Mind the Gap 

It’s amazing how much education has changed given that people generally are immune to change (Kegan & Lahey, 2009).

Remember when we used to use technology in the ways we would use printed material and paper? The internet was a large library, websites were like virtual books or book collections, and students and teachers created websites which summarised or synthesised information, much like they might use a notebook.

Then came interactivity. Connected, we could learn from people who were not collocated with us in the same space. We didn’t have to do it in real time.

All of a sudden, we did not use the new technology the ways we had used lo- or no tech in times before.

Then just as suddenly, we had mashups and uses for tech that we hadn’t dreamt of in 1996.

We had a shift in the ways we had to think of learning. Learning was no longer about “Look at all the cool things I can do with technology” but instead we found tools that changed our focus from content we could Google to conceptual understandings, competencies and dispositions we had to revision. We had to think about the survival skills in a new era, unlearn the old ways, and learn new ones.

We are at the foreground of tremendous change in education. We’ve left behind those times when a teacher was a lecturer who knew his content so well he could ‘wing it’ in a long-winded lecture on Monday morning and get away with it.

In this century, we are facilitators of learning for creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration (P21). The survival skills our students need include innovators’ mindsets (Couros, 2015), adaptability and agility, initiative and entrepreneurship (Wagner), mindsets of growth (Dweck, 2009).

We are defined by our response

“We are not defined by our problems—we are defined by how we address them,” insists Dr. Anthony Muhammad.

But getting to the part where we address our problems, how we act upon solutions, is a challenge. “There is a big gulf between insight and the ability to act upon it,” suggest Kegan and Lahey (2009, loc. 107).

Often the change that schools want to enact is very different from the ways educators have known and become experts in for most of a career, and the immunity to change really is that “inability to close the gap between what we genuinely, even passionately want and what we are actually able to do” (Kegan and Lahey, 2009, loc. 165).

The gap between what we want and what we are able to do at the moment is one of the reasons change is slow in education. Kegan and Lahey (2009, loc. 244) suggest, “Closing this gap is a central learning problem of the 21st century.”

Minding the Gap

Education has become more complex because the world is saturated with complexity, and we can no longer rely on technical solutions to our problems in education. Futurist Gerd Leonhard suggests that we need to turn to the human sciences to uncover solutions.

Suggestion 1 Extend our concept of development to the adults in charge of leading learning.

Kegan and Lahey (2009, Loc 425) suggest that adulthood has three systems for meaning making: the socialised mind, the self-authoring mind, and the self-transforming mind.

The socialised mind is the mind, which aligns itself to significant environmental influences–social customs, what’s been done in the past. The socialised mind wants to ride along with the rest of the bus. The socialised mind is a good passenger on someone else’s bus.

The self-authoring mind wants to drive. The world of work according to the authors has begun to demand this type of mind. Someone who will explore new concepts and new ways of iteration of concepts. Someone, for instance, who might ask, what do we do when the trains are fast but the infrastructure for the railway system is outdated, rendering slow trains?

The self-authoring mind is resourceful in finding solutions.

There’s a third mind the authors describe, the self-transforming mind. This mind is the one who not only asks the question about slow trains but also asks questions whether trains and their railway systems are the optimal solution, and whether the solutions of the past and the ways they were created are most suitable for the problem. The self-transforming mind not only asks about the solutions, but asks about the mind itself, whether the infrastructure of his or her mind hold the necessary processes to create solutions.

The socialised mind asks to be driven. The self-authoring mind wants to drive. The self-transforming mind asks if the act of driving itself is the right thing to do, and questions the mind that came up with that solution. Kegan and Lahey describe the self-transforming mind as one that is “able to step outside of its own ideology or framework, observe the framework’s limitations or defects, and re-author a more comprehensive view, which it will hold with sufficient tentativeness that its limitations can be discovered as well” (Loc 596).

In the classroom, a self-transforming teacher finds best practice, and then gathers data about the design of the learning. And when she finds that the design is flawed, she redesigns. She doesn’t cling to the way a lesson has been taught simply because it worked in the past; instead, she knows her students and becomes the teacher each one of them needs her to be in order to learn.

Suggestion 2 Increase capacity in relationship building and the soft skills.

These days we can all learn to code; we can learn a new language in weeks; we can fill the boxes in a unit planner.

Technical knowledge is valuable. I would hope my doctor or the pilot in the next plane I take to Vienna would have technical knowledge to do the things they need to do to keep people safe.

With change being exponential in our lives, we need to be both adaptable and agile, and these competencies do not only require technical responses but they insist on adaptive responses.

Education is no different. We do need technical knowledge to access information, write a report, use email and school management platforms. But with the demands on our students to become self-directed responders to a changing world, we also need to use deep knowledge of the human sciences to be effective guides for the competencies our students need.

Long gone are the days when a lesson on listening consists of the loud pronouncement, “Listen up!” Listening is a skill in collaboration, which cannot be delegated to a statement. Just as we cannot teach concepts by saying “I want you to understand…,” so we cannot leave the learning of skills to pronouncements of what to do, what to think, what to understand.

We need to model the approaches to learning skills. Do we know the iterative nature of research? Do we understand the ambiguity of independent inquiry? And simply, do we engage in interdisciplinary thinking, make this thinking visible, and demonstrate it at mastery as we expect our students to do?

And how do we model collaboration? Emotional intelligence? Cultural sensitivity? Do our students learn these competencies by observation of what we do?

Suggestion 3 Reflect our future in the present.

As we demand of our students, so must we strive to learn. If we want engaged learners, we must engage in our transformative work with the same passion we ask of them to complete their projects.

As we ask our students to become resilient, we also must show our own resilience in the ways we self-author changing pedagogy to reflect the needs of the future we ask our students to become.

Minding the gap is a human endeavour, and an adaptive one. We can close the gap by knowing our intentions, and choosing congruent behaviours to make it happen.


Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (Leadership for the Common Good) [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

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