Monday, January 14, 2013

One True Thing from Dr. Donna Robinson: There Are Always Two Sides to a Story

As a college student, one of the activities I remember enjoying most was an assignment I had in Dr. Donna Robinson's Methods of Teaching Secondary English course. In a group with three other students, we were charged with reading Parker Palmer's highly inspiring and deeply vulnerable book The Courage to Teach and then creating a presentation which entailed a highly interactive, engaging, and instructive approach. My group members and I tried to do what Dr. Robinson had always encouraged us to do--to think of how we'd fare with what we shared inside the corridors of a real high school. What would engage our students? What would interest and instruct them?

And so, we decided upon sock puppets. And a song in rhyming couplets set to the rhythm of a highly popular Billboard chart-topper of the time. We sang our song (or, more precisely, the sock puppets sang and we merely orchestrated) and I remember looking up at Dr. Robinson and seeing the seed of a smile grow. After many courses with Dr. Robinson more than a decade ago, and teaching myself in three different school settings, I have continued to remember her great zeal for making learning active, engaging, and rigorous for students. The mantra that comes to mind when I think of Dr. Robinson is, undoubtedly, the resolve to practice what one preaches. In every one of Dr. Robinson's lessons and lectures, she consistently embodied that ideal--she modeled for us what effective, engaged, and inspired teaching looks like. And I am deeply grateful for her passion, her enthusiasm, and her wisdom.

So I am very happy to share Dr. Robinson's One True Thing today.

There Are Always Two Sides to a Story
Donna Robinson, Ed.D

Growing up in a small rural town in Maine I had to make my own excitement. It was the only way it was likely to happen. When I was eight, one of my favorite positions for doing this was lying on the floor with my ear to the cold, linoleum floor.

My Dad was a revered Baptist pastor who was known throughout the little town for his compassionate counseling abilities.  Many an evening those in need of his countrified wisdom sat crouched close together in his crowded study - directly below my bedroom.

The ones I liked best were the couples that came in screaming at the outset – I didn’t have to strain to hear as much as with the quiet folks. Inevitably, Dad made a firm and unequivocal pronouncement to the loud combatants. “We are going to hear each of you thoroughly and without interruption. That means that first one of you will explain your journey to my doorstep and then the other will do so – without interruption! We are going to hear both sides of the story.”

Over numerous years I listened to some pretty interesting stories and I learned a great deal about human nature – and, no, I was never caught, nor did I ever speak of what I had ascertained. I knew the gig would be up if I did.

One solidified observation of those counseling sessions stood out above all others. There really were two sides to every story. Just when I finished hearing a woman tell her side of the perceived argument and I was certain her husband was at fault, my Dad would calmly turn to the man and say, “OK, let’s start at the beginning and hear your perspective.”  And then an ever-expanding web of complexity began to grow.

As a wife, mother, friend, middle school teacher and professor I have found that learning to not rush to judgment has been the outgrowth of those days spent listening on the floor.

Both children and adults deserve the respect of being heard completely – with no interruptions or hasty conclusions.  One true thing that has permeated my many days in the company of my human companions on this journey is that there are always two sides to a story. An honest writer always remembers this when portraying characters and experiences and outside the realm of fiction, I see the need to act on this as I intersect with those around me.