Consider this scenario: You’ve spent an evening planning an exciting science activity for your class tomorrow which involves making “goop”. The children can investigate properties of solids and liquids with just the right amounts of cornstarch and water. When they exert pressure on the mixture it will feel solid, and when they relax the pressure, it will run through their fingers as a liquid. All the children will surely enjoy playing with “goop”.
But the next day, one of the children refuses to touch it. You cajole them, saying, “Come on, it feels great, you just need to try it.” But it’s a hard no. They go off to look at a book while you think, “Why won’t they even try it? How are they going to learn about solids and liquids through experiencing it if they won’t even try it?”
After you clean everything up, you record observations about solids and liquids on a chart with the whole group, including the child who refused to participate. As you expect, he doesn’t have anything to offer and he appears slightly withdrawn.
Starting to feel uncomfortable yet? I am. Believe me, empathy is easier summoned up when we don’t have our own perception clouding our judgment.
This type of situation happens all too often in classrooms. Our perception of something is different than those of our students and we are unable to see a situation from their point of view. In fact, when nearly all students share our perception, it becomes even easier for us to devalue the perceptions of 1 or 2 students.
All children receive sensations differently. Putting their hand in a bowl of goop may be exhilarating for some but horrifying to others. One child feels something cold, sticky, and wet and their brain says, “Oooh, cool. This is great!” Another child feels the same thing and their brain says, “Eeeww! Get it off me!” Is one perception more valuable than the other? Of course not.
Thinking of my own practice, I wonder if I am valuing all children’s perceptions equally. Am I blinded by what I perceive and does that make me respond positively or negatively based on how closely their perception aligns with mine?
Am I devaluing a child who doesn’t find a book funny but rather absurd?
Am I devaluing a child who finds jumping in puddles to be an uncomfortable event?
Am I devaluing a child who puts their hands over their ears when I talk in the big, booming voice of the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk?
Probably. And I’m probably not even aware that I’m doing it with my body language, or my facial expressions, or the tone of my voice.
I’m feeling a bit more enlightened now, actually. The more aware I am of how my own perception clouds my ability to see the perception of others will hopefully clear the lens a bit and make me a bit more empathetic.
Now I am thinking about this regarding reading and writing as well.
Am I valuing expression and cadence more than fluency and speed because I perceive those things to be more essential to enjoying reading aloud?
Am I praising colourful illustrations more than monochromatic ones because I perceive colourful to be a more valuable attribute of illustrations?
I guess I’ve given myself lots to think about, and hopefully you, too.
This is what I know for sure. Empathy breeds equity in every aspect of life. And if we want schools to be more equitable for children, we need to start valuing their perceptions as equal to our own.
Can I do it? I don’t know. But I can certainly make every attempt to become more aware of my perception and its ability to cloud my judgment.
Wish me luck!
Dedicated teacher for the past 18 years. Lifelong learner. Newbie blogger. Follow me on Twitter @Baker1973Cathy