Gerry ChidiacOne of the great joys of being human is that we are always learning, but that often requires keeping an open mind.

In fact, we often find that we’re wrong – even if we don’t like to be told we’re wrong. This normally brings a defensive reaction from us and we become argumentative.

However, if we want to sour our encounters with others, all we have to do is contradict them. Through this type of behaviour, even if we are right, we stand the risk of permanently damaging the relationship.

Children are normally more receptive to being told that they are wrong than adults. But if teachers want to create a positive learning environment with their students, it’s vital that we learn to disagree respectfully and be open to what young people are saying.

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When we’re open to the opinions of others, we normally find that we create better ways to get things done.

One of the greatest thrills in teaching mathematics is when a student finds a way to solve a problem that I hadn’t thought of. I say, “Show me how you got that answer.” When the student explains, I exclaim, “You are brilliant! I would never have thought of solving it that way! I love the way you think!”

What I have done is what author and motivational speaker Sean Covey calls “making a deposit in the Relationship Bank Account.”

The students feel on top of the world, that they are brilliant. That’s wonderful, because they really are brilliant. In addition, the students see the human side of me as a teacher, that I’m not always right and that I know I don’t have to be. They see me as a person they can trust – and trust is vital if real learning is going to take place.

This is also true in our families and every other walk of life. If we avoid being argumentative, we become disarming.

I recall having gone the wrong way on a one-way street soon after my arrival in Africa. Never mind that the street was not marked. An angry police officer sternly told me what I had done and that I risked having my vehicle impounded. I simply replied that he was right and that as a foreigner I needed to accept the laws in his country. He was shocked and repeated his threat to me. I remained calm in my response. In the end, my vehicle was not impounded and the officer and I parted on good terms.

Life is not about being right, it’s about being on good terms with others. If we can listen to other people and respect their perspectives, they will be much more likely to listen to our point of view. And when we take the attitude that we don’t know everything and can learn a great deal from others, we can find better ways to get things done.

To do this effectively, we need to be very sure of ourselves. We need to be able to let go of our world view and see things from another’s perspective. We need to be so confident in our own mathematical abilities, for example, that we don’t feel threatened when a child questions the way that we process numbers.

When we can honestly celebrate ourselves with all of our strengths and weaknesses, we can celebrate others. We can find new perspectives and better ways of getting things done.

Life then becomes the joyful adventure it was intended to be.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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