Tag Archives: Ken Robinson

Finding One’s Way – A Teacher’s Intuition and the New Schooling

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.

Change by Necessity or Faith

“Sometimes … reaching your Element requires devising creative solutions to strong limitations.  Sometimes … it means maintaining a vision in the face of vicious resistance.  And sometimes … it means walking away from  the life you’ve known to find an environment more suited to your growth.

“Ultimately, the question is always going to be, ‘What price are you willing to pay?’  The rewards of the Element are considerable, but reaping these rewards may mean pushing back against some stiff opposition.”

Sir Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Viking, p155.

Not just throw-away advice, it seems to me, although, unfortunately it has the ring of platitude.  In fact, I think all great advances, in whatever field and whatever context, were revolutionary – tending to turn things around or upside down, demanding sacrifices and causing anxiety.

What’s deceptive about Sir Ken’s words, what seems platitudinous is how easy it is to accept in hindsight.  The “of course” factor is huge, as it is in all platitudes.  But there is no “of course” when you are turning your world upside down, swimming up stream, making sacrifices, and causing anxiety.  There is no “of course” in the moment.  Still, that is what people tend to say.  “Of course, it was hard.  Of course, there were sacrifices.  That is part of the deal.”  But that belies the severity, the pain, and the difficulty experienced.  The great and noble stories unto myths we pass around the family of relatives who gave up everything to follow a dream, uprooted their families to reinvent their lives, faced the fear of failure for the chance to greater success, don’t include the reality of the pain, don’t allow the experience of the anxiety and the difficulty.  What we experience in stories like that is the the inspiration and the success.  As if the price paid for change is somehow a little less relevant.

And it is so much easier to go with the flow, to make lemonade, to take it easy.  But those aren’t the stories we tell.  The story of uncle so-and-so who “was never particularly satisfied with his lot in life, but he made it work.  Day in and day out he just got along, kept on.  Sure, somewhere deep down he had something like passion, a dream that he always said he couldn’t remember, but what he was really good at was going with the flow, taking it easy, playing it safe.”  We don’t tell that story – because success depends on adversity.

Weird, eh?  Why should that be?

And great advances are always perpetrated out of necessity, not luxury or privilege.  It is too hard to swim upstream – unless you have to, unless there is no other option.  Think of pacific salmon that die after struggling to invent the next generation.  (And listen to the inspiration in that: struggling to invent the next generation.  It gives you chills.  But I wonder whether if the salmon had a choice, they still do it?  Would they still swim up stream?)

Looking back we say it was all worth it, but in the moment, how can we know?  We can’t.  In the moment, we trust.  Change requires either necessity or faith – which is belief without support, believing in something despite the evidence (not purposefully believing in something that is contradicted by evidence – some people do that and that practice is perverse.)  But, you don’t always need evidence to know something is true.  Or right.  Or apt.  Or necessary.  That’s intuition.  And as the poet Rumi says, “There are many ways of knowing.”