can be used regardless of their choice of life paths.
There’s even value in expanding the value of a lens shift beyond teachers and admins, to students as well. In one frame, it could be viewed as core to the empathy piece of design thinking.
No one should have exclusive rights to it, or have it listed on their bingo card alone. :-)
So how might we find more ways to let teacher explore lens shifts, and all the benefits that they can bring to their students?
(2015-03-12 Post Update: Link to Upper School back to school announcement removed. Link no longer active)
Images in this post, but not shown in the Image Credits section, are my own.