Resistance to the Not-Yetness: On Exactness & Vulnerability

school girls

When I first started as a curriculum designer almost 20 years ago, I worked for a team of engineers. We were not necessarily designing engineering curriculum, but two of the three siblings owners of the company were former engineers. We created business and technical education curriculum for middle and high schools around the United States.

I was part of a team of young curriculum designers being led by one of the engineers. She was amazing. She mapped out our product development schedule for a year at a time, all of our work planned with a level of precision that still amazes me. Everyone on the team was working on their parts that came together at the right time to meet deadlines and deliver. At first, I was given existing lessons to update with new software. AutoCAD. CNC Milling. Microsoft Word. After I understood the basics, I was able to start creating new curriculum. I remember my absolute joy when I was able to join the team already working on family and consumer science lessons (we called this home economics when I was in school). They gave me a plastic baby simulator and let me work on writing lessons with another curriculum designer. I had to figure out how to make the baby cry (or not cry) and write instructions to quickly turn the thing off if it wouldn’t stop. I was hooked. I could not believe I was getting paid to have this much fun.

This curriculum was used by students working in pairs at stations who rotated to another station after two weeks on a topic. It was a great way to expose students to a lot of different topics. At each station, the students watched videos and multimedia presentations and then answered quiz questions on the computer. They used a manual to complete hands-on activities off the computer, but then were prompted by a manual to answer questions back on the computer. The whole system was just so exact. Everything had to line up just right where students were at that moment – manual or multimedia or questions.  

Our instructions had to be clear. We wrote using the Microsoft Manual of Style and reread each other’s lessons over and over, testing instructions to clear up any confusion. They let me try writing quiz questions. It didn’t necessarily come naturally! At the time, I struggled to see the rationale behind rewriting quiz questions and distractors over and over until I got them right. And yet. I was becoming good at it.

Later I was able to design new curriculum for structural engineering, CO2 race cars, lots of business and computer applications topics, and then some health career topics. This experience was amazing, worth so much to my career over the years. Even after all of the years, I still understand at some cellular level how important it is that everything be JUST RIGHT, that it come together in harmony.

Sometimes this means I can sit down and write how-to instructions or exam questions without much effort. Sometimes it means that I can quickly put myself in the head of my learner to review and test someone else’s lessons. And sometimes it means that I really struggle to back off and just let the work go without one more review.  

This summer I’m taking a course as part of my master’s program where I am expected to blog regularly. I knew it would be a challenge for me. Part of learning means taking risks and not always being precise. I get that. I teach that; I encourage that in the faculty I work with at my day job. But wow, I am really struggling to lean into that risk-taking and sharing my thoughts when they are not fully formed, researched and edited.

Not-Yetness

Reading some of Amy Collier’s posts about the concept of Not-yetness has really been stretching me over the past week. Amy talks about the concept of not-yetness as part of the learning process

“In our context, emergence is allowing new ideas, new methodologies, new findings, new ways of learning, new ways of doing, and new synergies to emerge and to have those things continue to feed back into more emergence. Emergence is a good thing. For us, not-yetness is the space that allows for emergence. Not-yetness is not satisfying every condition, not fully understanding something, not check-listing everything, not tidying everything, not trying to solve every problem…but creating space for emergence to take us to new and unpredictable places, to help us better understand the problems we are trying to solve.”

http://redpincushion.us/blog/teaching-and-learning/not-yetness/

She shares a series of posts about what this looks like in the educational settings here and a critical lens here. It’s worth reading if you’re not familiar with the concept.

My resistance

What I’m really struck by is my own resistance to not-yetness that’s clearly showing up in my blogging practice (or non-practice). I’ve researched and drafted several posts over the last few weeks but just cannot commit. I’m not posting.

Is it my love for exactness and high-quality results that are keeping me from producing? Yes, that’s definitely part of it.

But if I’m going to be completely honest here, I think it may also be an issue with vulnerability. Standing behind that exactness keeps me protected from risk. I can trust it. When I give you a clean and crisp lesson or multimedia, I can stand behind it, almost safe. My work is high-quality (okay, not ALL of the time, but certainly most or a lot of the time). The risk is low.

Whew. I’ve figured out why I’m holding back.

But what do I DO with this now that I see the issue? Any advice?

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