On Letting Go

It’s been a minute since I last took centre stage in a classroom. Since I last requested silence, stared down a talkative student, or raised an eyebrow at the kid staring intently at their crotch, whose phone was concealed from sight but whose eyes always gave them away.

It’s been a minute since I last demanded control. If not of my young people, then at least of the process. After all, the rigor of the secondary school calendar demanded it; it was our job as teachers to guide our young people through a process of learning, punctuated by various forms of assessment, within a timeline that demanded urgency. And the expectation was that each young person would emerge from that process with grades that enabled them to pass NCEA, boosting my ego and bolstering our NCEA pass rates. 

It’s worth noting that in the world of teaching, control of your classroom is often synonymous with creating a positive learning environment. Executing a well-planned lesson is a unique thrill, and yet, negotiating this successful manoeuvre is very much predicated on securing and maintaining control of the behaviour of young people. Indeed, the very idea of losing control conjures up images of students climbing up walls, disrupting others, and throwing your lesson into chaos (never a good way to end Period 5 on a Friday!) 

So it’s fair to say that for me, there used to be a lot riding on maintaining control. And as it turns out, it’s a tough habit to break. 

My new work in the space of social innovation has required unlearning a lot of what I have spent the last few years perfecting. In fact, it has demanded I relinquish the idea of control completely. While my instincts still lead me to want to control a process, or pre-determine an outcome, I’ve had to instead channel that desire into controlling the conditions for innovation. 

At Curative, when we first begin to work alongside a community, we often ask everyone to commit to a number of mindsets, including playing to think, learning by doing, and perhaps most painfully for me, being in the grey. While these mindsets demand we let go of the need to control the outcome of our process, it also asks us to quite intentionally hold the conditions. These conditions include embedding the values of whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, and ako, making sure everyone feels connected, nurtured, and enabled to participate and learn from one another. 

In many ways, these are the same values that I held as a classroom teacher, they were just expressed in a slightly different way. While my process as a teacher required control of every step of the journey, the world of social innovation necessitates a willingness to sit in the murkiness of the grey. And while that space can feel deeply uncomfortable at times, effectively controlling the conditions can enable us to navigate that messiness, and emerge with ideas and solutions that feel genuinely fresh and innovative. 

With so much uncertainty in the air, it’s natural that we seek to control what we can. But by being intentional about what we’re trying to control, and why, we can create space for communities, voices, and ideas other than our own. 

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