my stoplight moment

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More than six months into starting this movement to help educators and parents create caring classrooms and reflect on shaming practices in schools, I had my own stoplight moment.

There’s a writer who published a book about another topic I’m passionate about.  She was set to speak at a local venue, and I had been looking forward to the talk for months.  Literally.

So when it finally happened, I was excited and well prepared.

The speaker began the presentation talking about how the sensitive topic necessitates that we all trust each other enough to be vulnerable.  She was speaking my language!

There was a ton of great information, and I was gobbling it up. Though I’d read the book, there was still lots of information I wanted to be sure I recorded accurately.   Since her pace was very quick, I took screenshots of some of the text-heavy presentation slides with my iPad.

About halfway through the talk, she stopped her talk and said, “I’d like to ask that people taking photos please stop.  I understand you want to get it all down, but I need to protect my intellectual property.”

I was seated near the front of a large auditorium, so I wasn’t sure about anyone else taking photos behind me.  But I hadn’t been trying to hide it and was using an iPad, so people around me glanced at me with the evil eye when the author made that announcement.

I won’t dwell on the fact that this is a pretty common practice of late… people taking photos of presentations slides they find compelling and want to remember or revisit.  It happens to me when I present, and when it does, I assume that people find what I’m saying useful.  I realize though, that you could argue that I’d done something wrong, and many people might agree she was right to address it.  But that’s not the point of this post.

The point of this post is shame.  Because that’s exactly what I felt.  It even dawned on me at the time, that this is how many children feel when their name is moved to a different color, or their classroom dojo data is publicly displayed, or their clip shows them slipping down the color chart.

I felt embarrassed, certainly.  But I also felt shame.  The author paused her talk to publicly state that I’d done something wrong and was jeopardizing her intellectual property.

So what I wanted to write about here is how the entire experience changed for me from that moment on.

My first instinct was to leave the auditorium (flight won out over fight).  But that very public act would have drawn more attention to me, which was the very last thing I wanted.  So I stayed, red faced, and ashamed.

Next, I wanted to defend myself (fight being a close second).  To let her and the audience of about 300 know that I was hoping to write an article about the talk, look into the numerous researcher names she mentioned, and share the information with my son.  But there was no space or opportunity to share my side.

I felt resentful that I’d been called out in front of so many people. Why not speak to me privately afterwards and ask that I delete the images?  It changed the way that I felt about the author, my place at the table, the topic, and the entire event.

But what was perhaps most compelling from an educational perspective was that I couldn’t focus, think, or take notes after that.  All I could think about was how lousy I felt.  I could barely hear what she was saying.  I certainly was through with any learning for the night.

I share this experience not so you’ll feel sorry for me… I’ll be fine.  I wrote an email to the author explaining why I was taking screen shots, apologizing for how that felt to her, and suggesting that next time she state her preference prior to  the talk.

I share this story instead to help you imagine a young child in a very similar situation.  How it makes the child feel, how it motivates the child to opt out, lash out, or flee the situation, how it denies the child the opportunity to talk through it, and how it impacts the child’s learning… for that day, and likely beyond.

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