Friday, September 13, 2013

Taking Perspective for Granted

When I woke up this morning, it was 50 degrees outside--according to the outdoor thermometer. I snuggled up in jeans and a sweatshirt to go outside, thinking how cold it was. But six months from now, I could wake up, look outside and see 50 degrees on the thermometer, and think that finally it was starting to warm up. 50 degrees feels a lot different, depending on what side of winter you're on.

And that's perspective. If we only see life out of our own eyes and experience it from our own perspective without thinking about--and at least trying to empathize with other's views--then we'll miss key connections that we could make to other people. If six months from now me said to me this morning, wow, it's sure a warm day, I'd think she was insane. I would dismiss her ideas because that opinion is so opposite of my own "it was eighty degrees last week" experience. But it's still me--ignoring the metaphysical anomaly that allowed me to talk to my past self. I'm still a good person, hardworking, caring, positive; I still have the same values. I'm just positioning my thoughts from the immediate surroundings and my most recent experience with weather.

I see people do this all the time. You don't talk to somebody for a while, and then meet for lunch or at an event. You play catch up. It's the changes that you're going to notice first, the things in the person's most recent experience that have pushed them to think differently or from a different perspective than the last time you saw them. People change and environment--physical, social, and cognitive changes--plays a huge role in those changes. People adapt without trying--it's a survival trait. But that means that you may think differently or from a different perspective than you previously held.

Apply this to teaching. Summer vacation often changes students. They have different experiences, spend their time differently. Sometimes they go to camps and meet new people; sometimes they spend their days on the couch watching reality TV. All experiences have the potential to change your perspective, so it's important not to dismiss entertainment experiences offhand. Kids come back to school, and it's like a Clash of the Titans for reset mode. Kids who've been friends for years can barely talk to each other, kids who've been enemies shared a summer experience--maybe playing on  a travel team--and can't be separated, which throws the cliques into chaos.

Human beings are flexible and it doesn't take much to push us to lean in one direction or another. We adapt quite easily, and within a few weeks of being back to school, the inevitable shakeout is over--for the most part--and things have settled down into the routine of the year. Once that initial shakeout is done, it's time for teachers' work to begin. Now that students are finding their routines, what can you tell about them--how they are thinking, how they've adapted to changes, what is influencing them. This is your chance to find out their motivations and start creating your own thoughtful design of their educational experiences. Just remember--no one changes overnight. People adapt, slowly, one tiny change at a time. You've got a lot of kids, so attack on two fronts: the whole class changes you want to see and the individual changes in specific kids.

If you can be accepting of the kids in general, recognizing that their perspectives are inherently different than yours--even if you come from similar backgrounds, you are from different generations--you can begin to design their educational experiences to create great students. They don't have to be like you--act, behave, speak, or look--to adapt to the qualities you want them to, such as communicating thoughtfully and with clarity, using precision in their work, or treating others opinions as valid. Think about what qualities you want most--you won't be able to get them all--and then design a way to slowly adapt the class as a whole to that quality.

The more practice you get, the more side projects--individual students--you'll be able to mold as well. The most important thing to remember is perspective--your class will change students' perspective, as will any environment that they spend a significant amount of time in. How do you want that perspective to change and what can you do to scaffold the way?

No comments:

Post a Comment