User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Caring and Compassionate Confrontation

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When I was in my Doctoral program, I met in one of my classes Debbie who was the Corporate Education coordinator for the university. She ran workshops for teams from profit and non-profit organizations and corporations. I had mentioned that I had a background in adventure education with a focus using outdoor team building activities. She got excited and said that the university does team building on their off campus site and asked me to join her as a facilitator. At the time I was a chain smoker, about 2 packs a day, and had been smoking like that for about 10 years. These activities were outdoors so I would smoke during these day long team building days. We would have the clients fill out evaluation forms at the end of the day and use these evaluations to do our end-of-day debriefings. During one such debriefing, Debbie had found several comments about how my smoking disturbed several of the individual clients. She looked at me with such a caring look and said, “You are so good at what you do. It’s such a shame that your smoking detracts from that.” On the way home that evening I threw away my cigarettes and never smoked again. This ended up being a peak experience in my life in that Debbie’s unconditional caring facilitated major behavioral change in me.

compassion-desmond-tutu

Fast forward to present day . . . this is about a 5th grade student in one of my gifted education classes. Last semester, J. was incredibly annoying. He got on both my and his classmates nerves way too often. He was a “know-it-all” with both the other students and me. He was loud, often claimed he knew the answer (he often did), and when he was correct, he would exclaim loudly, “I told you so.” When we had competitions such as with board games and Kahoot, he often won and would gloat. I had lots of one-on-one talks with him telling him that I believe that he is smart and insightful, but that he often alienates others (including me) with his comments. I emphasized that I wanted others to see his talents but with his comments and attitudes, others would not see them. I also told him that winning competitions does feel good but that he should congratulate himself silently as not to get his peers angry. We’ve been back from break for several weeks (I meet with them twice a week for a few hours each time). I noticed that he is not so loud, doesn’t make such antagonist comments, and lets me help him with technology-based assignments. On several occasions, I told him that I noticed his changes and that I am proud of him. When asked, he said he made a New Year’s resolution to make changes. Last semester I didn’t think he was listening to my suggestions, but he was! 

The following excerpts from the Harvard School of Education’s The Troublemakers (http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/18/01/troublemakers) support the idea of caring and compassionate confrontation.

We teachers all have our Joes, our students who consistently call out, talk back, refuse to participate or sit down or stay on task. They throw our lessons into disarray, make our heads pound. They keep us up at night strategizing, worrying. How can I connect? What strategies might work tomorrow?

How do we reach and teach our troublemakers? Most teachers have binders brimming with ideas: shuffled seat assignments, tracking systems, rewards for on-point behavior. But when these fail, what can you do when it’s you alone in your class balancing 29 personalities, the clock ticking and your 40-minute-long class is almost up?

Some strategies for working with these kinds of difficult students include:

Seek out our students’ strengths. All students have strengths. Perhaps they are avid photographers, basketball players, coders, or poets when not in school. But when it comes to our troublemakers, it can be easy for their assets to be overshadowed by behaviors that disrupt the carefully cultivated cultures of our classrooms. We cannot lose sight of these strengths. Yet it is not enough to know that our troublemakers are budding artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs. We must also seek to reframe and better understand the qualities we find most frustrating.

Strategize with students. We can only guess as to why a student might call out or fail to do homework. Rather than assume we know the answer, ask. From our students we can better learn what hurdles they face and in what ways we can support their success. And in doing this we demonstrate our commitment to our students.

Create opportunities for students to realize their potential and be publically recognized for their academic achievements. All students are capable of achieving remarkable things, they just might need our help to do so. In raising the stakes, but also the support, we can create opportunities for students to explore at the edge of their capabilities. And when they do succeed, celebrate these achievements. Our troublemakers are too often only publicly acknowledged for their disruptions. We can change this pattern by intentionally creating opportunities to publicly recognize their strengths.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 21, 2018 at 11:00 pm

2 Responses

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  1. A good result in both situations. Well done.

    Norah

    January 22, 2018 at 11:29 am

    • thanks, Norah!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      January 22, 2018 at 1:50 pm


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