I have learned so much from efforts to end open defecation.
Let me explain. I am reading The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, and they devote the second major section of their book to how to create opportunities for people to "trip over the truth." In other words, to discover what is right in front of them.
The centerpiece of this concept is a story about efforts to help people see the importance of using sanitation devices like latrines instead of just going, well, wherever. The story features copious amounts of the s-word, but there is a reason- the scientists trying to change behavior did want to sugar coat the truth. They needed a visceral response to effect change. I HIGHLY recommend you get this book, because I will never be able to effectively tell this story. But the big takeaway for me was that we do not really need to tell people the truth, we need to create opportunities for them to recognize the truth they never knew they were looking right at.
People where stepping in and walking through feces everywhere.
And in this story, feces was the "truth."
In education, I see it working like this. We have a practice we do. We do it all the time. We assume it is working great. So we continue it. What we do not do is really look into it. Ask others how the practice impacts them.
In my second year of teaching, a really bad set of test scores made me evaluate my practices. I could assume I was doing everything right and blame lazy students (let's be honest, we have all had that temptation). But instead, I asked students what I could do better. I was able to learn from the people I was there to teach.
I think one area educators always feel they are good at is listening to their students. Educators think they know what students think or feel.
Unless you have talked to them, really listened-
Watching them in the hallways is not listening. When you tell them to be quite when the lesson needs to start, pay attention to what conversations are going on. When you greet them, pay attention to their mood, their face, their posture. That tells a bigger truth than their words.
I am not immune to this.
A former student of mine posted a message on Facebook recently. This student is a graduate, and they posted an article about a new state law in Texas that required schools to give students a full lunch even if they had insufficient funds. The article stated that our district did not have that policy in place. The former student said essentially "Of course the district doesn't do this. Why would they do something that shows they care about students."
First, I recognize that there is way more in the reasoning behind district policy than many of know. I am NOT judging the district policy. This is about the fact that at least one student felt their school district did not care about students. A student who passed through MY classroom felt this way. It means I could have done more.
If you think that is just one opinion, you have not been listening to your students.
Yes, students are dramatic at times.
Yes, students overreact.
Yes, they do not have all the facts.
Yes, they have social media and they WILL share their opinions.
Back to open defecation. (That may be the most disgusting transition I have ever made.) The people who practiced that knew they were defecating everywhere, they just did not see why it was a problem until a worker helped them see things from a different perspective.
Educators, we are walking, talking, and living in a lot of crap and we are totally not aware. We are focused on a lot of important things, but we are also missing a lot of important things. We need to open our eyes and be INTENTIONAL about listening to and engaging with our students. What does that mean?
-You have a student that is tardy daily? Ask why. Are they walking from the farthest point possible from your classroom? Take a chance to to walk that distance during your conference, see if you can see why it is difficult.
-You have a student that is always sleeping? Find out what is going on. Are they working late hours? Maybe go visit their place of business to say hi.
-You have a student that is always hungry? Hand them a snack.
-A student complains about unfairness being displayed by a fellow educator? Listen, encourage them to talk with the teacher, and do not stab your colleague in the back.
-Students complaining about dress code? Find out their complaints, and see if you can discover the "why" behind it being a rule. I have found 'why' is the biggest reason students complain- they do not understand the reasoning. They may still disagree with it, but at least we show them respect enough to help them try to make sense of things.
-You have a fellow teacher that you never see? Take a walk to visit them.
-Your administrators overwhelmed with discipline issues AND regular daily responsibilities? Offer some help from time to time.
Our district had the opportunity for some administrators and few teachers to spend a day as a student last year. Though my opportunity fell through, my friends who did it were truly inspired. They came away with a new understanding of what students experience everyday. I wish we could have every teacher spend a day as a student.
The empathy that would create!
But here is the thing- I can make all sorts of suggestions about what we could do better, but you need to discover for yourself what your campus, your district, or your classroom's issue is. In the same way a student's disciplinary action has greater power because of their involvement in the process, our development as educators needs our personal touch.
Chip and Dan Heath say it this way in The Power of Moments:
"You can't appreciate the solution until you appreciate the problem. So when we talk about "tripping over the truth," we mean the truth about the problem or harm. That's what sparks sudden insight." (pg 106)
That leads us to the final point. We must APPRECIATE the problem. The problem must be given attention and it's due respect. Far too often, our students express a problem, and we do not take it seriously. We dismiss it as one opinion or struggle.
But it is real to that student.
We may not be able to solve the problem- there may not even be a problem to us- but we need to appreciate the problem that that student feels. That means listening and connecting. That means asking questions of those involved in the problem. It means thinking with the student on ways to address it.
How can I get you to "trip over your truth?"
Talk a walk around your school. Look for how your students are acting- not for disciplinary reasons, but to gauge their morale, their emotional state. Look for equity- is treatment of students fair. Look for smiles and frowns, then ask them why they smile or frown. Try to put yourself back in your school days- how would you want to be treated, how would you hope every day went?
And watch your step. There is truth all over the place.
For the last two years, I have been championing student voice. I believe that our students have something to say, and we need to be listening to them.
So, with March for Our Lives, a student voice movement has gone big-time. And I am excited to see adults hearing what students are saying.
But I am also soberly reminded of how far the student voice process still has to go.
For too long, teachers have felt they were talking to a brick wall of students, and for too long students have felt they were talking to a brick wall of adults.
