Thinking Fast And Slow

By Michael Fellin, Headmaster of Crescent School
Last month, I wrote about a harrowing encounter with my neighbourhood coyote; a moment that gave me real pause. Well, after a few weeks of hiatus, he came back the other day. While I was planning to write on a different subject this month, I decided to make a pandemic “pivot” and tell you about part two of my coyote experience.
Earlier this week, Heather and I were out for our usual morning walk with our dog, Chewie. As we made our way along snowy sidewalks and turned the corner of our street, there in the distance was the coyote. This time he was far closer to our home and far more intent on assessing the situation. There, in the dark morning hours, we stood still eyeing each other. I started to make strange sounds, trying to frighten off our friend. But to no avail; instead of running away, he ran toward us.

I recall a split-second choice. Do I engage or run the other way? While I was tempted to show this coyote who was in charge, I also felt obliged to get home safely to my family and show up to work unharmed. Meanwhile Heather and Chewie, more intelligently, had already gone the other way. And so, I decided to hoof it as fast as I could to catch up. After giving my best 40-yard dash, I was relieved to see over my shoulder that the coyote had given up the chase.

In life, there are countless moments that require either a fast or a measured response. According to Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist and Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences, two systems drive the way we think and make choices: system one is fast, intuitive, and emotional; system two is slower, deliberate, and logical. In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he writes about mental shortcomings that often guide decision-making. These can be things like looking for causality when it doesn’t exist (assuming “x” means “y”), drawing on expert intuition (“in my professional opinion”), planning through fallacy (“if I build it, they will come”), and being overly optimistic (“our competition will never be able to...”). In short, whether confronting a coyote who is hungry, or leading a school during a health crisis, it’s essential to avoid such shortcomings in our thinking.

We are now living through the second surge of a global pandemic. There are many things we still don’t know. When will school return to normal? What will be the long-term economic, social, and educational impacts? However, there are many things within our control. We can learn from our student and staff experience. We can determine the physical and fiscal resources needed to support and sustain our future academic program. We can decide what we will bring forward and what we will leave behind. These really important steps require all of us to lean in, think slow, avoid missteps, and be brave. This is exactly what we are up to right now at Crescent. We are advancing our new four-year school strategy in a deliberate and measured way to focus on our boys’ learning, our staff development, our master campus plan, and our future legacy. Stay tuned for more information at an upcoming Town Hall, early in 2021.

And if you come face-to-face with a rabid coyote? I suggest the exact opposite approach – think fast!

See all of Headmaster Fellin's Open Mike Blogs