A Culture of Shame

Shame is very effective for society or organizational control, but it destroys the potential for creativity.

Spending time in schools, I began to more deeply appreciate how shame permeates the entire culture of traditional education.

Failure meant shame and rejection. Failure was to be avoided at all cost. Students knew this. It was the fear of failure that created obedience.

But in this agile learning paradigm, you have to fail. Failure is how we learn. For each time we fail, previously unrecognized false assumptions are illuminated. We Know the Problem better.

We try again, this time emboldened with deeper understanding. We may not know what is true, but we now know what is not true. We are incrementally smarter with each progressive cycle. Do those cycles fast and we learn fast.

The faster we understand the problem, the faster we are able to design solutions.

But if failure leads to shame, we will not experiment. And for teachers, the fear of being shamed was also hard to break. Jami understood this.

When there is failure in a classroom, everything can break down and the entire class can quickly dissolve into chaos. Pounded into teachers from day one is the importance of classroom management. That means order. The worst fear of a teacher is for their principal to walk into their classroom at that moment when everything is spinning out of control.

So it is extremely difficult to ask a teacher to experiment with new ways of learning with their students when it carries real risks of lessons that might not work.

They will only do it if they truly trust their leadership. Trust that their leadership will not shame, but will, instead, allow them to reflect on the learning from the failure to help shape the next experiment.

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