the tough daisy

"You must see/it is useless to us, this silence that promotes belief/you must be all things, the foxglove and the hawthorn tree, the vulnerable rose and the tough daisy — we are left to think/you couldn't possibly exist." –Louise Glück

This silence that promotes belief you must be all things

Once upon a time, there was a girl. Well, woman. Living a life of passion and looking to coagulate thoughts and share ideas. It seems easy, but it’s harder than it sounds.

So born this blog–of delicious food, of thoughts on education, of thoughts on feminism, of thoughts on life.

In Louise Glück’s Matins, from The Wild Iris, she writes, “You must see/it is useless to us, this silence that promotes belief/you must be all things, the foxglove and the hawthorn tree,/the vulnerable rose and the tough daisy — we are left to think/you couldn’t possibly exist.”

She was writing about a higher being, but those words could apply to all of us in this modern world as well. We want to be all things. We can’t be, and yet we are as well.

This blog is my continuing and fruitless effort to be all things. I want to get rid of the silence.

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strong teachers, let us show you the door

Sometimes I wonder what exactly we want teachers to be.

Because it seems like, if you were on the outside looking in, that maybe we would want them to be self-directed. Maybe we would want them to be independent thinkers. Maybe we would want them to be motivated to always strive for better. Maybe we would want them to be quick learners, to be able to see a big picture as well as manage small pieces. Great collaborators, who can grow together by building on each other’s strengths and knowledge bases.

Maybe we would want truly talented educators, constantly improving, to be teaching the future of our world.

And yet, the teaching profession is constructed to discourage a great many of these things.

People with too many ideas are told to stay in their lane.

People who know research and what best practice looks like in a classroom can’t hold others accountable to it because someone’s feelings might get hurt.

People who ask questions have “strong personalities”.

People who are “confident and knowledgeable” are told that they intimidate their coworkers.

And strong teachers are constantly asked, “Why are you still in the classroom?”

Think about that for a minute. We are encouraging the people who are best at what they do–to STOP doing it.

We are saying, “You are too good to JUST be teaching children.”

So who is it, then that we want teachers to be?

At the mercy of policy makers? Or independent decision makers?

Dynamic and forward-thinking? Or tied to a program, to a test?

Driving their own curriculum? Or doing as they are told?

Whatever we show that we value–that is what we will have.





Radical Candor versus Compassionate Communication: How do we decide what works best?

Kim Scott says in her talk about radical candor that she learned during business school that “all of life’s hardest problems can be boiled down to a good two by two framework.”

Radical candor is a framework to help us think about ways in which to give feedback. It is founded on the idea of two continuums, “care personally” and “challenge directly”: the good two by two framework to solve life’s extremely challenging problem of how to give effective feedback. Depending on your combination of these two options, you end up in one of four quadrants in terms of your communication style. Compassionate and non-violent communication is also a framework to help us think about ways in which to give feedback. It is not constructed on a two by two framework, and yet, when boiled down, the two concepts seem to fit well together, like yin and yang.

Compassionate and non-violent communication begins with the idea of a stimulus—something that instigates the interaction—coupled with intention. You then have two choices—to play the game of who’s right, or to enter the realm of possibilities. As per the website for the Center of Nonviolent Communication, “NVC begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture. NVC also assumes that we all share the same, basic human needs, and that each of our actions are a strategy to meet one or more of those needs.” Parallels to this idea can also be found in classroom approaches such as Responsive Classroom.

Compassionate communication includes three visual organizers in order to support users of the approach, including a color-coded chart of “Feeling Words”, and a wheel of needs that partners with these words in order to help us to pair underlying needs with feelings, and thereby communicate in a clear manner exactly what it is that we need. Inserting these into this sentence frame–“When I see/hear….I feel….because I value….actionable” — gives the person to whom you are communicating a clear understanding of your feelings, and their relationship to your needs, as well as actionable steps that can be taken to resolve the problem.

Both these approaches aim in some way to consider the vulnerability that people feel when being given feedback. Both of them value honesty and compassion, for all parties involved. However, ultimately they serve different purposes.

Radical candor should be used when:

1) you are in a position of power and are giving feedback to someone less powerful than you

2) you are not in a state of heightened emotion

Compassionate communication should be used when:

1) you are in a state of vulnerability due to power dynamics

2) you are in a state of vulnerability due to heightened emotion

Professionally I might be in any of these states on any given day. With my principal and other superiors, I am in a position of vulnerability due to power dynamics. However, when supporting teaching interns, practicum students, or even novice teachers, I am the one in a position of power. Sometimes I am the one whose needs are not being met: by my superiors, by my colleagues, even by my students. Sometimes, I am calm and simply making an observation. In any given moment, I must make a judgment about the most suitable approach.

What neither approach helps you with, however, is how to make that judgment. In an ideal world, I can float above myself and carefully consider all the facts of a situation before deciding how to react. In reality, that is never the case. We are constantly responding to moments.

Pairing Sheila Heen’s work with these two approaches, however, may help. Sheila Heen’s work discusses three types of feedback that we all need: appreciation, coaching, and evaluative.

When demonstrating appreciation, neither radical candor nor compassionate communication is necessary, as neither party in that case is experiencing either vulnerability due to power dynamics or vulnerability due to heightened emotion.

If you are coaching, there should be less power imbalance, but greater possibility for heightened emotion on the part of the party receiving feedback. When evaluating, there is a clear power imbalance, as well as a possibility of heightened emotion. Knowing your role in advance, as well as some particulars of the situation, may help you decide beforehand what type of approach will be the most effective.

