I was out with my husband and daughter for dinner recently, a place we frequent. We love this place for the food and my daughter loves it because there is a pool table. My nine year old daughter loves to play around and shoot pool at this place since there normally is not anyone there who is wanting to jump in for a game. We let her practice her shots while we sit at our table chatting. She’s still new to playing pool and learning how to use the pool stick properly. This trip to dinner I looked over at her trying to line up the stick to hit the cue ball, but the back of her stick was hitting a shelf directly behind her. She kept trying to still hit the ball but making her stick go higher as to not hit the shelf. I yelled over at her to try a different angle and move her body. Of course she did not take my advice and barely hit the cue ball. She was upset because it didn’t work. She was determined to hit the ball from that exact spot that she did not think to just move a couple steps the right or left and still be able to hit the ball without any objects in the way of her stick.
After this observation, I was thinking how we are so set in our ways to complete a task that we sometimes don’t think to move our body to try a different angle. Why are we so determined to stay put with what we know even though trying something new will yield better results? Of course it’s not always about physically moving our body, it’s about moving our mind to think differently, to see things differently. Why do we refuse to think of the other angles?
Sometimes it takes someone else to observe our struggles and give suggestions to try new ways, seeing the bigger picture of what is impeding the progress of a task. As I observed my daughter trying to hit the ball from the opposite end of the table, I could see what was blocking her success. Thinking back on it now, instead of telling her to move I should have asked her a question to think about how she could approach hitting the ball differently. This got me thinking that as a student affairs professional, do I ask my students questions instead of telling them how to complete the task?
As student affairs professionals who have been doing “the work” for a long time and engaging with students who are new to “the work”, it is easier for us to just tell them how to approach the task. But are we doing them a better service by telling them? Or should we be better at stepping back ourselves, looking at it from a different angle, and ask them questions to think about their approach? If we tell them how to “do it” then they may never themselves think about moving their body and trying a different angle.
I know that this sounds like a no-brain er. As educators we of course know to challenge our students so they can learn. But when we are so busy in our day-to-day tasks and need our students to help us complete those tasks, it is easier to just tell them how to do things. This is why incorporating the practice of guided reflection in our daily interactions with students is important. It does not have to be as complex as giving the students a set of questions to reflect upon each time you interact with them about a task. It is as simple as you taking a step back, looking at it from a different angle, and asking a question to get the student to think differently in the moment.