Showing Posts from: Intercultural Competence/Communication

Culturally, What Looks Like “No” Could Mean “Yes.”

I was once so inspired by a lecturer that I was unknowingly shaking my head left and right back like I was saying "no." The lecturer stopped his lecture, and said in a condescending tone, "I don't know why SOME of you are shaking your heads in disagreement. I know I'm right." I smiled hoping he would give me a chance to respond or explain, but, perhaps because it was a large class, he continued lecturing without opening up for any questions or comments. I tried to approach him after class to explain, but other students had already surrounded him. I eventually left.

What that professor failed to understand is that in African-American culture, when someone is saying something that we believe is profound, we sometimes shake our heads back and forth in amazement. Even though it looks like we are saying "no," we are really saying, "WOW!" Or "YES!!!"

As brilliant as that professor was, he lacked awareness about my culture, and he made me feel as though my way of expressing appreciation was not normal, acceptable or welcome in his class. He thereby created distance with me.

Teacher, if you are not aware of your students' cultures, you could unintentionally and unknowingly be pushing them away.  Humble yourself and become  student of your students. #HowtoREACHYouthToday

How I Handle Fights on Social Media

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In my nearly 10 years of observing or participating in social media arguments, I have yet to see more than a handful of people have a change of heart about their position BECAUSE of a social media argument or post. It seems that no matter how many links get posted, or data gets cited, or evidence gets presented to support one's position, I have concluded that most people are more interested in winning an argument than seeking understanding or truth. When most people argue online, they often resort to personal attacks and emotional appeals that are devoid of objective facts; then, when someone challenges them with a different perspective or evidence that refutes their arguments, more often than not, rather than acknowledging the error of their own logic or the unsoundness of their own arguments, most people seek to save their "social-media-face." They often deflect, change the subject, throw out more emotional appeals, spew forth more personal attacks, or disengage from the exchange completely. The one thing that I rarely see is someone saying, "You know what? You're right. I was wrong. Thank you for explaining that to me." Even writing that felt foreign to me! From my experience, most people on social media do not change their minds because of social media arguments.

Some of that is undoubtedly due to the fact that MOST of what one INTENDS to communicate on social media is limited in the worst ways: we can't make eye contact, hear vocal variety, show facial expressions, see body language, hear people's emotions, or see how people are being affected by what is being said, etc. Because of that, much of what is intended NEVER makes it into the head or heart of the intended interlocutor, and, as such, understanding becomes nearly impossible. Communication only takes place when a listener/reader UNDERSTANDS a speaker's/writer's message in the exact way the speaker/writer INTENDED IT. Therefore, most of what we call "communication" is little more than self-expression. What happens during internet arguments, more often than not, is feelings get hurt, and personal attacks get worse, and the distance between people becomes even greater. At that point, not only does communication become impossible, relationships between people are often ended. That's what makes internet arguments so disappointing and sad.

Because of these, and other realities, I have chosen to use my time and energy and social media platforms to help, teach, encourage, inspire, empower, unite and uplift people. Of course, I sometimes say things that are challenging, and that might even offend some people, but it is my hope that people understand that I would not intentionally demean, tear down, or villify anyone on purpose.

If, by chance, I do have a conflict with someone, I choose to address that challenge by dealing with REAL people face-to-face. I talk to REAL audiences face-to-face. I address hurtful or mean comments with people, in person, face-to-face. I confront bullies face-to-face. I try to diffuse misunderstandings in person, face-to-face. Trust me, I do it A LOT more than I ever talk about online. However, if I can't talk to someone in person, then I try to talk to them on FaceTime. Or, if I can't connect with them on FaceTime, then I try to talk with them over the phone (and not leave a long voicemail); or, if I can't get a real voice on the other end of the phone, then I text them and ask them to pick up the phone; if I can't get them to pick up the phone, then I might try to send an email requesting that we talk on the phone or face-to-face; if I can't connect via email, I might send an inboxed message to their social media account (to try to get on the phone). Of course, all this face-to-face talk presupposes that I think the issue is big enough to warrant a face-to-face encounter. If it does not, then I am neither talking about it online, nor am I trying to talk to the person face-to-face. I have chosen to pick my battles. I am too busy, and too much of what is intended gets lost, for me to be arguing with people online.

If we have an issue, I want to see you face-to-face, and look you in your eye, and listen to how you really feel and seek to understand your perspective; and, I would hope that my openness to really listen to your perspective, and my effort to understand you, would convince you to hear what I have to say. If I can't talk with you in person or on the phone without us having a mutual respect for one another, or without a sense that both of us are seeking to understanding one another, then I am not going to argue with you or anyone. If people only want to argue online, I am convinced that they have way too much time on their hands, they do not want to be understood, or want to understand. Perhaps they do not want to learn and grow, or they are not interested in helping others learn and grow. In any case, it's not an efficient use of my time to try to engage such people.

