Teachers don’t have the correct answer

It is human nature to not want to be wrong but some people take this to the extreme and exhibit what’s know as the “God complex“. Education suffers from the God Complex. This condition specifically crops up in complex situations where despite the complexity, people are certain their solution is the correct one.

I’m writing this for two reasons, firstly I was reminded of Tim Harford’s TED talk on trial and error, and the God Complex, and secondly because my school is trying to shift its systems and approach to learning away from what some people assume is the agreed correct answer for school.

Schools teach evolution but fail to evolve

Schools teach evolution but fail to evolve

in his talk, Tim highlights that in all aspects of life, trial and error has led to the success of humanity. After all, it’s very much evolution itself, the scientific method, and reflects the newer design thinking used by the industries that have survived the digital revolution (Kodak had buckets of God complex). Harford explains that he has had similar conversations to the ones I’ve had at school. Despite people saying they believe in evolution, the scientific method, and even that things aren’t perfect, it is hard to shift them away from known habits and systems that they ‘know’ are best for ‘most’ kids.

We run all our schools and classrooms on the basis that we should only look at things the teachers already have answers for. Most teachers understand that classroom activity needs a detailed plan and an already determined correct outcome. Most schools start every year with essentially the same timetable of lessons, regardless of the cohort of students, or world developments.

After years of correct answers, students are reduced to a mindset of compliance to a predetermined system. Any student or teacher systematically using trial and error is seen as a time-waster. Schools that shy away from the perceived correct norm are challenged but only by those who benefit most from the existing ‘correct’ compliance model.

We might be wrong … and that’s ok!

Harford and I both think it’s time to shake-up the way we operate schools and define priorities and hierarchies in the classroom. We need to develop and support new mindsets for teachers, students and their parents. Trial, error, and the acceptance of failure is not only the single most successful approach in the history of the natural and man-made world but also simply the natural way to learn.

Great book by Tim Harford. Important ideas for teachers and schools.

The correct answer for your classroom is that it doesn’t have one and it should start on the basis trial and error for all activity and allow each student to explore their own solutions with their teacher around how to best learn and add to the classroom’s future activity design. Classroom activity needs to prioritise the feedback loop and the adaptation of the activity itself. The complexity that 30 children bring to a classroom means that any teacher who thinks they have the correct lesson will surely suffer their own Kodak moment.