Sunday, 13 May 2012

Charting an Uncertain Future: Dealing With Ambiguity

Friday was our district's planning day. Traditionally schools use the day to review plans, assess data, determine progress made towards goals and to reformulate or adjust objectives in  an effort to make a positive impact on the future. This has been a very different year. In some schools planning day was one of the first  times entire staffs could meet and work together in unambiguous and meaningful ways. Reviewing a year punctuated by job action, meant that some of the traditional benchmarks were hard to measure or assess. The future offers few certainties beyond the inevitable promise that  the current situation will be resolved - eventually. The lack of familiar patterns and routines, likely left many educators dealing with high levels of  anxiety and ambiguity.

Ambiguity is defined as uncertainty or inexactness of meaning, often emerging from a failure to choose between alternative points of view.  Given the the current distance between the bargaining positions of the BCTF and BCPSEA, it  cannot be a surprise that high measures of uncertainty hung over this year's efforts.  Labor issues aside, an examination of the new BC Ed Plan indicates that coping with ambiguity is considered a valued 21st century learning skill. After all, the preface to the plan states "many of the opportunities and jobs we’re preparing our students for don’t even exist today". We are definitely preparing students for an uncertain future.

So if we know what we are facing, a bigger question is how do we do it? Microsoft Corporation, has embraced dealing with ambiguity as one of its key learning competencies for educators. Citing the ability to deal with uncertainty as a strategic skill, Microsoft suggests educators must strive to effectively cope with change; shift gears comfortably; make decisions and act without having the total picture; and comfortably handle risk and uncertainty as a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, lead to professional success. Their learning competencies web site offers a wide variety of tools and suggestions to assist educators in identifying and dealing with ambiguity,. The site includes a matrix for self assessing one's ability to deal with ambiguity, professional readings and a variety of suggestions to help turn a quality that frequently induces anxiety and indecision into a force for improving personal and educational efficacy. 

In the past ambiguity was seen as something to be avoided. Certainty was required if one was to enjoy a level of professional success. Today all that seems certain is that the pace of change is increasing rapidly, and no one should count on present circumstances staying the same for long.  An ability to deal with change and a degree of comfort with ambiguity are now skills we all must work at mastering.

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