Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Friday, August 6, 2010

It's better to say YES

It took me three children to realize it is better to just say Yes. Perhaps the most common communication parents have with their young children, begins with, No. I have made a study of this in playgrounds, in public areas, and in the homes of many parents. The battles that ensue become intolerable and useless as many of these No's become a reluctant Yes with qualifications or exasperation exhibited by the parents.

I had my epiphany one summer when I went camping with my 11 year old son, my third and youngest child. We were going to spend two weeks on our favorite beach at Assateague State Park. We camp on the beach. We play baseball, bike, swim, and spend our entire time in this idyllic environment with the wild ponies. I wanted no stress and decided that when he asked to do something like take a bike ride, go swimming, play ball, cook marshmallows, take a nap, stay up late and so on, I'd say Yes. He of course found this new response very favorable to him and he just went crazy for the first few days until he was exhausted. When he expected No, he would question the Yes response because maybe biking or swimming would be dangerous, and my response was Yes, so be careful. One day when the surf was particularly rough, his response to my Yes, was that he might not since it might be too dangerous and asked me to join him. What I found was the shift in responsibility to correct and safe behavior moved from me to him.

That fall my experiment shifted to my classroom. I have always been an advocate for my scholars to take responsibility for their own learning and have used their webpages as the method to practice this theory. When they asked if they could put graphics on their page, add music, do this do that, I'd always say Yes, and tell them to figure it out using the Style Sheet. If the work they did was inappropriate we would have conversations and do peer review. Within a reasonable time they would do the right thing. It was the scholar's job to learn responsible behavior, not for me to force it on them. If they chose to fail, that was their choice. My responsibility was to have conversations that would help them make the right choice. I couldn't make it for them. I did have to intervene when their behavior would interfere with another scholar's right to learn. I found that scholar learning was on the shoulders of the scholar and I was merely a force that provided the means and guidance for them to achieve success. Their success was dependent upon them and not me.

My point about saying Yes, is that school administrators believe it is their duty to say No and to micromanage education in the schools. We see this on all levels. Mostly I see it when it comes to technology and assessment. Since the easier response from school leadership is No, I realized it was easier to ask for forgiveness then permission. If administrators developed a more Yes we can attitude in their schools our schools would be better. Instead, we continue to mismanage technology because of fear and lawyers who dictate the No response. When it comes to assessment we still use those bad tests because we haven't heard Yes to the idea of the webfolio/portfolio which is a far better pedagogical tool of assessment than those multiple choice tests. Yes is a scary word in education and that fear starts at the top and trickles down.

Saying Yes, was a liberating act for me as a parent and as a teacher. It was unexpected and required the recipient to rethink the request and how to act with this affirmative response. It required trust and patience from me. So often the requester is ready for a negative response and has a rebut waiting in the wings to begin the classic tug of war.

What I have discovered over the years by using the affirmative response, that my life is less stressful and that the requester behaves better, acts responsibly and asks less for permission to do something. Instead the conversation is about how to perform a task for better results. It isn't a matter of "Can I do it?" any more; it is a conversation of "How can I do this?" This simple shift in my behavior has had a more positive response on my children and my scholars. The result has been astonishing.

The classic Yes response comes as a cavaet: "Yes, but." I have a button that I often wear. Lose the "but."


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