A message to teachers.......
On Tuesday night I was working with my son as he wrote an essay for his Social Studies class on whether he thought the electoral college or the popular vote was a more effective method in electing a president. We researched various articles together, worked on a graphic organizer and I watched him as he gathered his thoughts about what it all meant. We talked about this year's election. It was one of those "teachable moments" as he was learning about what was happening in the moment. Then yesterday (Wednesday) happened. As I watched the events unravel on television, I was at a loss for words. Personal feelings aside, one of the first things that came to my mind was, "How do I explain this to Ryan? How do we explain this to the students tomorrow in school?" In sounding like a broken record over the last several months, today was a day like no other.
Today was a day students needed the opportunity to ask questions, to write about their feelings, to gain an understanding of the facts about what happened. There were students who were confused, concerned, angry and scared. There were some of us who may have felt that way too. Depending on who people are listening to, stories and "facts" are very different.
Regardless of our personal feelings, today was more than a "teachable moment." It was an opportunity to listen, to discuss and to unite. Over the next several days as more thoughts come to the forefront, consider these questions as discussion points (courtesy of Dr. Elizabeth Sheridan, my Supervisor of Social Studies).
Stay with the facts. Discuss and steer the conversation to what was reported by the news media and stated by people in interviews.
Reiterate - The freedom of press and the news media is imperative to a democracy. The press reports on what elected officials and people do. That’s their job. Media and attacks on the media weaken our ability to learn what wrong-doings happen.
Ask - How should one proceed when one disagrees with an outcome or a decision? What if the resolution is one that you still don’t like - what can someone do that is productive?
Ask - Why do you think people act differently in groups rather than as individuals? How can that be dangerous?
Ask - How can peaceful protests be productive?
Ask and discuss - What can we do to restore faith in our democratic processes? What might you suggest to address the concerns raised over the last several years?
Ask and discuss - How do we listen and hear each other better? How can we learn about different perspectives and experiences that shape people’s lives and beliefs?
Ask - What role do you think social media plays in creating division and distrust? How can we address that? How do we verify information? How do we sort fact from falsehood?
Do not feel that you have to discuss this in your classrooms. However, students may want to. Many of these students will be voting in the next election and the future is in their hands. Know that you don't have all the answers. I know I don't. But what we do have is the ability to listen....to allow students to express their feelings in a respectful way and to remind them that they will be the future leaders of this country who will hopefully act more respectfully than the people who decided to turn a peaceful protest into a destructive one.
I know that you will do what is best for your students. You always do. Continue to teach with courage, with heart, with respect and with the professionalism that makes our responsibility as teachers so amazingly great.
My #oneword for 2021 is hope. It will continue to drive me in my decision making, my ideals and my dreams. My hope will be with us, our students and our country tomorrow and into the future.
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator and current Principal of Pequannock Township High School in NJ, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.