Does the perfunctory “How are you doing?” really cut it anymore?
Traditionally, the Chinese inquired, “chī le ma?” Or, “chī fàn le ma?” Literally translated as, “have you eaten?” One origin story points to the significance of the salutation being attached to people’s emotions through food. Closer to home, here in Thailand, people in passing traditionally greet one another by asking, “bi nigh krup” or “bi nigh ka.” Used in place of “hello,” it translates, “Where are you going?” The polite response, as ambiguous as automatic, “down the street.”
How are you doing?
At the doorway of my classroom and in the hallways, I might unwittingly string these four words together over a hundred times each day!
400 cheap words, the currency of little value. So, let me try this again.
How are you doing? I mean, how are you REALLY doing? The question, asked in English, goes back more than four centuries. The actual verbiage being, “how art thou?” Syntactically, various versions of the common inquiry morphed throughout the ages. The meaningfulness of the genuine salutation seemingly adulterated. Which brings us to today. The response an unauthentic knee jerk, “good.” For any who may contest, when was the last time you responded or heard another respond, “Terrible”? Instead, the predictable exchange can be chalked up as one of life’s “near miss” exchanges. Akin to handing off a bill and getting change at a toll both. Mere pleasantries, if even.
With Social Emotional Learning (SEL) more than ever before on educators’ minds, it behooves us to successfully leverage ways we might more successfully and meaningfully connect with students, families, and colleagues. SEL dubbed the non-cognitive skills which provide for an holistic and well-rounded education, might feel for some to be yet one more thing. Yet, amidst a worldwide pandemic and inexorable uncertainty, truly getting to know individuals is vital. Arguably even more so, in an increasingly virtual world. A friend recently commented how a professor in an on-line course made the indelible assertion, “SEL is not one thing more on the plate. SEL IS THE PLATE.” Touché.
So, if connecting with our students is important, becoming more deliberate in our salutations seems to be a sensible initial step. Thinking about what we ask, but also not settling for the generic, “good.” Instead with compassion, might we look others in the eye, seeking to better understand how each is really doing. Slowing down and taking a self-inventory to see if we are listening earnestly may also pay dividends.
Five years ago, “thinking routines” rightly were all the rage. Maybe now, the time is ripe for “feeling routines.” Challenging ourselves to not only learn more vocabulary but to truly get in touch with how we, they, and everyone is doing. As we begin to hold ourselves more accountable for assessing the countless shifting tides of emotions, maybe then we can more fully honor and support students. But like all good teaching, first we must model. Additionally, creating space, building trust, developing vocabulary, and truly taking time to genuinely show we care, all are at the core.
Students who are likely to feel more connection, validation, and belonging. In doing so, we stand a chance to truly bring out the humanity in this noble profession.