Day 29 (of 189) @Gladwell new book Talking to Strangers has me thinking about how we talk in schools….with many “strangers”…
Some Excerpts From
Talking to Strangers
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“Knox: I think everyone’s reaction to something horrible is different.” She’s right! Yet some (such as Amanda Knox found out, can be punished for it). I remember being called out for a mismatched emotion, yet for me with years of mindfulness and self regulation work (before they were even buzzwords and the cool things in education) along with some tough moments growing up give me a different perspective on tough situations.
But.. “with strangers, we’re intolerant of emotional responses that fall outside expectations.”
(Maybe this is why I like learners who don’t fit the cookie cutter ideal….?)
“jury assumed that whatever Tsarnaev felt in his heart would be automatically posted on his face, in a way that matched American ideas about how emotions are supposed to be displayed”
“He was researching post-traumatic stress syndrome, trying to understand why some veterans suffer from PTSD and why others, who go through exactly the same experiences, emerge unscathed. Morgan was talking to his colleagues about how hard it was to study the question, because what you really wanted to do was to identify a group of people before they had a traumatic experience and track their reactions in real time. But how could you do that?”
Which is why I like to refer to it as Personalized Traumatic Stress Disorder
And with depression….it may be moments are the more vulnerable aspect than anything else (section talks about Sylvia Plath in specific and suicide by gas on England in general) and… “Overwhelmingly, the people who want to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge at a given moment want to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge only at that given moment.”
Malcolm does an impressive job talking about the importance of location (when policing pressures crime in an area, it doesn’t just go a block away, it changes) and mismatched people (when expectations don’t quite fit – such as an attempt at humour following a death) being difficult to quickly develop rapport with; two key connections with school – presence matters in areas where things happen. And just because a student “looks” a certain way does not mean they will act in a pre-expected manner. Sometimes “attitudes” and “demeanours” are because hey are still “strangers” and that makes it….complex until there is a relationship established. Quick connection I had was one girl in my class who “irked the principal to no end” – he admitted he had no clear reason, but something about her always got him tense. She didn’t smile the same as others. We had a chat. We talked about some strategies including a “fake smile” around others in authority. She tried it and it worked. The principal found that a slight change by her enabled him to shake off his prejudices (which he knew were misplaced, and was working on it!) and the two of them actually had positive connections in the hallway after that..but it took a relationship with both to help sort out how “perceptions” were – as she said: just because I’m not smiling doesn’t mean I’m not happy….But she struggled with more than just that relationship – so we worked on other strategies to build up self confidence, including the “self high five” (clap your hands over your head to celebrate an individual achievement) – I still use that strategy today.
But of course now I’m doing some more thinking about our pre-assumptions of learners in he classroom… how we rely on body language to help us make a decision… and maybe seeing somebody face to face is not necessarily the best way to make a decision – and here I am taken back to a supervisor sharing a story that when a candidate was asked a tough question and while thinking she put her hair into a tight pony tail (a sign she was ‘getting to work’) he decided then that she was the right choice….before she answered the question….
Talking to Strangers is tricky. I don’t think I really understood how tricky it is – and since so many students, parents, stakeholders etc in learning communities start out as strangers….it’s making me reflect on more of what I am doing in the role of principals and how we might do better.