Friday, April 9, 2010

Opinions vs. Facts- Use Your Words Wisely


flickr CC image via Gabi Agu

When primary school teachers are working with kids who have trouble expressing themselves verbally, they often direct them to "use their words." Some kids just have difficulty vocalizing what they're feeling, and I'm not sure simply telling then to use their words helps. Perhaps posing questions like "are you trying to say that...", and then modeling an answer for them to restate would be a better strategy. Sometimes I feel like I should be using this strategy to help my colleagues appropriately say what they want to say.

I have said that silence can do many things; so can words. Two fatal mistakes teachers make when discussing any of the infinite issues we seem to want to perpetually discuss (sometimes at the expense of simply looking for a solution,) is to state opinions as facts, and so-called facts as absolute truth. What we say can be very damaging to our professionalism, our image and the amount of respect we receive from those we serve.

Of course the tendency to confuse facts and opinions is not limited to teachers, but it's particularly damaging to teachers. We don't enjoy a tremendous amount of respect as a profession, and when we spout off without any context, knowledge or experience to back up our position, we look very unprofessional. In another context, the realm of education is constantly changing, (not quickly enough for some) and if teachers aren't speaking about this change in an engaging, professional and solution-focused manner, we also look foolish. How can we adjust our tendencies when we speak about what we do to more accurately reflect what we want to say and how we need to say it?

Three simple words can do wonders for us... "in my opinion." When discussing pedagogical issues with colleagues, and even more importantly with those outside our profession, it would behoove teachers to qualify their subjective statements with these three words. As simple as it sounds, it's very unproductive to argue opinions as they often originate from emotional thoughts, and as such are difficult if not impossible to change, so why even try? Opinions, although varied, do not have to be agreed upon to move an issue forward. I have suggested that 'hybrid thinking' is an appropriate and effective strategy to achieve this purpose.  In another post about hybrid thinking, I said that,
the integrative mind understands that within the current change climate we find ourselves immersed in, our viability as a global society will depend on a synthesis of ideas that should not be considered dichotomous, but rather complementary to one another. In the context of supporting effective child development, this form of hybrid thinking will ensure that we don't miss the boat on any developing idea's potential.

The essence of this form of interaction is to let go of dichotomous and conflicting positions during debate, and instead look to the opposing side for positions you can live with, and that may synchronize with your ideas in some manner or form.  It works.

The flip side of stating opinions directly and clearly so there's no confusion, is to state facts with authority and confidence that they can be verified and supported with proof. Citing sound scientific research behind the fact, or using anecdotal, qualitative data to support your facts are professional practices that some of us fail to emphasize when stating so-called facts. Of course, all research is open to academic scrutiny, but that's OK... this academic environment of formal debate around quantitative and qualitative measures is very professional, and teachers need to put themselves in this environment. There are far too many unchallenged practices out there in teacher land, and we suffer from this pseudo-professional tendency to latch on to the 'latest and greatest' educational trends just because a politician, publisher or creator of educational resources says they are effective. We must stop doing this, and line our purpose with a larger degree of scrutiny surrounding our pedagogy.

So, state opinions as such to avoid pointless conflict, and when you know what you know because you've done your homework through research and qualitative efforts, don't be shy to state facts either. Teachers are the most well-positioned to tip education reform, and to keep tipping it on the cutting edge of progress... but we need to responsibly look, feel and sound the part.
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