“Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned. Nonetheless, chaos can be too much. You can’t long tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope while you are learning what you still need to know.” Dr. Jordan Peterson, from 12 Rules for Life.
“Let all things be done decently and in order.” 1 Corinthians 14:40.
or·der | \ ˈȯr-dər: noun. The state of peace, freedom from confused or unruly behavior, and respect for law or proper authority
cha·os | \ ˈkā-ˌäs: noun. a. A state of utter confusion. b. the inherent unpredictability in the behavior of a complex natural system
When it comes to teaching school, there is a phenomenon that will end up challenging every teacher, especially new ones. This is the ratio of order to chaos.
Some teachers start the year with an iron fist and don’t smile until Christmas. Others try to walk the tight rope above the falls of “let’s be friends, let’s have fun, but do what I say and don’t whisper in class.” Some spare the rod and others wield it deftly with mite and main.
A classroom run by a dictator will ultimately rebel. A classroom run by a democratic liberal will eventually descend into anarchy.
So then, what is the perfect ratio of order and chaos? We need some of both and the mix for any given teacher will obviously be a little different. Some can handle a ratio of 70:30 – where 70 represents order and 30 represents the off-the-cuff, spontaneity, stand on the desk, boisterous discussions, and interactive show and tells. I have known the odd teacher (odd in a good way) who can handle 50:50 quite deftly. Sure, parents talk and express occasional concern. The board says things like, “Well, s/he doesn’t have the best order but the kids seem to be learning.” So they let it be because the style is effective. Others run a tight ship with a 90:10 ratio – and the kids love her/him because, in spite of the rules and obvious authority, love shines through and they feel secure.
The definitions listed above are thought provoking. Order stands for a state of peace; it mentions freedom, which makes sense when you think about it. Most children, if not all, flourish within boundaries and in a sense, find freedom under discipline and clear guidance. However, they also enjoy unpredictability, which is another definition of chaos. One of the greatest compliments I ever received from a student was “we never know what you’re gonna do next!”
Teaching becomes effective when the ratio of order to chaos is such that the moments of chaos are bright lights revealing the truths that order endeavors to teach. These flashes of spontaneous insight connect the dots of knowledge and produce relevancy. Relevancy makes it real and kids don’t forget that.
Chaos does not have to be “utter confusion.” Use it sparingly, in the proper ratio and relation to order, and you will be a powerful, beloved, and effective educator.