There is NO Substitute for Brains

New Rule:  NO Substitute for Brains

“There is no substitute for brains.”  Marney Wamsley

As an assistant principal, Marney was my third principal.  My first principal was an ex-Marine Corp colonel. I learned courage, political savvy, and management skills. My second principal was an ex-wrestler from Iowa.  (I, too, was an ex-wrestler from Iowa).  I learned the courage to confront difficult issues, leading with relationships, and how to deal with chemical dependency issues.

Marney, an ex-nun, used to say the quote above when dumb (less than effective decisions) were made.  She didn’t say it often, but it was always well placed and accurate.  I learned leading through relationships, instructional leadership (getting into classrooms to see learning, and to withhold judgment until I understood so I could have a productive conversation.

Marney also said, “if we worried about HOW we teach, as much as WHAT we teach, we would all be better off.”  I am grateful for my opportunity to work with Marney because she taught alternatives to use only the power to manage.  She taught me to think, before reacting, she taught me the courage to confront learning issues, rather than making snap judgments about teachers and students.  She taught me many things, humanity and using your knowledge for good purposes were a couple of the most important attributes.

In the age of test scores, as the major assessment of teaching, school ratings, and state rankings, what else could we use to assess how we are producing capable young people who will contribute positively to the world?  Most content is easily accessible via technology.  I ask, ‘how do you know it is true?’  I want people, and especially those younger, to be able to think, not just pass on pooled ignorance or blind assumptions.

Ralph Nader said in an interview when asked why consumer protection was such an important issue for him, that his father would ask him a question when he came home from school. “Were you taught to think or believe today?”  He said that led him to question some of the marketing and research that was being communicated by companies to sell their products. I am not advocating questioning our values of being a good person and citizen.

Only believing what we hear or see leads us to confirmation bias, attribution error, and other mistakes that can be destructive.  More on that in future rules and posts.

In one school where I was principal, I hung a T-shirt on a wall in my office. Pictured on the shirt was a brain with the caption, ‘there is no app for this.’  The T-shirt reminded me that we can have all the knowledge in the world AND we still have to make ethical decisions of where and when to use that information for the good.

The good news is that the brain can learn.  Neuroplasticity research has confirmed that we can learn and adapt.  Most of what I have read and learned is there is about a 50-50 balance between nature and nurture. The more good news is that whatever we were born with can be mediated by good modeling and teaching.  This is where parents and educators have tremendous influence in developing minds. The not so good news is the modeling and teaching can be destructive to surviving and thriving.

In addition, the process of dialogue, thinking together, getting others’ perspectives helps us make better decisions.  I am grateful for the learning I have received from many people and look forward to continuing my learning quest to be a better professional educator and person.

Adam Grant, in his book, Give and Take has identified research that “givers”, those who share information, tend to be more effective.  “Takers” take but don’t give. “Matchers” want reciprocity, only giving when they get.  Givers who share without assuming they will get something return and end up getting more.  So, Give and Share, it will be worth it. LET THOSE BRAINS DEVELOP.

“Learning is a Consequence of Thinking.”

David Perkins


Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!