I don't often dwell in regret. It's not a great feeling to hold onto and can easily transform and grow into something else entirely. This is not to say I don't make mistakes every single day- things that I would have done differently in hindsight. And these mistakes are usually easily addressed and simply make for a better future ahead. In those instances, the regret is short lived. I leave the situation feeling grateful to have learned from it. But there is one thing this year that has stayed with me... something that I think about often... something I wish I could go back and have a "do-over". Let me paint a picture for you.
It is imperative to note that the teacher in this scenario is of the utmost quality. This is a teacher that you hear students share about years down the road as one who cared about them and made an impact on them as a learner.
It's the end of the third nine weeks. Students have recently finished their nine-week benchmarks. As an instructional leader, I have decided to meet with teachers to take a brief look at the data and see what their thoughts are instructionally for the nine weeks ahead as I work to support them. I walk into the classroom to visit with the next teacher on my schedule and notice there are a few students in the classroom. These students are working to finish some assignments before heading off to the next part of their schedule. I offer to come back another time, but the teacher (that I adore), so graciously invites me to stay and visit with her at the back of the room while the students work.
Small Regret #1: Instead of insisting on coming back another time, I accept her invitation to stay. Not a big deal, easily fixable in the future.
We move to the back of the room to a table in the corner. As per usual, I ask, "So what's on your mind in regard to the nine-weeks assessment?" We visit about what went well for students, what skills may need to be retaught, and what commonalities we notice in the data based on standards. (Seems harmless, right? No foreseeable regrets, right?) Looking at the data is not a problem. But we all know that behind each set of data is the face of a child- a child that the teacher so adamantly wants to support as a learner. And so naturally, the teacher begins sharing about specific individuals.
Not So Small Regret #2: Instead of pausing the conversation until there were no students in the room, I allow the conversation to continue.
The teacher shares about some students that surprised her, both positively and negatively. The few students completing assignments in the classroom continue on, seemingly uninterrupted by us... seemingly unaware of our conversation that's becoming more personal... seemingly uncaring of the data we're discussing. And then one of those students and his data, specifically, becomes the topic of conversation.
Bigger Regret #3: Yet again, instead of pausing the conversation, I let it go on.
The student seems oblivious to our talk of him. The teacher continues, we wrap up our conversation and consider next steps for her instruction in the weeks to come. I move on to another classroom.
[Fast forward one week...]
I'm heading to the cafeteria to visit with a colleague on lunch duty. Students from this teacher's class are lining up as they have finished lunch. The aforementioned student, the one whose data became part of the conversation while he was in the classroom working, is at the front of the line. I nonchalantly ask him how things are going and we engage in easy small talk. I ask if he was able to finish the assignments he was working on in said teacher's classroom a few days back. He simply says "Yes", and then he pauses for a moment, clearly contemplating what he wants to say next... and this is the replay of that conversation that has stuck with me so closely that I couldn't even begin to pry it off with the jaws of life:
Student: I heard what (teacher) said about me the other day.
Me: What do you mean?
Student: I heard what they said about me having potential to pass this year, but not potential for middle school.... I don't know how to feel about that? (concerned look on face)
Me: Tell me more...
Student: Yeah, I don't know how to feel about what they said.
Me: Well, tell me about what you're thinking. How do you think you feel?
(Student notices teacher walking down the hall to get the class from lunch.)
Student: Uhmm, ya know... uhmm, nevermind. Nevermind...
The biggest regret of all... The one thing I regret most: I didn't address it with the teacher. I didn't go back to further visit with the student. And time went on as though the moment had never existed... But it did, and it still does. It exists in my mind and in my heart. And what's worse, what I regret most, is that this moment exists for that student.
I share this story and paint this scene not to simply confess my regrets to the world. Rather, I hope that my attempt at being so completely vulnerable leads to better practices ahead for myself and for anyone that has happened upon this post.
It's a moment that should not be forgotten and dismissed. This moment tells us as instructional leaders that students are always listening. And yet somehow, we believe that they are incognizant of our conversations, or that they are unable to discern meaning from our coded teacher language, or that they even care about what we are saying. Perhaps the opposite of that is also true. Perhaps some educators believe that our students should be hearing what we are saying, even those negative comments, in an attempt to spur motivation in them to work toward "success" (which we know is not an effective approach).
Regardless, it is our duty as instructional leaders to provide adequate professional learning that addresses these kinds of situations- professional learning that not only focuses on instructional practices, but that which focuses on supporting the whole child. Because the pure fact is the teacher in this situation is completely unaware of the effect she had in that moment on this child. This teacher didn't know any better... and that's completely my fault. What could have been a learning moment for the both of us simply turned into regret and an unchanged situation. I end by saying this: don't let this regret become your reality!! Support teacher understanding of how our nonchalant and perhaps unconscious habits and behaviors must be monitored so that we are instead creatures of intentional and positive habits that support ultimate student growth.
Learn more about how our language affects children's learning with this fantastic book by Peter Johnston (linked in the picture).
The winner of this free book will be announced on May 10th, 2021!
Welcome! I am Casey Watts- Collaborative Leader and Culture Changer!