Five Tips for Teachers (and Parents)

One day Iliana (age 6) seemed to want to strike up a conversation as she was leaving school with her Mom.

“Goodbye, Mr. Rick.”

“Goodbye, Iliana.”

“You’re the principal.”

“That’s right. I am the principal.”

“You are in charge of everything.”

“That’s right.”

”You can DO anything you want.”

At that point I realized I was in a different conversation—not the usual pleasantries in which mutual affection is communicated, but a conversation with substance.

“Well, no, Iliana, I can’t do anything I want. I have to obey the same rules you do. I have to respect everyone. I have to be kind all the time.”

“Yeah, you have to follow the rules on the play structure.”

“Right,” I said. Then a little thought: “Actually, you can do some things I can’t do. I can’t climb on the play structure. I am too big.”

I miss having children around. Their absence compromises my education.

If you are lucky enough to be responsible for the education of children, but are not feeling so lucky right now (like they test your authority too much, or ask too many questions, or keep getting into conflict, or keep making mistakes, or their achievement is sub par, or in some other way just too challenging), maybe it would be more relaxing to frame the challenge differently.

Maybe they are doing their job (learning how to make something of themselves in the world), and you need to let them help you with your job (learning how to make something of yourself in the world). Here are some little mantra-type things we can keep in mind.

1.     Challenging authority? —Play position. Their job is to test the environment. Your job is to be there, pushing back when necessary. They are working at becoming an authority, themselves.

2.     Asking too many questions? —Their job is questioning; yours is answering. (and sometimes with a question of your own.)

3.     Getting into conflict?Good. They have learning opportunities. (We might have an opportunity to help make it a learning experience….or not)

4.     Making mistakes? Mistakes are learning opportunities. Their job is to create. Yours is to deliver feedback that is hearable, seeable and doable (sometimes).

5.     Achievement is too low?Loving the challenge of learning IS the achievement. (“Achievement” is a by-product and often a function of luck.)

Life provides us all with the same fundamental challenge: the challenge of learning the art of allowing ourselves to be changed. As Carol Dweck keeps reminding us, success depends on maintaining a growth mindset.  Adults can help by counteracting our brains’ natural affinity for fixed mindsets.

Many years ago my wife and I were young parents. One day I asked her what was wrong. “You seem so anxious.”

“I AM anxious,” she said. “I don’t know what I am doing? I don’t know how to be a mother.”

“It’s okay. It will be all right. You’re a learning Mom,” popped out of my mouth, and she relaxed.

A few years ago she told me it the best thing I ever said to her, and in the 44 years since then I have learned just how smart that was. Kids don’t need us to be perfect. We only have to be good enough. Children are designed with all sorts of internal resources. They are actually planning to do the whole gig on their own. Even at the age of 65 with four children and five grandchildren, I am still learning how to be a Dad.

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9 thoughts on “Five Tips for Teachers (and Parents)

  1. When Kathy and I had Griffin, we were worried that we might accidentally kill him. Once that fear passed, we moved on to other things. Like, are we going to screw him up emotionally, etc. When we had twins a few years later, I began to realize that we can’t control them. They are as they are. We can only be the most important influence. I’m glad to know that children are forgiving of us. As long as they really know we love them, we can be pardoned for our mistakes. Thanks for the post, Rick.

  2. Rick,
    You’re approach to valuing and heightening the learning journey/uniqueness of each child … and to challenging us as adults (parents/educators) to consider the possibility of reorienting our power dynamic with children … is a gift!

    Thank you for your generosity and consistency in dangling these messages before me, as I cross the bridge from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” of our two beautiful boys.


  3. I went from classroom teaching to online teaching, and have indeed been missing the live action thrill, but though in many ways, as an online teacher, I have to be the sage on the stage, I am learning to be the “guide on the side” with a whole new outlook. Today, one of my distance learners interjected a comment about our topic, and I thought, GREAT! So I turned the floor over to him, and let him tell what he knew, and the kids LOVED it! I did too, because I learned something new, and because it was great to get their participation, feedback and enthusiasm.

    As a parent, it’s so scary – there is a lot of “What if I mess this up?” that comes with the territory, but there is so much joy in listening to your child tell you about an accomplishment that they initially doubted they’d do; or to hear them tell of being humbled by something they thought they could do easily, only to discover how difficult the task actually was. While we don’t take pleasure in their “failure”, it is a joy to realize that they’ve gained some valuable experience and come through it a little wiser. My daughter is teaching English in Thailand, and thought teaching would be a breeze. She and her boyfriend co-teach 300 Thai students, K-5, and are learning how much prep time and thought really goes into teaching. She recently told me how much more respect she has for me and all teachers now that she’s “been there and done that”. Sometimes, you do have to “walk a mile in another man’s shoes”.

    Thanks for the timely post, Rick. I have shared your blog with so many fellow teachers, and always glean a little wisdom from your posts.

    Happy December!

  4. Thank you for your story, Lorrie. Teaching is generally thought of as an input job. You show that it is really about inspiring output. Thank you.

  5. Today one of our Board members e mailed a message that after decades in the classroom she’s done with the hysterics and ballyhooing of the academics in the psych department at the prestigious university where she works. They prevent her from teaching and providing guidance to the students, many of whom are ESL or special needs. So she’s repairing to the telecommunications department where ignored by persons of title that don’t understand distant learning, she can once again without impediment engage her students in lively dialogue and thoughtful critical thinking exchanges.

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