Loosey Goosey or Righty Tighty?

Different strokes for different folks by Library of Congress is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

For a time during my career in education I was a Dean of Faculty. I approached my position more as a coach and facilitator for the teachers than an authority figure. I suppose that I viewed the members of the faculty as extraordinary souls who did far more than simply meet the requirements of a job. I realized their dedication and intense desire to reach their students. I witnessed their hard work along with their frustrations. I saw their tears and their triumphs. 

Just as with the many students I had once taught, the teachers were unique individuals with differing needs. Some demanded tight rules and regulations for themselves and their students. They wanted a clear outline of how things should be, a map for managing and inspiring their students. Others were loose and more apt to fly by the seat of their pants when it came to their teaching styles. Balancing the many personalities and needs of my charges was quite often like walking on a high wire between skyscrapers. 

As a cub teacher I had been trained to complete lesson plans and present them to my principal each Monday morning. I had to follow a fairly easy rubric that allowed me to include an outline of what I hoped to accomplish without exact details. I found this process to be quite strategic in keeping my progression through the required topics for my subject area on track for completion by the end of the school year. It helped me to prepare materials and have a feel for where I was going and where I had been. It was loose enough to allow me to be flexible. All in all it worked for me.

When I asked my teachers to follow the lesson planning design that had served me so well I soon found that what had been life saving for me, was a pain for some. At the extremes were the teachers who literally turned in entire scripts for each day’s lesson and those who simply noted the topics they planned to cover without any further explanations. When I observed these widely varying educators I found that whether tight or loose in their methodologies, they tended to be excellent teachers. So I quietly allowed each of them to do their own things as long as I had evidence that they knew what they were doing. Therein came the rub.

Teachers’ lounges are chatty places and it did not take long for discussions of lesson planning to ensue. Along the way a kind of chasm developed between the “playwrights” and the “impromptu advocates.” Those heavily dedicated to rules and regulations wanted me to require those who only presented outlines to conform to a more rigorous description of their lessons. Of course such suggestions were directed at having a fairer system in which everyone was doing the same amount of work. 

I’ve found the division between those who want to go heavy on requirements versus those who want to be left to their own resources is true in most situations. I saw it in my students, some of whom wanted numbered step by step rubrics for everything, including how to behave ,versus those who quickly understood the ideas and wanted to be free to run with the information. I learned early on that we humans lie along a continuum of needs and desires. Some want a more authoritarian system for living and others balk at too many restrictions. 

I know for certain that it is never a good idea to assume that one size fits all. Each of us is unique. Some need that script to feel comfortable while others must be free to fly. I suppose that is why governments often take the road down the middle rather than being too conservative or too liberal. When working with such varied kinds of people finding the right ways of meeting each need can be daunting. 

I see the same thing happening all over the world. Some people want a tighter way of living. They want rules, rules and more rules. Others prefer a freer atmosphere that allows people to be themselves. Right now the culture wars are looming across the globe and the desire for stricter guidelines is raging in place after place. 

Psychologists have learned that we humans are mostly like Goldilocks. We need rules, but not too many. Our laws work best when they are just right, when they allow those who are tight to live peacefully with those who are loose. Of course we can’t get along without any kind of requirements, but we have to be careful that they are not so restrictive that they become a burden rather than a help. 

As the Dean of Faculty I knew my teachers well. The lesson planning that I asked them to do kept both me and them informed. I did not need tiny descriptions but I appreciated the dedication of those who felt the need to so carefully create the details of each lesson. I understood that we each do things differently and that is not a bad thing. It’s simply a human thing. The truth is that that I found mostly good things with each style and a few bad tendencies as well. Perhaps if we operated a bit more in our society to accommodate those along the continuum of tightness to looseness we might actually begin to get along better. Instead we seem to have the outliers at each end demanding that everyone be like them. We all know that such an idea is ludicrous. Be tight or loose if you will, but make rules that allow each the freedom to live and let live.


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