I’ve been thinking a lot lately about unconscious incompetence. It’s nothing new and there’s lots out there that you can read about consciousness and competence [Learning a New Skill is Easier Said Than Done, Consciousness & Competence, & The Four Stages of Learning among many others]. There are a variety of ways that these have been interpreted (see articles). I understand that learning is a process and we all need time and support to achieve unconscious competence.
But I have questions.
Should we be striving for becoming unconsciously competent? If you’re unconsciously competent, are you still learning? Are there skills/areas that you can never become truly competent in without continual learning and growth? Is the education sector one of those? Many US states mandate continuing education credits for educators. That could imply that the journey to competency is never ending.
For some reason it seems that unconscious incompetence is a plague in adulthood. It’s pretty common among children too but we can easily forgive them.
An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge. “We Are All Confident Idiots“
Truth time: I have a difficult time dealing with unconscious incompetence in adults. So I have to remember how important ruthless compassion is (thanks Danielle LaPorte!). And I’m sure there are times when I am unconsciously incompetent and I want other people to have compassion for me. But it’s just so dang difficult. Especially when you’re consciously incompetent or consciously competent and people who are less competent think they are experts. How can I support you if you can’t recognize that you need support?
How do we get out of the unconsciously incompetent black hole? And why would we? It’s pretty blissful. I’m sure there are studies out there with some hypotheses. I would love to see studies done specifically about educational technology and educators. How can I use my new found passion for instructional coaching (I’m consciously incompetent BTW) to help educators who are stuck?
While sitting on the couch with my husband last Friday I had what felt like an epiphany (and this also makes me feel quite vulnerable to put on-the-line). I entered teaching 100% incompetent. And I most definitely knew it. I came to education via an alternative route. Never in a million years did I think I would be a teacher. Pretty much my entire family was in education and I was sure that it wasn’t for me. And then Jeff and I moved to South Carolina. And I was offered a job teaching French. There weren’t many (read: any) other job prospects so I started teaching HS French in the fall of 2009. Extenuating circumstances meant that I entered the classroom in August with NO training. I had to teach the entire fall semester before I had official training through the state department. Luckily I had a great support system both at home and in the district. Last week I put two and two together…I wonder if my route to education (which was incredibly atypical) is the reason that I am able to be consciously incompetent. And if this is the case, what can be implemented to help all educators have some level of conscious incompetence? We love to talk about growth mindset. How are competency, consciousness and growth/fixed mindset intertwined? What can I do to support these teachers, to learn and grow with them instead of feeling the push back from ‘experts’? If anyone has the answer, I’d love to hear it.
Disclaimer: I know many educators who are not unconsciously incompetent. But I’d really love to find a way to help those who are.
Seriously: Read this article if you haven’t: We Are All Confident Idiots. Well-written and research-based.