Assume good intentions of the teacher (and others), please.

As a preamble to this post, I want to be clear that the majority of parents that we interact with are positive, supportive, and grateful for the work we do.  Furthermore, such parents teach their children responsibility and ownership in their learning. They do not blame the teacher for their child’s performance.  They consult, guide, and encourage their children and work with the teachers in partnership to foster best learning practices and a pathway of growth for their children.  So, before I proceed, THANK YOU parents!  Regrettably, it just takes one "Negative Nancy" to put a real damper on a day.

One of my four science colleagues came to me this morning to discuss the Science Fair Deadlines that we have carefully considered since the beginning of the semester when we established a timeline.  We divided the blog-based project into smaller, more manageable tasks giving the students a reasonable timeline in which they can complete a quality project by the science fair date.  The school calendar and the athletic calendar were consulted as we assembled the outline that specifies all the due dates spanning the 6-week project time.   We planned for the entire secondary school to be on the same schedule so we can better support the group as the students work towards the goals.  Thus, some of the blog post deadlines fall on days when students don’t have science class or when students might be out of town.  We discussed the situation with the students (and it is noted in the description of the project) and assured them that they could always publish their blog post earlier than the due dates.  Additionally, we are giving as much class time as possible to aid the students in meeting deadlines.  We are available before and after school for additional support.

Apparently this colleague had received a mildly condescending email in the morning requesting alternate due dates.  Additionally, within the same email was a request to inform him when grades would be posted for two assignments that had been handed in.  REALLY? 

There stood the science teacher, leaning with exasperation against the frame of the doorway. Sadly, she has previously received very condescending emails from said parent, this relatively mild one “breaking the camel’s back” so to speak.   A mile-long agenda confronted her.  First of all, today was a major IB deadline date so the entire IB team has been consumed with ensuring that everything was complete for our graduating IB students.  In addition to finalizing lesson plans and lab preps, there are learning support and EAL student-needs to plan for, there are IMYC exit and entry points to arrange, parent meetings to manage, unit plans to upload onto Atlas Rubicon (with a looming deadline), field trips, faculty meetings, student questions, make-up exams, IB higher level time, emails.  Oh, and what about that stack of papers waiting to be graded?  As with all IB teachers, that stack piled up as this teacher graded internal assessments, filled out PSOWs, and made sure all documentation was properly prepared for shipping.    She looked at that stack of paper wistfully imagining being able to tackle it, however, there was this email.  She consulted with the science department and then located the principal to determine if there was a school policy on the topic, only to discover that, indeed, our plan for the project was in tact.   Unfortunately, her precious time was consumed with addressing this seemingly petty email.

Tonight I’m thinking of the fact that any of us can turn into a pessimist when faced with an individual with whom we might not agree or whom we simply don’t like.  Perhaps we’ve felt wronged by someone?  My father always used to say, “People are just doing the best they can with the knowledge that they have”.  He always advised that it’s best practice to simply assume the best intentions in people.

In a recent workshop I attended, the presenter, Dylan Wiliam, advised administrators to “Assume that your teachers are good and they are doing their best”.  He advised the administrators to invest in supporting teachers to become better.  He noted that there are almost no teachers that intentionally participate in practices that inhibit learning.  It seems this advice can be addressed to parents as well.

I plead with parents everywhere, when interacting with the teachers of your children, to realize that

  • The teacher has only the best of intentions
  • More likely than not, the teacher is good
  • The teacher is giving her best effort
  • A thousand considerations were taken into making decisions and creating deadlines.
  • The teacher has a big picture of his coursework, objectives, and projects.

Please realize that we have your child’s best interest at heart. We really do.  I definitely do not personally know a single teacher who ponders, “How can I make my students’ lives difficult today?”  We spend hours, and I mean HOURS planning and putting together lessons, projects that foster critical thinking and learning with accompanying rubrics to try to make things clear and defined for the students.  Yes, sometimes we fail.  And we know it.  We make it better for next time.  We reflect, reflect, and reflect again, always trying to improve.

We collaborate. We help each other to become better.  We care about our students.  My colleague questioned,  “Why would I want bad for their kid?  It is my job to do the best.”

All over the world people are doing their best with the knowledge that they have.  I personally am committing myself to assuming the best intentions in others no matter how they act or what they say. To begin with, I will assume that the aforementioned parent, in advocating for his daughter, does indeed, despite the style of his correspondence, respect the education, certification, and role of the teacher but that perhaps language or cultural differences are impeding communication.  In addition to assuming best intentions, I will also trust that I can have safe dialogues with others in order to promote progress.  Will you join me in this endeavor of establishing trusting interactions?