Byron's Babbles

Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Screen Shot 2020-05-29 at 1.50.24 PMI first drew the illustration featured in this post for a webinar that I presented as a part of for the SMART Factory League back in April. Then I used it again this week for two webinars I did for teachers entitled “Embracing the Changes: Let’s Not Go Back to Status Quo.” The drawing represented how we are being nudged, pushed, or even shoved to make changes, given our current uncertain and unprecedented times. I hoped the drawing represented going from the massive, unorganized scribble that was the uncertainty and confusion we first experienced when dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic to a very focused, straight line. On this, now day 80 of the pandemic, I would argue we are not at the focused, straight line yet, but are moving closer.

So, how do we get started? To borrow from our friend Goldilocks – we must get our focus just right. Focusing to narrowly on just one of our challenges will not work, but it also will not work to try to change everything at once, either. We need to change in a controlled fashion. But, what does that mean during this time of both the normal disruption of things and the ongoing pandemic? We are all trying to cope with unprecedented levels of uncertainty.

In fact, studies show that we are loss-averse and gain-seeking. We want the sure thing. We will accept less to lower the risk of failure. Sometimes we even give up success to not experience failure. We contemplate this a lot in athletics. Do we play to win, or play not to lose? Most teams who play not to lose, do just that – lose.

One thing I know for sure, we have done a lot of developing our “dealing with uncertainty capability.” One of the most important ways I believe that I have been able deal with the uncertainty has been to fully embrace the fact that every day was going to be a learning experience. I have literally asked myself, “What can I learn today?” These past 80 days have put the mantras of “lifelong learner” and “growth mindset” to the ultimate tests. You see, when something’s too easy or we’re not facing uncertainty, we’re not learning. Numerous scientific studies show that when we confront setbacks and we can adjust our view of these setbacks to see them as lessons, our brains literally begin to change.

None of us were trained on how to respond in a global pandemic and our immediate response to the challenges might have been “I can’t do this” or “We’ll figure it out.” As Nora Bateson (2016) so aptly put it in Small Arcs of Larger Circles: Framing Through Other Patterns, “No one is qualified to talk about uncertainty. You cannot get a degree in it yet, to the best of my knowledge.” Furthermore, she went on to say, “How, after all, can I pretend to offer you any kind of lesson on what I do not know?”

But, learn in adversity is what we did in education. While in the beginning it looked like the left had side of my scribble, we have been making our way across the page to the straight line. Wednesday and today we began to chronicle our learning by embracing the changes and discussing how to not go back to status quo. Here are two graphic recordings done by Amy Reynolds, Principal of Governors Charter Academy, during our session: “Embracing the Changes: Let’s Not Go Back To Status Quo.” Check them out:

The information in the graphics came from over 200 teachers working in breakout groups answering the following “What if?” questions:

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I learned to use “what if?” questions from the late Dr. Clayton Christen. These type of questions allow us to challenge assumptions, allow for innovation, and allow us to prepare. How about you? What have you been learning during these uncertain times?

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