Say What Again??

On the way to school yesterday morning, I “just happened” to hear this piece on NPR about a successful restorative justice program in a school in Houston.  I wondered what Ms. X and Mr. Y would make of that!  Sitting in a circle, listening to each other, coming to understand and empathize with each other, and (quite often, it seems) really changing your behaviors and attitudes as a result … Ms. X and Mr. Y have never heard of such a thing.   “They,” as a colleague said at lunch the other day, “want to be treated like adults, but They don’t want the responsibility.”  That Colleague also firmly believes some advice he received as a new teacher: “These Kids are likeable, but you can’t trust any of them.”

Say what?? was my first thought once again.  What a bleak, bitter world it must be if you can’t trust anybody … and evidently my colleague lives in a world like that. “Those Kids do things that are just as bad in College, but at least Those Teachers aren’t as responsible for their behavior as we are.”  From that perspective, the whole factory-structure of supervision and (assumed or presumed) control makes sense, doesn’t it?  If everybody else is bad, lazy, and irresponsible, it would have to be up to the responsible ones to make them behave, wouldn’t it?

Say what??

There’s a well-traveled, well-intentioned road of making Them do things, though I know my colleague doesn’t approve of the destinations that road has historically led to.   Mistrust leads to suspicion and fear, which lead in turn to more attempts at control, which cause more forms of rebellion and more suspicion and fear, and the cycle goes on and on.  “Why would a person who thinks that want to work with teenagers?” The Girl asked me when I told her briefly about that conversation.  And that’s not a question I can answer.  I’m also not sure how you’d define who the responsible ones are, who gets to be in the Special Circle of controllers rather than the large, faceless group of controlled.

What a contrast there is between that world of mistrust and the world of “new leaders in education” Walter McKenzie describes.  As I read his list of fifteen “leadership traits,” I saw colleagues, current students, Latin Family members from over the years … and I saw a stark contrast, maybe even a chasm, between these new leaders and the paradigm of mistrust that Ms. X, Mr. Y, and so many others are still caught in.  Empathy is a core value of the joyful learning community we try to build together every day: “what kind of message are people receiving when you do that?”  Empathy and honesty … the emotional safety that allowed B to tell me I’d really hurt her feelings when I snapped at her, that allowed me to hear her and apologize to her publicly.  But empathy and honesty can’t flourish in a field that’s fertilized with mistrust and suspicion … and when Latin Family members leave our little space, the fields and paths they travel are overflowing with mistrust and suspicion, often not-so-cleverly disguised with pretty motivational posters and “incentives” and “rewards” and Ms. X and Mr. Y’s anger when those things don’t “motivate” you.

“They want to be treated like adults, but they don’t want the responsibility.”  My perspective is a bit different.  Yes, the teenagers I know do want to be treated like adults, just as Ms. X and Mr. Y and I did when we were teenagers Back In The Day.  But just like Ms. X, Mr. Y, and me, they may not know how to navigate a world of increasing responsibility, and they may not know what impressions their actions are making on others.  Ms. X and Mr. Y don’t make it any easier when they just assume that “everybody” should know what the expectations are!  “You know what’s appropriate,” Somebody said on an intercom announcement, referring to an upcoming free-dress day.  But what’s appropriate in my world may be completely inappropriate in yours!  “What you’d wear to church,” which One Ms. X used to say about dressing up for special occasions, means one thing to Ms. X, something else to me and my family, and something totally different to T, N, and U … and something else entirely to a non-churchgoer.  “What you’d wear to church with your grandmother,” Another Ms. X suggested … but grandmothers and their religious traditions are just as diverse; mine would have expected a hat and white gloves for ladies, and she certainly wouldn’t have approved of a patterned shirt and a patterned tie with a patterned suit for men.

If you want young people to develop responsibility and “deserve some freedom,” which even Ms. X and Mr. Y would say they do, you have to be clear, you have to be patient, and you have to do a lot more showing and listening and a lot less ordering and punishing than Ms. X and Mr. Y have ever experienced.  You probably need something like those restorative justice circles … but Ms. X and Mr. Y have “too much to cover,” and Powers That Be are “too busy,” and everyone is convinced that “more supervision” will “solve the problems” anyway.  “I could stand over you,” I sometimes say to particularly un-empathetic Latin Family members, “and make you be quiet, but what kind of a message would that send about you?”  I don’t think Ms. X and Mr. Y are ready to hear that … but most of the time, most of those “bad, lazy kids” eventually get the message and start working on controlling themselves.

The forecast calls for cooler weather today and tomorrow; I hope that will translate into cooler heads, fewer “incidents,” and more self-awareness by Ms. X, Mr. Y, and the “bad, lazy ones.”  I wonder what role a joyful learning community can play in changing hearts and minds of those outside it, those who don’t (yet) see the point.  And I wonder what other challenges and discoveries await us all today!


Published in: on May 15, 2014 at 10:50 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Reblogged this on Actualization and commented:
    I agree with you completely, Joyful Latin!

    • Thank you so much, Walter, and thanks for the reblog!

  2. I am trilled to see your connection about trust and the next generation of leadership. You state your case very well! Thank you for drawing parallels to my post!

    • Walter, thank you so much! I really appreciated your post and was glad it “just happened” to show up when it did. I keep thinking about the enormous disconnect between what everybody seems to know about the kinds of leadership that are needed and what’s still the current practice in so many schools and districts. What will it take to help more of them reach a tipping point and really embrace the needed changes?

      • I honestly believe the change is starting to happen as new leaders grow into their roles and shake off the old ways of doing business. I know they hit a lot of walls, but their sheer presence in the profession is making a difference. Slowly as we build towards critical mass we will eventually hit that tipping point and the current status quo fades away. I know what you mean, though. It’s very difficult waiting for that sea change to happen! 🙂

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