A new school year: a blank canvas. Tabula rasa. Clean, fresh, crisp — simply waiting for pedagogical perfection, brilliant inspiration, hard-working students deeply engaged in meaningful work. It is beautiful!
And then, class starts. It is neither crisp nor perfect. Students intermittently engage, sometimes approaching a (sort of) deep state. I work feverishly to keep my one-way communication (i.e. lectures) to a minimum and meticulously plan meaningful interactive and collaborative exercises and sprints. Some will go well. Others will not. We adjust as we go along, adding a little of this, wishing we had not done that, wanting to do more. And always never having enough time.
A wise professor told me that, over time, teaching Legal Problem Solving (LPS) would become easier. As in, the more I do it, the less upfront work will be required. The more I'll get into the groove, with less angst over whether I'm covering enough, being engaging enough, doing enough. I fear this will never be the case, however. Because the very nature of Legal Problem Solving as designed is fluid. Yes, there are a very few core elements (more on that, below), but the course's essence must vary from year to year, based on the latest data we use to fuel our learning, and the design project(s) the students engage in, and the guest lecturers I'm able to cajole to join us. And many other factors that make the course as current and relevant as possible.
Back to the core elements. What I don't see changing, and what makes kicking the course off a little less anxiety-invoking? A foundation build on self-awareness, which is a prerequisite for empathy, itself foundational to the study and practice of human-centered design. LPS students engage in discovery of self in a few ways, including the VIA Character Strengths Survey1, weekly journaling, and blogging. Another important aspect of self-awareness is awareness of how others close to us see us. We delve into that, too.
To engage in creative solving of complex, human problems requires emotional intelligence (EQ), which in turn requires active empathy (both cognitive and empathic concern). Instead of turning away from this challenging (and messy) work, in LPS we embrace it.
Another foundation is what I call "humble curiosity." It falls into the CQ, or curiosity quotient, bucket. Along with EQ (and its empathy component), curiosity is considered critical for managing complex, ambiguous situations, and to developing high levels of intellectual investment and acquiring knowledge continuously over time.
Simply consider how rapidly the legal profession is changing and it's blazingly obvious that new lawyers must be capable of dealing effectively with an ever-evolving, increasingly complex professional life. Those who possess humble curiosity — awareness that there is always more to learn and a deep interest in meaningfully engaging in that learning — are poised to design the future of our profession. For the better.
I'm also moving the intro to Kanban to class session #1, based on feedback from last year. I hear often from former students that they've taken this particular tool out into their lives, both personally and professionally, and find it incredibly useful. So I'm giving it to them on day one. And because it's so popular, I'm also adding a Kanban section to the Resources section of the LPS website (and will update this post with a link when it's live).
Finally, I learned of a new tool that I can't wait to use for discovery and collaboration: hypothes.is. I discovered it by going down a Twitter rabbit hole which led to this post. I'm going to try the annotated syllabus, and also use hypothes.is for annotating online resources students gather over the course of the semester for design projects.
And this is a great example of why each year LPS will look and feel and operate a little differently. To model humble curiosity for my students, I'll be constantly looking for new and better ways to learn and teach, which means that the course content will constantly shift and evolve.
Do we have the continued luxury of getting so comfortable with our course content that student notes and outlines can be handed down year after year with certainty of accuracy? (Yes, this still happens in many, many doctrinal classes. Down to the same jokes, even.) I think the end is near for the doctrinal, as well. Perhaps doctrinal professors may want to take that curiosity profile, too?
1In my post for LPS Class #2, I'll delve into VIA Character Strengths and why I use this instrument as a pedagogical tool.