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Dr. Grauer's Column - Yes

Dr. Grauer's Column - Yes

Yes
By Stuart Grauer

The idea of the “yes man” got a bad rap. I’m glad I hardly hear that appellation used any more. “Yes” people are better than that. 

Think of the yes people in your lives. They are the ones that make you feel empowered, accepted, validated. Of all the yes people you could ever ask for, teachers might be the most important. 

Grauer students on the "Body Mind Spirit" Expedition relaxing and enjoying a picnic lunch together in Los Angeles, with teacher Clayton Payne - April 16, 2024

There are yes teachers and no teachers. You know exactly which are which. For instance, back in the day, if you needed controlling, you “got sent” to military school. You were getting sent because you were seen as out of control. The jobs of those teachers was: “no.” Today, I hardly know any kids from military academies, but I’ve known a number of heads of military schools and they don’t seem like the “no” teachers. Most likely things are different today at the academy.

A lot of The Grauer School “yes” design was probably fashioned on summer camp. I hope you won’t take that wrong. All through my growing up, at camp every summer I had choices of every activity I could think of as a young boy. I could pick from swimming, go-carting, tennis, basketball, baseball (my favorite), water skiing, ping pong, arts, and you name it. Camp, for me, seemed like a school which said “Yes” to wherever I had the energy. Kids, when they are healthy, are natural learners, born learners, so saying yes is a great way to enable that healthiness. (Obviously they need some boundaries.)

Okay, enough of the past reveries, yes and no teachers are everywhere today. 

In a middle school classroom at Grauer, I recently observed a yes teacher. During a science unit on renewable energy, students were given the choice to explore various projects like building solar-powered cars, creating windmills, designing energy-efficient homes using software, or something relevant they could think up (i.e., the all-important “choose your own project”). That teacher supports students' choices and encourages them to pursue their projects passionately. By affirming students' ideas and then providing them with resources and guidance, that great teacher creates an empowering and inclusive learning environment. The students seemed so comfortable and in their elements, and I could tell they were valued and motivated.

Grauer students exploring the Garden of the Gods on the "Colorado Colleges & The Outdoors" Expedition, with teacher Nick Scacco - April 16, 2024

Contrastingly, at a high school I was accrediting not too far back, a teacher seemed to be strictly adhering to a fixed program. I sat in on an English class that another evaluator might have thought was fine. The kids were quiet and reasonably well mannered. It appeared that all year long the students were required to read a set list of literary classics and “canon” books without consideration of their interests or cultural backgrounds. Moreover, the class felt like a march and, as an observer, I kept looking at the clock, wanting time to pass, wanting to get out of that chair. There was no talk of proposals, choices, or projects for including contemporary or diverse literature that might resonate more with any individual student. But it was not even the rigid curriculum that made me feel lethargic in that room. It was not mainly the fact that no student could easily see the eyes of other students, all in those rows, that was significant. Mainly it was the lack of any direction a student could take in pursuit of anything that really called to them. It was the lack of the teacher “striking a spark” with the students, or of something that felt like a “yes.”

"If You Knew" by Ellen Bass
What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.

Grauer students exploring the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal on the Yucatan Spanish Immersion Expedition in Mexico - April 17, 2024

Self-Determination Theory was developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in the mid-1980s. I first came across their work because it describes small school benefits so well, but they are not specifically small school researchers, they are psychologists. Their research suggests that human motivation and well-being are contingent upon the fulfillment of three intrinsic needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. [1] When we experience those three feelings, we’re probably with a yes person and hopefully in a yes school, relationship, or job.

Obviously, no teacher can provide unlimited freedom every day—and I’m not suggesting that any teacher falls neatly into one square or the other. Nor am I suggesting that the teachers we love don’t tell us the truth or never tell us “no.” It’s just that when they say “no,” it is not a judgement or a control, it is an insight. With them, we know we are not wrong, we are only still making progress. When we are with a yes teacher, we understand that the purpose of study is not to be right or wrong, but to find our own way. We strive for A's, write books, and maybe even fight wars for people like this.

Click on this image to watch Grauer Seniors reading story books to their Kindergarten buddies at Grauer's Sister School, Maui Prep. This was a very special activity for both groups of students!

We all have our yes teachers, and we tend to appreciate them for our whole lives. Can you think of one right now, before you finish this column? …Are you smiling? Students might think that what they do in school is unimportant. This is normally not because of the work they do, but rather the way it makes them feel. When things are going great, it’s usually because we feel free: we have choices, we feel competent, and we feel connected. Great teachers and leaders are often involved when this is happening. Think of your yes teachers.

[1] Ryan, R., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55 (1), 68-78.

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Grauer students on the "Body Mind Spirit" Expedition relaxing and enjoying a picnic lunch together in Los Angeles, with teacher Clayton Payne - April 16, 2024

Grauer students exploring the Garden of the Gods on the "Colorado Colleges & The Outdoors" Expedition, with teacher Nick Scacco - April 16, 2024

Grauer students exploring the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal on the Yucatan Spanish Immersion Expedition in Mexico - April 17, 2024

Click on this image to watch Grauer Seniors reading story books to their Kindergarten buddies at Grauer's Sister School, Maui Prep. This was a very special activity for both groups of students!

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