The Deep End: It’s Not Always About You

August 11, 2017

I was discussing collaboration with participants in one of my workshops. What should students expect from all teachers? Why should teachers collaborate? There was talk about sharing ideas around modifications that could be made to support student understanding and a shared belief that teachers should work together so students benefited from the collective knowledge of the whole. One educator stepped up and said, “What about what we need? What expectations should we have of the students?” I was surprised by the response at that time. Not so much anymore.

The more I work with others on communication, the more I understand how important it is for others to see us, to understand who we are. At the risk of repeating the word too often, ‘deep end’ leaders need to understand this yearning in a deep way. We need to consistently be asking, “What might someone we work with be thinking about this topic? How might they feel in this situation?”

Bob Garmston, co-author of Cognitive Coaching, helped me see that this awareness has a name. When we are looking at a situation from another’s point of view, we are being more “allo-centric” or other-focused. So, in a hard conversation (a deep end thing to do) or in any possibly stressful interaction (parent-teacher conference, supervisory discussion, initiative rollout) we need to be even more allocentric.

Thinking about the answers to these questions ahead of time can provide you with a chance to frame the conversation and choose words wisely. Consider your audience.

  • What are their past experiences?
  • What is their current reality?
  • Are they experiencing any personal or family challenges at this time?
  • Are they currently managing a mental health challenge?
  • Might their generation being different from yours give them a different ‘take’?
  • Is there a race, culture or country of origin filter here that you need to not only acknowledge but better understand?
  • Is there a socio-economic difference you need to take into account as you consider their point of view?
  • Is there a gender difference that could be at play?
  • Is there a values or religious belief you need to consider?

Those are just a few of the considerations you might be thinking about before an interaction…and unfortunately, it still might not go well.

Over the course of my years as a facilitator and writer, I have had the opportunity to hear from many colleagues who have educated me about their points of view. I have embarrassed some, irritated others, and hurt two or three for sure. I have used the wrong adjective, inadvertently stereotyped, and been sarcastic. In those instances, I learned to apologize. On Apology by Aaron Lazare has come in handy a number of times. Lazare mentions 5 key points to an apology:

  1. Correctly identify the party(ies) to whom the apology is owed
  2. Acknowledge the offending behavior in adequate detail
  3. Recognize the impact the behaviors had on the victim
  4. Confirm that the grievance was a violation of a social/moral contract by showing shame, remorse, humility and sincerity and a wish to reclaim trust
  5. Make reparations – offer to do something, buy something, change something

Knowing how to apologize is a deep end practice we need to get better at. As a famous Gospel song I love says, “Clean up what you mess up and start all over again.” Preach it.

The ability to be allo-centric is essential for deep-enders. Perhaps Teddy Roosevelt said it best, “they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” So don’t be afraid of the deep end. We’re all in this together. And the water is fine.

This post was originally published on the edCircuit blog where Jennifer is a featured columnist.