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What is the Power of the Social Brain?

By Sue Moore

What is Interdependent thinking and how does it work?  This has been described in a new book edited by Pat Wilson O’Leary and Art Costa, Teachers College Press, Columbia University (TCP), NY with contributions from Pat Reeves, former Vicksburg superintendent of schools providing one chapter.  Wilson O’Leary is a retired Instructional Specialist from Vicksburg Community Schools.  Using this approach, the editors were assisted in defining this concept by over twenty other educator and business professionals.

Another local group contributing a chapter, were teachers Mary Burke, Vicksburg Middle School science, Jill Barton, Indian Lake 4th grade instructor, and Sabrina French a Title I interventionist in Portage, previously in Vicksburg. Their chapter provided classroom teaching examples and strategies.

Jim Heath, president of Stryker Instruments, also contributed a chapter, outlining how he has used this skill in drawing his teams together. He has over 2,500 employees in his division.

“As a society and in our institutions, we spend almost no time learning how to think, learn, and work together.  Thinking with others is its own skill, and it is high time people thought about how to optimize this skill.  This is exactly what this book seeks to do,” quotes Matthew D. Lieberman, professor of psychology, psychiatry, and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Adaptive leadership is rare,” says Reeves, “that’s why administrators need to use these skills in their daily work. The habit of thinking interdependently is not the polite, “I will listen to you, if you will listen to me”; rather, it involves both contributing and accepting the contributions of others in pursuit of something you can discover and own together. To think interdependently, we must let go of keeping score on who is “more right,” she writes in her chapter.

Reeves said that her admiration for Wilson O’Leary reflects in the recommendation that every school board member in the U.S. should read the book, even as a board book study, and have a public discourse about the techniques, just to start the conversation.  It has already had a huge impact on superintendents in Michigan, with several study groups, forming around the text.

Thus, when Wilson O’Leary got a call from Matt Bolton, the Edward Jones representative in Vicksburg, asking her if he could use the text as assigned reading for his team of associates, she was pleased to know of the use by local business professionals.

The book idea is the result of Costa and O’Leary’s thirty-two year collaboration and a MI colloquium with Reeves and other national educators about the need for something in print that would connect with people who have the same shared interest in adaptive change.  After three years of hard work, Costa, O’Leary, and contributing authors have put this additional concept on the table regarding team development.

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