Planning for a Disaster
If a bat and a ball cost $1.10 and the ball costs ten cents more how much does the bat cost?
Ask any group and the number of incorrect answers never ceases to amaze. This is an example used by Daniel Kahneman to illustrate our propensity to make quick decisions. Kahneman, a psychologist was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics through his appreciation of our propensity to make quick decisions. In his influential book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ he explains the reasons we make quick decisions and discusses the problems that can occur. Although fast decisions are made in an emotional setting and can be considered a gut reaction Gladwell also bases them on instinct, a process described in his book Blink.
Slow thinking may not always be needed to yield the best answer it will be the most considered and most likely to provide that best answer. Slow decisions are more accurate and considered.
However, when you examine the work done by institutions that manage natural or man-made ‘disasters’ you soon find that they do not have the luxury of making slow decisions. At the time they have to act immediately to minimize the losses that will occur unless early support is available. It is the same for a teacher at the time when ‘that student’ behaves in a disastrous manner. The teacher does not have the time for ‘slow’ consideration; they must act immediately. This is why a planned, structured behaviour management plan is so important.
In a previous Newsletter I presented the illustration below to describe, albeit a simplistic interpretation of decision-making.
When we apply this to our ‘disaster model’ we can demonstrate how the process works for both cases. The most important planning is done away from the scene of the destruction, preferably before but at least after experiencing such an event.
Kahneman presents the concept of ‘what you see is all there is’ (WYSIATI) that underpins decisions. At the time a decision needs to be made WYSIATI will determine the decision made. This is because all we rely on is what we know we know; our known/known condition. This is how quick thinking operates. But it is obvious that when we are faced with a decision that requires a decision we understand that the following conditions are present:
- Known/Known – as described above
If we are dealing with a child we ‘know’ what we have observed the child do. It is unlikely we know what has historically happened to the child either during their childhood or at home that morning or even in the playground before class. We do not have access to his/her emotional memories nor their beliefs but we should comprehend that these plus other complex factors will weaken the precision of the consequence we deliver. This is why it is important to find out as much as you can about every child in your class. The more you decrease the unknown the more effective your intervention will be.
Then there are the ‘unknown/unknowns’ the questions we don’t even know to ask. But they will be there and they are the reason behaviour management is at best an imprecise practice.
So this is where the teacher’s slow thinking takes place, the development of classroom rules and structure, the acquisition of ‘historical’ information about each child’s behaviour history and the accumulated information about behaviour and the management of it’s dysfunctional expression. Now when the inevitable classroom disaster occurs the teacher is best equipped to make an effective ‘fast decision’.
There is a bonus pay-off for this approach. These effective fast decisions are also described as fluent decisions. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University in California, has termed this fluency as the feeling of ‘flow’ and are associated with feelings of confidence, control, being in the zone. He described that for highly practised tasks, fluency and accuracy go hand in hand. For example a musician might report feelings of flow when performing a piece that has been internalised after years of practice. Sports men and women will often described as being ‘in the zone’ during competition.
On a personal level a teacher who achieves this level of expertise in behaviour management will feel more confident, more in control. In addition to this, people who display fluency command respect and are seen as competent. Their behaviour in the midst of the situation appears authentic and informed even when the inevitable mistake is made.