George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Cognitive Dissonance: is your PLN hazardous to your emotional & psychological professional health?

March 26, 2015 Updated March 25, 2015

It pays to be a connected educator. But at what COST?

Fueled by explosive growth in social media, the power and impact of connectedness among educators has become increasingly more evident over the past several years. The benefits - including ready access to some of the most creative, enthusiastic, innovative, inspirational and dedicated educators on the planet - are hard to argue with. But what about the costs? No, I don’t mean the time required to develop these connections - I’m wondering about another kind of cost: the emotional/mental cost associated with inevitable comparisons of these forward-thinking educators’ classrooms, schools and districts - and our own.

Quoting Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. When inconsistency (dissonance) is experienced, individuals tend to become psychologically uncomfortable and they are motivated to attempt to reduce this dissonance, as well as actively avoiding situations and information which are likely to increase it.

Every intriguing new idea you come across on Edutopia, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube, Blog or [insert your social media channel of choice] generates dissonance.

  • “I should be / could be doing that.” 
  • “That teacher / school / district has amazing resources. Wish I had them!” 
  • “That inquiry unit is amazing, I want my students to experience that.”

To be sure, reading about best practices - and adopting those that work for us in our classrooms - is the very foundation of connected professional learning.

And kudos, by the way, to the self-disciplined out there who, upon seeing the endless buffet of innovations, calmly fill a bread plate with a sample or two for discrete consumption. For these people, the dissonance is manageable, almost unnoticeable. It’s a good thing, part of the process.

But the others, like me, will often try to balance two gigantic dinner plates and load them up with every delicious project, resource and lesson idea to gorge upon. In those cases, the dissonance can be substantial, even debilitating at times.

Have you ever experienced this?

How do you manage your intake of all the greatness being shared every day on social media and the Internet?

Thanks for reading!

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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