Hello and welcome.
How are you?
I am fine thank you.
Ok, please get comfortable.
Close your eyes.
Shit, wait, not yet. Open your eyes and read this. Keep your eyes open and read and then close them when I ask you to.
Oh gosh. This is complicated.
Let’s try this again, When I say “go” close your eyes and try to remember the last few suggestions you received. These can be related to teaching or general. Go!
(This is where you remember the suggestions you have received most recently.)
Are you back?
What were the suggestions?
Did you follow them?
Why? Why not?
If you are like me (and I suspect like many (most?) people) you probably didn’t follow them. Again, if you are like me you might have thanked the person but figured they didn’t really know the whole situation and thought about doing something else. Maybe you thought it was a good idea but immediately found problems with it and decided you probably wouldn’t be implementing it anytime soon. Maybe you didn’t even think you were talking about a problem that needed solving and were slightly taken aback at the unrequested suggestions.
Maybe you loved the suggestions and they changed your life. If so, my experience is different.
If you did follow the suggestions, I am guessing it is because you had already decided it was a problem or an issue worth solving and the suggestion fit nicely into that. I am guessing that you were already at a stage where you were ready for suggestions. Perhaps you were stuck and had gone as far along on this issue as you could without help from another.
Sometimes I find myself sharing what I think is a story or an interesting aspect of teaching or my context and the person I am talking to jumps in and just solves the problem for me. I (generally) do appreciate the help and care that it implies but in such situation I am typically not actually actively seeking out solutions. I am just sharing. Or maybe even venting. People venting tend not to want solutions, in my experience. I think they just want to be heard and understood. So, in these situations when I am just sharing or venting I find suggestions to be particularly grating. Again, maybe I am alone in this or maybe I am hyper aware of suggestions so they impact me more than they do others.
I have a friend and colleague who makes this distinction between seeking suggestions and venting very clear. If venting she will say, “I am just venting.” If she is listening to someone talk and it sounds like venting she will often clarify if it is venting or if it is a time for potential solutions. I love this question and I love the clarity that comes with it. I have not really employed this strategy very much but I think I’d like to. I can say that I am a much different (and probably better) listener when it’s clear I am just listening and connecting and not participating in a problem solving situation. Specifically, sometimes I find myself waiting to impart my ideas, drop knowledge bombs and dispense suggestions instead of fully listening. But, when I know this is not the time for this I can be a much more attentive listener.
I think I have been blessed working with colleagues like the one mentioned above. I must also give credit to another colleague who helped me see that my litany of suggestions and improvements for his sessions were not necessarily what he was looking for all the time. It has been very helpful for me and I have learned a great deal. I also think it sometimes makes such communication with people who don’t follow this line of thinking more difficult and surprising. I’d rather not give examples examples where I felt wronged or overly suggested upon so I will just make one up. Here I go…This one time, I was telling a teaching friend about a student that I have and how it was a challenge for me to work with her. It was a stressful experience for me and I don’t think I had handled things with this student very well. I acted a lot more emotionally than I would have liked. I know that my actions and reactions were not perfect. Anyway, before hearing the full story my friend had a list of things I could and *should have done. I was fully ready to admit that I hadn’t handled things well but I wasn’t really interested in hearing what I’d done wrong (partially because I was already aware of it). I was also not really interested in hearing ways to manage and repair things with that student either. I guess I was just hoping to be heard and empathized with. When I got criticism and suggestions for future actions I didn’t get any of what I was looking for and more than enough of what I was not looking for. Frustration set in and I thought to myself, “This conversation is not going well for me” and wondered how I could avoid such situations with this friend in the future.
I don’t think it is really fair of me to blame my friend who was giving out the suggestions. I think he was sincerely just trying to help. Maybe he was trying to help in accordance with the way he thought he was helped in the past. He was also doing what is pretty much a normal thing in the world. Hear a problem, share a solution. I think this is pretty normal in the world and surely in the teaching world. I certainly don’t want to blame my friend for operating in what is a completely normal and usual way. If anything, I am more tempted to think about ways to “own” such conversations in the future and be clear about when and if I am seeking suggestions (and when I am not). Also, unfortunately, I wondered if it was worth it to share such things with this friend and thought I would be careful about sharing things that could be construed as a request for suggestions.
It seems to me that the type of suggestions we typically get might be along the lines of “What I would do if I were the teacher” or What you *should be doing.” No thanks. Subconscious or not, I think these are the suggestions that are more likely to be disregarded by the listener. Personally, as a listener, I am much more comfortable hearing about what another teacher does and their impressions of it, rather than as a suggestion or a template for me to use.
The other thing that comes to mind when I think about suggestions for teachers is that it sort of cuts out the reflective process. Jumping straight to an action point without a clear picture of what happened or potential interpretations of it or other analysis on the issue strikes me as a very quick jump and sort of circumvents reflection. Also, I feel like if I come up with an action plan I am much more likely to follow this than someone foisted on me by another.
Personally, (in addition to the aforementioned venting or trying to connect) I might share some story or challenge related to teaching to get a fresh perspective on it, but that doesn’t mean I am looking for “the answer” from my interlocutor on that particular day. It might be arrogance on my part but I think I am much more likely to find a suitable answer or plan on my own but I do welcome people helping me sort through my thoughts on the issue. I wonder if this is just me or if others feel the same way.
I’ll not add suggestions here in this post to deal with this problem of suggestions but I will share my hope that readers are a bit more aware of the next few suggestions they give out.
Thanks as always for reading and any comments are welcome.