I can't tell you how to handle your conflicts. I can just tell you how I have chosen to handle mine: by talking to, and listening to, real people, face-to-face. If more of us did that, I believe we would have a lot less acrimony, a lot more understanding, and a much better world.

-Manny Scott

Some Kids Don’t Need “Grit;” They Need Healing

In education circles, there is a lot of talk about "Grit" and having a "Growth Mindset" these days.  There are a lot of admistrators and teachers convinced that their kids need to have more "grit." Angela Duckworth, the main proponent of “Grit," defines grit as "passion and perseverance for very long term goals." In other words, grit is passion and perseverance over a long period of time to achieve one’s goals. According to this definition, grit is specifically related to the achievement of goals.

During my presentation, "The Power of One," I sometimes talk about some of the trauma of my past, and assert, "sometimes kids don't need grit; they need healing." Well, recently, a very nice principal pulled me aside and respectfully challenged my thinking about grit. He said, "Manny, it takes grit to heal.”  His statement challenged me to clarify my thinking about the relationship between grit and healing.

Here are my brief thoughts on the matter. 

While I certainly agree that in order to achieve goals in school, work and life, students must develop "grit" (passion and perseverance over the long haul), I am convinced that several students have been so traumatized, victimized, and hurt that it is impossible for them to think about goals related to school, work, or life. For many of them, it is nearly impossible for them to even fathom “the long haul.” I used to really believe that I would be dead or in jail before I was 18 years old.  Many students are just trying make it through the night and don’t even have the capacity to see beyond their current circumstances. Many of them are trying to figure out how they are going to make it through the sexual abuse they are about to experience tonight.  Many of them are grieving over the loss of their best friend who just committed suicide yesterday. Some can’t get past the trauma of seeing their mother’s brains blown out with a shotgun and having to clean the brain and skull fragments off of their faces while cradling their dead mother in their arms. I could go on and on with stories like this.  For those kids, I am convinced that it is not grit that they need, but healing (through therapy or counseling or journaling or some other means of support). I believe it is therapy or counseling that helps traumatized people heal enough to even begin setting goals and dreaming big. It is counseling and therapy that gives them the skills to persevere, and frees them to find their passions. It is healing that frees people to develop grit.

So, my contention is that it does not “ take grit to heal,” but rather it takes “healing (or therapy) to have grit,” or, put another way, “grit is improbable without healing.” I believe healing should/must precede grit for many traumatized, victimized children. To be sure, I have certainly had to have grit to overcome many of the obstacles of my past to achieve the level of success I now enjoy.  I have had to have grit to become the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I had to have grit to graduate from college and graduate school. I had to have grit to learn how to fly planes. I have had to have grit to become the faithful husband and loving father I am today. I have had to have grit to grow my education consulting/speaking business.

From my experience, however, if it had not been for God and loving adults (pastors, teachers, counselors, coaches) who came into my life to help me heal from my hurts, I have no doubt that I would have been dead or in jail. My healing PRECEDED my grit. My healing freed me to have grit. My healing freed me to dream big and and set goals, and to develop the passion and perseverance to achieve those goals and dreams.  So yes, while I have no doubt that grit is an indispensable part of achievement and personal growth, healing, in my opinion, is the foundation upon which grit is built. 

So, I end where I began: Some students don't need grit; they need healing.

What do you think? 

A Teacher Complained, “I Don’t Know Why We Need This.”

Recently, there have been several "racially charged controversies" in a school district, and some district leaders believed that their teachers needed to become more interculturally competent. So they hired me to lead the training. Early in my session, a teacher complained, "I don't know why we need this." Her district is 75% white and made up of middle-class and affluent families. Hearing her dismiss her need for this kind of training only confirmed for me (and others in the room) that attitudes like hers might be causing- or at least exacerbating- the racial tensions in her school district.

A lot of teachers think that they can continue doing things the way they have always done them, and still be effective.  What they fail to (don't want to?) realize is that our country is becoming more diverse culturally, religiously, socioeconomically, etc, and if teachers who live in historically homogenous districts (which are experiencing a significant influx of diverse families) do not equip themselves to understand and navigate these changes with wisdom, they will eventually become more and more distant from their students, and will become increasingly ineffective as teachers. Their unwillingness to learn will eventually lead to more misunderstanding, conflict and, eventually, chaos in the classroom. So throughout our half-day session, I helped her and her colleagues see how culturally conditioned and linguistically particular they really are; and, as a result of such conditioning, they are neither "normal" nor "the norm" by which every other student should be evaluated. Of course, I also showed them how to build cross-cultural bridges into the lives of their students.

At the end of my time with them, several veteran educators and counselors came up to me and said that mine was the absolute best professional development day they have ever had in their professional lives. I think the woman who complained quietly snuck out the back door. Either way, her attitude only reaffirmed my commitment to helping teachers become better students of their students.

I show busy teachers how to do that in my newest book, Even on Your Worst Day You Can Be a Student's Best Hope.  You can get it directly from ASCD, the number one publisher for education leaders and curriculum development in the world.