• Amy Burvall

#rawthought: What If We…Ditch “Best Practices”?


When was the last time you were asked to share “best practices”? This phrase came up yesterday for me in a Twitter chat, and it suddenly dawned on me that I take issue with the term. It sounds too authoritative and stagnant, with shades of “expert” at which I tend to cringe.

I totally get the motive- we want to hear from people who have had some degree of success in fill-in-the-blank. We want to know their secrets..what “works”…what we can “count on”. We are drawn to “proven techniques” for everything, as if there was a simple one-size-fits-all remedy in convenient pill form.


Personally, I believe to some extent in “experts” but I don’t fetishize them. I’ve encountered so many self-proclaimed or widely revered (and often legitimately so) “guru-ninja-diva-jedi-maven-expert” types who, like any other human, can be misguided, erroneous, or unoriginal. When I first found a lump in my breast at 36, I went through 3 “experts” telling me there was no way it could be cancer before I was finally diagnosed with Stage 3. There’s a great TED talk called “How to use Experts- And When Not To” which brings up several similar anecdotes. Still, there are some – those with utterly unique hands-on experiences like Commander Hadfield, for example, that I simply marvel at.


We live in an ever-changing  contextual world

…I don’t think many things can be replicated with the same results. Any teacher knows how much one has to adapt from year to year depending on the group dynamics of one’s class and individual personalities, interests, strengths and struggles of one’s students. It’s why some things work so well in some years and the same activity bombs in other years. I’d like replace the buzzword phrase “best practices” with

What if we…?

Emphasis on the ellipse. What if we… stopped being so sure of ourselves and instead became confident in our uncertainty (like Keats’ “negative capability”?). What if we…felt free to explore a host of options to test what works best in the here and now, and in respect of the context? What if we…embraced the fact that a “best practice” is really flexibility and evolution over time?


What if we…thought “toolBOX” rather than “tool”, colour PALETTE rather than colour?

Using the opening phrase “What if we…” is inclusive (it’s not one person dictating how things should go), inviting (it allows for some discussion about the idea), dynamic (it almost begs to be remixed and adapted), and fun (there is a spirit of “possibility!” there).

Leonardo da Vinci ( fan of EXperiential, first-hand knowledge rather than “EXpert” book knowledge) used to play around with light and shade on swatches of cloth. The cloth changed as he moved it, the folds falling in different patterns with the drapery. He would adjust the light source- a candle – so that he could sketch the different effects of the different positions. Da Vinci understood that drawing from multiple angles improved the way his brain interpreted the science of light.


one of Da Vinci’s photo-real sketches of draped cloth

With human figures he stressed variety as well:

“many do who study only the [rules of] measure and proportion in the nude figure and do not seek after variety; for a man may be well proportioned, or he may be fat and short, or tall and thin, or medium. And a painter who takes no account of these varieties always makes his figures on one pattern so that they might all be taken for brothers; and this is a defect that demands stern reprehension”

There is no “one best way” to draw the shadowy drapery or a human subject – it is all a matter of context and perception based on circumstance.


This is how I like to think of teaching, learning…of any business “procedure”…that before we clasp on to how it has always been done – even by the best in the field – we should take into consideration the unique context and explore the “what if we’s…” with a team of people we trust and admire.

#context #teaching #TED #davinci #expert #bestpractice #CommanderHadfield #rawthought #amyburvall #learning

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