Do we care what they say?

Funny the little moments of serendipity that lead from one thought to one another, and lead us to see something in a new light.

This morning, someone on Twitter reminded me of a blog post I wrote a long time ago, “How Long Does it Have to be?” about how students focused on the length of their research papers because they aren’t really engaged in their topics.

As I was thinking about that, Christian Long twittered out the link to a fabulous post by Chris Lehmann about the connection between caring and inquiry.

And somehow those two thoughts combined together for a realization of my own.

Not only do students often not care too much about the topic they are writing about, sometimes we don’t really care what they are saying either. That may sound like heresy, but once you’ve read 40 papers on gun control, the topic begins to pale unless someone has something new to say.   Like our students, we are dutifully participating in the process because research has to be “taught” and the papers have to be done.

I know, I was a teacher.  And I know sometimes my students “learned to care” about the topic they were researching.   But what got missed, what I missed, was the opportunity to learn all my students did know.   We had a prime opportunity to learn from one another as part of the inquiry/research process, but did we?

Which leads me to Chris’s post about his leadership conversation at Educon:

We were talking about modeling these values as leaders and the idea that teachers need to model inquiry for students as well and Ben Wilkoff asked a great question. He said (and I’m paraphrasing,) “I’m concerned that I don’t know how elementary teachers model their own inquiry in their classroom? After all, there are very few times when they really don’t know the answer.”

And I answered, “There’s one question that we always don’t know the answer to — ‘What do you think?'”

And it hit me yet again that too often our research “assignments” are not really asking students what they think.  And that’s why their papers end up being not very interesting (either to themselves or to us).

But Chris challenges us to do something differently, because, as he says:

Caring about our students is about listening to them. About learning about them — from them. It is, as I’ve written before, about understanding that if we hope to be a transformative figure in their lives, we must be willing to be transformed ourselves.

And that starts with a question — “What do you think?” and then listening, fully and deeply, to their answer. That is the ethic of care made manifest in the inquiry process.

What if our research assignments really asked students to tell us what they really think about topics they really care about?

When we do, students “manifest the care’ that Chris mentions.  They approach the assignment with a real sense of inquiry–curious about their own ideas and curious to learn more about a subject from others.    And when students manifest that care, and when they are researching and writing about something meaningful to them, then we become more than dutiful readers or teachers grading assignments, we become learners who care.   We learn about what our students are interested in.  We want to listen because what they are writing about is theirs, and unique.

We are able to listen to them more fully and deeply.

And when we ask them to write about what really matters, then they have not missed the opportunity to know themselves better.  And we as educators have not missed the amazing opportunity that lies in knowing each of them.

P.s:  Listen to the power of another educator who learned from really listening to his student–another great post that was twittered by Jason Kern this morning.

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