Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Change Agent #5: Open your life in appropriate ways.

Don’t try to be perfect. Both you and your students know you’re not. My pastor is great at pointing out his own imperfections. People love it because they know he’s in the process like the rest of us.

If you’re discussing a character trait, admit times you blew it that hurt you. Then tell times you did it right that helped you. Sometimes it won’t take but two minutes. But adding your personal stories can be powerful. (Just don’t share personal information that you wouldn’t mind your supervisors or the student’s parents hearing. If they story’s good, it’ll probably make its rounds!)

Two ways to use personal stories:

a. Tie them seamlessly into the literature.

Example: In today’s assignment, the protagonist was caught lying. Let me give an example of a predicament I faced in my own life….

b. Have a weekly “success moment.”

(Why speak of “success” rather than “character”? Because “success” is more of a felt need than “character. And if they’ve seen character education done poorly in the past, they might turn it off.)

One of my graduate school professors, Dr. William Craig, was a great model for me in this area. In a "History of Philosophy" class, the brilliant professor (two earned Ph.D.'s) would devote 5 minutes at the beginning of class to a sort of real-life moment. I don’t recall if it was every day or once a week or every now and then. But I’ll never forget one day, when he began class with this nugget:

"You know, you can make A's in my class, while flunking in real life. I remember a time when I was struggling with balancing studies with my marriage. I was working on my Ph.D. at the University of Munich, Germany. The academic load was overwhelming. My main professor would keep pulling out books in French and German that he said were must-reads for my dissertation.

So I talked to a professor about my struggle with balance and he advised me, 'Look around you. People around here with Ph.D.'s are a dime a dozen. But how many people do you see who have a really great marriage? Whatever the cost, don't neglect your relationship with your wife.' It really put things in perspective for me."

Well, that was 25 years ago, and I'm not sure how much I remember today about Kant and Hegel. But I'll never forget that simple life story from a teacher who cared as much about my life as about my passing his class.

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