Slice of Life: Agreeing to Disagree
We want this to feel like home. We want you to see your mom whenever you want to see her. You can come and go as you please. You will need this key to open the elevator on our floor. It is a locked floor to ensure our residents are safe. They need an escort if they would like to visit another floor or the grounds.
Ok. That sounds great.
Now you may encounter the occasional eloper.
Some residents enjoy an adventure and may try to join you on the elevator. If this happens we suggest you just ride down with them. A staff member will meet you at the ground floor and escort the resident on her visit.
So I should just let them ride with me.
Is that comfortable for you?
Great. We like to respect the independence and dignity of our residents. We want them to be safe and we want them to feel like adults.
Over the years, I shared many an elevator ride and wonderful conversation with the residents in my mom’s community. Some were on their way to work. Another was on his way to pick up his car from the garage. One woman was always running late to pick her daughter up from the train. Some wanted to go get a coffee. It was only a few minutes but I loved getting to know them. I loved the respect this “system” showed them. There was never a problem. A staff member always greeted me when the doors opened on the ground floor – a huge smile and a warm welcome waiting for us.
During my last weeks with my mom, I saw this sign in the elevator as I rode up to see she her:
I decided this deserved a visit to the new director.
We are complying with standards. Residents should not be on the elevators. It is a safety measure. I am sure you understand. It is imperative we comply with standards and post the sign. Don’t you agree?
On one level, I guess I did understand, but on another I don’t think I ever will truly understand. I am pretty sure I will never agree. To me it comes down to how they are choosing to meet the standard. Do they really think that by posting that sign there will be fewer elopers? Does it tell me what to do if a resident decides to join me? How is this sign really a safety measure?
It reminds me of the “I Can” and “We Will” statements I see posted in so many classrooms. Teachers are spending an incredible amount of time following mandates to post objectives on the board. I have seen masterful lessons with no objectives posted and I have seen meticulous objectives posted with ineffective teaching. Why do we think that posting objectives will create effective teaching? Where is the correlation in that? Just because I can write down a surgical procedure does not mean I can execute it! This practice provides a false sense of security. Wouldn’t it be nice if our students learned everything we wrote down?
Andrew Hargreaves and Michael Fullan address this in their book Professional Capital. They have identified two visions for capital and how it can be used to improve teaching – business and professional capital.
“In the business capital view, teaching is technically simple. Teaching doesn’t require rigorous training, hard work in universities, or extensive practice in schools. In this view, teaching can be learned over six weeks in the summer, as long as you are passionate and enthusiastic. Imagine if we said that about our doctors or architects or engineers. The opposite stance toward teaching is a professional capital approach. In this approach, teaching is hard. It requires technical knowledge, high levels of education, strong practice within schools, and continuous improvement over time that is undertaken collaboratively, and that calls for the development of wise judgment.”
Both schools and assisted living communities are in human service industry and require professional capital. Neither is simple and both require care, judgment and extensive knowledge. Standards, rules and safety measures are all important but it is not enough to simply mandate them. If we think we can achieve rules and objectives by simply posting them, we are devaluing the importance of the people being served. They are part of the process and we must respect them. There seems to me to be a lack of respect of the student in an “I Can” statement and the resident by saying they should NEVER be allowed on the elevator. What if they can’t? What if a family member wants to bring a resident out for dinner? These are human beings not widgets. We cannot just mandate and declare. We must consider the human beings involved.
My mom’s residence was our home for the past three years. I visited most days on my way home from work. I engaged in conversations, was offered a cup of tea and often joined the activities happening. I got to know the caregivers and the residents. I appreciated the respect that was always shown to the residents. I enjoyed and valued my time with everyone. I learned a lot about life and myself. That sign does not reflect the community I came to love over the years. That sign does not ensure the safety of the residents, but I do think it demoralizes and demeans them. They deserve more. They deserve to live their life to the fullest. They deserve a home.
When I think back to my initial conversation, what was most important was the word “and” — We want them to be safe and we want them to feel like adults. I think our students and our elderly deserve “and.” We can meet high standards AND respect their humanity. We can meet goals AND be developmentally appropriate. We can comply AND still be true to who we are and to who they are. I believe we deserve to have both – I can understand and agree with that!
Thank you to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna, Beth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for us to share our stories each day in March. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts and consider joining this community