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acknowledging uncertainty

November 13, 2012

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According to systems theorists like Donella Meadows, if our efforts as individuals or institutions mean we’re trying to exert control over existing conditions, this kind of thinking is likely to prove counter-intuitive. Interesting.

Some pointers about control:

  • it’s a “manifest delusion”
  • intervention will generate unpredictable results
  • “norm settings” or defaults amplify incompetence
  • “human development in a turbulent world” resists control measures
  • irony prevails (Michael, 1999, p. 8).

So where does that leave our management squad, coordinators, executive teams, administrative crew and their ilk? And how can we lead change without attempting to assert control?

Educational authors frame the directional schemata with pursuit of moral purpose:

To love, to serve, to empower and to learn – when these four aspects of moral purpose are seen as central ends of education, and when they underpin not just what pupils do but what teachers and parents do as well, then relationships between schools and the world beyond have real moral depth to them. Take these moral purposes away and the edifice of educational change and of connecting with what’s ‘out there’, collapses into faddism and opportunism (Hargreaves & Fullan, 1998, p.55).

Makes sense to me in my current frame of reference; this was our school nearly two years ago:

Having spent the last few months undertaking an action research process preparing for our return to state-of-the-art facilities when circumstance rendered us nomads departing a 3-storey circa 1958 campus and relocating to split sites during a $63 million rebuild, experience has meant we’ve drawn on considerable strengths and moral fibre. “Bearing with” change is the phrase most often used by parents and staff I’ve interviewed for my inquiry into curriculum innovation. Sounds like something that’s a lived experience you won’t much enjoy. Like putting up with life’s absurdities, or maintaining stoicism. Surely change can’t be that rigid…

Reality is, the experience hasn’t been too painful, either. Building managers executed smooth exit with a staged re-entry now anticipated. Sharing a demountable office space with staff who teach Maths, Science, S&E and Phys Ed has meant that conversations have been spontaneous, frequent, and vibrant. The jokes have been better. Camaraderie has bloomed. Rather than significant hardship, I’d count the opportunity a blessing framed in combative clothing (camouflage, inked and smudgy green).

In the spirit of setting directional horizons, I’ve drawn up up a Gifted and Talented program overview for 2013-15:

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”; title=”Program overview 2013-15″ target=”_blank”>Program overview 2013-15</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”; target=”_blank”>Sam Boswell</a></strong> </div>

With gratitude to Shelley Wright for the inverted Bloom’s image, staff and parents for last week’s review and re-imagining insights, consideration of potentialities inherent in our shared future causes me considerable excitement.

What is possible? Traditions exist, yes, but the old frameworks no longer constrain our thinking. Segue to Koestler quoted in What’s Worth Fighting For:

Movement is the key idea here. Emotions are basically “mental states accompanied by intense feeling… [which involve] bodily changes of a widespread character” (Hargreaves & Fullan, 1998, p.57).

Here, we’re talking passion – well out of the comfort grip of those rationalists who try to control! By engaging in collaborative refinement, the norms and reference points we employ when defining our circumstances have also been brought out like laundry for an airing (reminds me of this scene from Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract). This may

not necessarily be a more controllable world but at least it should be a more livable one (Michael, 1999, p. 15).

For that insight, I’m left feeling grateful.

Selected references

Hargreaves, A., Fullan, M. (1998). What’s worth fighting for in education? Maidenhead, England: Open University Press.

Meadows, D. (2008). Thinking in systems a primer. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Michael, D.N. (1999). Competence and compassion in an age of uncertainty. Reflections, 1(2), 8-16. Retrieved November 13, 2012 from EBSCO host.

Wright, S. (2012). Flipping Bloom’s taxonomy. Retrieved November 13, 2012 from plpnetwork website:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2012 9:02 am

    Love that picture!


  1. pace, pools & packing « tolerance for ambiguity

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