Facing the Unknown

This guest article was written by Jesse Greaves-Smith of Teachers Starting Fires. He is an experiential educator and eLearning instructional designer focused on helping teachers free their potential and light their spark.

The secret to growth as human beings is that we must boldly face the unknown. We must find one small piece of it to conquer and to make known to ourselves, and then go and face the unknown again. Each time we face the darkness and chaos willingly we come back just a little stronger, a little more capable.

Carl Jung called this process assimilating the shadow. Kazimierz Dąbrowski called it positive disintegration. On a smaller scale we, as teachers, daily seek the zone of proximal development: a place where students face just enough challenge to grow without being unchallenged nor overwhelmed.

The essence of all these theories is that we only grow with challenges; we develop by facing the unknown; and we become whole by willingly taking on difficult tasks. And here, now, before us all, is a difficult task. 

Will you take on this challenge willingly?

The core problem is that while our mission remains the same the methods we use to get there have changed overnight. With schools closed, students at home, and parents unemployed or newly working from home, our job as educators – as guides and mentors in the development of our society’s future members – is now just as important as ever.

But the methods we have been trained in and have used for decades no longer apply. In only a few days many of our favorite tools became obsolete. The glances, proximity, task assignment, group work, and nearly every other trick we’ve had in the classroom simply don’t work in video chats.

It’s like a piece of the world we knew has fallen apart.

This is where the idea of growth through challenge comes back into play. To simplify Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration, whenever we face something so jarring it shatters a piece of the world we know (disintegration) we have two choices. The first is to take the pieces, and the new knowledge that created them, and carefully reintegrate them all into a truer world view, making a stronger, more capable self (the “positive” part). The second option is to put on our PJ’s and drink wine for the rest of our lives while under the cloud of constant anxiety of our world view being shattered. I choose the first option (though I understand the second has its short-term appeal).

The challenge I see ahead of us all is learning to take the best pieces of what we did before, and the new reality of a quarantined world, and reintegrate them both into an even better world view of our role as teachers. This will require work from each educator as we look inside ourselves and examine our beliefs about our purpose, about our mission in education, and about what can be left behind as we move forward. But this will not be the busy work that grinds away at our patience and souls. This will not be filling out video call contact logs that will never be read. This will need to be the kind of work that rejuvenates your spirit, and helps you recapture a sense of purpose.

Helping teachers find their inner spark, and share that spark with students, is the mission that helped create Teachers Starting Fires (TSF) in the first place. We work to share the lessons from experiential learning and to find similarly minded educators around the world, helping everyone involved share the messages that teachers want and need to hear.

That mission is why last year we interviewed Dr. Franklin for the 2019 Teacher Empowerment Summit. Adding to the interviews of twenty other world-class educators, Dr. Franklin shared his advice on stepping back, analyzing a school, and creating intentional, functional transformation. 

Near the beginning of the interview Dr. Franklin said,

“The most dangerous phrase in the English language is ‘We’ve always done it this way’ by Grace Hopper. At schools I would ask them ‘Why?’ and they would say ‘We’ve always done it this way.”


At the time it was a common story for teachers and schools to seem stuck by an unfortunate inertia of inaction. While teachers across the country saw problems, and often even saw solutions, there was no way to break that inertia. There was no “disintegration event” to trigger a rebuilding.

That event is here now. Consider our old ways of teaching disintegrated.

We at TSF realized that now more than ever the inspiring and practical interviews of the 2019 Teacher Empowerment Summit need to be heard by and shared with teachers again. Because teachers everywhere are stuck at home, traditional PD has all but stopped, and inspiration and practical steps for success are needed by thousands, we are reopening all of the interviews in a Summit Relaunch starting this Friday.

Throughout the weekend Dr. Franklin’s entire interview, all 20+ other interviews, plus three new sessions on breathing and mindfulness, engagement skills for online classes, and on effective virtual team meetings and collaboration, will be available for 72 hours. 

Last year over 1000 educators signed up and sparked their fires. We had intended it as a one-time event but realized now is the time to open it up again, and make these valuable, practical interviews available to teachers worldwide.

The first day is filled with speakers who teach you to have vibrant control of yourself. Mindfulness, breathing, health, focus, measurable happiness, and increased purpose are what you’ll gain. The second day is focused on your (newly virtual) classroom. Gamification, adaptation, storytelling for high engagement, and play as a tool for emotional growth are what you’ll learn to weave into your daily classes. The third day connects you to your greater teaching community and sense of purpose with community building, methods of transformation, and a path to serendipity (you’ll see).

The Summit will help you identify and improve the pieces of your old world view which held the greatest value, as well as help you discover new incredible opportunities that this current moment offers. The reintegration of these into a new, truer view of your capability as a teacher and educator. Join us, face the chaos, and be better for it.

So, welcome to the unknown. See you at the Summit!

Get your FREE ticket for the Teacher Empowerment Summit now! It starts this Friday! Apr 24-28! https://bit.ly/2ytwfm7

Dr. David Franklin, CEO of The Principal’s Desk, is an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter. Dr. Franklin has presented at national and international education conferences as is available for school and district professional development sessions. He can be reached at david@theprincipalsdesk.org or at www.principalsdesk.org.

Published by David Franklin

Dr. David Franklin is an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter. Dr. Franklin has presented at national and international education conferences as is available for school and district professional development sessions.

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