Thomas Edison once said, “Hell, there are no rules here - we're trying to accomplish something.” I know as an educator, I have shared Edison’s thoughts and feelings about rules. This is probably due to the connotation the term rules has acquired over the years in schools. To us teachers, “rules” is a kind term for mandate. The more rules in place, the less power, voice, and identity we have.
These rules can put constraints on systems, leading individuals on a search for a calculated solution. But, we all know there is nothing calculated or fixed about teaching and learning. It is messy and complex, meaning we can't "plan, do, check, and adjust" or "plan, do, study, and act." We have have to notice patterns, understand their implications at all scales of the system, and begin setting conditions to reach desirable patterns, such as empathy, community, trust, openness, engagement, etc.
Some "rules" can collide with cultural, social, and emotional beliefs and push individuals out of systems, while others support safe spaces for people to take risks and be themselves.
Thomas Edison may have been able to recognize the way normalized rules hinder us from thinking outside of the box or being ourselves, but he may have missed the Simple Rules (Patterson, Holladay, Eoyang, 2013) that bind us together, open inclusive spaces, and promote curiosity and inquiry.
I wonder if Edison noticed the Simple Rules that opened doors for discovery, exploration, and invention in his own life? Without a set of Simple Rules, we struggle to notice the similarities and differences that assist with bringing about the patterns we want to see in our many worlds.
Our Simple Rules
Simple Rules can assist in setting conditions in an unpredictable world, like a classroom. When setting conditions in my many worlds, I try to follow a few Simple Rules. The hope is that an open and inclusive space emerges, one that welcomes EVERY one.
Recognize, build on, and connect with the identities and assets of self and others.
Teach and learn in
Notice, understand, and influence patterns in our local and global communities.
Be curious and explore inquiries.
Embrace uncertainties and act with courage.
Simple Rules are lived out in our social worlds as we engage and negotiate our many identities. They frame the conditions we set and are a reminder that there is no fixed, or calculated plan, to reach desirable patterns. Rather, we have to notice patterns, understand their implications, and influence these patterns, in order to be adaptive and responsive to the patterns emerging around us.
Patterson, L., Holladay, R., & Eoyang, G. (2013). Radical rules for school: Adaptive action for complex change. Circle Pines, MN: Human Systems Dynamics Institute.