As professionals, teachers are under pressure from many sources to be unerringly competent, effective and knowledgeable. We are expected to have answers in all situations. It can be difficult to acknowledge limitations.
Recognizing all we don’t know about the context and inner lives of our students, offers opportunities to learn. Rather than reacting within the framework of our own worldview, experience and knowledge base, we can respond to a new or difficult situation with a student by seeking to understand.
For example, when a student seems angry, disinterested or disengaged, we can respond first with compassion and concern, then by seeking information. In this way, we humbly acknowledge our ignorance, and express our interest and empathy. By seeking to understand the source of the problem, we can elicit our student’s collaboration in finding ways to channel feelings toward more positive ends.
Anger is particularly difficult to face and can trigger feelings of fear and a reflex of defensiveness. We can help to defuse anger and avoid a power struggle by accepting that we are not all knowing and by recognizing that we can make mistakes. When we turn to our students as the real experts on their own lives and experiences we are sharing our power.
- Look, I feel uncomfortable with this, but I am going to listen and do my very best.
- Please help me if I’m not able to listen in the way you need.
- I need to let you know that we may need to discuss this with someone else, for me to be able to understand.
- Who else do we need to have here with us to help us explore this?