There’s a reason why we tend to be resistant to change. Change requires time, energy, and often, struggle. We have to be prepared to leave behind an old, comfortable version of ourselves – and to travel to a different place.
We have to acknowledge that there might be a better way. And we have to be prepared to try something new – and to accept the risks that come with that choice. What if the change doesn’t make things better? What if we invest in change and it’s not worth it? What if we waste our time and energy? What if we can’t go back to the old way?
All fair questions. Change isn’t always good. There are risks and costs. But there are also risks and costs of standing still.
So, to embrace a change or not? Is there a right choice?
Yeah, there is. It’s the choice informed by our values and fuelled by courage.
The psychological phenomenon known as ‘flow‘ is characterised by complete absorption on a task. When in flow, our attentional awareness becomes entirely focussed on a single action, so much so that:
“Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. All aspects of performance –mental and physical – go through the roof.”
Steven Kotler, Director of Research, Flow Genome Project
In classrooms, the neurochemical and neurophysiological changes generated by flow states can have a huge impact on creativity, learning and performance. But our students can only be in flow when they are pushed to their limits – or slightly beyond. Working at this threshold, approximately 4% outside of our current capability, is risky – failure is a real possibility.
And this is why schools need to orientate themselves as learning institutions rather than performance institutions. When the explicit goal is to learn, risk and failure are normalised, tolerated, and even celebrated. When the goal is to perform, we foster a natural aversion to risk and failure.
The best educators create classroom environments where students feel safe and embrace risk.
Failing never feels nice. But flow does – and accelerated, exciting learning definitely does.
In the game of poker, the mildly derogatory term, Railbird, is used to describe a person who watches games “from the rail” rather than actually playing. They are generally viewed as a nuisance by actual players and add little, if any, value to the game. Yet many Railbirds feel justified in commentating on the game or critiquing the decisions of the players.
Every school and organisation is made up of players and Railbirds. And so, we have a choice to make. Am I willing to sit down at the table, accept the risks, know that I might get burned, but give myself the opportunity to make a difference? Or do I want to watch the game from the rails?
The upside of Railbirding is that it’s safe; you never lose. But then, you never get to play.