Nov 19, 2013

What’s Your Default Position?

At the beginning of my teaching career, I assumed the typical default teacher position, “No.”

“You want to work in groups when I want you to work individually? No.”

“You want to do a different assignment than this one? No.”

“Can you work in the hall? No.”

And so on, and so on.

Let’s be honest, ‘no’ as a default position makes sense. It makes order easy. Having thirty students in a room, in theory, is easy. Because of course, in theory, they are all at the same level, need the same attention, have the same motivation, etc., etc. The reality is that thirty students in a room are thirty people in room. Each with different needs, different baggage, etc., etc.

To make things easy for me, I relied upon the insistence of compliance. If everyone is doing the exact same thing, in the exact same way, in the exact same time frame, it’s simply easier to manage for me.

I hid my default position under the guise of “fairness”. It’s not fair for any deviation of what I want.

Sure, I said yes at times, but really it was usually because it worked for me too.

Instead it was ‘no’ to change. ‘No’ to student ideas. ‘No’ to difference. ‘No’ to chaos.

Seth Godin points out the truth of what “no” means:

What “no” means
I’m too busy
I don’t trust you
This isn’t on my list
My boss won’t let me
I’m afraid of moving this forward
I’m not the person you think I am
I don’t have the resources you think I do
I’m not the kind of person that does things like this
I don’t want to open the door to a long-term engagement
Thinking about this will cause me to think about other things I just don’t want to deal with

And so over the last couple years, I’ve made a conscious effort to change my default position. What if my default position was yes?

“You want to try something different? Yes.”

“You think this is boring? Yes.”

“You want to run with this? Yes.”

“You want to change the direction of my plans because of a movie/news article/book? Yes.”

The power of a different default position is that my students start owning what they are doing. They start owning the direction/decisions of the class. They start owning their time. They start owning their learning.

My classes are louder, crazier, less controlled. I’ve potentially got thirty students working on thirty different “assignments”. My evaluation doesn’t fit into an easy grid/weighting/mark calculation.

Is it better? I think there have been moments of joy, moments of revelation and more moments of engagement. If that’s better, than yeah, it is better.

Godin is right. Saying “no” is more often about me than it is about them. What’s your default position?

1 Comment

  • Great point Scott. I think teachers believe that when our classes are stacked to 32 & 33 students (particularly in an open level class) that the only option they have for control is to say no, and to hold to traditional boring instruction. I think it’s defensive.

    I wholeheartedly agree that we need to say YES and in doing so embrace the chaos.

    Until we do that we are shaping students who play by the rules…and that is going to get us nowhere.

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