Tools & Practices for Think Ponds

Essential Questions

Use essential questions to help frame the vision and work of your Think Pond.

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, whose books have revolutionized teaching in many schools, present these criteria for what defines an essential question:

  1. Is open-ended; that is, it typically will not have a single, final, and correct answer.
  2. Is thought-provoking and intellectually engaging, often sparking discussion and debate.
  3. Calls for higher-order thinking, such as analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction. It cannot be effectively answered by recall alone.
  4. Points toward important, transferable ideas within (and sometimes across) disciplines.
  5. Raises additional questions and sparks further inquiry.
  6. Requires support and justification, not just an answer.
  7. Recurs over time; that is, the question can and should be revisited again and again.

Essential questions are most frequently used in schools. Teachers use them to deepen students’ thinking skills and understanding. Why not begin to adopt a group thinking strategy that is familiar to the next generation entering the work force?

Some teachers also use essential questions in their own professional learning to develop more thoughtful approaches to instruction. Why not try to use them in a broader range of adult learning situations?

Link to Essential Questions for thinking about the four enterprises.

Practices for Solution-Seeking in Times of Change

Whether your career and adult life are on the verge of lift-off, going full throttle, or floating in that space of pre-retirement satisfaction, nostalgia, and regret, you need to think about this essential question:

How can I respond to this present time of rapid technological change, social upheaval, and economic uncertainty in a way that will fulfill my vision for the future?

That is a broad example of what I call “solution-seeking.” Here are some practices to try:

  1. Choose multiple paths. You seldom need to settle for either/or. Sometimes you can choose one project, career, or lifestyle and still have the best of the option you didn’t pursue. The harder the choice was to make, the better it is to try this.
  2. Take thoughtful detours and side trips whenever you can. Don’t neglect true talents because they don’t pay your bills. Assert your right to try something different. Dabble unapologetically.
  3. Be both an intern and a mentor. Everyone always has the potential to be an intern at one thing and a mentor at another. Everyone could benefit from having and being both. Any group of three or more people can find a project on which to collaborate.
  4. Pretend honestly. The world of make-believe can be your friend, as long as everyone affected agrees to play.
  5. Look across conventional boundaries for knowledge, ideas, tools, and collaborators. Anyone willing to think and work can contribute to any project even if it’s only in a small way. Outsiders and amateur can make invaluable contributions. Teams can be fluid. You can energize solution seeking by linking your challenge to someone else’s.
  6. Embrace slowness if necessary. It’s better to take a long time to get there than it is to wait until the right time or give up. Always be conscious of the process, but be very thoughtful about imposing deadlines, outlines, timelines, and needless constraints. Put your dream at the radius of everything you do rather than on its own linear path.

Not all of these approaches require you to work with others, but most will steer you toward collaborative relationships. Those relationships could be the beginning of your Think Pond.