Second in a series:
How does the Developmental Designs approach build equity?
On the bus recently, I was reminded that working successfully with young people depends largely on certain skills and the productive mindsets of the Developmental Designs approach.
“Hold on to something or get off my bus!” the white-skinned driver, angry and frustrated, yelled.
“Do you want me to call the police?!”
“You do whatever you need to do,” muttered the brown-skinned young man.
He leaned against the rail, but did not hold on to it. Instead, he munched chips as the bus moved to the next corner, where he got off. He seemed firmly, passively resistant to the driver’s directive, up to and including getting off the bus.
At one level, this was simply a case of someone losing a privilege because he refused to take directions from a legitimate authority. But I thought about its resemblance to something that happens in so many classrooms: students are kicked “off the bus” (out of the classroom, and not infrequently out of school) and don’t reach their destination (learning and graduation) because they do not comply with directions.
Why was the young man so resistant? All he had to do was hold on to a support, and he could have reached his destination. But he simply was not going to follow the instruction, and if something could be done to salvage success, it would have to come from the driver.
Sometimes in our classrooms, students resist basic directions. We need to move the class forward, and we are left to our own devices to find ways to move the resistant student from wherever s/he is stuck and into action.
The bus driver was doing his job with care, preserving the safety and efficiency of the ride for the majority. But at least one passenger did not reach his desired destination, and did not benefit sufficiently from the bus service. In education, this is called an achievement gap (which must, in turn, be examined within theopportunity gap!). Many students do fine in school, but a significant number do not succeed. Teachers teach mostly to the middle, and generally preserve safety, but too many students consistently do not reach proficiency on high-stakes tests and do not graduate high school, not to mention realizing dreams of college and their potential.
We ask whether the teaching is as skilled, equitable, and effective as it needs to be if certain groups routinely do not reach their destination.
What might the driver have done differently for a better result? Maybe with a different approach he could have gotten a positive response and salvaged the trip.
The Developmental Designs approach starts with this insight: communication is at least as much a way to get connected and to establish trust as it is a way to deliver directives and information.
The Developmental Designs imperative that we be responsive to certain basic needs of our students might be useful for a bus driver intent on delivering all of his passengers. Might the young man have acted out of a need for autonomy by not complying with the driver’s directive? Or might he have felt anonymous, simply on the receiving end of the driver’s command, and acted out of a basic need to be acknowledged as an individual? Or might he have responded to past experiences wherein he was disrespected? Is successful delivery of passengers important enough for a driver to engage a passenger beyond a command, satisfying to some small extent a need to be respected?
- When I imagine what might have gone differently in the driver/passenger impasse, I think of the approach we teach inDevelopmental Designs workshops: Priority/purpose/goal: The teacher interacts with care and personalizes instruction to move everystudent forward. The teacher helps students grow toward responsible independence, helping each one do what s/he needs to do to succeed. The teacher works to maximize a student’s endorsement of the project of his/her education.
- Through effective teacher language and practices, the teacher empowers all students to own and be successful with clear guidelines for growth toward responsible independence.
- The teacher skillfully uses productive mindsets—growth, action, and objective—to reduce student conflict with authority and to foster empowered, responsible independence.
- The teacher upholds the rules with equanimity and consistency.
We understand that as educators we never “deliver” a student to their destination. Our role is one of partnership and empowerment. Drivers and teachers do share a commitment to bring those in our care to their destination—getting to where they need to go, reaching their full potential.
Todd Bartholomay is the Programs and Special Projects Director for The Origins Program. A long-time practitioner of the Developmental Designs approach, he taught at the middle level for fourteen years. He also served as a principal in the St. Paul Public Schools, where he was in school adminstration for ten years.
Posted April 2014