The further I move to the periphery of cycling advocacy the clearer my perspective becomes of the barriers to, and the actions required to achieve any significant change. The change I’m referring to is, of course, how to get more people riding bicycles more often. I have made many attempts over the years on this site to tease out what I believe these barriers are and what actions need to be taken. And while I am no less certain about my thinking, I am less optimistic of ever witnessing the wholesale changes and improvements that I once dreamed possible. How so?
All my understanding and thinking about “the world” has, slowly but surely, come to be filtered through a behavioural science lens. And I mean, all my thinking – personally and professionally. It was when I started to apply this ‘new’ thinking to my day job as a teacher that I could confirm that I was on the right track. That’s because I started to witness enormous success; learning success for the students as well as an effective pedagogy that could be replicated and shared easily. This success came about by implementing a robust, research/evidence-based teaching practice. It all seemed so obvious. That is, until the reality dawned on me that the evidence of the success I was witnessing was being met with limited enthusiasm amongst fellow teachers and teacher leaders.
Biases and group-think are at play in every aspect of life and teaching is no exception. And needless to say, this reality is incredibly hard to shift. To point out the existence of these biases and blind spots directly is ineffective. Producing evidence of success should do it though. At least, that’s what I originally thought. Hmm. Try again. I have learned that it’s difficult to distinguish between wilful blindness and just plain uninformed blindness. So what is the point I’m trying to make?
As a professional teacher, I am legally and morally required to implement a teaching practice that achieves the best learning outcomes for all students. My job is to be curious and inquisitive; to challenge my beliefs and teaching practice; to look to the best research; to apply that research and evaluate the evidence; to implement iterative change; to share the results and evidence; to place expectations on my colleagues to engage at a level of professionalism. In an ideal world, that is what would be happening. Best practice – free of political and ideological interference.
I now invite you to generalise the reality that I have described – of trying to upgrade the education system. If my experience is accurate, that is, bringing about small scale change in a context relatively immune to political and ideological interference is so difficult, the change that cycling advocacy is attempting is, in comparison, at a much harder and complex magnitude. I certainly don’t have the patience or stomach to engage in the often ugly and antagonist “public debate” that seems inherent in promoting research/evidence-based transport policy. In contrast, my reality of trying to upgrade the education system, while not conflict or anguish free, it is a walk in the park by comparison but still so frustratingly difficult to achieve. I note with interest that Denmark has a highly regarded education system and transport system. I don’t believe this is coincidental. I have my theories.
If nothing else, I would like to convey the idea that creating change is a complex business and requires a generous understanding of multiple disciplines and understanding how humans behave is a critical but overlooked one. I encourage deep questioning. If you dig deep enough and keep peeling back the layers, the answer will be found.
I’d like to think that I am more impatient than pessimistic. At a personal level, I am optimistic that my new school will live up to its promise. That robust, honest and evidence-based discussions will be encouraged through the building and nurturing of trusting relationships. The bad news is that, as a result of this change, I have had to grow up. I will be ditching pedal power for the foreseeable future and be reliant on fossil-fuelled mobility. A real shame indeed but…
I have ridden my bike to my current school on a daily basis for the past 15 years. That’s 80kms per week for approximately 40 weeks per year. If I added the prior 5 years of daily bicycle commuting, you will probably appreciate that it equates to quite a few worn tyres.
Thanks for reading and thanks for coming along for the journey for the past 6 years. It’s more likely that I’m going to be hanging out at my education site these days but you will still be able to catch me on social media.
Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.