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Strictly Business

With relationship building at the heart of any great educator, how is it possible to not take it personal?

Student behavior is erratic. When a child makes a poor choice, there may be no rhyme or reason for it. We must come to terms with the fact that there might not be a visible cause and effect relationship associated with a student’s behavior.

If you truly believe the previous paragraph then you are well on your way. However, some educators struggle with acknowledging that student actions are unpredictable. The reason we struggle is because teaching is an incredibly personal business.

Let us take a look at an example of how this comes into play.

I have an upcoming lesson on statistics. Prior to the lesson students used their Twitter accounts to post a multiple choice question to the student body on a current issue facing the school. Students used the data from their survey to create a series of graphs and charts that displayed their results. That information was utilized in a Google Slide presentation that students created using their own device or a school laptop. One of the required slides allowed the students to create 30, 60, and 90 day plan to address the school issue based on the data from the student body. Students presented in front of the class. Additionally, the principal was present and was able to hear student concerns and possible solutions.

Now let’s say that this lesson was designed specifically to give voice to students who have strong opinions about the school. If during the lesson these students were off-task, non-compliant, disrespectful, or put in minimal effort it is extremely difficult for the teacher to not take this behavior personally. But, that is exactly what he must do.

If we look at a slightly (gross understatement) more extreme example we see Al Pacino (Michael) having a conversation with the Corleone family about what to do with a crooked cop (McCluskey) and rival crime boss (Sollozzo). McCluskey and Sollozzo had just attempted to murder Michael’s father, Don Corleone. Taking all factors into consideration, Michael ultimately makes his decision based on what is best for the family business and not his personal feelings. The clip ends with the famous line, “It’s not personal Sonny, it’s strictly business.”

When working with kids, it is helpful to remember that it’s not personal. Even after planning lessons considering the teacher’s experience and relationship with students, there is an element of unpredictability that is a natural part of working with humans. We must not take these student behaviors personally. Whether we saw a student behavior coming or not. Whether there was a reason behind a student action or not. Whether a student acted deliberately or not. The students are fulfilling their end of the business, and you need to fulfill yours. Because when we do, it can alter our behavior towards a particular student or an entire class.

Every lesson increases the experience of the teacher and the bank of relationships that the teacher can then use when planning future learning experiences. It is challenging for teachers to put countless hours into lessons that differentiate for, motivate, and stretch students, and then not take it personally when the very students they are trying to reach throw it back in their faces. Although it is a near impossible task, deliberate attention to it helps to develop the resiliency we talk so much about building in students.

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