Most of us prefer knowing to not knowing. We derive a degree of comfort in knowing and understanding things. The unfamiliar brings about feelings of uncertainty and maybe even doubt in our ability to navigate a situation or endeavor.
Summertime means traveling for many people. Familiar destinations bring back fond memories while new places can bring a sense of discovery and anticipation along with feelings of uncertainty. You may not know what to expect or what is expected of you. In a new coffee shop, a new city or country, how do things work? How do I navigate the rules of that particular destination? Even something as simple as knowing whether you can seat yourself at a restaurant or have to wait for someone to seat you can cause confusion.
In schools, our job is to help children discover things, to learn things they don’t know and build on those they do. By their very nature, schools are full of not knowing and, therefore, some discomfort. At their best, schools are places of exploration, questioning and challenging ideas. When I was in elementary school, teachers were expected to know everything. They were there to impart knowledge, and my job was to take it in, to memorize it and, if I was lucky, to ultimately understand it.
Fortunately, those days are gone for most schools. We’ve learned a great deal and now see schools as more like laboratories. They are places where teachers are learning alongside their students. They are asking questions, not because they always know the answer and want the students to state that answer, but also because they want to find the answers with their students. Teachers have to become comfortable not knowing. Yes, they know how to read, write and do arithmetic, and they know how to teach these subjects. What they may not know is how to reach those students who don’t quite “get it” in the traditional ways… or how planes fly or why American football is different than football in the rest of the world. Knowing in schools is no longer confined to the designated curriculum. It is expansive.
As a teacher, I have learned a great deal from and with my students. I’ve discovered ways to approach math problems that I never would have learned had students not shared their thinking. I’ve considered ideas that I had little or no understanding of previously. I’ve been pushed to further my understanding in areas of little interest to me. Teaching requires a certain amount of comfort in not knowing. Not knowing allows the students to gain understanding, to ask the questions and offer challenges to current thinking and concepts. Not knowing allows us all to grow and extend our knowledge of not only the curriculum and the “three Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic. It prompts us to go further, deepening our understanding and our desire to learn. What don’t you know? How can you become comfortable with the process of moving from not knowing to knowing?