Offering truths to children
When a child clings to an attitude or behavior that is self-defeating, a teacher needs a special technique to arouse human change. Long conversations of guidance, regardless of their sincerity, often prove fruitless. The teacher talks, the student listens, and the stalemate remains. This situation has frustrated teachers and parents alike for centuries.
When teachers find themselves in these situations, they should abandon normal persuasive techniques and begin planting seeds. Seed planting is offering or responding with a short comment without further conversation. Often, a word, an idea, an opinion, or a simple statement or fact given without elaboration over a period of time can do more to help change a human attitude or behavior than any other action. This is especially true if that human attitude or behavior and yours are in total conflict.
But there are some conditions a teacher must remember when planting seeds. One cannot impose one’s truth on another—only offer it out of one’s self. Truth is not textbook oriented, and a teacher’s humbleness must precede the offering. Superiority must never be felt or revealed by its giver. Rather, a child must feel that by age and experience alone, the teacher has naturally experienced some realities students have not. This is the teacher’s truth—but it may not necessarily be acceptable to a child. The best a teacher can do is share this truth with a child. You cannot force it. Therefore, the art of seed planting is not an easy art for a teacher to master.
Helping children change
A teacher should not develop this art for people manipulation—and there is a difference between assistance and manipulation. It lies in the area of professional intent. However, there are many instances when a teacher knows a truth, yet cannot get a child to do what would be best for him because the teacher’s idea, opinion, or belief is in total opposition to that of the child. Failure to help a child help himself causes teacher frustration. Worse, after repeated failure to persuade a student, a teacher may quit trying to help.
Examples in a school are countless for students and staff alike. For instance, often a child will not participate in class discussion. Despite continuous urging, a talented child will not play an instrument or participate in athletics. Several conferences may fail to change a student’s mind about dropping out of school because he hates it. A colleague won’t work with slow students or refuses to participate in any activity that involves another teacher. These and certain other situations have produced human attitudes that seem beyond change. In reality, they may indeed remain fixed—if they are affronted in the usual way.
The average, normal way to influence an attitude is to think in terms of a private talk or conference where you and the student can talk things out. It is normal to think that when you explain all the facts and benefits of changing his opinion of school, of his classmates, of studying hard, or of playing the trumpet, he will change his attitude. It is normal to expect an immediate, final solution to the problem. One might even be willing to have two, three, or four such talks before a change in attitude or behavior results. However, after the fourth talk, when you are still receiving the same total opposition—frustration is likely to replace understanding. In fact, you might even “throw in the towel” and quit trying to help this student.
A time for seeds… not trees
Whether it be student or colleague, an attitude change is best approached by planting seeds rather than attempting to tear a tree from its roots and then transplant it to alien soil. The foundation for this seed is the professional truth required for creating a student-centered school. The attitude change must reflect this philosophy, for changes that are not student-centered are falsehoods.
When you learn to be a seed planter, patience becomes your asset. Professional truth becomes your partner. Being a seed planter involves only a short statement followed by a simple assertion or belief. It requires the elimination of any lengthy conversations until you believe the seed is beginning to grow. For instance, a teacher can tell a dropout four or five things in as many conversations to plant seeds when the student speaks about quitting school. You’ll be amazed by the thought the following remarks can evoke in a student contemplating quitting school when a teacher says simply:
- “I don’t know…I enjoy my freedom too much.”
- “Dropping out is fine, if you could always get any job you wanted.”
- “I would never put myself in a position where someone else could control my life.”
- “I don’t know…I want all the chances I can get.”
- “What excuses will you give your children for quitting?”
Even though an offered seed may be absolutely opposed and rejected—it has been planted and a student cannot get it out of his head. The more he tries, the deeper the roots will grow. Once planted, the seed is there and a student must deal with it privately and personally. His mind may harbor opposition, but it will not permit rejection if the seed contains truth and self-interest.
If a student begins to accept the truth of an idea, then talking with him about further truths become easier. Few human minds can prevent a truth from growing even if they externally reject it. Truth has a way of growing once it is planted.
The Master Teacher knows that sometimes children accept guidance better when teachers forget about long conversations and begin by plating the seeds of truth. Seeds must also be continually nourished by teacher understanding and sincerity if they are to germinate and grow.
When a truthful insight does surface, it has been there all the time. A person has only persisted to bury it within until someone or something helped it to emerge. Often we hear a teacher say, “Jimmy has finally seen the light,” or “Jane has really come into her own.” What we really mean is that a healthy attitude has finally emerged. It was only buried. Now it has surfaced. It was there all the time.