My wife and I loved watching Ted Lasso. In fact, when our daughter came home from college for the holidays, we got her into it and watched both seasons again! One of the most powerful and uplifting scenes comes in Season 1, Episode 8 (Diamond Dogs). Ted is playing darts with Rupert (the detestable ex-husband of Rebecca), and Ted is down to his last turn facing almost certain defeat. Rupert is smug and wishes Ted a sneering “Good luck.” Ted smiles and delivers one of the best quotes of the show, telling Rupert that he should “be curious, not judgmental.”
So, what’s the lesson here for us educators? When might we be more curious and less judgmental?
When Is It Easy to Fall into Judgement?
First, let’s consider when we might slide into judgment. (Don’t all of us fall into this every now and then?) This happens to me when I’m in a tense or troubling emotional state: stressed out, upset, tired, in a hurry, or scared.
Someone in a BMW cuts me off at an intersection, and my first thought is, Over-privileged rich jerk!
I’m exhausted at the end of a long day, and a telemarketer calls. Don’t these people have any respect for people’s privacy? I grumble to myself.
I’m rushing through the airport worried about missing a flight and someone is blocking the corridor, scrolling on their phone. How about thinking about someone other than yourself for a change? I might scold in my head.
The same is true in the classroom.
Frustrated that a student refuses to even try a strategy I’m suggesting, I might judge: Oh! Haley is so stubborn!
Annoyed that a colleague doesn’t agree with my point of view in a staff meeting I might assume They have no idea what they’re talking about.
Hurt that a parent won’t call me back, it’s so easy to make negative assumptions: This parent doesn’t even care about school!
When not emotionally stressed, I can be more open to seeing a situation through someone else’s perspective or to be curious about what might be going on for them. I can recognize that I have sometimes missed a stop sign, been lost in my phone, and been frustrated (and shut down) when learning. I can wonder Is that telemarketer a parent trying to provide for their children? or Is that parent perhaps working a night shift or overwhelmed with something going on in their life?
Our Explanation Drives Our Intervention
This is important. In The Explosive Child, Ross Greene reminds us that our explanation drives our intervention. If our explanation for a kid who refuses to try a strategy is that they’re stubborn, what interventions make sense? We might engage in a power struggle—trying to force them to submit or comply. We might threaten to take away privileges or bribe them with incentives. Neither of those strategies will help much in the long run—in fact, they’ll likely make matters worse down the road. If our explanation for why a parent isn’t getting back to us is that they don’t care about school—where do we go with that?
Judgments—especially ones made quickly in moments of stress—rarely lead to positive strategies. So, if we want to remain open to productive solutions, we need to be more curious and less judgmental.
Three Strategies for Being More Curious and Less Judgmental
Here are a couple of things we all might try if we’d like to follow Ted’s advice—to be more curious and less judgmental.
Recognize it and name it when it happens.
Practice self-awareness. You’ve emailed a parent multiple times and they haven’t responded. “This parent doesn’t care how their kid is doing!” you think. Catch it. Name it. I just jumped to judgment. I don’t actually know why this parent hasn’t emailed me back.
When you feel yourself sliding into judgement, force yourself to slow down. Take a few deep breaths. Walk a few steps. Stretch. If you’re in a tense situation with a student, you might even say, “I’m feeling upset. I need to take a break. We’ll talk about this in a few minutes.”
Follow Ted’s advice and ask questions.
A student folds their arms and says, “I hate writing. You can’t make me do it!” Instead of jumping to judgment (Molly doesn’t care about her work. She’s deliberately disobeying me!), try asking questions. You might start by asking yourself some. (Could it be that Molly wants to write but doesn’t know where to start? Is she worried about not being able to write well?) If Molly is dysregulated, wait until later when she’s calm. The you can ask her some questions to see if you can help her out. (“I’ve noticed that sometimes you get frustrated during writing time. What feels hard during that time? What are some things I could do as a teacher to help you out?”)
So, the next time you find yourself sliding into judgment, channel your inner Ted Lasso. Be curious, not judgmental. (I like that too, Ted.)