Learning Inside and Outside the Fishbowl

When considering the concept of the “fishbowl,” it becomes apparent that it can manifest in more authentic ways than the traditional protocol suggests. The fishbowl protocol I have in mind involves a technique that encourages active participation and dialogue among students or participants. It entails forming a small group or inner circle of participants who actively engage in a discussion or activity, while a larger group or outer circle observes and takes notes. This is the basic format we are familiar with. However, in my opinion, if the fishbowl promotes active listening, critical thinking, and reflection, these experiences can also occur in informal settings.

Reflecting on my own experiences growing up in school and at home, I often found myself closely listening to groups of people discussing various topics. Whether it was an engaging conversation among friends in the school hallway or discussions in the homes of family members and friends that piqued my interest, I would actively listen. From these experiences, I gained wisdom, sometimes disagreed, and made decisions about what I would not do in life based on what I heard. In many of these instances, I served as a listener rather than a vocal participant. However, it is essential to acknowledge that individuals differ in their communication styles. Some dominate conversations and fail to listen to others, while others remain quiet during collective discussions, and some individuals exhibit a combination of both. 

As a teacher or leader, I believe it is crucial to have what I call “fishbowl awareness”. When a small group of students or a student and teacher engage in a conversation within a classroom setting, it is highly likely that other students are listening, and the person speaking becomes the “fish.” Therefore, it is essential to consider the information being conveyed to the community. Additionally, humans naturally gather inside and outside of fishbowls all the time, so we must consider the belief systems and values being communicated at both the individual and community levels.

Many fishbowls are made of glass, enabling transparency, but they are also highly fragile. So, how can we curate an environment that ensures the safety of the people (fish) within their container, while still allowing for clear visibility and the opportunity to learn from one another? This requires thoughtful consideration and intentional efforts to strike a balance between creating a safe space for open dialogue and providing a platform for growth and understanding.

Overall, the fishbowl concept extends beyond its traditional protocol and can manifest in various authentic ways. By promoting active listening, critical thinking, and reflection, we can foster meaningful dialogue in both formal and informal settings. As teachers or leaders, it is essential to be mindful of the impact our conversations have on the broader community and to create an environment that encourages transparency, while ensuring the safety and well-being of all participants.

Scroll to Top