Active Caring and Patient Caring

I recently finished Geoff Krall’s book Necessary Conditions. It’s great! You should read it too. Here’s one of my takeaways:

Geoff writes about “active caring” and shares this great graphic in the book:

Active caring demands a two-way relationship independent of the student’s academic dispositions. Students who don’t demonstrate a preternatural appreciation for the subject receive the same level of personal and cultural care as those who do.

I think this distinction is really neat, and Geoff has great ideas for how active caring can play out with large class sizes and busy schedules. Check out his blog post on the topic.

But there’s another type of caring I think connects with active caring, and can be equally important. I’m going to call it “patient caring.” In the world, in particular when I read news about politics and prominent folks, there’s this assumption that humans are static, that the traits someone has today are the traits they’ll have tomorrow and next year and in ten years. I think this plays out in education; humans have a disposition to forget that other humans grow and change, yet that growth is a core part of our job as educators. And that growth doesn’t happen over time; it takes time and deliberate effort. I don’t have Geoff’s great visual designer, but here is my list:

Patient Caring

  • Teacher plans to revisit norms and routines throughout the year, knowing that classes need reminders and to hear expectations explicitly multiple times.
  • Teacher knows that students forget things they learned last week and last month and last year and plans proactively to reteach concepts and revisit key ideas over time.
  • Teacher recognizes when a lesson is going poorly, and finds ways to reframe expectations and adjust the goals to help students feel successful.
  • Teacher gives time for students to think and wrestle with ideas on their own terms, even when class is running behind.
  • Teacher listens to students rather than for right answers, and works to begin where students are rather than where one might wish they would be. (See Max Ray-Riek for listening to vs listening for.)

These are small changes in my attitudes and responses in the moment, and there are lots of times that the practicalities of classrooms get in the way of patient caring. But, at its core, I think patient caring is recognizing that students are works in progress, that learning is messy, and that things often don’t happen on my schedule. My response in these moments should be patience, and flexibility, and the perspective to consider the broader goals of math class.

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