The Knowing-Doing Gap in Education

By Linda Marrs-Morford, IPLI Director


leap-456100_960_720For years now, we have known what specific things we, as educators, should be doing to eliminate the achievement gap in education.  The research is very clear and provides guidance in terms of what to do and how to do it, but it doesn’t happen.  Why?  In 2011, in the article titled “What is the Knowing-Doing Gap,” the Washington State Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development wrote, “The knowing-doing gap exists because we hold ourselves hostage with our own thinking…” (http://bit.ly/2efdKVz).   What did they mean by this?  Let me share a personal example.

I consider myself to be pretty up-to-date on the latest health research and for the most part, I incorporate best practices into my daily life.  For example, I’ve cut back on carbs, caffeine, and I’m eating healthy greens more frequently.  But for one area of my life, I definitely had a knowing-doing gap — my daily workout.

For years now, I’ve been reading about the importance of incorporating weight training into daily workouts, especially for older adults.  I knew what I should be doing, but I was not doing it.  Why?  My own thinking was holding me back.  In my early adult life, aerobic was the way to go.  I was a runner, then became a jogger, then became a slogger (slow jogger), and then a walker.  If I didn’t do three to six miles a day, I did not feel like I had worked out.  As I got older, this no longer worked, and I started gaining weight.  Based on my old way of thinking (even though I knew better), my solution was to increase my mileage.  Of course this resulted in injury (I hate getting older)☹.  Finally, after working with a trainer, I started incorporating weight training.  I’ve now lost 20 pounds and spend half the time working out.

Why did it take me so long to change?  A big part had to do with my old way of thinking.  I was reluctant to give up on the thing that worked so well for me early in my adult life.  It took my trainer challenging me to just “try it” for a few weeks to change my behavior, even though I knew what the research said.  She continued to coach me through this change, providing feedback and support.

The same thing happens in education; our minds are holding us hostage. “It worked before, it should work now.”  Just like my body had changed and aerobics were not working for me, schools have changed, and we can’t assume that what worked before will continue to work.

So what does a leader do to overcome the knowing-doing gap?  At a recent IPLI seminar, Dr. Phil Warrick from Marzano Research said, “Creating conditions for others to be successful is one of the highest duties of leadership.”  Principals have to create collaborative cultures where teachers are up-to-date on the best research-based practices (knowing), have numerous opportunities to experiment with those practices with support (doing), evaluate what works and what does not work, share those results with each other, and implement what they have learned.  The school must become a learning organization where challenging the status-quo is part of the culture.

Interested in learning more about learning organizations?  Click on the links below: