New Series: Wisdom From the Field

A Brief Explainer

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For the 2021-2022 school year, I will be providing a new series for readers: Wisdom From the Field. These posts will offer a short anecdote from various professions and experiences (the “field”), followed by a description of how this story relates to our literacy leadership practice (the “wisdom”). Reflective questions close the post, inviting you to take action and implement the idea within your own work.

This series will also serve to promote my upcoming book with Corwin, Leading Like a C.O.A.C.H.: Five Strategies for Supporting Teaching and Learning (February 2022). The book contains several Wisdom From the Field lessons. I had several more I wanted to include in the book, but I needed to keep the text at a reasonable length for readers. This series allows me to share more of these leadership lessons from life.

Below is an example of what to expect. Some posts will be for all readers and the rest for full subscribers. I will continue to post one article or podcast by week’s end for all.

Belief Systems and the Four-Minute Mile (The Field)

Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile in running is well known. People said it couldn’t be done. Once Bannister proved them wrong, several runners followed suit afterward, also breaking the four-minute mile. The talent of the athletes did not increase significantly; they saw what happened and their beliefs changed.

What’s interesting about Bannister’s story is how he went about accomplishing this seemingly impossible task. He did not follow the training regimen that his fellow runners did. Instead of practicing every day, Bannister practiced every other day. He trained for shorter amounts of time at a higher intensity, then took a day off to rest and recharge. This method is similar to “High Intensity Interval Training”, or “HIIT”. Back in the 1950s, it was not a part of the convention thinking. As the authors of The Power of Impossible Thinking, Yoram Wind and Colin Crook, note:

Bannister was an outlier and iconoclast — a full-time student who had little use for coaches and devised his own system for preparing to race. The British press “constantly ran stories criticizing his ‘lone wolf’ approach,” Bryant notes, and urged him to adopt a more conventional regimen of training and coaching.1

What Outdated Thinking is Holding You Back? (The Wisdom)

Most of us know the axiom attributed to Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” And yet this comfort with the status quo is commonplace in all fields, including education. People generally do not like uncertainty and prefer predictable outcomes. This gives us a sense of safety but can inhibit growth.

Bannister had to disregard the conventional thinking and use his insights along with recommendations from innovative thinkers to engage in true change. But what he changed was not a tossing out of all the knowledge acquired up to that point. He altered his training schedule. Still, people in his field wanted him to stop because if he succeeded, then they would also have to change in order to be competitive.

Consider the following reflective questions to apply this wisdom to your practice:

  • What outdated thinking is holding your organization back?

  • What beliefs and practices have you accepted over time but should reconsider?

  • What small shifts could you make to help reduce anxiety around a change?

  • How will you know your innovation is successful? What’s your four-minute mile?

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1

Taylor, B. What Breaking the 4-Minute Mile Taught Us About the Limits of Conventional Thinking. Harvard Business Review. Available: https://hbr.org/2018/03/what-breaking-the-4-minute-mile-taught-us-about-the-limits-of-conventional-thinking