In Depth: In Depth is a series of posts based on my current reading. In Depth explores the connection between the authors ideas and education.
By: Dov Seidman
“The Certainty Gap: We all carry in us a vision of ideal stability and security, an idea in our minds and hearts of what it would feel like to live a perfectly secure life. We never achieve this ideal state because at any given time the conditions of our lives or the world around us create varying degrees of uncertainty and disequilibrium. This opens a gap between our ideal state and the realities of life. I call it the Certainty Gap, and I believe it exerts a profound influence on our ability to succeed.”
When we are unsure of things we look for things or ways to get back that reassurance. We look for something to fill the gap. Teachers, principals, and students all want to feel assured and secure. So what do we typically use to fill the gap?
“We look to rules to provide the certainty, consistency, and predictability we require.” Teachers can certainly speak to this in their classrooms. Most students feel secure and assured when they know the rules. Principals and teachers are more secure when they know the rules of their school or their district. With rules, everything is clear, and everybody feels secure right? Wrong!
There is one fatal flaw in rules. They fail. The reason is simple. One can never hope to write enough rules to contain every possible behavior of students and adults. Rules always allow gray areas, and students and adults being who they are, will use these gray areas to circumvent the rules. Teachers, how many times have you heard a student say, “Well, you said there was no talking to my neighbor, but I was talking to myself.” Or “I know there is no running in the halls, but I was skipping backwards. That is not running.” So how do we respond? We make up rules against talking to yourself and skipping backwards in the halls. In other words, we make up more rules.
We know that rules fail. Students find all sorts of clever ways around them. We adults use whatever gray area we can when to situation calls for it.
So what good are rules? “Rules achieve good ground floors, minimum standards of behavior, and they prevent bad things from happening—if people follow them.”
“But people transgress, so we write rules to prevent further transgressions, yet because rules are inherently limited, people find a way to transgress again.” Teachers, can I get an Amen!
However, there is an even darker side to rules, “People who feel overregulated in turn feel distrusted. They lose fealty to the rules (and those who make them) and search for ways to avoid their yoke…” “This creates a downward spiral of rule making which causes lasting detriment to the trust we need to sustain society.” “Rules, the principal arm of the way we govern ourselves, lose their power, destroying our trust in both those who make them and the institutions that they govern.”
This has profound implications for our classrooms and for our schools. What is the impact of rules on your students, your teachers, and your administrators?
WHAT vs. HOW
“ When we lived in a Just Do It world, we did not care how you got things done if you generally played by the rules. As long as you did not drop beneath the floor set by rules, we let it slide. Society was content to judge people by their ability to make the numbers—in other words, by WHAT they did, not HOW they did it. As the world became more transparent, however, we began to distinguish compliance from behavior; or to put it another way, because everyone could see your methods, HOW you did something became as important as WHAT you did. It was suddenly insufficient to follow the rules, because we could now see and understand people’s relationships to the rules. In a hyperconnected and hypertransparent world, you can no longer Just Do It; you must Just Do It Right”
In education, we must move from a focus on WHAT we do and the WAY we do it, to a focus on HOW we do it. We must focus on our behavior.
The WAY we do things includes all of the various models that come and go in education; be it Professional Learning Communities, Whole Language, Understanding By Design (Backward Planning), Adaptive Schools, or Step Up to Writing. These are WAYS. But that is not enough because we are all getting real good at using WAYS, but we are still not accomplishing all that we have hoped in education.
“There is one area where tremendous variability still exists, however; one place that we have not yet analyzed and commoditized, and which, in fact, cannot be commoditized: the realm of human behavior—HOW we do WHAT we do.”
When those of us in education collaborate, are open and transparent, keep our promises, share our ideas, and build relationships, everybody, including the students, win. These are behaviors and it is our behaviors that will take us to the next level. This is HOW!
More to come…