All I know is I don't know anything!

The director's corner: Marc-André Girard speaks today of the danger of not considering professional development in education as an integral part of the career of a teacher or a director. “I know what I know and I know a lot. But is it enough? I have often said it: in education, the most dangerous thing is to believe that you know everything about your profession. "

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I know what I know and I know a lot. But is it enough? For many, regardless of their field of professional activity, that is enough. Indeed, part of what defines a professional is to know more than the average person about this field of activity. However, for others, this is insufficient, because what they know above all is that they do not know everything! In fact, the more we know, the more we realize that we know very little! In short, the extent of our knowledge helps us to become aware of our own ignorance. Phew! 

I have often said it: in education, the most dangerous thing is to believe that you know everything about your profession. Let us recall it bluntly: initial training initiated the teacher to the profession. It is continuing education that will allow him to flourish during his 35-year career with students, through various social changes. 

What about what I don't know yet? I take the time and the energy to discover it, one bite at a time, at a pace that varies from person to person, which is dictated not only by the need to acquire knowledge (learn to know), but above all for it. reinvest in practice (learn to act). Thus, as much as possible, I strive to promote my school by allowing others to benefit from it. The others are my colleagues and the partners in the education of young people entrusted to my care: the school team, the parents, the community, etc. 

When it comes to “whenever possible”, it must be understood that one can only act on one's own willingness to learn and develop professionally. Taking a few steady steps in this direction is a great start. However, to hope to be able to shine on your environment and initiate a potential domino effect, there are several other things to take into consideration. Here are a few :

  1. Organizational culture: Are there sharing mechanisms between colleagues? Are colleagues open to this kind of sharing? 
  2. Opening of the management: there are managers who fear those who shine and who try to limit the opportunities for professional development in this direction. Fortunately, the opposite is also true, others believe that a teacher who shines allows other teachers to do the same and thus ensure the influence of the school and its community, for the benefit of the students;
  3. Trust : to allow the dissemination of knowledge and practices, there is necessarily a certain level of friction of professional autonomy. Trust allows these areas of autonomy to tie up for a time and thus facilitate collaboration free from friction, rivalry or misplaced pride. 
  4. Management leadership: there is no recipe for perfect leadership because the context plays a major role, as do the personal traits of the leader.

The virtuous circle of continuing education

We all feel that we are competent in our respective fields. Come to think of it, feeling competent is insidious. Isn't it dangerous to claim to have a perfect (or almost) mastery of your profession? Shouldn't we all adopt a lifelong learner posture? However, as we learn more and share our experiences, we all realize that in fact we know very little about our own profession. Even when confronted with new knowledge, we sometimes wonder: "how come I didn't know this?" ". "How could I have intervened in such a way before? In a sense, we could speak of a feeling of healthy incompetence when we sometimes wonder how we managed to carry out our activities in a school setting without having had all this prior knowledge ... This is reminiscent, in a sense, of the Dunning-Kruger effect (of which I will have opportunity to speak again in a future article).

Fortunately, by taking the time to continue training, we tend to reduce this unpleasant feeling and start feeling competent again. This is how this virtuous circle begins, which shows us that we all have something to learn and that there is always room for improvement in our professional practice. What matters is to reinvest this learning as soon as possible. 

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(c) Marc-André Girard, 2020

Thus, the main professional challenge that arises is to try to reduce the gap that opens between the extent of what we know and the amount of knowledge related to our field of expertise. If it is impossible to know everything and we must admit that there will always be an element of professional ignorance, the fact remains that it is our responsibility to take the necessary measures to reduce the said breach. . 

Contrary to what is often conveyed in education, what matters is not what we have in terms of didactic material (textbooks, notebooks, etc.) or technology (computer, Internet, etc.). It is also not the socioeconomic environment in which our school is located. What matters is what we know and, above all, what we know how to do with what we have. 

In fact, let me clarify: what matters is not what we know, but what we do not know. This forces us to be curious and to always want to know more in order to be able to do better what we already do well (to quote my colleague Jacques Cool). What we do know is a drop; what we don't know is an ocean. In this sense, Socrates was right: "All I know is that I know nothing"!

“All I know is I don't know anything. "


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About the Author

Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard holds a bachelor's degree in social studies education (1999), a master's degree in history education (2003), a master's degree in education management (2013) and a doctorate in education (2022). He specializes in school-based change management and educational leadership. He is also interested in the 21st century competencies to be developed in education. He is a principal in a public high school and gives conferences on educational leadership, pedagogical approaches, change in schools and the professionalization of teaching. He has participated in educational expeditions in France, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Morocco. In September 2014, he published the book "Le changement en milieu scolaire québécois" with Éditions Reynald Goulet and, in 2019, he published a trilogy on the 21st century school with the same publisher. He is a frequent contributor to L'École branchée on educational issues. He is very involved in everything that surrounds the professional development of teachers and principals as well as the integration of ICT in education. In March 2016, he received a CHAPO award from AQUOPS for his overall involvement. He is a recipient of the Régent-Fortin 2022 scholarship awarded by ADERAE for the significant contribution of his doctoral studies to the development of practice and knowledge in educational administration.

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