Race car drivers. Navy Seals. Firefighters.
People in these professions need to constantly make split-second decisions.
But what about teachers? Is the ability to make split-second decisions a highly prized skill for classroom leaders?
Yes, there are times where we may be required to make quick decisions in emergency situations or disasters. But in regards to the long-term development of our students, we actually need to be much slower and more deliberate about the decisions we make.
Steven Sample, the former president of the University of Southern California and author of The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, explained we need to use the following two tools to improve our long-term leadership thinking: thinking gray and thinking free.
Have you ever been burned by forming an opinion about a student or colleague that you later regretted?
Did you flip-flop your stance on a new program because you jumped to conclusions before gathering enough information?
Has herd mentality pulled you into believing what others strongly believed without fully understanding the issue?
These are three of the pitfalls of making immediate binary decisions. Thinking gray can help us avoid these pitfalls.
Thinking gray means not making a decision until we have gained all the necessary information we need, or until circumstances force us to make a decision. Most of the time when we encounter a new person or absorb new information, we instantly make a judgment that is either black or white. It’s either good or it’s bad. It’s true or it’s false. This is going to change my life for the better or this is the worst thing to ever happen to me.
And we do this more than we realize.
We receive our class roster and cringe at some of the names and the impending conflict we see…or we think it’s going to be an easy year.
We sit in a staff meeting about a new initiative and either think the problems of education are going to be solved overnight…or we automatically declare the death of the new program.
When we think gray, we simply wait and look for the shades of gray. We train ourselves to become aware of the possible benefits and the potential problems…but we don’t form an opinion or make a decision.
As the title of the Sample’s book suggests, this is a contrarian thing to do. Especially in today’s world of social media and information overload. We are bombarded with opinions and feelings from all around us. We think if we don’t instantly declare what side of an issue we are on, we will be attacked from both sides.
But refusing to think gray actually hinders our ability to provide our students with a compass to apply the knowledge we are teaching them. First, it often creates a situation where we have a fixed mindset about our students. As a result, we don’t take the opportunity to help them because we don’t think it will make a difference. And second, we don’t model for our students how education is a process and how we need to seek truth and wisdom rather than simply pick a side in an argument.
The second tool we can use to improve our leadership thinking is to think free. Thinking free aids us in breaking free from the ruts of conventional thinking…both the conventional thinking of the world, as well as our old familiar thought patterns.
For example, we can take an idea which no one believes will work and force ourselves to come up with two reasons why the idea WILL work. This forces us to go against our pre-conceived thoughts and the binary judgment we initially made. We may not always need to follow through on these ideas but this is a great exercise to shake up our thinking.
Leadership requires thinking
These two leadership tools of thinking gray and thinking free require us to slow down and…think. This means we might need to do less. But slowing down and doing less open up the door to becoming more. When we become more, we become a stronger leader who is better able to serve our students.
It is much easier to fall into the trap of trying to manage the students in our classrooms. Because classroom management plans try to make everything black and white. They take away the need for discernment and leadership. It is much harder to exhibit the patience to think gray and the initiative to think free. But this is what our students need.
According to Steven Sample, leadership is highly situational and contingent…which exactly describes the environments of our classrooms. Everything is not good or bad. Right or wrong. Black or white.
In the Teach for Impact system, we want to write our own story so we can best serve our students by giving away our gifts and abilities.
But we can’t do that if our thinking is black and white…so we need to think gray.
And we can’t be the leader we are called to be if our story is just like everyone else’s…so we need to think free.
So how about you?
What is one area of your job where you need to utilize the tool of thinking gray to avoid forming an opinion or jumping to a conclusion too soon?
How can you use the tool of thinking free to break out of the ruts of your normal thinking?
In the meantime, keep Teaching for Impact in your classrooms by giving your students a better version of you every day…