A Certain Kind Of Uncertainty

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Uncertainty seems to be the only thing we can be certain of today, which is a theory put forth by French theologian, writer, and mathematician Blaise Pascal. Yet it was Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian general and military theorist, who proposed “our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating.” Whether fascinating or not, we know that despite all the changes we have already faced because of this global pandemic, more change is also likely heading our way.

Think of it like this: education is transforming in front of our eyes. Technology continues to evolve and alter the way we educate our children and conduct our business. Transparency is critical for building and keeping trust. The key to that transparency is effective communication. Whether you are in-person or online, synchronously or asynchronously, utilizing video, audio, chat, and/or another web-based platform, you have to become more adaptable as an educator.

Remember that people will not trust what they cannot understand. The more precise and explicit you can be, the better it is for your message. Different people will respond to messages differently. The use of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, GoToMeeting, and FaceTime has been accelerated since the COVID-19 pandemic began. We are uncertain about what will work over time. We do know that the technological changes that occur during this pandemic are likely to last long after COVID-19 is gone.

Education advocacy has also been impacted by technological change, especially in the last few months because of COVID-19. We still have to meet the challenge of engaging the education community. Too many think advocacy is about political rallies and protests, or giving political money and endorsements. Tactics have to shift to fit the moment – and the future. Unions have increasingly turned their “focus away from workplace matters and more and more towards buying political influence,” according to Stan Greer. This is a mistake, as few educators sign up to become loyal foot soldiers who advance extremism.

Right now, our own attention is on helping educators focus and engage with the difficult work of educating children in unfamiliar settings and conditions. Educators take their role in serving their community seriously, particularly during times of uncertainty. Our members work every day to make Tennessee a better place for students to learn and for teachers to teach. Voting in lockstep for an endorsed and bankrolled candidate takes a backseat to safety and security. Children are an educator’s priority, but they, too, must feel safe.

We naturally assume that politics is merely a clash of ideas and that the best ideas will win out. However, that is not usually true in the majority of elections or even legislative battles. Most of the time we are forced to choose between inferior choices, with the worst ideas being defeated. Often, the best ideas are not even considered. This technologically-driven approach to advocacy is one reason why we conduct frequent surveys. That allows us to build the consensus needed for informed advocacy with policymakers. We also strive to be impartial, without bias when asking questions.

Our long-term success during this pandemic will be rooted in short-term expectations. No leader and no person has ever gone through a global pandemic like this before. It is appropriate to acknowledge that we do not have all the answers. That is why being consistent with our message is critical, but it is also difficult. People are more positive and trust information when we are being open about uncertainties. What we are living through is unprecedented. As we face an unknown future, we reflect more critically about how to succeed in life and public education during changing and challenging times, through a global pandemic that came without warning. Truly we are all well beyond fascinated.

JC Bowman
Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee


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