Teachers have little control over what happens to them, but they do control their response. Teachers are stewards of the content and tone of their responses to any situation, be it a hostile parent, a misguided administrator, or a “lively” group of children.
Chapter 3 of Robyn R. Jackson’s Never Work Harder Than Your Students spotlights expectations. In response to the author’s statement, “expectations have more to do with you than with you students,” I offer these three strategies that are the bedrock of the expectations I hold for myself as a teacher:
- I am the bellwether.
- Always repair (even if not needed).
- “I am sorry that it happened.”
A bellwether indicates future trends. I am the bellwether of my classroom – my mood effects the quality of my student’s day. My relationship with my students determines the quality of their school year. I have the potential to make or break a child’s experience. I’d better be mindful of my mood; it is powerful
I need to always apologize, even if an apology is not particularly warranted. I avoid hurt feelings by repairing any potential mistakes I’ve made, even small errors of judgement. This is key to nurturing those relationships that are crucial to student learning. “I’m sorry” used with most of the same criteria as praise* repairs mistakes that are inevitable upon making dozens of teacher decisions each school day.
I can’t please everyone all the time. Somethings simply are not within my control. Still, a mother might choose to give me her “two cents”, the principal may misplace blame, or a coworker might not like my teaching style. Instead of engaging in an unproductive (and unhealthy) debate, I can simply apologize that it happened. I can apologize that they feel that way. I am no way insincerely taking the blame, and I am showing empathy.
*The apology should be authentic [heartfelt], specific [I am clear about what I am apologizing for], immediate, and clean [no hidden agenda]. Unlike praise, it does not need to be private.