Early in my teaching career I thought about moving into administration. I had been teaching for a few years and believed that I had achieved mastery and, by becoming a school leader, I would be able to help my colleagues achieve mastery too.
Unfortunately, I had not achieved mastery.
What I was feeling was the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This is a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a particular area overestimate their competence and mistakenly believe they are more skilled or knowledgeable than they actually are. Those who are highly skilled or knowledgeable, conversely, tend to underestimate their competence.
This graph of the Dunning-Kruger Effect shows the sharp increase in perceived competence at the beginning of the journey towards mastery. This peak is followed by a rapid and sharp decline as the person realizes they are not as skilled or knowledgeable as they thought. The slope is often referred to as the “valley of despair”. However, with further experience and learning, the person may eventually achieve greater competence and confidence, leading to a gradual increase in their perceived abilities.
Thankfully I reconsidered my plan to move into administration and did not spend the rest of my career confidently preaching incomplete understandings to my colleagues.
I’m not sure what caused me to change my career plans. I do recall that around this time there was a subtle shift in my relationship with my colleagues. Instead of talking at them, I started to listen.
And while listening, I learned that much of what I thought I knew was mostly smoke and mirrors. For the next 15 years, as I moved down through the Dunning-Kruger valley of despair, I listened, I observed, and I read. Slowly but surely I filled the gaping holes in my teaching practice.
I once dreamed of making a positive impact in education through a change in career paths. Instead, I decided to change my habits. Today, in collaboration with my colleagues, I work towards making an impact through building positive relationships, promoting best practices, inviting input, and by continuing to listen.
The career journey for every teacher, administrator, and member of support staff is unique. And although we may be on different paths, each of us has something valuable to contribute. It’s important that we bring these perspectives and experiences together in a positive and meaningful way because, regardless of our role, we all have a shared responsibility for student success.