Education, Parenting

Don’t Blame Me

My daughter is a synchronized swimmer.  One of the little-known facts outside the sport is that these athletes paint gelatin on their hair before a performance or competition to keep their hair up and out of their faces.  The practice is called, “knoxing.”

My daughter had 2 performances on Saturday, and so we began the morning with the tedious process of putting her hair into a bun with a thousand bobby pins, mixing unflavored gelatin with hot water, and applying it to her head.

Unfortunately, something went wrong.  I’m not sure what it was, but the knox looked somewhat lumpy.  By the end of her 1st performance, I realized with great dismay that the knox was in clumps all over her head.

“We’re going to have to re-knox before the next show,” I informed her in the car.

“No!” she pleaded.  “It’s fine!”

“You haven’t looked in a mirror, yet,” I said.  “Trust me, it’s bad.  I’m sorry.  I messed up.  You’re going to have to rinse it all off and we’ll start over.”

Bad knox job

“No, we can just paint over it!”

I shook my head.  “I don’t think that’s going to work.  It looks too awful.”

“But I don’t want to redo it!”

I was about to argue more, and then I stopped for a moment.  Why was I trying to persuade her to redo it?  I hate knoxing.  If neither one of us wanted it done, then why was I insisting?  Was it really for her benefit?

Or mine?

I realized that the reason I wanted to redo it wasn’t because I was worried about her feelings if someone criticized the way her hair looked.  It was because I was worried about what people would think about me.

I could hear the whispers already.  “That mom is horrible.  Look at what a bad knoxing job she did.  And she let her daughter swim that way!”

But glops of gelatin weren’t going to effect her performance.

I revised my statement.  I thought about what she would want – to make her own decision.  “Okay.  When you look at it, if you want me to redo it, I will.”

In a blog post that I once did about Seth Godin’s book, Tribes, I included this quote from his book:  “what people are afraid of isn’t failure.  It’s blame.”

As a parent, I worry that I’m going to get blamed if things go wrong for my child.  It makes me reluctant to allow her to make mistakes, or to sometimes make her own decisions.

As a teacher, I do the same thing.  If a parent questions a decision I made, I fear blame and become defensive.  If a student doesn’t do what I envisioned on a project, I worry that people will think I didn’t teach well enough.

We need to regularly ask ourselves, “Is this about me or is this about the child?”  Often we make decisions that are supposedly the best for the child – but they are really about keeping ourselves from being blamed.

In the end, my daughter decided to allow me to re-knox her hair.  And it looked much better.  But I would have been fine if she hadn’t – and so would she.  That day I learned two things that I should never do:

  • inflict my own insecurities on others
  • put lumpy gelatin on my daughter’s head.
A better job!
A better job!



Books, Education, K-12, Motivation, Reading, Teaching Tools

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us


Recently, one parent loaned me a book by Seth Godin.  Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us would probably not have taken me quite so long to read if I wasn’t stopping to take notes every 5 seconds! I found a lot of applications to teaching and learning that I definitely found valuable.

One of the popular conversations in education these days is the need to teach our students how to deal with failure.  I’m going to save my thoughts on that for another post.  But I found that Seth Godin had some interesting things to say about the tendency to fear failure.  According to him, “what people are afraid of isn’t failure.  It’s blame.”  He goes on to say that any thing that is really worth doing is going to generate conversation – and probably criticism.  He urges, “If the only side effect of the criticism is that you will feel bad about the criticism, then you have to compare that bad feeling with the benefits you’ll get from actually doing something worth doing.”  I think that’s a great message that we should convey to our students.

Along those same lines, Godin gives the secret of being wrong. I hope he doesn’t mind if I divulge that right now.  “The secret of being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong!  The secret is being willing to be wrong.  The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.”

I deal with this in the classroom daily.  Students will be afraid to even attempt an answer sometimes.  I sometimes coax them into it by asking them to think of the worst thing that will happen if they are wrong.  Or I point out a recent incident (and trust me, there are many) when I was wrong and I surprisingly did not self-destruct. Invariably, I can convince the student to take a risk by using those techniques.

I have many other notes, but I will leave you with one last thought that I read near the end of the book.  As is often the case in my life, the timing could not have been more perfect.  You see, the day before I read this particular passage, I took my 5th grade class on a tour of Rackspace, a company located near us that has been named one of the top companies to work for.  In a section of Godin’s book called, “Ronald Reagan’s Secret,” Seth Godin gives the example of Graham Weston, executive chairman of Rackspace, who needed to convince his employees of the wisdom of a recent business decision. Instead of giving a speech to persuade them, however, Weston met with every single employee “who was hesitating about the move and let them air their views.  That’s what it took to lead them: he listened.”

So often, that is what our students need.  They just need someone to listen, to assure them that their voice has been heard.

Teachers like that, too – every once in awhile 😉