Unfortunately, it seems it took a tragic school shooting to break down those walls and open communication. The students behind the March for Our Lives movement have seen more progress that many other student movements. Already, Florida has begun rolling out responses to their concerns- but therein lies the first issue.
Student Voice is Impatient
Florida is requiring clear backpacks and IDs for all students and the governor broke with the NRA in a first step. Instead of celebrating a first victory, many in the student movement immediately complained it wasn't enough.
Of course it isn't. Massive changes to how we address mental health, gun laws, and even the way schools are run takes time. But many students may not quite grasp the intricacies of this- so instead of dismissing their frustration as immaturity, we need to make it a teachable moment. Explain that it will take time, and that the victories (which they may not see as victories) are in fact important steps. Student voice must learn persistence. And patience.
Support is Not Necessarily Total Agreement
I watched some of the student leaders on Meet the Press this morning. What I heard were some great things, but I also heard an assumption in their interviews and in their rhetoric that indicated that the marchers completely agreed with all of their ideas. One, that is simply not plausible. But two, assuming total support is risky. Hearing the students assume that everyone who wants to do something about school shootings wants more gun control equates to every supporter of the 2nd Amendment assuming that those who agree with them want NO gun control.
This is dangerous because you ignore elements of your movement that have differing- and perhaps valid- ideas. Ideas that when incorporated and compromised with can make the movement stronger, and the voice louder. There is also a rush that comes from a huge day like yesterday. It was a tremendous victory for awareness, but yes, not everyone there was there in passionate support. I saw one interview with some marchers that had a very different understanding of what the march was. Numbers get attention, but numbers also mean a message is in danger of being diluted and misrepresented. The students who want their voice heard on this need to engage in conversations with different viewpoints, and look for ways they can find common ground. Which leads to...
Marches Get Attention, Conversations Make Changes
There is no doubt the march got people talking. The student leaders deserve tremendous credit for keeping the message alive. But marches will fade from memory unless there are conversations that follow.
The best example of this is Martin Luther King Jr and John F. Kennedy. Following the March on Washington- the march all other marches strive to be- King met with Kennedy. It was a conversation that built on the moment of the March.
I hope that these students continue to seek conversations with leaders. More importantly, I hope our leaders listen. This is key- not just hear, LISTEN.
Listening is more than acknowledging a viewpoint, it is engaging with it. It is hearing the pain and passion and hope and strength- and it is hearing the things that need to be course corrected.
I will have students tomorrow who want to talk about the March. You might as well. They may agree or disagree with it, they may share views that only half-formed, or that are in direct contradiction to your own.
Then, engage. Not to prove wrong or right, but to understand, and to support. Not necessarily their view, but their right to explore their opinions, fears, and hopes.
Students and adults can learn from the March for Our Lives. We can learn about more than just ending gun violence, we can learn about how to have a tough conversation. What to say, what not to say, what to do, what not to do.
My view of the March for Our Lives is this- it is a chance to start some tough, but necessary discussions.
That means the plants are blooming, the sun is shining, and senioritis is in full epidemic mode.
We are in the backstretch of the year, half a semester left. The students and teachers can smell summer break. Standing in the way is about nine weeks of school that include state testing, end of year conferences, and students asking what they can do to salvage their grade.
At this point in the year, it becomes easy to give in to the mundane and mediocre. To enter survival mode. But I want to challenge you:
Don't be that teacher.
Remember why you chose this calling- and why, perhaps, it chose you.
It has been an...interesting year in education. Teachers have had a lot to deal with outside the classroom in this election cycle. Remember that as difficult as some new laws or budget constraints from the state are, you chose this calling because you wanted to reach students, to make a difference. It can be straining and scary to have so little control over your career- believe me, I know- but you chose this serve others. Remember them.
I have seen advertisements for several television shows that are about teachers- all of them have the stereotypical "teacher behaving badly for comedic purposes." Remember that teaching is a noble calling. That we have an impact on the next generation that is potentially greater than any other influencer in their life. Be that teacher that makes them love learning by being present and patient and by TRULY LISTENING to them. Choose to focus on the positives each day- celebrate the amazing things your students and your peers are doing everyday and don't choose to air petty complaints or humorous (but demeaning) teacher memes. I am not saying to share legitimate concerns and struggles- transparency is important- but do not neglect to remember why we believe educators accept a calling, not just a contract.
Remember that there is a student that needs a kind word.
Remember that there is a fellow educator who needs a pat on the back.
Remember that EOCs and STAARS are not the measure of our students' value- or our own.
Remember that as our time with our students draws to a close, we still have time to make a difference.
Remember that you started this year with hope for things to come- it would be best to end with hope for the seeds you've planted.
Remember that you are the story of your school that your non-educator friends hear.
Remember that as long as there is breath in your lungs and days on the calendar, you can still reach THAT kid.
Remember that as much as we chose to teach, education chose us, too.
Remember why you do what you do.
I have been toying with the idea of a podcast for since last summer, and I finally took the bait and created one. My concept is called Didactic Cafe, and the general theme is ethics and morality as it relates to education. I would love to see discussion around student and teacher interactions, the ethics of instructional practices, and peer-to-peer relationships of educators. But I also want to get your feedback- what topics would you like to share in this discussion? Also, if you are interested in guest co-hosting with me, let me know in the comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the first podcast- let me know what you think!
I teach Psychology, Sociology, World History Honors and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team, sponsor the TED Ed Club, and I am the Lead Innovator for LEADS CSISD (A student leadership empowerment program for 5th-8th graders). I am an aspiring administrator.