— Ben Wilkoff (@bhwilkoff) February 3, 2016
When I was a kid, I would take my assignments to my mom before I turned them in to my teachers. Somewhere around middle school, my reaction to her feedback shifted. I would get angry at her, argue with her feedback, and end the exchange with something akin to “Fine. Whatever.”
Eventually, she shifted tactics. I would bring her an assignment, ask her to review it, and then she would ask a simple question. “Do you want me to read this as you mom who is proud of everything you do, or do you want me to read this as your mom whose job it is to challenge you and help you grow?” When she first started positing this question, my answer was as you might expect, “I want the mom who is proud of me.”
As I started to understand the choice, I started to shift my answer. After working through a particularly troubling assignment, I realized it was challenging mom whose eyes and mind I needed on my work. I needed someone to help me see in the tall grass.
These two versions of my mom and the spectrum that runs between them represent the people in my coalition. In working to improve learning systems, I gravitate toward people who are doing the same work and are passionate about moving toward goals in the same way.
When I get to make a move, these are the people who see themselves in that move and offer some version of a high five. “We did it,” they seem to say. Proud mom.
At the same time, I am pulled to people who look at those moves and say, “Why that way? How could you have done that better?” They see a move and instantly begin to think about how I or we or they can make the next move better. Challenging mom.
Then there are all the coalition members who care about issues parallel to the issues to which I am devoting myself. If I am thinking about the role of a system of education and schools in helping people, I realize the need for other coalition members who are thinking specifically about institutional poverty and racism, healthcare for all, and eliminating food deserts. I see the intersection of my work with theirs, and they see the intersection of their work with mine. Sometimes we work together. Sometimes we must negotiate priorities and the distribution of limited resources.
Finally, there are the members of the loyal opposition. Often committed to the same purposes and goals, these are the people who answer plans and actions with, “Really?” Their skepticism comes from a place of care. If there is a limited number of moves to solve the puzzle, these are the allies who ask, “Are you sure you want to do that?” each time we reach for a piece.
Somewhere in this milieu a coalition is formed by a mixture of proud and challenging moms, parallel advocates, and the loyal opposition.
This post is part of a daily conversation between Ben Wilkoff and me. Each day Ben and I post a question to each other and then respond to one another. You can follow the questions and respond via Twitter at #LifeWideLearning16.