“I would never talk about my personal possessions to my students.” I stated indignantly in a voice that cracked a couple of times with choked back tears. I had stopped by the school’s social worker’s office to ask for advice in the classroom.
“My take is that you come across as very smart. That can make you unapproachable to your students who struggle.” He answered.
Panic welled inside my chest. How could I fix that? One of my favorite parts of being a teacher is how comfortable I feel being me. I am intelligent. I don’t want to feel like I have to hide that to do my job.
“I constantly praise and reward students in my class. What can I do differently?” I asked, my frustration apparent in my tone as I struggle to keep my tears in check.
“A technique I suggest to my mentors who work with our students is to change “good job” to “Wow! I never thought of that.” That puts the student in the same playing field as you. Give that a try.” He offered.
I straightened my shoulders and smiled weakly, “Thank you. I will give it a try.”
“Are you okay?” the social worker asked.
“I will be. Thank you for being honest with me. It was hard to hear. I don’t want anyone to feel beneath me.”
The very next morning I had the opportunity to put “Operation: I Never Thought of That” into play.
“Can I listen to music while I take the test? I am stressed and think music will help,” a student asked me.
I immediately said, “I never thought of listening to music during a test. I have the calm down basket but listening to music could help too.”
“You would let me listen to music during a test?” He asked, very surprised.
“Not only would I let you, but maybe it would be an option to offer all students in my class. Would you like credit for the idea or to remain anonymous?” I asked.
“Of course I want credit!” He answered.
In that moment, I felt the power of assigning competency and the wisdom of the social worker’s words. In that moment I realized, I am not the only one with authority or competency in my classroom. In my classroom, it is the collective authority that I should encourage. By giving up a little bit of my own authority, I gain the entire class’s competency.