Certain of uncertainty

A learning journey isn’t a straight line; it is a spiral. You continually come back to things you thought you understood but now see deeper truths.

 

3 years a blogger. 245 posts, around 200k written words, and what have I learnt in this dialogue with myself?

That I blog for both personal and professional growth. I write about things that are interesting to me (and in turn perhaps are interesting to other people). An ongoing public journal of my thoughts about the exploration of teaching PE and asking the question “what is our purpose?”

I write to find out what I think. Reflection isn’t just a matter of evaluation, but that is undoubtedly part of it. Reflection is about looking for a deeper sense of understanding and of meaning. To do this we need to dwell on our experiences and share them. Writing helps me to do this, making my reflection more deliberate by slowing my thoughts down. Sometimes they slow down so much that in the moment of writing I let go of my thoughts and glimpse some clarity. Surrendering my thinking through writing allows me to better understand my thoughts, like a productive form of mind wandering.

Writing inevitably leads to reading. The more I read the more I tend to write, unpicking the knots and threads of my lived experience of teaching PE. Constantly uncovering that there is even more to learn. Constantly being humbled by how little I truly know. As I was wisely told “learning to teach PE is not finite and this links to the thinking there is more than just a body of knowledge to be learnt. Making sense of, and accepting where you are on your learning journey is also important and that trying to understand too many perspectives too quickly can be confusing and detrimental to your learning.” A learning journey isn’t a straight line; it is a spiral. You continually come back to things you thought you understood but now see deeper truths.

This means that I’m less sure than I’ve ever been with regards to teaching PE, but I’m okay with that. Before I was in search for a silver bullet. I was looking for the answer, when I didn’t really know what questions to ask. I’ve become more comfortable with that uncertainty. I’m beginning to find peace on a journey with no specific destination. Clarifying a guiding purpose and principles have helped me to navigate through the certainty of uncertainty. It has made me wary of someone who has all the answers. If there is an answer it is likely there is no one answer.

I tolerated this complexity and uncertainty in the past because I fail to recognise it, even though it was in plain sight. That was the illusion of my understanding as a novice PE Teacher. However that intolerance for uncertainty can lead to some dark depressive paths, it certainly did for me. Always wanting to control. Always wanting answers. In continual search for a wonder drug that will cure all the ills I see in front of me when teaching. Being human whilst working with humans, this drug just doesn’t exist. Especially when working with children, in movement and sport, the search for certainty is a journey to nowhere.

Being comfortable with uncertainty has allowed me to observe a reality I often  ignored. There is no consistent certainty with children from moment to moment, lesson to lesson and day by day. What has worked before can be a total train wreck, what has been a total train wreck before can work. These are just the realities of the job and working with people. A reality within a classroom, within a department, within a school, within a family, within a community is so complex that one can only navigate through its messy uncertainty by using simultaneous or successive different methods. Tension and relaxation, engagement and detachment, instruction and silence, enthusiasm and reserve, preparation and play, passion and indifference. I fully embrace the opposite but inseparable poles that are needed to help children move and humans to flourish.

There is value in being uncertain. Being certain of it can allow us to be more open. It doesn’t make the journey any easier but it allows us to be open to learn; through investigation and experimenting, through reading, through listening, through attention to the details and to the big picture at the same time, through self mastery and through being indifferent to indifferent things. By embracing these simultaneous or successive different methods it gives us a privilege field to experiment in, becoming more attuned to what may emerge in those moments of enquiry.

Expertise is uncertain by definition. On the learning journey to expertise as a PE Teacher there has to be the space for tentative ideas, subtle nuances and fresh areas for discovery. Ambiguity must be a given as expertise is forever changing and transforming. It isn’t just a collection of information, resources, ideas or of developing steadfast procedures, although these are essential to becoming an expert. Being a craftsman requires us to flesh out what mastery means in our domain in deeper ways. It is much more about reasoning, explanation and purpose than the search for ‘the right answer’. Learning to become a better teacher, hell even a better person, requires uncertainty. The job is never finished as we work hard to get more complete and accurate answers and then just when we have it right a new perspective presents itself and gives us cause to pause. Uncertainty – we just need to see it, embrace it and get comfortable with it.

To those of you who read and engage with this blog, thank you for impacting on my thinking and actions.

For the only safe harbour in this life’s tossing, troubled sea is to refuse to be bothered about what the future will bring and to stand ready and confident, squaring the breast to take without skulking or flinching whatever fortune hurls at us. – Seneca, Letters from a Stoic.

The acquisition and application of knowledge is juxtaposed with mystery, uncertainty and ambiguity. – The Neo-Generalist

Although everything happens at random, don’t you, too, act at random. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

 

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8 thoughts on “Certain of uncertainty

      1. I wish I had the answers. It’s a work in progress. I try to keep it simple and live in the now as much as possible. I think my biggest asset is just to accept things as they are. Not getting too high or too low on this journey with no destination. What about you?

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      2. Without a clear destination we need clear principles and purpose. I find I keep revisiting them. This frustrates a lot of people I work with, feeling we are wasting time by recovering old grown. I understand their frustration, but if we really are a work in progress I think its vital we keep doing this. It is time well spent. Just need to find the balance that I don’t upset other people.

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  1. Thank you for your astute and honest reflections. I have to admit that I think that this working and being more at peace with uncertainty is something I believe comes with age. I see younger and less-experienced teachers work hard to be the Master’s of their space and they can really struggle with the sharing of power with students but I think that with time and more confidence in oneself, there is clearly more ability to be okay with chaos and uncertainty and to be more accepting of it on a daily basis (this is not to say that we like it – but maybe more accepting and have more backup plans or be less harsh on yourself if things are train-wrecks!). There is always more to learn but we don’t have to drown in our ignorance, as long as we are not doing things because they have always been done that way – and we are using the student learning to guide our growth (and so their’s) I believe that the chaos will and should continue.

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    1. I read recently ‘it doesn’t matter much if you are one cubit below the surface of the water, or five hundred fathoms: you’ll drown in the one case as much as the other.’ Might as well start drowning in the deep end. [

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