Discipline and Default in Education, Part II (Intentionality)
Last week, we reviewed what default-driven behavior looks like. We barely touched the surface, but the
examples I gave in the education world focused on teachers and administrators acting impulsively, allowing their emotions to dictate their behavior. I didn't mention students, though there are plenty of examples of their impulsivity; it is our job to help develop discipline in our students, so my series will focus mainly on the adults.
As a reminder, I am fleshing out a few characteristics of both disciplined-driven and default-driven behavior found here, from the Focus 3 Podcast with Tim and Brian Kight. The first characteristic of discipline-driven behavior is "intentionality," making a "conscious choice" while moving your organization forward.
WHY IS INTENTIONALITY IMPORTANT IN TODAY'S EDUCATIONAL ENVIRONMENT?
1. New information—whether that is Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) research or the latest technology—always has the potential to change pedagogy or adjust the direction of a school. But it also has the potential to stretch and stress your staff with new expectations and initiatives. One of things I've heard from teachers a lot lately is "We keep adding, but we never take anything away." Because we receive so much new information every day, the potential for this error is high.
Does that mean we shouldn't strive to implement best practices in our classrooms? Of course not, but it does mean you can't do everything at once, and you can't be everything to everybody. This past summer, I asked our faculty to read Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education. For one book that synthesizes the most recent MBE research, I highly recommend it. That said, it provides lots of information for teachers and administrators to think about. Some of the initial reactions I heard from teachers was panic: "Do you expect us to implement everything in this book?" I'm a new senior admin, and you could see the fear they had about what "the new guy's" expectations might be. My answer was "Of course not"; even the co-author, Glenn Whitman, suggests that teachers should try to change 10% of their practice to start moving toward a research-informed approach in the classroom. That being said, you can always stop something you do in the classroom when you discover it has negative effects on students.
To the point, though: Everyone, leadership and faculty, needs to take a deep breath and realize they can't do everything right now. That is the first step toward discipline, not saying "yes" to everything. But that is not an excuse to do nothing. Move toward good, toward better now.
What we want to avoid, as UNC-Chapel Hill professor Bradley Staats discusses in his new book, Never Stop Learning, is the "single-loop" process of learning. He leans on the research of the learning scholar Chris Argyris, and explains the "single-loop" process by comparing it to how a thermostat works: "when the temperature varies the current setting, the thermostat immediately responds by turning on the heating and cooling system to bring it back to the desired setting" (82). In other words, it's a reaction, like adopting the latest tech trend without thinking about how it improves learning or fits into the curriculum. What we want is "double-loop learning," which is a "conscious, controlled approach to information processing" (82). "Double-loop learning" is a disciplined approach, an approach that is patient and relies on reflection first. If you're interested in reading Staats's book, I highly recommend it. It's one the most recent choices from The Next Big Idea Club, which I also highly recommend.
2. Real change—effective change—takes time. This is why intentionality is so important. Teachers and administrators need to remember that less is more, and we need to be relentlessly intentional about every decision that could potentially distract us from our goals.
New technologies are alluring. New technology programs have the potential to make a significant impact on schools. Technology, however, does not tell a school its mission, nor does it give a school its vision. You can always tell when a school is not mission- or vision-driven: They adopt everything! Like a drowning man grasping for anything to keep him afloat, schools without a vision, as the Good Book says, will "perish." They "perish" by overextending themselves.
Being an educator today is exciting. So much is happening! But while I'm excited, I also want to be cautious. We can't do everything. We can't be everything to everybody. We have to do a few things and do them well: effective and research-informed teaching; athletic and extracurricular programs that support the school's mission; and, for me, a healthy relationship with the community, both immediate constituents and the surrounding environment. Within those three pillars are myriad decisions, hundreds and thousands of choices inspired as much by emotion and selfishness as they are by reflection and mission. It's everyone's job to practice a disciplined approach and say "yes" to what makes sense for your school, because every new "thing" pulls energy resources from the faculty, and if they are overextended, they can't do the most important job: teach effectively.