Recently, I was summoned for jury duty. During the voir dire proceedings, the judge reminded us that ours was a justice system based on presumed innocence. The burden of proof was not on the defendant, but on the state.
That stuck with me not only because I am grateful for this provision in our legal system, but because it is really hard to do. We have gotten so entrenched in our own ideologies and so invested in the blame game, that we no longer listen to each other or give the other side the benefit of the doubt.
I’ve been thinking about this lately as I work with teachers and principals who complain that students are just lazy or uninvested in their own learning. Many teachers are doing all they know how to do to engage students and help them take ownership over their own learning but to no avail. So, they reason, it must be that the kids are lazy and just don’t care about their education.
I would love to see the presumption of innocence in our schools where we start by assuming that everyone is doing the best that they can. I would love it if we started by assuming that what looks like resistance to improvement is often a lack of clarity on how to do so.
Mindsteps® is based on a presumption of innocence. We believe that most teachers want to become master teachers and simply need the right kind of support and training to do so. We believe that most students really want to learn and will eagerly take ownership over their own learning when they encounter great teaching. We believe that most administrators can help teachers become master teachers if they simply developed the tools and the skill to support and promote mastery teaching.
So let’s not be so quick to judge. Let’s assume that our students want to learn. Let’s assume that our colleagues want to do what’s right for students. And in doing so, in extending everyone the benefit of the doubt, we can clear the air, find new ways to work together, and ultimately make a bigger difference in the lives of our students and in our own lives as well.