The Magic Statement

For the most part I am rather reserved. I respect the time others have. I never want to bother them sharing about what I’ve got going on.

Sometimes this is beneficial. I have a ton of ‘water cooler’ talk in the hall with colleagues. As our frequency of conversations increase we settle into discussing in room, during a prep or over lunch. Sometimes there were magic statements, sometimes there weren’t.

After all of the happenings in the past month I’ve become astutely aware of my relationships with colleagues and students within school. After returning from my trip I have made time to re-center. To step back and learn. It is while stepping back that I recalled a magic statement that used to draw me out.

“Tell me more about…” I said to a student. She began to smile and talk about her work. She was so excited to share. I cautiously probed her for more information.

At lunch I said “Tell me more about…” when talking with respect to someone buying a new home. Again, on and on the conversation went. Others jumped in with questions. It lightened the mood and provided the opportunity to share.

When speaking with a sometimes difficult colleague about an experiment she was struggling to put together I busted out with “Tell me more about how this would ideally work”. As she told me, she began to write it putting together all sorts of different resources that were at her finger-tips. Ten minutes later she ran across the hall so excited “You’ve got to check this out!!!”.

Was it magic, maybe. That statement opens to doors for someone to share. Usually the person you are asking is excited with what they are sharing.

For me this generates additional curious questions. Knowing my experience with what I’ll call the defense response or unimportant deflect I cautiously frame my questions to demonstrate my true curiosity or lack of knowledge on the topic. I am careful to give this person my attention to educate me and to share what they are so proud of. My personal experiences, not relevant now. My personal feelings, not to be mentioned. I want this person to feel accepted and to continue to share. Not to turtle and never talk about it with me again.

Each time I do this my past experiences circle back. One was the time I signed up to go to my first POGIL workshop at an ACS meeting. I told my new principal I was going even though the school wasn’t paying for it. He first response “tell me about it”. When I returned he repeated the question. We talked for almost an hour. As a former science teacher he understood the large pedagogical shift this presented. He informally offered unlimited support.

One year after that conversation I began writing activities for the POGIL project. A few months after that I started work as an associate editor and was classroom testing written activities. He continued learn more about the pedagogy with that same statement. He learned about the benefits from the students.

With that door open we continued purposeful discussion about how to improve student learning. We had built a relationship where I always felt supported. While we wouldn’t always see eye to eye on issues, I always knew his knowledge of the work I had done in my classroom to move to modern times was present.

That support helped me grow as an educator. Even if people are quiet they have something to share. They just need more comfort or trust. Or even an open door! I can only hope that magic statement facilitates a similar sense of support for both students colleagues, and administrators.