When I set out to write a piece about helping teachers build their own and students’ social and emotional skills, I anticipated that principals and teachers would be hesitant to speak with me. This is not an easy time for teachers: faced with an expanding set of responsibilities and accountability measures, many teachers will tell you that they feel harshly criticized and even scapegoated for all of the American educational system’s problems.
Despite some teachers’ frustrations that the stories of their daily challenges are not being heard, there is reluctance among many to talk with members of the press. I expected that the topic of my reporting would be a particularly touchy one; social and emotional skills like managing frustration, dealing with conflict, and communicating effectively are sensitive topics for some people, perhaps especially for teachers, whose job success depends on them, and especially today, when teachers feel that their every move is under a microscope. The project I wrote about, in which trained experts provided social and emotional coaching, required teachers to engage in a great deal of reflection and personal growth. I wasn’t sure if teachers would be prepared to share the stories of that growth, especially if it meant describing the “before” picture as well as the “after.”
What I found, however, was that the solutions journalism approach provided an opening for me to engage educators in honest and thoughtful conversations. When I first spoke with principals, and then with teachers, I described my goals from a solutions journalism perspective, explaining that I was there to report on the project because it was showing promise and that I wanted to learn more about what was making it successful. I also explained that I would be honest about the challenges so that readers could evaluate the project for themselves and think about whether and how to make similar projects work better in the future.
Upon hearing this, principals immediately opened up. Some told me they found this kind of coverage lacking, and that they felt frustrated by a growth of negative news stories about teachers. Teachers, too, were quick to open up, often telling me that they were eager to share what they had learned in the hope that it could help other teachers, schools, and students. [Read more...]