With my own children, my greatest times of error have been marked by guilt. In an effort to do all that I can for them, there have been times when I've made a bad decision or neglected to see an area of need. Times like that make me feel bad since, like most parents, I want to be there for them as much and as well as I can. Yet as parents, and as teachers too, we can't anticipate every error or problem--parenting and teaching share the common denominator of positions that are filled with surprise and new learning.
There are bottom-line rules that support both parenting and teaching, and as much as possible it's important to keep those rules in mind.
- When in doubt, take a break. You'll never go wrong in any way, if you simply walk away. I learned this early when I was a babysitter and faced babies who cried endlessly. I learned that a baby will never harm himself/herself by crying and if the crying is getting to you, simply walk away. The same is true in the classroom. If a child's behavior is perplexing and frustrating, walk away, seek consult, and take a break in order to understand the behavior better. You'll never do wrong if you do this.
- You can't be kind enough. Sometimes when your children at home or in school act up, you can simply begin to tell them all the things you value about them up front. That settles everyone down. For example, if a child is jumping around the room (that happens sometimes in 5th grade), you can say, "Tom, I appreciate your energy, zest for life, athleticism, and the number of great friends you have, but in order for me to teach this skill, I really need you to sit down right now.) That often works.
- When you err, be upfront about it. Own it, dissect it, and use it as a teaching point. My dad did this all the time when I was growing up and it helped me to understand him and the problem at hand well. For example, once he was very upset, and he sat down and explained to me why. His explanation made me feel very close to him and very grownup at the time--it was a powerful and intimate moment.
- Don't forget--no one can be all or do all. Sometimes your children will bring challenges that are so difficult to understand. I remember that with one of my sons we went through a period of utter despair. Day after day we discussed the situation and had some pretty good arguments about the related issue too. I read everything I could about the situation and sought help from others in the know. It was a challenging time. As I look back on the issue, one of the most troubling aspects was that I simply didn't have as much support as I needed, however by reaching out to others, I was able to find a number of activities that helped to remedy the situation, and now many years later the issue is a distant memory and my son is strong.
- Err on the side of positivity. You will never do wrong if you remain positive.
- Balance energy, time, and outreach. In today's world we have to continually re-prioritize our time, effort, and investment. When we stretch too far, like an elastic, we snap. It's important to make time for self care, rest, and health as without that we can't be good for anyone.
Like most people, I don't like error or problems, but I'll heed the words of Neil Gaiman and Johnny Cash below and move forward with good intent, action, and effort. Onward.
I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something. - Neil Gaiman
You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. - Johnny Cash