I had a convoluted way of picking music tonight. I don’t always listen to music when I write, but sometimes I do. I read that Gen Campbell passed away. His music was a huge part of my growing up. One of my favorite songs is “Gentle on My Mind”, which Alison Krauss (the voice of the angel in my head) covered on an album earlier this year, so I started listening to that album. Then I thought, “Hey, there was so much other music, too. I’d like to hear that.” In the time it took Alison to sing her song, I acquired the 2008 Glen Campbell: Greatest Hits. Now I’m singing “Like a Rhinestone Cowboy” like a rhinestone cowboy. Instant gratification is, well, so gratifying.
I stayed after work in one of the classrooms today to support my teaching team through an unusual occurrence: a parent asked to speak to them after class. We had no idea why. I gave a heads up to my manager, who said the team had no obligation to meet with the parent. I offered to cover it for them, but they wanted to be there. The TA who met the parent at security and brought her up texted us “Bad vibes” before they even got into the elevator. Awesome.
When they came into the room, it wasn’t so bad. I greeted the parent and introduced myself as the site lead. She started by praising the program and saying how much she appreciated everything we had taught her daughter, Amy (not her real name).
When I asked what brought here there today, she had three main points:
- Amy felt singled out when a member of the staff suggested she stay home if she wasn’t feeling well. The staff member explained that she meant stay home and rest. A misinterpretation, not too serious, and easily corrected.
- She said her daughter was bullied by another girl in the class. If true, that’s pretty serious. Somehow, the conversation progressed to the third point for a while before I brought it back around to this one. I asked the student to describe the bullying incident. I redirected back to that question a couple of times before I was able to discern what happened. It seems as though another girl did not respond nicely to a request for help. The mom suggested that maybe the girls’ personalities were like oil and water. We were able to address that by keeping the girls in separate groups for the rest of the summer. This is not such a difficult thing to do, since the girls will be in their final project groups beginning Monday, and aside from that one, there will be group work only a few times between now and then.
- The third problem was that Amy felt that groups wouldn’t let her in because they didn’t like her ideas. The problem is a little deeper than that I think. Way back at the beginning of the summer, she said some things that may have inclined some of the other students against her. When, during class contract discussion time, one student said, “There are no stupid questions”, Amy defied convention and said “Yes there are: the ones where if you just stop and think, you’ll get the answer.”
Without casting aspersions on any particular style of education, I should point out that the style Amy experienced seems to have left her without much experience in working in groups, and further, not a lot of experience working with other teenage girls. The upshot is that she struggles with the give and take of group work. (“There’s been a load of compromisin’/on the road to my horizon.” Guess what I’m listening to?) She is making progress, but it’s in fits and starts. So yes, even though we sometimes disparage 21st century skills, collaboration and communication are important.
The mom explained that Amy is an artist (she has works shown as part of exhibitions at MoMA), and that she is very creative and her ideas are fully fleshed out. I’ve seen this. It’s true. Unfortunately, I think that at least some, and by peer pressure even more, girls will reject her ideas not on their merit, but more based on their past experience of Amy. So what do we do about it?
- If her idea is not selected for a final project, she can still work on her idea on her own time (class time is for the final project), but the teaching staff can help if she gets stuck or needs resources.
- I suggested that she might, perhaps, be able to incorporate her ideas into a final project, using the phrase “I really like your idea, can we also add this…” Both Amy and her mom were concerned that Amy would spend a lot of time developing her idea, but it would never get attached to the final project (“no button for it”). We said we’d make sure that didn’t happen.
- I also suggested that it might be easier for Amy to get her ideas accepted if she acknowledged the group’s ideas and desires. The mom surprised me by suggesting that that was a sexist approach. I said I didn’t understand. She said that I was asking a female to acquiesce in order to get along. I didn’t see that coming. I said that idea was straight from Dale Carnegie 70 years ago (it’s actually 81 years; his actual words: “Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.”) Luckily, she had read it, and recognized it as soon as I pointed it out. Then she agreed with me.[Side note here. I just looked over the main tenets of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” for the first time in a long, long time (maybe 25 years). That book and the course (thank you for sending me Papa) are like a guidebook for how I do things. The only thing Carnegie left out was “Feed them and they will follow you”, but I’m pretty sure you can combine a few of the ideas in his book and come up with the food thing.]
- After the meeting, we came up with a way for the girls to vote on ideas for final projects based more on merit than who came up with them. The girls are going to write a summary of each of two of their favorite project ideas, 140 characters max (the size of a tweet). This way, only outlines of fully fledged ideas get in, and it’ll be harder for the girls to discern who wrote them. Security through obscurity. The teaching staff is going to print and mount the forty (anonymous) ideas around the room and each girl will get 5 votes (colorful smiley face stickers; I just got them – way more fun than stars) on the projects they like the most. The staff will take the top six or seven, then the girls will rank the top three they want to work on. Then the staff will give the girls the highest ranked choices that can, making sure to keep oil away from water.
In retrospect, I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t there, the mother might’ve hit the teaching staff with both barrels. There are advantages to being an old white guy.