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CB: Criticism Part II

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In the last post, I gave you a story about some deadly criticism in my own life.  To talk about what she did wrong, let’s go back to what she didn’t do.

1.  She did not give specifics as to the exact nature of the problem.

2.  She picked out two wrongs and harped on them at length focused attention on them instead of evaluating the entire performance and giving positive feedback with the negative.

3.  Rather than use a professional voice and an evaluation sheet, she yelled in front of my supervising classroom teacher (and the students).

4.  Her rant ripped me to shreds instead of building me up.  In other words, it did nothing to help me better myself.

5.  Her rant was all about her really, and not about me or my overall performance at all.

Escaping Criticism

Escaping Criticism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So taking the above, how can we make a list of things to help us criticize(critique) well?

1.  Always give specifics about the nature of the criticism.  A person cannot change something if they don’t fully understand what it is that needs changed. {And yes, I better insert here that the person has the choice of changing or not.}

2.  A criticism that picks out one fly in the ointment one or two things without evaluating the whole is criticism that does not help.  All of us make errors in judgment and grammar and more at times.  Every little mistake does not need harped on criticized.

3.  There is no need to use a raised voice, foul language, or humiliation in critiques.  This behavior defeats the purpose and cuts off any possibility of the other person really hearing what you’re trying to say.  High horse riding Overtones of superiority also fall in this category.

4.  “They” say that you need at least 3 positive statements for each negative.  I have heard as many as 8 to 1.  When you take it upon yourself to criticise, evaluate the entire thing.  Start with several positive aspects and things done well.  Build them up.  Then, if you feel you must, point out a couple of things the person could have done better.  If possible, provide feedback about HOW they could do it better in the future.

5.  It’s not about you.  If you feel the need to violate any of these rules of criticism, you have not taken yourself out of the equation.  It’s not about you.  The sole focus of critique should be on the other person and helping them. It’s not about you.  It is not to make you feel better.  It is not to let you feel superior to others.  It is to help someone improve. It’s not about you.

positive feedback virtuous circle

positive feedback virtuous circle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the criticism in the story was a professional criticism.  Criticism happens in almost every relationship we have.  It most certainly happens in marriages and families.  It can destroy others, and is not to be used lightly!

Questions for thought:

Do you have a critical tongue?  Do you follow the rules of proper criticism or do you follow the way of my college supervisor?  Think about a time when someone else’s criticism has hurt you in some way; is this what you want others to feel when you help them?  Criticism has it’s place, but it must be used sparingly and carefully.  Do you agree or disagree?  How will you change your own method of criticism if needed? 

Communication Busters: Non-constructive Criticism

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Let’s begin this post with a story:

Several years ago, I was doing my final student teaching stint for my Masters Degree and preparing for my future after college (a non-traditional student).  My supervisor from college was a Science Teacher and very nazi-like about what she wanted us to do.

I knew this and should have never picked a science class for her to observe! In my defence, I was also stressed out because my husband had almost died from a bleed out in his innards somewhere and my father was deathly ill — Streptococcus agalactia had eaten part of his heart and more.  I would teach during the week and head to the hospital on the weekends.  We almost lost him a few times, but he’s still kicking now.  I was way behind on my Capstone paper, (another lovely story) and still recovering from a series of surgeries a year earlier that had taken it out of me.

Rock strata Rock strata beside a forestry road...

Rock strata Rock strata beside a forestry road in the Dyfi Forest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Feels like TMI?  So, at my first observation, I decide to do a science lesson about rock layering.  I did not have enough time or resources to have each child make his or her own jar of rock strata, so I did one big one.  The kids loved the lesson.  Ms. Nazi did not.

I had evidently said something (as an aside about dirt that was not part of the lesson) that wasn’t true.  When I got back for her to talk to me, she let me have it with both barrels.  She ranted and raved.  Told me I lied, etc.  All of this was in front of my classroom teacher (and in hearing of the students).  Both of us looked like a deer caught in the headlights.  The woman finished her rant and went her way, leaving a broken woman behind her.

If I had not had the extra stress, I might have been able to think more clearly and ask for clarification.  As it was, I took it to heart, and I almost didn’t recover.  It effected me almost the whole rest of my student teaching time.

