I love this quote. As an educator, I have always tried to demonstrate and emphasize the importance of life-long learning. I feel life-long learning and improvement go hand in hand with each other. Problems of practice will often lead us to research/learn about new things. The challenging part is to then take action from what we have learned.
I recently listened to a podcast talking about the Threshold of Collective Behavior and how people have various thresholds before implementing a change. The example provided in the podcast is all about free throw shooting in basketball and how it is actually more accurate to shoot underhanded at the free-throw line, but most don’t because of the social pressure of looking like a sissy by shooting that way. (You can listen to the podcast here: http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/03-the-big-man-cant-shoot (Links to an external site.)) I think about this because I feel in education we often know what we should be trying but are not actively pursuing it because of the time it would take, the opinions of others, etc. Unfortunately, those willing to try new things to improve are often labeled as “risk takers” or “brown nosers” and this often deters them from continuing the quality work they are doing.
However, there is a danger in following the crowd. Much like Wilt Chamberlain experienced when he gave up shooting underhanded free throws, those that follow the siren song of the social group often miss out on the opportunity to excel and succeed to their utmost potential. Was he still a very talented basketball player? Yes. However, he was never able to say he played to the best of his abilities because he was too concerned with the opinions of others if he deviated from the “norm”.
Wilt Chamberlain succumbed to the social pressures because his threshold of collective behavior dominated his thoughts about free throws. In the world of education, we see the consequences of the threshold model in various ways. When teachers continue to teach things in the same way year after year because it is the way it has always been taught, they are demonstrating a consequence. As building leaders, implementing change is often hindered because of the varying thresholds. Also, those who are willing to try a different way may often face scorn or judgment from their colleagues because they are going against the “norm.” This social pressure can often discourage people from trying something they know may be better.
As leaders we need to be aware of the thresholds of those we work with so we can better maximize their potentials. We also need to serve as positive cheerleaders so we can keep those willing to try something new from succumbing to the social pressures of others. If we can make continuous improvement the new status quo, the risk takers won’t be as afraid to continue down the less traveled path. Eventually, the threshold of collective behavior could turn toward our advantage and I am positive we would see phenomenal things.