‘This notion that the leader needs to be ‘in charge’ and ‘know all the answers’ is both dated and destructive… Fear leads to risk aversion. Risk aversion kills innovation.’ Peter Sheahan in Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly.
In my first few weeks as a teacher in a private English language school in Italy, the Assistant Director of Studies ushered the first-timers into an empty classroom, and gave us some advice.
‘Never, ever respond to a question from your students with the words ‘I don’t know.’ Never tell them you don’t know something, and never tell them that you’re new to this. I know. It’s not fair. Everyone has to start somewhere right? But if they doubt their teacher, then they doubt the school. In their eyes at least, you must know everything.’
At the time, I took this as sound advice from a far more senior and experienced colleague who wanted the best for both us and the school. I mean…it makes sense, right? No student wants their teacher standing in front of them lamely doing a goldfish impression when there’s an important exam looming. What I see now, though, is that this ‘advice’ potentially killed a lot of the creativity and spontaneity I may have started to cultivate in my early teaching career, and instead cultivated an aversion to risk in my teaching practice that would prove very difficult to shake off. I quickly gained a reputation for my results-focused meticulousness and for always having a ready explanation. Continue reading