Last Saturday, when I arrived at the gym, I noticed the studio where our class was scheduled to be held was in darkness. There was a short queue of people waiting outside the door, neatly spaced according to the current social distancing rules.
The people in the queue were quietly chatting amongst themselves. Seeing the queue and knowing that I wanted to have time to sanitise all my equipment before the class started, the ‘what’s going on here and how can we get it sorted’ part of my brain kicked in.
I made a beeline for the people at the front of the queue and asked if anyone had gone to get the key to unlock the studio. They looked at each other and you could see it slowly dawn on them that everyone had thought someone else had gone to get the key.
At this point I asked if they were even sure that the door was locked. The person at the very front said,
well when I arrived and the studio was in darkness I thought it must have been locked”.
The second person in the line said: “when I saw you lined up I assumed you were waiting for someone to turn up with the key” and so the murmur went down the queue.
Being very aware that the time to clean equipment was ticking away, I walked up to the door, pushed on it and it opened. It had never been locked. After a bit of embarrassed laughter the people waiting, came into the studio, turned the lights on and started setting up for the class.
But this whole queuing outside a door that wasn’t actually locked got me thinking…
The first person, on arriving, had made the assumption the studio was locked, without even testing the door and began to wait. They were joined by the second and the third, and with each arrival the belief that the studio was inaccessible grew.
It wasn’t a locked door that was keeping the people out of the studio, it was their assumption that a closed door and a dark studio meant that the door was locked. And the more people who joined the queue, the stronger the belief became that the studio wasn’t accessible.
I think that this is a great metaphor for the time in which we are currently living. The Covid Rāhui forced us to push on doors which we assumed were locked.
Some of the doors that I think we have recently pushed open are:
The use of video conferencing to replace face-to-face meetings
People working successfully from home
Learning continuing when students are not physically present at school
Parents being equal partners with teachers around learning
People’s willingness to make personal sacrifices for the greater good
Over the course of the Covid Rāhui I have been privileged to have conversations with many education leaders and all of them have recounted stories of significant changes in practice that were made by teachers, in an extremely short time-frame, to enable students to continue with their learning.
Teachers who for years had been resisting using platforms such as Google Classroom suddenly embraced the tool, and were so proud of their new found skills; teachers discovered tools such as Screencastify that enabled them to record lessons for students to watch asynchronously, teachers figured out how to continue with their reading recovery interventions using Google Meet.
Amazing acts of teaching to keep learning happening.
It wasn’t just in education that we saw enormous leaps in digital capability. Millions of people around the world discovered that digital technology enabled them to continue to work and stay connected during the worldwide lockdown.
The reason we saw such a significant shift in digital capability was that the Covid Rāhui was a burning platform.
Imagine you are standing on a wooden platform and it is on fire. For a while it might feel safer to stay on the platform, but as the fire takes hold there comes a point when the best option is to jump off the platform.
Covid-19 is so catastrophic we have all had to jump.
So what has all this got to do with the not-locked door at the gym?
There are many doors in both our personal and professional lives which we assume are locked but actually may not be.
The only way to find out is to push on the door and see if it opens, remembering that the more people who believe a door to be locked (think of the queue at the gym) the less likely it is that anyone will even try to push it open.
Our belief system
It is our belief system that largely drives whether we believe a door is locked or unlocked. Beliefs that keep unlocked doors from being open include:
Leaders who believe someone is too old or stuck in their ways to change
Teachers who talk at length about students’ lack of self-management but are unwilling to change their practice to give learners greater agency
People who stay in toxic relationships because they believe walking away is not an option
Women who don’t apply for jobs because there is 10% of the position description they don’t know how to do
These are just a few that I came up with but there are many, many more.
Do you have doors in your own life which you have thought were locked but in actual fact may not be?
What would it take for you to have the courage to ‘test the lock’?
What doors do you as a leader need to help others to push on?
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Carolyn is a weaver of futures who works with people and organisations to co-design solutions to complex challenges. She is the founder of Weaving Futures, a leadership growth and design thinking practice and can be contacted on 0274349865.