Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Art of Student Management

Meeting with a high school assistant principal in his office during the school day is an exercise in instructive interruptions.  The other day, in a fifteen minute span, such a conversation was helpfully sidelined by a young woman who had been kicked out of class, a concerned parent whose son had been threatened, a returned phone call from an anxious parent whose student tore a thermostat off the classroom wall, and a male student who kept insisting the the teacher had it in for him and that he didn't do it. This last exchange was especially artful.

Student: "I wasn't doing anything.  All I did was log on to the computer.  I forgot I wasn't supposed to do that and she just starts yelling at me."
AP: "Did she yell at you or did she just disagree with what you were doing."
Student: "Well she didn't yell yell.  She just told me to stop and then I got all pissed."

The conversation continued to both the AP and the student's satisfied resolution, but it is that brief exchange about the word "yell" that I found so interesting.  Had the AP not asked for clarification (based on his experienced guess about what actually took place), he could have had a very different picture of what took place.  After all we have all seen teachers actually yell at students.  I have heard my own children describe my correction of them with that same word: "Dad, you don't have to yell."  Honestly, I wasn't yelling.  What's clear is that young people experience almost any kind of correction by an adult as "yelling."  Yet another lesson in how differently we see and hear the world.  What worked in this situation and nearly all others I have observed is when the differences in perspective become articulated.  I believe the responsibility for doing that is on the adult.

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