I had the great privilege of chatting with Andratesha Fritzgerald this week about UDL, antiracism, and anti-oppression. The conversation was amazing and inspiring and gave me so much to think about but there were two words she spoke that have sat just on the edge of my thoughts since then. Two very simple words that carry so much weight. ‘Tell me…’
In short, Andratesha was highlighting the importance of authentically communicating with our students as part of our journey to honouring them. To honour our students and give them power over their learning when they walk into their classrooms, we need to ask them what they need and what they don’t need from us. And this is where ‘tell me…’ has become my new most important sentence opener for learners.
‘Tell me what you want me to do’
‘Tell me what you never want me to do again’
You may recall, I spoke about the impact of the language we use on our students in my post ‘I don’t need your help, but really I do’ when I reflected on the effect of the language we use to help our students. Are we coming across as ‘I’m doing this to or for you’ or are we coming across as ‘I doing this with you, we’re on this journey together.’ I spoke about rephrasing our questions to be more inclusive and ensuring our students don’t feel like a nuisance, burden, or worse stupid. However, that’s when they are in the classroom and the learning, what I as a teacher have already planned out for them, has already begun. So, what about making them feel welcome and heard before they step into the learning? What about the co-designing that enables students to feel empowered in their learning? In the past I’ve used phrases like ‘what activities could we include?’ or ‘what choices would you like,’ but I didn’t straight out ask about – or to be honest really consider – how what I actually do or don’t do plays a role. Or how to invite a conversation not only about my students’ actions in the classroom but also mine. The words ‘tell me…’ made me realise that possibly my other questions were a little too guiding and my classroom norms are way too focused on the student’s behaviour. Yet, to build classrooms that honour everyone my actions must also be open to review.
And it’s not only the words ‘tell me…’but the tone that we speak them in…
I’ve being the auntie that kindly offers to babysit and after four hours of crying is pleading with the child ‘teelll me what you want!’ The frustration and end of my tether feelings will be obvious to all who could hear and see me. The fake calm tone, while it lasts, is fooling no one. And, you know, I’ve done that in the classroom too. The exasperation has shown when I’ve tried and tried but the student, in my mind, just isn’t getting it, or trying, or listening. But what if I’d actually asked, in an inviting tone, what the student really needs and doesn’t need at the very beginning. Would some of my own teacher meltdowns have been avoided? More importantly, would my classroom have been a more welcoming, safe, inclusive, and honouring space for every person in the room?
I’ve recorded the full and inspiring conversation with Andratesha and this will be posted in my ‘Talking about all things inclusion’ podcast when I get back to Ireland in January- where I know I’ll have friends/colleagues ask ‘tell me what you want me to do to help’!