“Troubling our practice…”

As an early years student, I remember one professor in particular stating that in order to be effective educators, we need to always “trouble” our practice. This means to ask the hard questions of ourselves and of our profession. Questioning ourselves isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be incredibly hard to do, especially if we are nervous of what the answer might be.

There are questions that inevitably sow seeds of self-doubt, such as “Did I do the right thing?” “Was I too soft/too harsh/too passive/too sure of myself/headstrong/too confrontational?” “What if I had been closer to that child when ______ happened?” “What if..”

I would argue that saying you are “too” anything, sets you up for a self-defeating cycle of second guessing and trying to be something you’re not. Instead, let’s change the question to “How could I approach this situation next time?” “Who can I ask for guidance about this?”

“What if” is a tricky phrase. It can lead to self-doubt, but it can also lead to new and exciting possibilities. I would suggest that we need to approach this realm of unknown outcomes with excitement and willingness to make mistakes.

What if?

The “WHAT IFs” of our profession are the moments where we can pause and reevaluate. To reevaluate doesn’t mean we sit and write a list of all the things we did wrong that week and determine that next week we will make less mistakes. If that’s our approach, we will end up just adding to the list, and never be satisfied with our efforts.

Instead, if we take a “what if” question, and we focus on one aspect we want to change or learn more about, and then take the steps in learning how we can make a difference, we are engaging in troubling our practice.

Troubling our practice sounds like a negative concept. “Trouble” was something in our childhoods we didn’t want to be in. “Just wait until your Dad gets home! You’ll find out how much trouble you’re in!” For those of you who had a different generation of parents… maybe you don’t remember the chills that went up the spine when those words were uttered. Regardless, it was a word which definitely had some negative or undesirable connotations.

So how to reframe this idea of “troubling”?

Imagine instead you have a calm pool of water at the edge of a river. There’s gold dust and nuggets buried in the silt at the bottom, but in order to obtain the precious metal, you need to scoop the dirt up and swirl it through your gold pan. You have to strain out the dross, or the dirt, and continue shaking the pan until all you have left are the gold nuggets. This is what we need to do to refine ourselves as educators. We have to sift through the muck in order to find the precious moments, the most important lessons. The muck and dirt and painful experiences that we try to push down and out of our memories are our best teachers, our most important lessons.

So, I challenge you, the next time something doesn’t sit right with you, the next time you face a dilemma and wonder if you made the right choice, took the correct path, said the ‘right thing’, ‘trouble your practice’. Focus on the change you can make now, the new approach you’re going to try, and follow it through. Try something new and don’t be afraid to fail. Remember there is gold hidden underneath the surface, if we have the courage to look for it.

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