Some truths are born in the bones. I mean you can’t get away from them. You stray at times, temporarily convinced by specious reasoning that your intuition is unreliable – just a feeling and not a way of knowing – but the truth, your truth, the particular way in which all of your sensibilities come together to make sense of the world is always there. And you know it when you feel it. It comes back to you – or you stumble back upon it after being away – with a familiarity that feels like returning.
Much of my career in education has been spent contemplating the value of intuition. In my practice I have weaved in and out of alignment with it, on and off the path, losing it and then finding it again when the time was right and forces – courage, invitation, autonomy, support – coalesced to make an opening wide enough for me to slip through. A colleague of mine calls it finding the seam. William Stafford writes there is a thread you follow. Same idea, different words.
In teaching, there are forces and circumstances that make it difficult at times to follow your intuition and honor the truth that is carried in the bones. And I understand them; I am not advocating anarchy in education or absolute autonomy. It is true that as institutions schools have identity, direction, purpose, and values, and it is right that they pursue those. To function well and with integrity, schools need to be able to hire and retain teachers who believe in and value the credo. When there isn’t a mutually beneficial alignment of values between the individual and the institution, the individual should be let go.
What I am advocating is the habit of mind that assumes that people do not make negative decisions – that the fundamental endeavor of all people is to improve their condition, and that people perform at their best when the truth they carry in their bones is honored by the work they do and the life they live.
This idea has deep implications for professional development in schools and the for the way a school regards its teachers. I have never met a teacher who came to work in the morning having decided to be “bad”, “ineffective”, or “not a team player”. In fact, all teachers come to work in the morning hoping to honor the truth they carry.
That is not to say that all teachers are great or that no teacher should ever be fired, let go, or counseled out of the profession. Quite the opposite. If schools truly and deeply engage with the work of connecting teachers with the truth they carry and if they take a vested interest in helping teachers find their way in the institution’s transparent credo, then we would see far less conflict (Chicago teacher’s strike?), far greater alignment (Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap?), and far greater frequency of what we tend to call “great teachers.”
Because greatness, however we define it, is facilitated and nurtured when a one finds oneself at the confluence of purpose, ability, and belief. It is about fit and alignment, self-knowledge and credo. Sir Ken Robinson, in his clarifying book, The Element, says that your element is the place where the things you love to do and the things you are good at come together (Robinson 8). It’s “the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion” (Robinson 21).
The only thing I would add to that is a sense of purpose, which I define as pursuit of a cause greater than the self. And, of course, there are some teachers for whom the teaching profession is not a strong fit, but that is the case with any profession. The point is, it is about fit.
Imagine the change in education if schools took it as a mission to connect teachers with their truth, to be transparent about their credo, and to explore the alignment between the two. Think of the implications for professional development, faculty-administration rapport, trust, collaboration, teamwork, innovation, and student learning.
I am a believer in 21st Century Skills for students, but I am a proponent of a new model of education for all, because we won’t change education simply by teaching different skills. Everything has to be reworked – Teachers, Students, Curriculum, Learning, Purpose, Program, Outcome. Let’s get to it.