Earlier this summer, I was asked to share advice to the over two hundred students entering the Sacramento State University teacher credentialing program.
I shared one thing:
Use inquiry, not judgment.
I told them that they might very well see a number of actions taken by their supervising teacher in the classroom that they thought were the wrong move.
However, instead of immediately rushing to judgment – whether in their head or out loud, I suggested they ask the teacher a version of:
Can you help me understand why you did that?
It’s possible that they may still not feel good about the action taken but, most of the time, they’ll find there was a sound pedagogical reason for the move.
One that they didn’t know.
As our principal, Jim Peterson, often says, people who have been students for so many years feel like they know a lot about education. But the fact that I’ve taken many trips by plane does not mean I can take over in the cockpit.
I generally try to follow the guide of leading with inquiry instead of judgment in all aspects of my life (classroom management, included).
I was reminded of this concept today after perusing the many comments on Facebook and this blog where I posted photos of my classroom (we start tomorrow!).
Ninety-nine percent of those comments were amazingly supportive – none more so, in fact, than those from former students.
A couple, however, were critical about the fact student desks were set-up in rows (“looks like a classroom from the 1920’s,” said one).
As a nineteen-year community organizer veteran, they don’t come more thick-skinned than me, so I certainly wasn’t bothered by them. But it created a good opportunity for a blog post when, shortly afterwards, blog reader Ryan, asked:
Larry, why do you seat your students in rows?
It’s a perfect example of the difference between inquiry and judgment.
Here’s my answer to Ryan:
I think there is a lot of value in experimenting with different kinds of classroom seating arrangements (see The Best Resources On Classroom Seating Strategies). However, because I have some classes with thirty-five students, I need to have thirty-five desks in a fairly small room, and rows are the only practical solution. I could have more space if I didn’t choose to make room for several computers that I use for differentiating instruction, or for bookcases that contain a classroom library, but I feel that the teaching-and-learning advantages of having those features outweighs having a different seating plan.
Readers and others can now feel free to question my pedagogical priorities, but I think it’s clear how a perspective of leading with inquiry, instead of judgment, can lead to a much more fruitful discussion.
What do you think?