A letter to disruptors.

Dear colleague, teacher, disruptor, innovator,

I love that you are a proponent of “relationships first”.  Yes, relationships can be built through formative assessments, which are, in my opinion, a constant presence in an effective classroom.  Formative assessments are as simple as using one’s intuition to read an expression on a student’s face or watching the demeanor as he or she walks in the room.  Formative assessments gauge understanding, sometimes in seconds.  Formative assessments include listening to students and allowing for them to give feedback to one another.  Formative assessments create space for the facilitator to change direction of said lesson to ensure that each student is appropriately challenged.  And that takes humility.

Here is where I think we often lack in education and in society in general:  We talk about “building relationships” and “effective communication”, but we are rarely taught the skills we need and for some, developing relationships isn’t intuitive.  “Radical candor” can only be established once the foundation of the relationship is present. The foundation takes time, effort, vulnerability and a toolbox for myriad circumstances.

Design thinking falls short in the same way.  The first step of the design thinking process is empathy, but facilitators don’t discuss checking in with our own stories first. Instruction doesn’t describe how to embody effective empathy, it only assumes such an experience will ensue.

Facilitators, (I stray from the word “teachers”), must be conscious of the feedback they are giving.  Certain types of feedback will, indeed enhance relationships and certain feedback is simply to appease technical standards.  Self-assessment and peer feedback are the most authentic assessments.  Students often challenge themselves and each other more effectively than facilitators do, probably because of the pre-established relationship they have with one another. They already have built-in empathy because they’ve had time to understand one another.  Candor ensues based on inherent trust.

So maybe that’s where we need to focus: On the tools to build effective relationships first, knowing that they take time and knowing that we cannot know the outcome.  From there, we can develop formative assessments that cater to each individual.  In fact, why don’t they create the assessments and we’ll guide them along the way?! That is, in essence, accompaniment.