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lots of right ways

October 30, 2012

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It’s probably the wrong stage of our fourth-term school year to wax lyrical over stationery joy [pun intended], but I find I’ve become addicted to the Pinterest habit of collating what I love in visual form; stationery is one of many enticements, and these crayons are electrifying.

Lately, classroom spaces are another source of salivation: Open, colourful, engaging, mainly Finnish… the room I currently occupy when teaching at our lower school campus is a gloriously high-ceilinged, enormous-windowed, primary-scaled brick enclave; playgrounds abound, and rose beds line one side of the basketball court. These are temporary digs. We will soon be moving.

At our senior school campus, where Year 12s persist in lingering despite last week’s graduation, the demountables huddle on one side of a larger host-school, and I’ve felt like a couch-visitor all year when I drop in to teach my 2AB English class. You know the feeling when you have no idea where everyone’s hiding the whiteboard markers and staplers? There’s never any lined paper to be found….so, I take my own and bury it in a box in the cupboard along with magnets, milo, blu-tack, popsticks for random name draws, and my stash of multi-coloured balloons, textas and fluoro paper.

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So to the purpose of this post: An epiphany I had while watering the herb garden this morning started my thought flow, and @tonygurr’s recommendation for reading pushed me across the line before the sun had topped our fence.

There’s no one right way of doing these things we do when we say we’re teachers, or leaders, inspirational agents, coaches or imagineers in classrooms around the world – Finnish spaces or otherwise. What we have is a set of tools [stationery, equipment, curriculum], the space we occupy with our allocated students, and whatever transformative process occurs in the exchange between us all collaboratively sharing ideas and insights about the world we inhabit in those fragments we’re allowed via the machinations of a timetable are IT. That’s all.

Even though the approaches [to leadership] are quite different, there is no point arguing about the value of one over another. If we want to debate which approach is better, then we are just looking to control what happens, we are not looking for insight.  In this way, the differences among them do not really matter. Most any path will do. (Block, 2002, p.9).

I am reminded of the child health nurse I met nearly 21 years ago in Albany when – tired and overwrought from lack of sleep and uncertainties of new-motherhood – I raised with this kindly stranger my feelings of annoyance with everyone telling me what to do! Somehow – I was verging on tears, and probably in touch with a swirl of hysteria – it made me feel so stupid that I didn’t have any answers for dealing with my crying newborn, but it made things worse that everyone else seemed to know how to do it right.

My Cartoonised daughters.

Her advice? [It’s made a lot of difference over the intervening years]:

There are lots of right ways of doing something.


Block, P. (2002). The answer to how is yes. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2012 6:07 pm

    So true, but not often voiced so well. I tend to distrust ‘experts’ selling a point of view (or a course, or an approach that MUST be done this way), and trust people who have general rules of thumb about best practice, who also advocate the need to adapt to school context. My thoughts are somewhat similar to yours:

    And as a mum, I certainly recall the stress of feeling like I was not doing things ‘right’ in comparison to other mothers…Or would be indignant that my Italian mother-in-law would take some strange approach with my son! But I, too, experienced a bit of wisdom in advice from a stranger. She said it didn’t matter that my mother-in-law was so different to me. In fact, it was wonderful that we were different as what a great lesson for my kids to learn, that there were different ways to do things and love could be shown in different ways.

    And as a new teacher, I felt overwhelmed by the brilliance of others in my department, but wise Bette, my first head of English, said it didn’t matter that I wasn’t great with poetry or creative writing… There were other teachers in the department who were, and over time, students would experience the best the department had to offer on the whole. My students would get from me a love of narrative reading, and enjoyment from drama. There is strength and beauty in difference.

    And so over time, I’ve come to strongly believe that personalities and circumstances dictate a great deal, and that there is usually more than one way to accomplish something well. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t some things that should never be done, either!) But in our quest to drive things forward and change paradigms, we can’t lose sight of the fact that everyone has their strengths, and their fears, and we need to always respect the dignity of the individual whilst walking on a journey of change with them. (Sorry for the long comment…should have actually cross-posted… But your post struck a cord… Thank you!)

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