Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What we can learn from camera angles and instant replay

Over the weekend I caught a moment of the Yankees vs Red Sox game when the game was paused so the umpires could use instant replay to challenge whether or not a ball was foul or a home run. In order to fill the air time on TV while the powers that be determined the right call, the announcers replayed the hit over and over again from different camera angles. The first image I caught showed that the ball clearly fell to the left of the foul pole, making it a home run. I didn't understand how it could possible be called foul. Why was this even a question? I made rude comments about the umpires needing glasses. And then they showed the hit from another camera angle, one that made it look like the ball was clearly foul. I stopped babbling and just stared. How can one actual occurrence look so different depending on where you were in the stadium? After watching the first video angle I knew what I saw. I was 100% confident. Yet no more than 10 seconds later I saw it from another perspective that made me be completely unsure of where the ball fell.

How different events can look from alternate perspectives always amazes me. It's unnerving when you think about it for too long. How can you ever be completely sure that you've seen what you think you've seen?

I see this play out in special education almost every day. Except there is not any video replay to help us go back and analyze what we saw and view it from different perspectives. We need to rely on our colleagues to help us examine a situation from every angle. That's not easy. In order to be open to even realizing there are different perspectives out there we need to be able to acknowledge that our own perspective may not show us the full picture. This requires more than a bit of humility and a lot of trust for our colleagues.

If the decisions we make for kids come from a belief that we have the only right answer and everyone else is confused, lazy, or just plain wrong, we can miss out on seeing the full picture of the child. And that doesn't impact just one run on a scoreboard, but often can change a child's whole life.

I think about my reaction to the first video replay. Before I had the whole picture I was loud in my confidence. It seemed easy to say ridiculous things about the umpires and be critical of their call. Yet it did not take long for me to eat my words when I saw the other camera angle. How often in our lives do we talk critically about others but never get to see the other angle and we walk away before we fully understand the whole picture?

I struggle with two sides of this problem. I can see a situation from my own perspective and make judgmental statements about those involved. Yet I also can be quieted from others' loud convictions. Even when I see a perspective on a student that differs from the popular opinion I can struggle to share my view when others at the table are loud and confident in their views. I catch myself thinking that other people must be right if they are so loud about their beliefs and I keep quiet. Or worse, I decide that although I think my perspective is valuable, challenging the norm is too much work at the moment and again I stay quiet. In both instances, when I am loud and sure and when I stay quiet, kids lose. It's something I am working on daily.

Kids are complex. There is no way as a teacher to see every side of them. What we see in our classrooms is not the full picture. Our particular backgrounds and training lead us to draw one conclusion about a child's needs that could be very different than someone else's. When we act with open minds and listen to all perspectives at the table we can create extremely powerful teams for the child involved. But if we shut others down and assume our way is the only right way we limit the potential plans we create for our students. This can be devastating for kids - the ones who don't learn to read because the "right" way we are teaching them isn't working. Or the kids who end up in the office day after day because we are not looking at the student's behavior from another angle.

Special education often pushes us to make a decision about how to serve kids and then to stick by it. We come to a formal meeting and write plans on legally binding paperwork. We try to get everyone to agree that this is the right plan. Of course we could always come back together to change the plan, but that often involves another meeting and more paperwork. And sometimes that means admitting things were not as black and white as we want them to be.

We are so busy that sometimes it feels like we do not have the luxury to sit down and fully examine a situation. Yet when this happens we slip into making snap decisions and forgetting to see all sides and gather all of the pieces.

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