The Novice Advantage: The Joy of Uncertainty

I didn’t think that at this point in my career I would be entering my classroom as a novice. Next year I will begin my 20th year teaching but my first year as an art teacher. I am ready to take on this challenge, but I have found myself much more comfortable with my uncertainty after reading The Novice Advantage: Fearless Practice for Every Teacher. Some of my comfort comes from realizing that uncertainty is one of the strengths of the novice mindset.

Please join our Virtual Learning Community for a Virtual Book Club exploration of what it means to be an expert novice. In his book The Novice Advantage: Fearless Practice for Every Teacher, author Jonathan Eckert explores the concept of teachers thinking of themselves as novices who are constantly growing and learning instead of experts complacent with their practice.

During the months of July and August, the CTQ community will host a virtual book club to discuss topics from The Novice Advantage, which include defining the novice mindset, learning from mistakes, sharing expertise, and going public with practice.

Each week will focus on a different set of chapters:

July 18 – 21: Preface through chapter 3

July 25 – 29: Chapters 4 through 7

First week of August-LIVE CHAT with Jon Eckert: Chapter 8

The virtual book club will include week-long slow chats on Twitter—using the hashtag #CTQBKClub—and will end with a live Twitter chat with Jonathan Eckert. The Novice Advantage can be purchased from the publisher, Corwin Press.


I didn’t think that at this point in my career I would be entering my classroom as a novice. Next year I will begin my 20th year teaching but my first year as an art teacher. I am ready to take on this challenge, but I have found myself much more comfortable with my uncertainty after reading The Novice Advantage: Fearless Practice for Every Teacher. Some of my comfort comes from realizing that uncertainty is one of the strengths of the novice mindset.

One thing I have learned about Jon Eckert from our work together and our friendship is that he is a master of the counterintuitive argument in education. Whenever I think I have my teaching niche completely figured out, he is able to bring forth a study, a reflection, or a colleague who can prove my assumptions, if not wrong, at least uncertain. This talent is the core of his book, and he delivers it with smiles and “cringeworthy” moments from his and his colleagues’ classrooms in an incredibly readable manner.

I think one of the most important takeaways I have from The Novice Advantage is an observation Jon brings forward in chapter two. On page 54, in referencing author Parker Palmer, another great teacher writer, Jon states, “Teaching is complex and personal.” I believe this statement wholeheartedly. I have never encountered this assertion in any other book on teaching, and yet it is at the core of how I view teaching. He goes on to explain how an increased focus on technical reproduction instead of the “identity and integrity” of the teacher can, “rob teaching of joy, creativity, and reflective risk taking” (p.54).

Those three concepts are at the center of the novice mindset.

  • Joy in approaching teaching with a “new” or “open” mind.
  • Creativity in innovating in and out of the classroom.
  • Reflection and risk taking enables us to approach our practice in a deliberate way so that we can become perpetual learners.

Each time I put down Jon’s book, the first thing I wanted to do was start planning, researching, and organizing for my classroom for next year. I am taking a step into a new field that I am sure will make me feel uneasy in my practice for the first time in many years. I am very excited about it.

One of the things I am most concerned about next year is how to foster a climate of innovation in myself and my colleagues in a school that has lived in a culture of compliance for the past year. I know my principal, new to the school, will be the deciding factor in this context, but I am looking for encouragement and advice on how to negotiate a culture that is beyond what Jon describes as the “grey twilight” of nothing ventured, nothing gained created by constant fear of misstep.

How can we work to create a culture of innovation in your school or your school system? How can you use your identity and integrity to create learning?

Image: John M. Holland, The Joy of Not Knowing 22″ x 22″ mixed media on paper

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