Ideas & Answers

March 16, 2013

I get called arrogant kind of a lot. When I ask those who know me well about the issue, they note that I am a bold & confident person (no disagreement). Then, they usually cite some interaction they had with me in the past in which I was very receptive to feedback or perhaps even explicitly admitted being wrong (something I am quite a lot) as evidence that I am not arrogant. So, I’ve been reflecting on this a bit (you know, cause getting insulted isn’t fun).

I think I’ve come to a conclusion. I view the world in ideas rather than answers. When someone asks me a question I almost always have an idea (so do you), but not necessarily an answer. However, I wonder if people hear my ideas as answers? (Thus inferring that I “have an answer for everything”).

Now I’m left trying to figure out how to help those I communicate with understand that I am proposing ideas rather than stating answers. I believe this will be more daunting than it seems. For example, if I give up on my ideas too easily, then they won’t be fully explored. That is, if we give up on ideas because we don’t want to seem arrogant, then the idea seems weak because of our fortitude rather than weakness inherent to the idea. If an idea is weak, we should abandon it, but we should not abandon an idea because of any trait of the proposer (good or bad).


While I could respond more often with, “I don’t know”, I don’t think such a response gets us anywhere. Perhaps I could say, “I don’t know, but here’s an idea…”, or maybe I’ll just ask more questions.

I wonder if I view other people’s answers as ideas? I suspect I do as I rarely take someone’s word for something. So how do I continue wrestling with someone else’s idea while helping them realize I value their idea?

While writing this post, one thought kept popping up, “why should I have to change, shouldn’t other people just be more self-confident & recognize the value of ideas over answers?” Yet, I know this is an emotional response & I can only control what I say & how I say it, not how others interpret what is said. Sometimes it might be easier to just not talk at all.


* The follow was edited out to avoid misinterpretation: “This makes me think of Christ – the embodiment of humility, yet filled with fortitude, & even a bit of certainty.”  When I wrote that sentence, I was not at all comparing myself to Christ.  Instead, I was noting how thinking about the fine line between humility & arrogance made me think *about* Christ. How is it that he was able to be known as so humble, yet consistently told people they were wrong (& with authority)?

Student Participation

October 4, 2012

Today in my Ed Psych course I asked, “Why do we want students to participate in class?” The preservice teachers easily acknowledged that increased participation likely leads to increased mental engagement & having students hear ideas of other students has clear benefits concerning the language accessibility of the exchanges. I then asked, “What things can a teacher do to discourage/encourage participation?” While there are obvious answers, I think one of the more nuanced ideas related to valuing student ideas. When exploring this, we noted that teachers need to flexibly use student ideas, but doing so requires a very well developed pedagogical content knowledge. Leave a comment sharing how you encourage your students to participate in class discussion or other activities?

Emotional sink of teaching

May 17, 2011

This semester I had all assignments be “learning experiences”.  That is, the assignments were not graded in the traditional sense.  When the students turned in assignments (often self created) I provided extensive feedback for them to consider as they continue to learn.  Then, four times throughout the semester I met with each student individually to discuss what they’d learned so far and what they could continue to work on.  During these meetings I helped students become more and more adept at self-assessing.  Their final grade was self-assigned.

Why was this emotionally draining?  Well, to start, this took an unbelievable amount of time.  I was still providing feedback on all of the assignments as well as meeting with every student for 1/2 hour (sometimes more) at four different times throughout the semester.  Also, the students fought me on this almost the entire time.  Some students claimed this assessment to be “inappropriate”, others thought I was being unfair, and still others thought they could better write about their understanding, rather than verbalize it (newsflash, you can’t).  Additionally, these meetings themselves were emotionally draining experiences.  Several students broke down, others simply shut down.  The verbal and mental finesse I had to use at times seemed mind boggling.

I am confident beyond any percentage that the students learned more this semester than last.  But how long can this last?

First, do no harm.

May 5, 2011

Reputations happen.

I usually develop a reputation for having a frustrating/difficult class.  Some recognize that they learn a lot.

When I’m asked about why I choose assignments, activities, and assessments that are frustrating, I respond with two points:

1) Learning sometimes involves modifying deeply held beliefs.  Making sense of complexity, paradox, and nuance is not straight-forward.  Reinforcement of established beliefs is easy, but learning is frustrating.

2) When parents discipline their children, the children do not like it.  Yet, parents continue to discipline because they believe the discipline is good for the child.*  I know students might not like certain aspects of my course, but I hope they know that I have their best interests at heart. **


*I know this could be used to defend all sorts of atrocities,

but this is where paradox and nuance enter the equation.

**Perhaps when we only worry about what kids “like” we

do more harm than good.

Tech effect

May 4, 2011

I was walking past a classroom at 10:51 am.  Their were three students sitting in the room, near each other, I paused and observed.

Not a word was spoken.

I went on my way and discussed a few things with a colleague and then headed back to my office (I usually follow up emails with a face-to-face visit).  At 10:57 I walked past the same room.  Now there were about 8 students in the room.  I paused and observed.

Not a word was spoken.

This is the last week of the semester.  These people have had class together all semester.  This is not an issue of shyness.  They were gathering to meet for a class at 11:00 and they were not present.  They were somewhere else.  Each student had a device in use: laptops, cell phones, iPads.

Not a word was spoken.

Some thoughts on praise

May 3, 2011

I address the issue of praise each semester with my methods students.  I usually use questions (surprising, I know) to encourage the preservice teachers to consider praise from a different perspective.


Why do we praise kids?

Many people say they want to help kids build self confidence.  We want students to feel good about themselves.

What does it mean to be self-confident?

I encourage the reader to think about this question.

In what way might external validation in the form of praise undermine self-confidence?

This is where many of the preservice teachers kind of say, “huh?”.  Rightfully so.  I’m not saying praising kids will cause them to be less self-confident, but that what we really want for kids is to have internal confidence and not rely on the praise of others to maintain their sense of self worth.

When thinking about typical praise,  I hear “Great job!” or “That’s right!” or “way to go!”.  Kids very quickly figure out how meaningless this praise is.  Those that don’t come to rely on the mini-treats like a salivating dog.


If we want kids to learn the cause of the moon phases we know that simply telling them about the phases is ineffective.  If we want kids to modify their self image, why would we think simply telling them “good job” would suffice?

Quick to forgive.

November 17, 2010

There are lots of things we get better at as we get older.  I think it is unfortunately that most all of us get better at holding a grudge.  I offended my middle school students often but I always admired their ability to forgive so quickly.  And they truly forgot.  Not in the sense that they were unintelligent or didn’t actually remember – I mean they never brought it up again except in humor.

I learned a lot from them.

I miss them dearly.


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