Absorb Criticism | Reflect Honor

You’re sitting at your first parent-teacher meeting.  Parents file in casually, helping themselves to your budget-friendly assortment of treats and drinks.  As they individually finish their side-conversations, one turns toward you to discuss her two children, Ashley and Johnny. You commence your tactful “student report.”  Look at Ashley:  She’s an exemplary student who achieves high grades, is active in classroom discussion, and promotes a pleasant learning environment among her peers.  But then there’s Johnny:  Johnny, Johnny, Johnny… With the apparent attention span of a goldfish, he talks during class time, doodles instead of taking notes, and his grades are far from exemplary.  While it is evident that one is a more successful student then the other, the philosophical question of “why” arises.  To adopt the rationale that Ashley is successful due to your own magnificence as a loving, caring, professional educator and Johnny is contrary due to his upbringing or personal capacities is contradictory and selfish on your part.  However, there is an all-inclusive solution to this philosophical dilemma.

Proverbs 18:12 says, “Before destruction the heart of man is proud, and before honor is humility.”  Whether you profess Judeo-Christian beliefs or not, this guidance has shown itself to be true throughout history - Julius Caesar’s assassination, Mother Theresa’s self-sacrifice, Hitler’s failed “Third Reicht,” George Washington’s humility, or countless other examples.  Being in such an influential profession as teaching, you will be tempted to attribute the success of your students to your own abilities.  Do not follow this slippery slope.  Instead, follow this rule – Absorb Criticism. Reflect Honor.

By absorbing criticism, what I mean is to seriously take upon yourself the criticism of others and also your own self-criticism.  How can I reach this student? What haven’t I tried?  Is there another way I can explain this?  Am I grading fairly? Am I providing my students with the best possible education I can give them?  If your own self-reflection and absorbing criticism are legitimate, they will inevitably lead to the second condition – Reflect honor.  As your new ideas and innovative teachings take hold in the students, they will begin to succeed – don’t be surprised!  This is where you again become proactive and, instead of slipping down that decent of pride, reflect it.  “Oh, it’s just that I have such a great, fantastic, smart group of kids to work with.” “She does all the work!  She is incredibly talented.”  “Sir, these kids literally pull the information out of me.  They’re an amazing bunch.”  If you do this, you’ll find that your kids will love you more and more, as well as the parents. 

In the words of Edward Frederick Halifax, previous President of Britain’s Board of Education, “True merit is like a river - the deeper it is, the less noise it makes.”  Let others praise you but reflect that praise. In one of the strangest paradoxes on this earth, the less you try to exalt your self-worth, the greater is your value.


Is it possible to have too much teamwork?

When sitting in front of an intimidating interviewer, many interviewees expound on the fact that they are a “good teamplayer” and this is a valuable trait!  The ability to collaborate with others, generate new ideas amongst a group, and work through conflicts of interest is an essential part of American society.  But is teamwork enough to get by in today’s world?  In the book I Hate People by Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon, they make this observation: “Four decades ago, Fortune did a study of the most valued characteristics in an employee. The magazine found that teamwork was ranked tenth. . . . Jump forward to 2005, and Fortune's follow-up survey showed that teamwork had climbed to #1.” 

Should teamwork be the most valued characteristic to an employer? What about in a school system?  Nearly a century ago, the French agricultural engineer Maximilien Ringelmann performed an experiment.  He measured people pulling on a rope connected to a strain gauge, first as individuals and then as members of tug-of-war teams.  He found that a person pulls harder alone than as part of a group!  Today, this is known as the Ringelmann Effect – the more people you throw at a problem, the less each contributes.  Now this is not to say that teamwork isn’t good at all!  Many of the most important contributions to humanity have been through the use of teams – The Senate in ancient Greece, the Allies during World War II, the Human Genome project, and many more!  Teamwork has and will continue to shape our world in extremely important ways.

So Dominick, what are you trying to say? In your classroom with your students, and also with your interactions with other professionals, take on the attitude that this project depends upon you.  Instead of relying on others for their own ingenuity, create some within yourself.  If every team member adopted this philosophy, the Ringelmann Effect would be virtually eliminated and the quality of your decisions and projects would reflect this. 

To summarize: Think and work as if it all depended on you but maintain an open mind.  Read the awesome version of this blog to find out the 3 easy ways to nearly eliminate “social loafing” in your chapter or workplace!

Cooke, P. (2010, August 16). When Teamwork Doesn't Work | Phil Cooke The Change Revolution. Phil Cooke The Change Revolution | The Intersection of Media, Faith, and Change. Retrieved September 30, 2010, from http://www.philcooke.com/teamwork

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