On Understanding “judgmental”

In my current In-Class Resource/Support role, I am sometimes conflicted about expectations between myself and my general education co teachers. Sometimes I find myself feeling judgmental.  It makes me uncomfortable to feel judgmental.   I’m trying hard to understand it. 

Being a curious sort, I went where anyone would go— Google.  I was surprised to learn that, like many things, being judgmental has several roots (or flavors, as I  prefer to say).

The flavor that fit me best was this:  I see people behaving in a way that I would not and because I resent their behavior, I become judgmental. Hmmm…

According to LittleBuddha.com:

Because you would be embarrassed to act this way, you resent somebody else doing it.

This type of judgment might reveal that you are not fully expressing yourself, hence you feel resentful or put off by others doing so, even if they do it clumsily.

( I don’t think the last part applies to me in this particular situation, but you can be the judge.)

Let me clarify:  One of my classes is watching the movie, “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee”.  We’re moving into the unit that examines the westward movement in the United States in the mid-1800’s.  The students don’t understand a ‘cowboy and Indians” reference and have no background in the strife that took place at that time between the federal government and the Indian Nations.  When I learned that we were watching this, I thought it would lay a good foundation as we prepared for the next unit of our curriculum.

If you’ve seen the movie, or have any back ground  (prior knowledge) reference to the westward movement, The Battle of the Little Big Horn, Col. Custard or Chief Sitting Bull, you are lightyears ahead of this generation.  (Is that bad to say?) 

I digress.  As we watched the movie, some of the students snickered and laughed as the Indians chanted and danced.  It made me uncomfortable, to say the least.  I waited for the general education teacher to stop the film and address the students, asking them to be respectful of another culture’s customs.  That although the dances and chants may seem odd or uncomfortable to them, part of the journey of the film is to introduce the students to lives and peoples who lived during this period of time.  (This is where the judgmental piece comes in.)

I began to feel judgmental toward my co-teacher.  Because I would be embarrassed to act this way, not correcting the behavior of the students, I resented somebody else not doing anything about it.

As I write this piece, I’ve concluded that before my class begins the next section of the movie,  I will respectfully prompt the students about expected behaviors, developing tolerance, and being respectful of that which they do not yet understand. Then I wondered, am I overstepping my boundaries by putting morale guidelines out for my students like those I would put out for my own children? Is it an appropriate action for me to take?

In a recent general television newscast, pretty plain vanilla and usually of little interest to me, a reporter spoke about the impact of the recent attack in San Bernardino; people were not going out (nope not me.), people were not traveling (nope, I’m not traveling because of the possible threats, I’m just not going anywhere…), people were shying away from people of other cultures (… hmmm, was this happening to me, I wondered?).

Again, as I write this, I flip back and forth between the two ‘conversations’ in my head.  As I flip, I realize that I think  part of my job is to teach tolerance.  I work in a public school where we say the  Pledge of Allegiance every morning. 

“….one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all…”

How can we have liberty and justice for all if we don’t have tolerance for each other?  In the grand scheme of life for which I believe I am preparing my students, we must learn to tolerate people for many reasons.

We may work with someone who is just plain mean, and that person may well be our boss to whom we dare not voice our opinion unless we have alternate employment opportunities clearly in place.  We may have a neighbor who has such different values that she just doesn’t think the ordinance about picking up after your dog includes her and her dog, too.  (At least here you can call the police…)

As adults and parents, we communicate levels of acceptable behavior so very subtly.  It is said in things we say as much as what we don’t say. It is one of those, “do as I say, not as I do’ kind of things that, as we know, doesn’t work out well. 

I believe it’s as hard to be a responsible role model today as it ever was.  We have eyes on us all the time.  We owe it to ourselves to decide what kind of legacy we want to leave in our children.  Lately, the environment has taken center stage.  As a new Congress takes its place in January, our fiscal legacy  and immigration will be front and center.  Some dinner tables and car rides will be filled with newscasts or discussions that create more divide than collaboration.  As responsible role models, (#RRMs, if you will…) how we discuss these issues may very well more important than what issues we discuss or what outcome results.

I’m reminded of the phrase, “If you see something, say something”.

Well,” if you hear something, say something”.  Be respectful.  Our children are always watching.

Cultivating Optimism

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 Joshua Graham

My friend and colleague Walter McKenzie caught my eye tonight with his blog post ,  “Unstuck”.  Then, as I cruised through my communities and connections, I came across a page of remarkable inspirational quotes.

I confess that I can be an tough mark for inspirational quotes. That said, not many of them really grab me.  But let one of them strike a note about my children or hit a string about a hurdle I’ve overcome (or am currently working on overcoming) and I’m hooked.

As an educator, I often wonder about the role of resilience, grit, problem solving skills.  But lately I’ve begun to wonder about optimism.  In March, 2008, Richard Sagor  wrote an article in ASCD Educational Leadership magazine about optimism.  I came across it recently as I organized my copies of the magazine on my library shelves.  As I read, I remember thinking the premise was an interesting one:  is optimism more important than resilience, grit or problem solving skills?  Is the student who is optimistic destined to be more successful because he/she expects to be?

It’s funny to me how my mind works.  Truth be told, I don’t think it’s that much different than most brains.  Things … ideas…suggestions…tend to get stuck in it and hang around without my even knowing it.  Until that is…when it collides with one of my other ideas that has also been hanging around quite unnoticed.

So it is with this optimism thing.  I got to thinking that a situation can’t change unless I (or you) want it to change. Until we take a deliberate action.  As we know, change isn’t something that rains down on us out of no where (although there are many days when it sure feels like that!)

Change happens because someone makes it happen.  The law changes.  The superintendent determines the implications for the district.  He/she hands it off to the principals and supervisors who hand it off to the teachers.  And the change begins.

Again… change happens because someone makes it happen.

What if you’re looking for a change but don’t really believe you’ll be successful?  Can change happen then?  Or does change actually take the energy of a truly optimistic view that if the change is actively and positively pursued it will eventually happen?

I didn’t think I’d quite embraced the optimism idea until I read Walter’s post: “Unstuck“.  I realized that I had been feeling stuck for quite some time.  I’d been reluctant to actively pursue change because I just didn’t think It would work.  There were so many things that blocked my way.

But a funny thing happened on the way:  I began to proceed as if it was inevitable that I would be successful.  Failure never occurred to me.  I proceeded as though on a mission.

My mood lightened. Work was easier.  People were easier.  Tasks were easier.  Life… was easier.  And change has begun to happen!

Now my question: how do I cultivate optimism in my students?  How do I inspire hope when they get knocked down so often?  Being a student is hard work these days.  There are those inspirational teachers that lift them up… give them hope.  And there are teachers who I think spend their nights figuring out how to take the wind out of everyone’s sails…

As I reflect on this idea of cultivating optimism, I think I will listen more to my students’ small voices… those small voices that talk about what they’d like to do in the future… what they want their future to look like and then focus on how I can make our work connect to those goals on a more visible basis every day for their eyes to see and not just mine.

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