Being Your Real Self

I belong to a Mom group.  I have ever since my first child was born and I don’t know if my sanity would have survived that first baby year without it.  This morning the subject of our discussion was about taking risks to build relationships with other.

To be more specific….the speaker spoke about an instance where she was meeting another mom for a playdate at a park but since it was so cold outside the other mom said, “Well we can just go back to your house!”  The first mom panicked….knowing what her house looked like when she left it.  Two days worth of dirty dishes, toilets she hadn’t gotten around to cleaning yet, piles of laundry everywhere…..and she was worried that this other lady might judge her and the state of her house.  They went anyways, and climbed over piles of laundry to get to the kitchen where she had to rinse out a couple of cups before she could make coffee.  But the second mom didn’t judge that first mom at all.  Because she had been there and knew what it was like.

She didn’t expect that first mom to be perfect.  In fact, people who pretend to be all perfect and shiny sometimes intimidate us.  We like people who show us that it’s ok to be messy because there are other people out there just as messy as we are.

What does this have to do with education?  Well…..I’m getting there.

I started thinking about my students and about how some of them are deathly afraid to show off their “messy home” to others.  In this respect, I’m thinking of their ability to admit when they are stuck on something, don’t know how to do it, or are just plain confused by it.

They will often sit there and either fake their way through it (hoping no one notices), try to become invisible by making themselves as small as possible, or sit there and desperately hope no one calls on them for anything.  That first mom was thinking, “What?  You want to go to my house?” while that kid is likely thinking, “What?  You want me to answer this question?”

What if our classrooms were a place where kids could just be real?  They could simply admit out loud that they don’t know what to do and then get the support from their friends and their teachers so they can “clean up” their problem.

Unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way.  I’ve had groups where a kid who admitted he didn’t know what to do would be eaten alive by his classmates.  They would pounce on him.  Call him stupid.  Laugh at him.  Make fun of him.  And goodness knows I tried every intervention strategy I knew of to make that classroom as safe place to admit you need help.  But it didn’t work.

How many of our students are afraid to be their “real self”?  To admit when they are stuck?  To take the risk and say to another classmate….”Hey, I could really use some help here.”

Another story that comes to mind is actually that of a rather academic student who was working on a math problem.  I walked by and noticed there were tears in her eyes that she was desperately trying to cover up.  I dropped down by her desk and quietly asked her what was wrong.  She reluctantly admitted that she simply could not get the right answer to this math problem.  My heart broke for her.  For the first time in probably her entire academic career she was stuck.  And had I not been walking around the classroom and stopped to talk to her, I likely would never have known.  How many of our academic kids are hiding this way? How much pressure are they facing to know it all that it terrifies them to come across something they can’t do?

I recently read a book called “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team” (don’t get stuck on the negativity of the title – it’s actually a really good book).  In the book the author says that not one of us is as smart as all of us.  Collaboration is so key.  Whether it’s two moms sharing coffee and talking about their struggles or kids in our classroom that are brave enough to admit they don’t know what to do.

We need each other.  And it’s ok to be real and admit that from time to time.

A big focus I’m really pushing in my classroom this year is that: 1) It’s ok to admit that you don’t know what you’re doing and 2) We all need strategies for figuring out what to do when we don’t know what to do.  Those are the life skills our kids really need in this world.

Be real.  Admit when you need help.  Accept help.


About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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