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Achieving sympathy

Sometimes I write more than I should. The original version of this musing was one of those instances. Here’s a new, revised, version.

We have students work in teams a lot. Sometimes things go wrong and team members become upset with other team members. Usually, I go through a series of mental steps before I achieve the right suggestion for the group.

I might suggest that the group explain the problems to their peer.

If they’ve done that already, I might try to encourage them to try again, this time using I language. However, I’m bad at coming up with good I language.

I might suggest that I can talk to their peer. I’m pretty blunt and that can be helpful.

I might suggest that we’ll do end-of-semester peer evaluations.

However, on good days, I realize that we have to approach the issue differently. I take a deep breath and say what I should have said at the beginning.

This semester has been hard. I’ve seen a lot of students with problems. Some are coping with health issues. Some are facing financial issues. Some are concerned about issues at home. Many of our seniors are worried about post-Grinnell employment [1]. Some are dealing with friends who are facing serious issues [2]. And some are facing issues they won’t tell anyone about. So, as hard as it is to do, it may be that you have to say to yourself Something may be going on with my teammate. I’ve told them my concerns. Let’s move on.

That’s also a good reminder to myself. I can tell students when I have concerns (about their lack of attendance, late or inadequate work, or whatever), but I should also remember that there are other issues at play and therefore move on after talking to them. And I should have similar sympathy for my peers.

Now I just have to learn to start with that statement.

[1] That worry seems particularly pronounced in CS. Many of our seniors have taken jobs, so some of those who have been less successful or who have not started their search are feeling a bit panicked. They shouldn’t be; our placement rates are generally high. But it’s still frustrating.

[2] I’ve watched many students lose a lot of sleep and spend a lot of time and energy on other students.

Version 1.0 posted on 2017-11-21.

Version 1.1 of 2017-11-22.