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.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, Communication Applications and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team and co-sponsor Student Council. I am an aspiring administrator.