Why We Want our Students to Revel in Uncertainty

Principals Pen Friday, 12 Feb 2021

Much has been written over the past 12 months about the uncertainty that has been brought about by the pandemic, as if uncertainty is a bad thing.

But what if learning to live with uncertainty is a special ingredient in the secret sauce of success? What if those of us who cling to certainty are being taught a healthy life lesson by the pandemic? What if learning to revel in the adventure of uncertainty better equips us for life?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of convincing ourselves that we can control and manage our circumstances and that we are able to manipulate and accurately map out our future. It’s equally easy to pass this delusion onto our children. In doing so, however, we are handicapping our children by not preparing them for the reality of life. I’m not talking about the impending reality of adult life – I mean the reality of life, today, for every child at their current age. And what is this reality? It’s that the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. We can’t control our circumstances or other people – we can only control how we respond to our circumstances and other people.

When we let our children believe they are in control of anything beyond their own thoughts, words and actions, a huge dose of ego-deflating and confidence-crushing truth and anxiety can hit when they learn that this level of control is not within their grasp.

Psychologist Lois Holzman’s latest book, The Overweight Brain: How Our Obsession with Knowing Keeps Us from Getting Smart Enough to Make a Better World, suggests society has been conditioned to worship such things as certainty, and that our obsession with knowledge has stifled our capacity to live an abundant and joy-filled life. She writes that we should not just accept uncertainty, but embrace it, and links the ability to embrace uncertainty with mental and emotional wellness. She asserts that embracing ‘unknowability’ helps us to be more – not less – prepared to engage actively in life.

Put simply, happiness exists when we let go of the future we’ve planned for ourselves and when we instead make space for and embrace the uncertain reality of life. Sadness, fear, anxiety and loss are likely to eventually be experienced otherwise. Read more about how embracing ‘unknowability’ is a form of self-care, through Lois’ recent blog post.

The ability to not just accept, but embrace, uncertainty is one of the characteristics we seek to foster in every Living Faith student. In our context, this is played out through one of our contemporary competencies: adaptability.

Whilst there is much routine and predictability in the school environment, we unapologetically allow students to experience age-appropriate levels of uncertainty. It is through these experiences, and the experiences of uncertainty they encounter at home and in other environments, that their capacity to masterfully respond to greater uncertainty in later years, is developed. Our students have been born into a time when change and uncertainty is greater than at any other time in history, and so it’s clear that, for our students to thrive in their world, they will need to not just accept, but to revel in the adventure of uncertainty.

Early this year Professor Stephen Heppell Tweeted:

This school-age COVID generation, who’ve absorbed lockdowns, school closures and tragedy, mirror the evacuated generation from 1939. Their experiences created a post-war generation of inventors, musicians, designers and politicians who’d look beyond obvious to create extraordinary.

One thing I do know for certain is this: today’s generation of children is being shaped and equipped for a spectacular era. My forecast for today’s students is that they will surprise and inspire us with the tenacity, grit, creativity, independence and interdependence that is being deeply nurtured in them through the uncertainty of these pandemic times.

- Jane Mueller, Principal