Embracing Both/And Thinking and Actions

Type: Article
Topics: Leadership Development, School Administrator Magazine

November 01, 2023

A researcher’s description of tools that enable educators to embrace creative tensions to integrate competing demands in schools

Nikki Kirkup, principal of the Knox School in Melbourne, Australia, worried about teachers quitting. As they returned from the pandemic, teachers saw how friends and families in other industries were negotiating hybrid work schedules to enable more well-being and reduce burnout.

Increased control over time seemed impossible given the structured K-12 school day and the need for face-to-face interactions with students. The teachers loved teaching but felt personally depleted. As Kirkup noted, “They were starting to tell us that it was no longer a viable option for them to remain as a schoolteacher, and they needed to make a major career change to have that additional flexibility.”

Kirkup, an experienced educator, felt stuck. Could she support her teachers while still ensuring there were enough people to cover classes each day?

Nicola Forrest, principal of Cornish College, a 650-student independent school in Melbourne, also grappled with ongoing tensions. Forrest was committed to innovative ways to improve student learning. Yet as she introduced new possibilities, she often experienced resistance and hesitation. People would split into two camps — those who supported the changes and those who opposed them. Forrest often felt like the mediator, trying to solve everyone’s dilemmas.

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Wendy Smith and Kieren Noonan

Professor, Head of Innovation and Learning

University of Delaware, Independent Schools Victoria

Additional Resources

For those interested in learning more about how to apply both/and thinking in a school or district, the authors have compiled informational resources at www.bothandthinking.net.

These include:

Introduction and Chapter 1 of Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems, which can help leaders and teams delve deeper into understanding the paradoxical nature of our tensions and how we can find better solutions.

Paradox Mindset Inventory, which is a research-backed instrument that offers baseline insights about a leader’s experience with tensions and facility in applying both/and thinking. The instrument is available at no charge.

Videos to help understand basic insights about tensions, paradoxes and applying the Paradox System to an organization.

Discussion guide for using both/and thinking to generate group learning among school and district leaders.