There has been so much talk of labels lately and I blogged about it recently in response to a discussion on Twitter #losethelabels. I am excited we are going to be revisiting the topic with the #G2Great crew on Thursday. This morning on a great twitter chat titled #leadupchat (I know lots of Twitter, I love it and I am not ashamed) the question was asked, “How do we help negative people who would rather you stay within the box?” With an off the cuff answer that I thought was clever, I also inspired myself to think a little deeper.
In my classroom, I wonder how much I really let my students break out of the box, I think I am getting better at it but I also have to wonder, regarding labels, how much are we as teachers, or people in general, deciding on an idea of what we think everyone should strive for. We talk about Gifted learners, reluctant readers, Introverts, Extroverts, struggling learners, stubborn, behavior problems. These are not academic labels but they do still ask students to fit something. In the case of an introvert, the damage we do by forces them out of their “box” can be long-lasting, with an extrovert asking them to remain in one nice neat little taped up box can be damaging. Ideas that are built around sound practice do not fit every student. There is no one size fits all in education and we do a disservice to our students and our profession by thinking there is. There is, of course, better practices out there. Academic work is not something that we should just toss to the side because it makes our students (or our coworkers stretch). Helping our students investigate if there is a better box to occupy or maybe even no box at all but a big old world to explore should be the goal. No more labels, no more predetermined thoughts on what they should or should not “be” as learners. Embrace the unique nature of each child and let them figure it out as they are comfortable. On the other hand, there are practices out there that are just bad, that are educationally harmful. We do need to open a conversation with teachers that utilize these practices. We need to ask them to consider the box they are in and if the practices that are in that box with them are best for the students in their classroom. The consideration and willingness to listen are the most powerful pieces in this equation, but a sure fire way to shut that reflective questioning down is by coming in hot and labeling a teacher as ineffective because of their practice with over-generalized buzz words. As teacher advocates for our students, we are asking for fewer labels but across the profession, we are quick to label each other, another twitter conversation last week mentioned awards for teachers on staff and the need to celebrate a teacher of the week or a staff member going the extra mile, maybe they got a little funny trophy or a gift card or some little red wagon toy for “pulling more than their load” , they are likely the ones known as the great teachers, that never want the praise but always get it. This practice, while meant to build a staff culture services the opposite purpose.
When we single out teachers as “average” or “poor” vs “good” or “great” we are helping the former close up their boxes, to dig in. Teachers who might need to improve their practice need compassionate coaching just like students who need help achieving in class, they do not need a label that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. My final tweet that I really think just solidified this whole #losethelabels idea for me as more of a global issue than just one with our students was, “AVERAGE Teachers crave Praise & want to to be told how good they are. GREAT Teachers crave Constructive Criticism & want to be told how they can improve!” Reading it I just thought first it is ridiculous that great teachers crave constructive criticism, I think they welcome it but “CRAVE” no thanks. Secondly, why on earth do we need a dividing line between average and great that is based on one wanting praise and one wanting criticism. Why can’t we build a culture in a school or in education in general that works to build rather than divide. Why can’t we start looking at things as unique in their own right, celebrate the positives and work on the areas of need?
We all have things to work on and those who do not think they have any areas of need, those people would be wrong because one clear area is humility. We need to celebrate the unique learners in our classrooms and the unique teachers who work hard daily to learn with them. Our schools should be a collection of our individual greatness, not a bunch of straight out of the box carbon copy students and teachers that at the first sign of deviation get a sticker, return to sender.