Sure, not so sure – both good

I envy people who seem certain – whose words and actions always appear to come from strongly held beliefs. I am typically unsure. Unlike some of my contemporaries who are bunkered down with a fixed worldview, my leaning toward uncertainty is increasing with age. Appreciation of different perspectives is an asset – up to a point. It’s a vital ingredient of empathy and aids resolution of conflicts – a good thing. The downside however is that it impedes decisiveness and commitment, and contributes to ‘wishy-washiness’!

I’m sceptical of educators who seem too certain, too sure that their practices are the ‘right’ ways. They often invoke the term best practice, as though there is one universally identified perfect way of doing things. These professionals appear to believe that they’ve discovered THE TRUTH – whether it’s about, for example, their interpretation of emergent curriculum, formats for documenting learning and programs, ways of settling in new families, the application of Reggio Emilia philosophy and principles or how they ‘do’ lunch. My perception is that these people can easily slip into being overly invested in their beliefs and as a result closed to ideas that challenge them.

I wonder if, in life and at work, we sometimes adopt beliefs because we want to fit in, because they are the beliefs of someone we trust or admire or because of laziness or lack of confidence.

In education and care services there’s almost always a potent culture – a set of beliefs and ways of working and relating to each other, families and children. Even as a visitor you can often sense it. It’s a good thing when that culture

  • inspires confidence and commitment
  • nurtures energy, innovation and openness
  • invites challenges, entertains change
  • is motivated by a desire to improve.

People who are truly wise and confident hold strong beliefs and also are confident enough to entertain opposing views and challenges to those beliefs. Leaders need to model that balance of confidence and openness. Critical reflection and welcoming multiple perspectives is about embracing that balance.

Perhaps what we should be aiming for in our personal and professional lives is a healthy dose of certainty and clarity on the one hand, and a stance of ‘I’m not sure’, ‘I wonder’, ‘Maybe but maybe not’ on the other.

What if everyone lived and worked with clarity that ‘For now this is what I believe strongly. I recognise and respect that others may hold different beliefs equally strongly. I may change my beliefs in the future’? Maybe the world would be a better place.

Strong beliefs up to a point nourish confidence and courage. Beyond that point they can lead to arrogance and close-mindedness and interfere with tolerance.

What beliefs and values that inform your work would you ‘go to the wall’ for – in other words, ones that you cannot imagine ever changing? Why?

What practices in your workplace promote sharing different perspectives about issues and using them to inform action?

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Anne Stonehouse

Anne Stonehouse AM lives in Victoria and works as a consultant, writer and facilitator of professional learning in early childhood. She has published many books, articles and other resources for educators and parents. Her main professional interests are the nature of good quality curriculum for babies and toddlers and family-educator relationships in early learning settings. She was a member of the writing team in the Charles Sturt University-based consortium that developed the national Early Years Learning Framework. She is currently engaged in a number of projects related to the national and Victorian Frameworks.

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