All that to say this:  that is an example of non-constructive criticism.  This woman did not tell me what I said that was wrong; she gave me no credit at all for the lesson; she did not act as a professional.  Her criticism devastated me instead of helping me become a better teacher.

Most people give non-constructive criticism, at least sometimes.  Criticism is essential to growth, but given in the wrong way does absolutely nothing toward helping the person criticized.  All it does is give the criticizer ‘holier than thou’ feelings and either anger or frustrate the criticizee.  A useless waste of breath and energy, it should never occur.  Non-constructive criticism always breaks down communication.

How do you criticize?  Do you ride a high horse or think carefully about your words before speaking/writing?

Tune in tomorrow for part II of this story. 🙂

Just do something!

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“Do Something. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t, do something else.”– Franklin D. Roosevelt

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When I posted this quote as a draft for a future  post, I didn’t think I’d be writing about this.  Some of you will identify and others may not, but this quote works very well as a philosophy of teaching for middle schoolers.  I teach 7th, 8th, and 9th grade in my Sunday School Class on Sunday morning.  I often leave the room after class wondering why in the world I keep doing this.  This age group is difficult at best in so many ways.  They are very conscious of themselves and how they fit or don’t fit into the world around them.  They are quick to point out when someone else doesn’t fit in.  They like to talk and prank each other and put their feet on the table and poke holes in milk cartons and anything else that pops into their mind.  —->(“Ah, that’s a good idea!  Oh, well maybe not.  Where are the paper towels?)

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I used to think these behaviors indicated boredom.  Nope, it just means they’re middle schoolers!  I can’t tell you how many times I have wondered if my presence in that room makes a difference or not, especially after a difficult hour of Jr. High hijinks.  Then one of them will say something that warms my heart and gives me the fuel I need to keep going.

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You see, while they act as if they do not hear a thing I say, they really listen (mostly).  Every once in a while, something will click with them and they’ll get an ‘aha’ moment that makes them think differently about something.  They love my SS class!  They love me.  I love these kids and my ministry with them.

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Back to my quote.  This is how it works:  I see a problem or a need and I try something with the class.  If it works, we keep doing it.  If it doesn’t work, I spend more time in prayer and contemplation and try something different.  Occasionally, something that has worked for a while stops working.  (This frequently happens in the new year when the group remixes as older ones leave and younger ones come in.)  Then the process begins again and I try new things, gauge how well they do or do not work, and readjust.

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This works in life too.  The only real failure is not trying at all.  If we see a problem or have a dream or whatever, and we try something.  If it doesn’t work, we abandon it (or put it on the back burner to try at another time) and try something else.  I personally expend a lot of prayer in the things I try in my class, and that helps.  I have pictures of my rugrats students up on my prayer wall in my bathroom to remind me to lift them up daily.   They face trials too and often don’t have the maturity to deal on their own.  When they come to me and ask me to pray for them or remind me to have our class prayer time,  I know something has worked.  When I see evidence of spiritual growth, I know something worked.

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However, this ‘try and try again’ attitude works on all things.  This has always been my philosophy of education and one reason I work well with non-traditional or special needs students (and middle schoolers).  If they can’t learn like others, you try something.  If it works, you keep doing it.  If it doesn’t work, you  try something else.  Sooner or later you will hit the ‘aha’ moment with each child that lets a little of the light of education into their lives.

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How does this quote work in your life?  Do you keep trying different things?  Do you give up if the first thing doesn’t work?  Do you allow discouragement to drag you down when you’re still in the ‘try something else’ stage?  Is there a time in your life when you can see that trying something new actually worked?  

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If only we would remember this when we get into a reactionary rut with the spouse, kids, friends, others.  If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. 🙂  (definition of insanity)   If something isn’t working, don’t look to place blame on others.  You can’t change them, but you can change you and how you respond.  Often changing our response to others in certain situations makes all the difference in the outcome.  It at least makes a difference in us and how we think about the situation.

So get out there and try something new!        {and here’s a peek at some of my class 🙂 }

Christian Soldiers Sunday School Class

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