Everyone Makes Mistakes
I've had Big Bird's song "Everyone Makes Mistakes" running through my head this week after I made a mistake that I've been feeling badly about.
Last week I participated in a professional development opportunity for educators about diversity, equity, and inclusion. I was a participant, and not the facilitator. I was keen to participate and to see how others approach DEI work, and to learn about a few areas that I'm less familiar with.
During a breakout room discussion we were speaking about how to make classrooms more welcoming environments for students and the topic of pronouns came up. I won't repeat what was said, because I try my best to practice "What is said here says here, but what is learned here leaves here." But I will say that something was said that didn't sit right with me, and I felt I needed to speak up. In the moment I pointed to what the person said and explained why it didn't sit right with me (speaking from the I perspective) and I also validated part of what he had said that I agreed with. But I saw his face close off, and then one more person spoke, and then suddenly the breakout group closed and we were sent back to the main discussion room.
I was left feeling that rather than engaging him in an open dialogue, my words had left him feeling defensive and attacked. It was magnified by the fact that the individual chat function was closed, and we weren't in a group together again for the rest of the day.
I've been thinking about this interaction all week and wishing I had approached it differently. I've been wondering if it would have been better if I hadn't said anything. In my mind I was calling him in, rather than calling him out. But when I think back over the situation I realize that I called him out.
So I've been trying to figure out what I could have done differently. Instead, I could have asked him a deepening question like "what lead you to believe this?" or "how did that make you feel?" or "why do you think the student reacted that way?" Those questions might have been more effective in opening a conversation, and for him to feel like I was listening rather than judging.
I wanted to share this story because I've done a lot of facilitation, and have lead many difficult conversations. And it was a good reminder for me about how it can feel when a comment doesn't land as it should. I've been trying to figure out how I could make it better for next time, even if I regret that I can't make it right with him. I also wanted to share so that others see that calling people in is hard work even for those of us who have practice.
So, if you make a mistake, please don't let it stop you. Instead, try to figure out what you'd do differently next time and try again. I've had moments this week of wishing I hadn't said anything. But I've reminded myself that it's not speaking up that I regret, but just how I did it. Because educators have an important role to play in the lives of students and making sure that our classrooms are welcoming and equitable spaces, talking about the challenges we face in the classroom are important conversations to have.