Nerves are frayed. Many teachers, parents, students, staff, and community members are fraught with worry about what back-to-school will look like this fall. Following this formula will de-escalate duress, no matter the situation or the task at hand.
Let’s imagine three scenarios: A father is home with young children balancing his own job with trying to figure out how to convert a pdf to a google doc to submit a picture or worksheet through a learning platform to a teacher. Frustrations intensify, especially because a sibling cries for a snack in the next room and the new puppy just peed all over the carpet. The parent click, click, clicks, the dog barks, and the little sister is pulling everything out of the pantry.
Or maybe things look more like this: The elementary schooler vaguely remembers the regrouping math strategy that her second-grade teacher taught her last year, but this year amidst remote learning, her mother tells her to “carry the one.” The battle begins. Math lingo has changed a lot since Mom was in school.
Perhaps you’re teaching remotely and running a seminar discussion over Zoom. Suddenly you can’t hear four of the ten students on screen; the other six are either changing their backgrounds, messaging in a private chat, or more interested in watching themselves on screen than listening to you explain what alliteration is. Now, there are parents on the screen, too, trying to figure out how and why the volume for their children has suddenly stopped working or the WiFi is glitching. So much for that captivating, fulsome, consequential conversation!
In teaching, and in parenting, there are always moments of strife, but this year feels especially unsteady. When you feel the ground shake, consider these phrases in this order. Take a deep breath and begin with “I don’t know…”
“I don’t know” humanizes you. It allows you and your student or students the chance to find common ground. Once you are on the same playing field, it’s much easier to win the game. Also, “I don’t know” invites respect.
“Let’s try together” works because you and the student share mutual respect for each other. You’re not just on the same playing field; now, you’re on the same team, united in your quest and determined to succeed together. You are not the sage on the stage. Like the student, you too are a learner, and as you model what authentic learning looks like, your student gains skills beyond the math problem or the technology issue – skills such as problem-solving, patience, conflict-resolution, and compassion.
“You’re doing so well” affirms the student’s part in your shared learning journey. The phrase builds confidence and underscores your mutual respect. There is no downside to lifting up a child. To high-five a student for her effort is to champion perseverance and squelch self-doubt, something that riddles way too many children today.
“Thank you for helping me” reiterates your support. You and the student tackled the task; you grappled with the circumstances together. Whether or not you solved the issue is actually unimportant. In a small but significant way, thanking the student, acknowledging your need for him and his part in the process validates the child’s experience, their place in your classroom, in your home, and in the world.
As educators, parents, and community members, our job is to support our students. Implementing this formula into our vernacular and process encourages growth and appeases anxiety. The vulnerable phrases also illuminate courage, something we’re all digging for as we approach the next school year.