Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Educator's Worst Nightmare: The Knowing-Doing Gap

I am sure this doesn't happen to anyone but me, but sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep.  Perhaps it is a thought rattling around in my head about something I should have said that I didn't, or worse yet something that I shouldn't have said that I did.  Perhaps it is one of my little girls who can't get settled to bed.  But more often than not, I find that I am thinking about the Educator's Nightmare, the Knowing-Doing Gap.

The Knowing-Doing Gap (or kdg, as I will refer to it from this point forward in this post) comes from a concept originally penned by Pfeffer and Sutton, who describe it thusly:

"the challenge of turning knowledge about how to enhance organizational performance into
actions consistent with that knowledge. Improving organizational performance depends
largely on implementing what is already known, rather than from adopting new or
previously unknown ways of doing things."

Wow.  What a concept--actually DOING what we know to be effective, to be promising practices, to be THE RIGHT THING TO DO.  But yet for some reason, we don't do it. This is what keeps me awake at night.

We say that we need to treat people equally, or equitably if we are really paying attention.  But does our education system do this?  Judging from the achievement gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal learners in British Columbia, one might infer that we don't.

We say that we need to differentiate to meet the needs of every one of our learners.  However, the very chronological nature of schools and the grouping of students by age rather than ability seems to be almost diametrically opposed to this concept.

We say that the 7 Cs are not new, that they have been around for centuries, and that we know what they are and do a pretty good job of it, but if that is the case, it seems odd that nearly every article, youtube video, blog, and tweet is crying out for us to change, to do something differently. 

We have to constantly remind ourselves to make the learnings our classrooms and our schools "student-centered". Yet isn't it odd that someone outside of the world of education would turn to us and ask us something like "If schools aren't student-centered, what are they centered on?".

We KNOW what to do.  But it is time for us to DO it.  Not just talk about it.  Not just wax poetic about theoretical models, but to actually take those models and TRY them.  To model the action research that we want our students to do.  And we need to COLLABORATE with eachother so that we can find out which strategies are the highest-yield strategies, and WHICH ARE NOT.  It's ok to say "That one didn't work", but it is NOT ok to keep that information from our well-meaning and hard working colleagues.  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results; cruelty is watching someone go through that insanity when you can help them avoid it. We need to help eachother.

The thing that keeps me awake at night is the kdg.  The thing that lets me get back to sleep is knowing that in the morning, we are going to do something about it.  We are going to close that achievement gap, strive for equity and equality, and make our classes meaningful for our learners through differentiation, and keep teaching the skills that prepare our students for any century.  We are going to do it together, as collaborators.  We will do it, even if it's just a little at a time.

So let's get on with it, and get turn what we KNOW into what we DO.  And then, please, let's get some sleep.


  1. I'm not even a teacher yet (1 1/5 years to go!) and I find that this already is keeping me up at night. We always talk about how learning should be student-centered, and exactly what you said--what is the point of education if we dont focus on our students and have our teaching revolve around them? When we collaborate we have the ability and power to make these changes happen. I hope many pre-service teachers are not only being told to think about these kinds of things, but actually thinking about HOW and WHAT they are going to do in their classrooms, schools, and careers to close the knowing-doing gap. I know I am, and I am starting to do as much collaborating and sharing with other educators as I can because I know it will only help me become the great student driven teacher I want to be.

  2. Glad to know I am not the only one who stays up with the KDG! Thanks for your comment, Katie!

  3. Given what Fullan has said about Educational Change (10-12 years for a district) what hope is there that our current structure can change to meet the needs of the 21st century learner. If we set out to change our system use todays web 2.0 learning tools then we, according to Fullan, will make it in a decade. In a decade --ALL-- web 2.0 tools we use today will not exist.

  4. You are so right, the tools may (and WILL) change, but the skills of collaboration, communication, creativity, problem detection and problem solving (just to name a few) will stand the test of time. As a result, I think that we must change the current structure using the tools (such as those of the Web 2.0 generation) that evolve within it!

    Thanks for your thoughtful post!

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