Leadership · Curriculum · Lifelong Learning

Last week, I was in an online Professional Learning Community (PLC) training when I saw it happen again. Immediately, it reminded me of two fond memories, and one powerful takeaway that you can use in your spaces right now.

Throughout my PLC Google Meet session, the activators [formerly-known-as-facilitators] surveyed the audience with a question. To answer the question, we were advised to “Type ‘Me’” in the chat box. This would be the equivalent of many staff members, students, or conference goers, for example, raising their hands to answer a question.

So, what happens, then, when four people type Me or raise their hands all at the same time? Do you call on the one who:

  • Screams or grunts the loudest?
    • (waves hand with excitement:  OOH! OOH! ME! ME!)
  • Has already shared at least once?
    • Sometimes, the same people do all of the sharing.
  • Is familiar and well-liked?
    • We know who they are.
  • Sits in the front or is alphabetically or numerically first?
    • Going in order is not always orderly.
  • You predict has the right answer?
    • Some are content-familiar and can’t wait to share.

In April, 2019, I was fortunate to have attended #wonderwake’s Convergence Learning Symposium. It was here, in Phil Echols‘ session: The Art and Science of Presenting, where I first learned about Airplane Stacking (see PDF p. 4). As it turns out, this was just one of many, many Thinking Collaborative strategies and “Facilitator Moves” Phil modeled in his presentation. Integrating these moves can help learners navigate the changing winds in their shared air space.

Airplane Stacking: How It Works (Takeoff)

One year ago in our face-to-face session, I watched Phil pose a question to a packed room. Of the ten hands that shot up to answer, Phil calmly assigned numbers to three hands at a time. He pointed to people, one at a time, saying: “Alright, Sally, you’re first (1). Josh, you’re up next (2). And then Sonya (3).

When Sally was done, he reviewed and progressed, saying: “Alright Josh you’re up (1), Sonya’s next (2), and then Wendy (3).

One week ago in our online session, I heard Phil’s voice, again, assigning order for who was going to unmute and when they would share with the other 50 participants, as many as three-deep just like when we were meeting face-to-face. Whomever typed Me in the chat box, they were directed on when and how to share, as if they were airplanes in a holding pattern being directed by Air Traffic Control about their landing details.

(See Thinking Collaborative’s official explanation here).

Airplane Stacking: Why It Matters (Touchdown)

Any community of learners has the potential to experience incredible learning opportunities, that is, if facilitated with the appropriate moves.

Have you ever been in a classroom where the teacher poses a question and then allows, encourages, and appears overwhelmed by several eager hands with accompanying sounds and distracting actions?

As an extrovert, part of me likes the energy and engaged excitement in learning.

Yet, I must be mindful that there’s great potential for imbalance and discrimination here. For example, the students amplifying and expressing themselves aloud may be undermining or marginalizing unheard voices and the perspectives of those less outwardly expressive.

This is one of the main reasons why Airplane Stacking is one of my favorite facilitator moves! Here are a few more benefits that come to mind.

Airplane Stacking is effective because:

  • Expectations are clearly defined.
  • Anxiety decreases when it’s known who will share and when.
  • Three is an easy number and amount to remember.
  • The facilitator maintains control without sacrificing engagement.
  • The facilitator models and infuses a sense of calm, security, and opportunity.
  • Members enhance their sense of self when owning their voice, space, and time.
  • Members enhance their sense of belonging with the collective community when they feel connected, respected, and heard.

Can you think of any more benefits to add?

(See Thinking Collaborative’s official rationale here).

Airplane Stacking: Implications Moving Forward (Traveling Abroad)

Just a couple of weeks before COVID, a fellow staff member and I were deep in discussion, as fellow lifelong learners sometimes are. We were wondering…

What if we could take the principle of Airplane Stacking and apply it to our lives in other ways?

For example, what if we could take our circumstances, goals, or To-Do-Lists at any given time, name the featured items, prioritize them in order of importance and completion date, and clearly define our own expectations for… our lives?

Then again, maybe I’m just grasping for something… anything at all.

In a time when every single thing in the world and in our lives is more uncertain than ever, maybe I just wanted to feel like I had control–even if just for a moment.

What are your thoughts? Comment here!

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