Fences, Wells & Mona Lisas

May 31, 2017

 

A couple months ago I heard a story that I haven't been able to shake. Our pastor shared the story from John 4:1-14 that I've heard a hundred times, but this particular Sunday he used a simple comparison involving fences and wells that really made me think.

 

It was so simple...fences and wells. Ever since hearing the comparison I've noticed it relates to teaching, leadership, and innovation just as much as it relates to spiritual matters. I'm going to do some massive paraphrasing and condense the story down to a few sentences:

 

In the story, Jesus asked for a drink from a nearby well, and was met by resistance from a person who believed it was against the rules. (Our pastor compared the rules to the fences we build.) Jesus then responded by saying that the water in the well would not satisfy a person's thirst forever, and the life Jesus promises is like a never-ending spring. (Our pastor said this was the part about wells.)

 

I probably know what some of you might be thinking. We need fences...right?! Rules and policies exist for a reason and without them organizations would be in a perpetual state of chaos. I agree that we do need fences. However, if our primary focus is on pointing out the fences people might never get to the well.

 

The quickest way to create barriers is to become enamored with artificial absolutes. When we're too busy drawing lines about the right and wrong way to innovate, for example, we dismiss the importance of the process and source of its significance; that being the students we serve.

 

 

Some of the presentations that I share with schools include the Mona Lisa slide above. See if you can find at least a few of the differences between the two Mona Lisa's in less than a minute. (Seriously time yourself otherwise you may be searching for the last couple of differences all day long.)

 

After participants take time talking about the differences, I ask everyone if the Mona Lisa on the right is inherently better than the Mona Lisa on the left. The answer is no. Just because one Mona is holding an iPad doesn't make her superior to the Mona without a device. Conversely, the Mona without an iPad is not intrinsically better either.

 

Before I forget, if you're still struggling to find more than one difference I feel badly. The truth is that I created that Mona Lisa slide myself and the iPad is the only difference...there are not ten. The point of this exercise is that instead of building fences and fixating on differences, we need to be more curious about the power of the well.

 

Although my Mona Lisa challenge is intended to highlight the fact that technology itself is not the goal, it also relates back to a larger question we all probably wrestle with in education.

 

How might we model joy, curiosity, and learning without fencing ourselves in or boxing others out?

 

It's human nature to make snap judgments about others. I know there are times I reflect upon why I do things one way, and how others choose to approach their work. These are the times that we should take a step back to reflect upon the their well. This reflection also relates to the process of leading change. 

 

Some of the same people that we label as "resistant to change" are most likely sitting at a well that's already working for them. Building higher fences and defining differences rarely cultivates a relationship.

 

What does produce an authentic relationship is the occasional offer to share your water for altruistic reasons, or asking for a cup from somebody else's well. Does this make sense?

 

What if innovation was more about a never-ending spring of water than a set of rules or preconceived notions? What would our schools look like if we tapped into that water?

 

There's a big difference between fences and wells, which is more than I can say for the two Mona Lisa's.

 

 

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Dr. Brad Gustafson is an elementary principal, author, and speaker. He believes schools can be spaces where creativity and innovation thrive, but only when we prioritize relationships and a relevant, connected pedagogy. 

 

Connect on email at:

AdjustingCourse@gmail.com

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