April 21, 2015

You’ve likely seen the recent social media and news attention about the third grade teacher in Denver who led her students in an activity called “I wish my teacher knew…” The teacher, Kyle Schwartz, created the assignment to get to know her students better.  Some of the students shared that they were without a friend, or missed their father who had been deported, or that their reading log wasn’t signed because their mother isn’t around often. It is heartbreaking to hear these struggles, but the intention and outcome of this activity is inspiring. And, it is candor at its best.

Initially, Schwartz simply wanted to hear their truth so she might be a better teacher to each student. Ultimately, she provided them with an outlet that felt safe in which they could speak freely about their lives. Although she told the students they could submit their responses anonymously, nearly all signed their name and many chose to read their writing aloud to the class. This opened up an honest dialogue with and among her students, and eventually the rest of the world.

The entire story could be a case study about our capacity for candor. Further, this example translates into every relationship we have – as teachers, parents, spouses, neighbors, employees, or leaders. When we offer someone a sincere opportunity where they feel supported and safe and heard, they will speak their truth, regardless of how hard the information is to share.

In Uncommon Candor, I write about how children are born with a natural gift for speaking the truth (albeit sometimes without regard to others’ feelings.) I believe that we should not “shush” them and suppress their candor, but rather encourage their honesty while teaching them how to be respectful. If we silence children, we’ll make them fearful of expressing their concerns. If we guide them, they are likely to grow into adults who are able to speak openly and honestly, directly and respectfully. Schwartz has done just that and she is a role model for candor in the classroom and beyond.