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Being Understood

My 9th grader called me yesterday after school. "Can you pick me up?," he asked. I had not planned to, but my mommy sense told me I should say yes.

When I arrived at school he was sitting by the tennis courts doing some homework. He looked a little sad.

As parents, we want to make sure our kids our ok. As the parents of teenagers, we know better than to ask, so I waited to be told.

The conversation started with the usual topics. How was your day? What should we have for dinner? Eventually, he opted to drive with me to pick up his brother from cross country. And that is when I got the goods.

No, he was not bullied in school. No one stole his lunch money, he wasn't sick and he didn't lose his Chromebook. What happened was something that has happened to all of us - he wasn't able to explain his thinking.

It was the end of the last class of the day. Many of the kids had left early for a soccer game, so the teacher asked the students a series of questions. For each question, she called on three students to answer and then moved on to another topic.

My son's comment was heard, but he didn't feel that it was properly recognized or explored. As a result, he felt misunderstood.

I know what you are thinking - 9th graders should have thicker skins, moms need to let their children experience frustrations like these, it is not right to judge the teacher based on one exchange. All of these things are true, and yet, I couldn't shake the feeling that this was a little wrong.

Being understood matters. It is a basic human need that is the basis for all human relationships. Humans do all kinds of things to be understood by those around them - we talk, draw, write, blog, dance, sing, yell, and post our ideas on social media so that those around us know who we are.

Teachers have a unique ability to allow this type of self-promotion with an eye towards getting others to understand who we are. Most teachers are inherently good at it. But yesterday's experience made me wonder how educators can be more intentional creating ways for learners to be understood. In the 24 hours since yesterday's conversation, I developed a quick list:

  • allow students to elaborate on their ideas
  • provide avenues for digital collaboration with others
  • call on kids who aren't raising their hands
  • allow students to lead class discussions
  • have students explain the thinking of someone else
  • scrap the lesson in favor of a great learning experience
  • ask students to make things and then present and defend them
  • have show and tell with books or ideas
  • allow students to direct learning
This stuff isn't rocket science, but it matters and it makes a difference in all aspects of learning. When students feel understood, they are motivated and engaged. They feel valued and respected.

To me, this is an imperative. Not just for my own child, but for all the children out there who need to be understood in order to navigate life and grow into healthy and happy individuals who turn to the person next to them and seek to understand.