• Dr Nikki James

Don't stop at WHAT.

Updated: Jan 11

I have not posted a blog for a while; 2020 was a big year. I successfully defended my doctoral thesis; collectively, we've lived through a pandemic, political unrest, and both individually and collectively started the much needed yet painful process of unearthing racial inequality and injustice. The longer I went without posting, the harder it became to post. The internal pressure to make it a profound and significant post mounted and mounted until the bar became too high. Then, I did a rather stupid thing, I made one of my new year's resolutions to be that I would write a blog post each week. So here I sit, on the last day of the first full week of 2021, a week that has been devastating in so many ways, determined to write.


Fortunately, my writing process begins with thinking and contemplation. I know I want to write, so I start writing in my head as I go about the days and weeks. It happens as I walk, as I read, as I try to sleep at night. Thoughts about what I want to say pop into my head, often without connections; it's like my heart knows what it wants to say, but my brain is struggling to find the words, let alone put them in an ordered and logical structure that will make sense to anyone besides me. In my head, I write, re-write, and re-write, wondering where the connections are and when the penny will drop to make it all make sense, all the while more and more thoughts are added to the chaos as I experience life and acquire more knowledge.


I do not think I am at the penny drop moment with this thought yet, but I wanted to take a risk and share it while still half-baked. Hopefully, one day soon, I will be notifying you of version two, but until then, here is the thought I am chewing on. Perhaps now you can join me, offer your own thoughts and insight so that we can unpack this together. The thought is this:


When it comes to developing leaders, teaching students, and designing learning (shout out to all the instructional designers out there!)… DON’T STOP AT WHAT.


I know I gave away the punchline with the title of this blog post, but the teacher in me wanted it to be easier to find later.


What do I mean by "don't stop at what?" You ask. Well, the easiest way to explain it is to leverage a concept that most leadership and learning nerds like me will be familiar with. And that is the fabulous work of Simon Sinek, specifically his image of the golden circle (if you're not familiar with the concept, check out his TED Talk).




To me, the golden circle looks a little bit like an onion, and consequently, I see learning, understanding, and the acquisition of knowledge, wisdom, and skills like an onion too. If we want those we are teaching, disciplining, and designing learning for to GROW, we CAN'T STOP AT WHAT.



In 1956 Benjamin Bloom and his friends presented the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives;

the taxonomy was tested, evaluated, stretched, and put through its paces by educators and researchers. In 2001 a revised version of the taxonomy was released, called A Taxonomy for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (reverting title, right??). The revised taxonomy has a taxonomy (or hierarchy) of cognitive processes and a taxonomy of different types of knowledge (If you want to read more about it, Vanderbilt has a great explanation on their Center for Teaching website).



In a nutshell, the taxonomy of cognitive processes is essentially a hierarchy of the different thing’s humans’ brains can do with the information we feed into them. The simplest thing our brain can do with all the information we feed it is to REMEMBER (i.e., the brain as a filing cabinet). To UNDERSTAND (i.e., the brain as Wikipedia), we have enough knowledge about a topic or concept to explain it to others.


When we get to APPLY (i.e., the brain as a chef, executing a recipe), it starts to get more complicated. Now, we’re not just regurgitating information; we're putting it into practice. It's no longer about knowing or telling someone what a servant leader is and does; it's about BEING a servant leader. To ANALYZE (i.e., the brain as a doctor, trying to diagnose a sick patient), we use all the information in our brains to deconstruct a new situation or problem that we are being presented with.


To EVALUATE (i.e., the brain as a judge in a courtroom), we use our brain to compare a new situation or set of information against all that we know and believe before making a judgment that we can defend logically (none of this "because I said so business!!). And finally, to CREATE (i.e., the brain as an innovator), we use our brains to make connections and mix all the information we know together to come up with something completely new.


All that to say, my proposition is this, if we stop at WHAT. We're only developing our students, mentees, and disciple’s cognitive ability to REMEMBER and UNDERSTAND. If we STOP AT WHAT, we develop brains into great filing cabinets and Wikipedia pages and send them out into a world that expects and NEEDS them to be Chefs, Doctors, Judges, and Innovators. I know that is a very crass analogy, but I am PASSIONATE about this topic, so I hope you understand the heart behind the words.


So, my challenge to us all (myself included) for 2021 is this, ask yourself this question – Do I STOP AT WHAT? Or perhaps a better question WHERE do I STOP AT WHAT? And together, let’s commit to 2021 being the year that our teaching, learning design, writing, mentoring, coaching, disciplining, or whatever it is that we do to help people GROW will go BEYOND WHAT to HOW and WHY.


If you make that courageous commitment along with me, my promise to you is this – that I will use all that I know and am yet to know about the art and science of learning to help us achieve this goal. Because Lord Knows our world desperately needs fantastic humans like you who are using all that they are to help others learn and grow to be who they are called to be in the world!


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