Uncertainty is our Friend!

In human systems, uncertainty is our most constant companion. It is, in fact, our friend. To influence human systems (like learning in classrooms and schools), we have to expect things to be uncertain, unpredictable, surprising, and sometimes confusing.  That is the way things are.  The only constant is change, and the only sure thing is surprise.

So how do we cope?  How do we have any sense of influence over these unpredictable realities?  Eoyang and Holladay (see reference below) say that we must embrace uncertainty. We must “leverage uncertainty” so that we can see options for action and set conditions for positive change. How do we do that?  They recommend Adaptive Action–a cycle of observation, reflection, inquiry and action that can help us choose the best next step toward our goal.

  • What is happening?
  • So what does that mean?
  • Now what shall we do next?  Now what are our new questions?

Here’s a blog post from Amanda Goss, on the North Star of Texas group on the Literacy in Learning Exchange, that shows how their inquiry group is using Adaptive Action — and how they are tweaking the language to make it their own:

This inquiry/action cycle is at the heart of responsive teaching, and it should be at the heart of responsive school reform/transformation. This recursive cycle is “simply” a way to talk about teaching and learning that resonates with what many others have said over the years. It would sound familiar to John Dewey, Louise Rosenblatt, and Marie Clay. We have found these questions a simple and powerful way to talk about what can happen when we welcome uncertainty and move forward, even when the path is unclear.

Eoyang, G. H. and Holladay, R. (2013). Adaptive Action: Leveraging uncertainty in your organization. Palo Alton, CA: Stanford University Press.


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