Heen’s work also, however, emphasizes that in fact, successfully having these difficult conversations is actually less about how to give feedback and more about how we learn to receive feedback. The person receiving the feedback is ultimately the one in charge. Therefore, for mentor teachers, helping a student teacher understand their own tendencies in receiving feedback may actually be the most effective approach.

However, how we might best go about that in the field of education still remains to be seen.



why i don’t understand

The world has changed in a lot of ways recently, from my view in a small city in Virginia. Or maybe it hasn’t changed, but different parts of the world have become more apparent.

A man has been elected to the highest office of my country, one of the most powerful countries in the world. A country who has a history of idealism, whose birth is rooted in idealism, but who has time and time again fallen painfully short. And yet we are still here, we are still standing, so many of us trying to have the conversations that allow us to inch a little closer to that ideal.

Part of that conversation, part of any conversation, is listening to the varying perspectives of others. Listening with love, and compassion, and trying to understand a different position even without agreeing with it or even accepting it. But I find myself really struggling to do so.

Because the thing is, as a kindergarten teacher, I spend my days with five year olds. I spend my days and my thoughts and my patience and my love helping them learn how to navigate the world, even when the size of that world is just a classroom. And in that classroom, I’ve had to think hard about what my expectations are and WHY they are, in order to be fair to all my children.

Our classroom rule is “Be kind to each other.” We have only one rule, because when you are five it’s hard for you to remember a long list of rules, but also because we only NEED one rule to cover everything we need to cover. And in being kind to each other, we learn inherently  that our needs as a person are no more important than the needs of any other singular person, that we must all make compromises, that we must all find ways to live with each other compassionately and support each other. That “fair” does not always mean “equal” because the needs of one are never exactly the same as the needs of another. And that you, from your perspective, do not get to determine the needs and feelings of someone else, who has a different perspective.

I am having a hard time understanding the disconnect between what I must teach my kindergarteners and the adult world we live in. Of course the world grows more complex. But that seems to me an even better reason to return to fundamentals, and consider how we can frame our interactions in the most basic things we learned as children.

Politics is politics, and can be argued. But humanity is humanity, and should never be argued. This election was not ever about politics, but about humanity. Somehow, in 2017, we as adults are still learning what our children already know. Our value is fundamentally connected to the fact that we are each a singular human being. What we look like, who we love, and what we believe does not change that.

But we ARE all interconnected, and how we behave towards one another DOES have an impact. In my classroom, all my children come from different backgrounds in their five short years. They all have some things that they are very good at, and some things that are very hard for them. We as a classroom community applaud each other’s strengths, and support each other in our growth. We learn together over the year that we are each important and valuable, but no MORE important or valuable than anyone else.

Let me give you some examples.

We finish quiet time and go to the carpet. Some markers are left on the table. I ask, “Who left the markers on the table? Can someone please put them away and help take care of our classroom?” Many children say, “Not me!” They are 5. They are ego-centric. That’s normal. But some children get up, go get the markers, and put them away, and we say, “Thank you for helping to take care of OUR classroom. We appreciate you.”

One child hits another child. The child who gets hit is upset; the first child says they were “just playing.” What do you say to that child? I say, “I understand you thought you were just playing, but your friend is telling you that they are hurt. How can you fix your relationship with your friend?”

A child doesn’t want to sit next to another child on the carpet, the reason being some variation of, “They are always touching me! They are always following me!” And what do you say to that child?

I say, “I understand that you don’t like how they are behaving. You need to use kind words and tell your friend what it is they are doing that you don’t like. You don’t have to be best friends with them and you don’t have to accept their behavior, but they are a part of our classroom and you do need to treat them with respect, just as you want them to treat you.”

It’s pretty black and white in kindergarten. And here’s the thing-even though there are excuses from every direction-in the end, it’s pretty black and white in adulthood too.

The Quiet Catcall

Twice in the past week, some random man has commented to me out of nowhere something along the lines of, “You look beautiful.”

This is by no means the first time this has happened to me. I would imagine it has happened to most women, many times in their life.

It is not a catcall. It is the quiet version of the catcall. The “gentlemanly” version. The “nice guy” version. The kind that women should be grateful to receive. After all, the man isn’t being rude. He is offering up kind words, asking nothing in return. Compliments out of the blue are the most genuine kind, asking only to make the other person feel good.

So I was left wondering, why then does this still make me feel uncomfortable?

I thought hard if I have ever felt the need to comment on a male stranger’s appearance, to that man.

I thought hard if I have ever known other women to comment on a male stranger’s appearance, to that man.

I couldn’t come up with anything on either count. And I started wondering if, similar to catcalls, that is accepted social behavior only in one direction. And if so, why?

My friend M. pointed out that “brazen confidence is accepted and appreciated for guys…[whereas] that sexual “confidence” in women comes off as either desperate or slutty.”

I thought about that. But even more, I concluded a few things.

I don’t ever feel a need to push myself into an unknown man’s personal space. For any reason.

Nor am I sitting around waiting for comments on my appearance. My goal in dressing myself was not to receive compliments from people whose opinion I have no investment in.

And finally, are these compliments honestly given with no hope of something in return?

I do love compliments, of course. But genuine compliments come from a place of knowing a person. And when you don’t know me, those well-meaning compliments are, in fact, just a quiet catcall.

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