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Whose Children Are These?
An idea for the day: Accepting responsibility for the outcomes of the children in one's classroom, whatever their backgrounds and whatever baggage they bring with them, is the absolute requirement for learning how to effectively teach kids living in difficult circumstances. This ethic of responsibility is clear when we talk with our most effective teachers. Where does it come from? And why is it not evident in all?
When I present Efficacy to educators, I always ask a simple question: "Whose children are these, who daily walk through the front doors of your schools?"
Their initial answers usually cluster around the politically correct 'ours,' and one or two people, often primary grade teachers, will blurt out 'mine.' So I ask, "If I took the faculty of your school out to a local watering hole on a Friday night, what answer would the typical person give me after the third drink?" Following some nervous laughter I get a range of responses (the community's, the society's, the parents') that boil down to 'theirs.' Which is the best answer, I ask? Again they chorus: 'Ours.' Why? "Because if we believe they are our kids, we feel responsible for what happens to them." And if the answer is 'theirs'? "Then someone else is responsible.
"What about 'mine'," I say, "Then who's responsible for them?"
People acknowledge the implication of this answer: "I accept responsibility for what happens to the children in my class, whether the parents behave responsibly or not, and whether or not my colleagues join me in this responsibility." So 'mine' may be the strongest answer, even stronger than 'ours.' However, with remarkable consistency, most of the teachers I talk with believe that the real answer to the first question, for a majority of their peers, is 'theirs' - and they recognize there is a real problem with this ("someone else is responsible").
So the first question is: Whose kids are these? The dependent second question is: Who's responsible for them? And as I write this, a dangerous third question crosses my mind: "If three teachers were standing in front of you, a 'theirs,' an 'ours, and a 'mine,' which one would you choose to teach your biological child?" (The unspoken fourth question, of course, would be: "Which kind are you?")
For now, let's stay with the first two, foundational questions for our educators: "Whose children are these?" and "Who is responsible for preparing them to have a shot at functioning successfully in the 21st century?" The way we answer the first question, in our hearts, absolutely determines how we answer the second. And so, dear readers, I have a parting question for you: Whose children are these?
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This excerpt, published by Dr. Howard in Network Newsnotes: The International Network of Principals' Centers