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What Do We Already Know?

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

How Integrating Prior Knowledge Creates Efficiency (and Safety!) for Teachers and Leaders

When working with teachers, leaders, teams, and individuals, the top question I typically get is: Are we/Am I doing this right?

And the need for validation and clarification makes total sense to me for a myriad of reasons (least of which is not my own needs around these two important learning steps). As humans, it is widely believed that we are hard-wired to:

  1. Seek Safety (before we can)

  2. Have a sense of Belonging (and then)

  3. Strive for Achievement and Growth

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs are a common tool we use to better understand human reactions to individual and group environments. When we apply what we know about safety to our current educational landscape, well, we are all pretty much feeling everything EXCEPT safe.

But...(and you knew it was coming) as leaders, it is precisely our job to create that sense of safety if we want our staff and students to thrive.

Collectively we need to ask ourselves: Are there ways to create safety in our structures? And, I would argue, we should add: What do we already know about this?

According to John Hattie's Visible Learning Research, using strategies that integrate prior knowledge is one of the most influential/impactful/simple/effect/useful/needed strategies that we can implore--both with our students AND with our teachers. With an effective size of .93, integration of prior knowledge is one of the top 15 strategies overall (out of over 250+). What does this mean for leaders in education who are seeking safety for their teachers?

Rather than add another initiative, another idea, another strategy...aka, more uncertainty (and less safety), create space and moments for teachers to look within and draw upon what they already know. Collective Efficacy is not created through an onslaught of abundant resources and ideas. Collective Efficacy is created when teams are empowered to use their strengths, resources, and abilities together to solve problems.

Every learning process must, and I mean MUST begin by asking: What do we already know? If we fail to integrate prior knowledge, we are failing to create safe spaces of belonging where each person's experience has a purpose.

Leaders, you are not exempt from this safety reality, either. Give yourselves permission to trust your instincts, listen to your gut, draw upon prior experience in learning and tough (although probably NEVER this tough) circumstances, and listen to yourself. When you need to pull back, pull back. When you need to slow down, slow down. When you need to question--question!

Leaders who feel disempowered to trust their intuition are leaders without a sense of belonging themselves. We cannot create spaces of belonging for others if we, ourselves, do not feel that we belong. Trusting ourselves, and our experiences...valuing what we bring to the table, that is step one in creating safety and security.

The next time (today) you encounter a problem that needs solved, begin with yourself by asking: What do we already know? Then, give yourself the permission to listen to leader you know you are.


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