Sunday, February 03, 2013

Power of Perception

A week ago I was in Philadelphia, freezing but doing some fabulous talking, learning, and thinking about education. Interestingly enough some of the best of all three happened around 11 pm on Saturday night.

A bunch of us were standing around outside City Tap House (I got it right Becky!) because that is where you can actually hear each other talk. Luckily, this year they had fires in the fire pits. Last year that was not true. There are now railings around the fire pits which was apparently what was needed for the fire marshal to approve their use.* As a result, the top halves of our bodies were warm while the bottom halves were freezing. This isn't really relevant, but is included because I find it fascinating that this is where I had one of the most interesting and thought-provoking conversation of the entire weekend. That's the beauty of Educon. The talking and learning doesn't stop.

Chris Lehman, Jeremy Spry, and Doug Herman, all of Science Leadership Academy were part of the crowd, as were Becky Fisher, me, my husband, and a couple of guys from Ohio who I don't know. The SLA crowd was discussing some students who were struggling to complete assignments, maintain grades, and basically be successful at the game of school. (This is mildly shocking to those who attend Educon and meet so many fabulous SLA students and then assume they are all doing quite well.)

The more we talked the more it became clear that (some of) these students are fulfilling their self-perceptions. We discussed one student who works awfully hard to earn Ds. My impression was that he could probably earn higher grades with less effort, just effort expended in different ways. I was reminded of one of my little darlings who will state, "I'm a loser!" and then work hard to fulfill that statement.

As teachers we recognize these struggles, the challenge of learning to read, the challenge of finishing assignments, etc. but often we miss the underlying cause, the child's self-perception. We can work as hard as we can to teach a child reading strategies or strategies for perseverance or other strategies, but unless we work to change their negative self-perception it is unlikely that any of those strategies will have sticking power. Perception is very, very powerful.

* There's another example of perception, but from the outside. The fire marshal has a perception of those who spend time at City Tap House that they are likely to 'accidentally'' fall into a fire pit. It's possible that's an accurate perception. I don't have enough experience there to say for sure.

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