Shannon Philpott

Writing, Reflecting, Teaching

The Harsh Truth: Trusting the Right Words

harsh truthPublished October 2014: The Messenger – Faith: A Fresh Take

The Harsh Truth: Trusting the Right Words

The truth hurts. I’ve often thought that this popular phrase was overused and too much of a cliché, but the more I parent and teach students, the more I’ve realized that nothing is closer to the truth.

As much as we often tell ourselves that we want the truth and that we want people to give us honest feedback, the bottom line is that it stings. Sometimes, the sting is comparable to a tiny, little sweat bee, but other times, it can stop us in our tracks as if a wasp has taken over a part of our bodies.

Today, I had to deliver some brutally honest feedback to a few students who had faltered and I have to admit, I was very nervous. It may seem odd that a teacher who provides feedback on a daily basis was jittery and a bit fearful to deliver a harsh blow, but it’s true. Before the feedback session, though, I tried my best to analyze why this time it was even more difficult. I give students feedback regularly on how to improve their writing, construct thesis statements and conduct interviews within my English and journalism classes and it’s not always easy, but this time was different.

I was anticipating providing constructive criticism to a duo of student leaders who work harder than anyone else I’ve ever observed and guided. These two throw their hearts into their writing, they have tremendous pride in the overall product of each piece and they work in a capacity where they serve as an excellent example for others. However, as with any job or role, they both beckoned the need for honest advice about how to improve their performance and their leadership skills.

It bothered me to have to tell them the harsh truth because I truly care about their success. I was worried my honest feedback would deter them from taking risks with their writing, continuing within the leadership roles or even walk away from the tasks at hand. I didn’t want to stomp on their hopes, dreams and goals.

As a parent, I have encountered this very same struggle. When my daughter would dress herself in mismatched clothes or my son would screech (or sing) at the top of his lungs, I would promptly tell them both how successful they were at these tasks, no matter how much it pained my eyes and ears.

While I’m not recommended crushing a child’s ambitions with harsh feedback, as our children – and our students – grow up and mature, the truth – no matter how much it hurts – is often just what they need to hear to improve and develop. Our opinions matter just as much as our love, prayers and support, which is why I quickly said a prayer and asked God to guide me with the right words today.

So, I jumped into the feedback session with my students with a disclaimer that I value what they do, how much they care and the passion they put forth with every task. But … they both knew the “but” was coming. In fact, they stopped me and said, “We know what you are about to say and we need to hear it.” And, I said it. I offered the truth. And, as they both admitted, it stung. It hurt. But, it was needed.

We may not always want to hear the truth and we may not always be prepared for it, but I’m confident that as I shared the truth and even listened to their concerns and feedback for how I could help them, we all learned a valuable lesson that can only help us to improve, personally and professionally. Honestly, I’m thankful that my prayer was answered. God gave me the right words to put them at ease and he guided me with compassion – a trait I hope is contagious.

— Shannon Philpott

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October 16, 2014 - Posted by | Newspaper Writing, Opinion, Sample Work | , , ,

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