Assume good intentions?

At a TLN focus group earlier this summer in North Carolina, fellow TLN colleagues and I met face to face, mostly for the first time, for three days of fascinating discourse about our profession.  We began our intense sessions by establishing norms for the group’s communications.  One of my colleagues and fellow bloggers, Susan Graham (of A Place at the Table), offered one of her favorite rules for successful collaboration: “Assume good intentions.”  Everyone agreed wholeheartedly, and we basically felt that that one norm said it all.  Throughout the retreat, we abided by this rule and were both productive and collegial.  We were able to discuss with conflicting ideas and perspectives and it seemed like everyone’s thinking about education and teaching reached new levels as a result of this.

I’ve been mulling over this notion of assuming good intentions.  It appeared to be an easy thing for all of us at CTQ to do and was indeed an integral part of our success as collaborators.  Does this rule work everywhere?  I’m thinking about some of my students and how assuming good intentions often runs counter to common sense they may be accustomed to, like, “Always watch your back.”

For students who come from a place where basic safety is not guaranteed, assuming good intentions of those they don’t know well may be difficult, if not dangerous.  For many students of color, previous experiences with institutionalized racism can lead to an understandable mistrust of institutions and individuals within them.  There are many more experiences that can lead a child or anyone to be cautious about trusting.

All this is to say that I want to create a classroom where my students can assume the good intentions of their classmates and me and reach high levels of collaboration and intellectual discourse.  But I recognize that a trusting community takes time to build.  As I prepare myself to work with the most diverse population of students I’ve ever had in the same classroom, I will keep this goal and the complexity it presents foremost on my mind.

In my next post, I’ll share some of my planning for my first unit: building a classroom community.