I think that we oftentimes have expectations of students that we, as adults, would not do ourselves. Many times, we file this under the fact that students are children and we are adults, so as adults we should get special privileges that students shouldn’t have. However, not all of what we do should fall under this umbrella, and we need to be more cognizant of what we are actually asking of our students.
How We Listen
Since I have moved into instructional support (even as a director I’m still instructional support), I have been able to work with adults in a different capacity. As I provide professional development or hold a meeting, I can see things I couldn’t when I was sitting as a participant. Oftentimes, I see participants multitasking, chatting on the side, or standing up because they “can’t sit that long” (and I do all of these same things…sitting quietly through a long meeting is the closest thing I know to torture). Yet, students are often asked to sit for extended periods of time while doing nothing but listen. In education, we are just now seeing classrooms moving to flexible learning spaces, but not all classrooms have embraced this kind of learning support yet. If an administrator would ask adults in a meeting to close their technology, stop grading papers, and sit down quietly, many of us would be outraged.
Another example is what we ask of students when they have a disagreement. Students come in from recess angry after arguing with each other, and we ask them to go get some version of a conflict resolution bridge, and tell them to go in the hall and work through it. Teaching kids conflict resolution is not the issue. Obviously this needs to be done. However, as adults we often take time to process a disagreement after having it. If we don’t, we are often told we should have because people need time and space to think about what happened and what the best solution would be. Think of how it would feel if you were involved in a disagreement with a co-worker and the principal took you two immediately into the office and told you to work it out? It would be uncomfortable and possibly confrontational. Yet, we tell students to handle the situation immediately, which leaves them frustrated, angry and less likely to be able to process the situation they way they could have otherwise.
As we go through our year as educators, we need to have expectations uniform from our leadership or we struggle trying to figure out what is expected from us, which makes sense. It’s difficult to work in conditions where you’re unsure of what’s expected. Sometimes, we have a few leaders who have expectations that differ, and are either left frustrated trying to figure out what we need to do or stressed knowing that no matter what we do, it won’t satisfy everyone’s expectations (or both). Yet students go through their day interacting with several different teachers all with different expectations. For example, particularly at the secondary level, a student might have one teacher might consider “on time” as being in the seat with books out, another teacher may consider just being in the room as on time, and yet another considers on time as being as long as you can be seen outside the door and walk in prior to the sound of the bell ending. Those teachers might be the first three classes of a student’s day, and they might still have four more. The expectation of what is considered tardy is only one small compliance in the grand scheme of rules and procedures that teachers might have implemented. We expect students to conform and adjust to us, but what is expected of students is sometimes not what we would accept as being reasonable as adults if the same were done to us.
Empathy needs to surround us as teachers, and I think many teachers are amazing at thinking about their students’ learning challenges and life outside school, but when it comes to what is expected of students across their whole day, we may need some reflection time. If it is something that we wouldn’t do ourselves as adults, maybe there is a better way in order to make it work for students.