Doing the best they can

A couple of weeks ago, I used this video of a TED talk by Brené Brown at the end of a long retreat.  Go ahead.  Take 20 minutes and watch it.  I will be here.

My thought in showing this video was for us to tap into our human side, that yes, in our daily interactions, we need to embrace our own vulnerability.  I’ve watched it a few times myself, but I wanted more, so I bought one of Brown’s books, Rising Strong.  It’s based on the same research that she presented in the TED talk.  One of the parts I just finished covers the concept of assuming that people are doing the best they can in the moment.  It occurred to me that this is the perfect approach to take with students.  Let me explain.

Back when I was reading a lot of professors’ blogs, there was nothing that would make me quit reading faster than if they spent too much time complaining about students.  I understood that students can sometimes create frustrations, but when a blog veered toward a “kids these days” mentality with little to no empathy for where they are, I was done.

I think it’s important to appreciate that not only are students human, but they’re young humans.  They’re still figuring things out.  There’s an assumption sometimes that students do things almost out of spite.  Or even if it’s not spite, they’re being lazy or disrespectful.  But imagine if you just paused and thought, as Brené Brown encourages us to do, “They’re doing the best they can.” And instead of judging them, you started to explore where they are and why they’re doing the thing they’re doing that’s frustrating or annoying you.  Imagine how much you might teach them and what a great relationship you’d start building.

I try to approach adults this way too.  I used to say all the time, “They’re human.”  When a decision was made that maybe I didn’t agree with or didn’t seem to turn out well, I didn’t assume they there was a conspiracy or that there was utter incompetence, I assumed that the person or persons that made the decision were human with all the blind spots and biases.  Stuff happens.

I think we’d all be better off recognizing that we’re all human and that we’re vulnerable, have complex emotions, and most importantly, we’re not perfect and never will be.  As educators, this seems crucial to doing your best by the students.

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