If you were to ask me why I got into education I would tell you a simple fact:
I LOVE working with students.
Seeing their eyes light up when they learn something new.
Building on their strengths.
Showing them they can achieve ANYTHING.
Except when I really think about it, I don’t know that ALL of the students I have worked with throughout my career would agree with this description. The “troublemakers.” The ones who didn’t fit into my image of what a great student should be. The ones who talked out of turn too much or didn’t follow the directions or appeared to be completely unmotivated in my class. What would they say?
Would they agree…
I knew their strengths?
I valued their unique talents?
I BELIEVED IN THEM?
I don’t know. Some would, but sadly I am pretty sure there are more than a few that would not.
My short response when they asked a question I had already given the answer to. The tone in my voice when I told them for what felt like the 800th time to stop interrupting. The phone calls home to share my concerns of what they were NOT able to do in my classroom. Classroom interactions focused on my disappointment in their behavior, getting started on work, missing assignments and how if they didn’t change there was not way they could ever be successful in school and beyond.
Without intending it, these actions told them more than my actual words ever would.
You are a nuisance.
Your faults are what define you.
I do not value you.
This was incredibly hard for me to reflect on, but I know it’s true. The worst part is I could have fixed it.
The Seeds We Sow and the Mark We Leave
When I became an assistant principal one of the things I greatly feared was that my role would primarily be of behavior interventionist. I had visions of unending days in my office scolding naughty kids, dealing with upset parents and frustrating teachers if I couldn’t fix the problem child in their classroom. I was pretty terrified.
So I was incredibly grateful last year when I found my role to be more of instructional leader and culture builder than an enforcer of compliance and behavior.
But then something amazing happened. I started having more opportunities to work with students who had behavior issues in school. And it has literally become one of my favorite parts of my job.
Simple reason. We talk. About anything they want.
Cars. Unicorns. The history of the Ukelele. How they hate math. Love their brother. Hate their sister. Mastering the floss. Youtube.
I get to know them. Their strengths. Their passions. Their unique qualities. They teach me stuff. I teach them stuff. (Sometimes without them knowing it)
And yes, we reflect. We talk about what happened. Why it happened. What they will do differently next time. Why it might be hard to avoid doing whatever it is they did next time, but how they will still vigilantly work to learn from their mistake.
Instead of seeing them as someone who is disrupting my busy day I see them as a gift. An opportunity for me to connect. To Learn. To Pause. To help a kid see that even if they made a mistake they are still special, unique, and talented. School is a good place for them. They belong here. They are loved.
They are not a problem to fix, but an untapped talent with a potential for greatness.
When I was a classroom teacher there were so many pressures and demands of the job that made me feel like I didn’t always have the time it would require to build relationships with my most troubled students. If we didn’t get through every part of the curriculum each day I was somehow failing as a teacher.
We tell ourselves things like, If I don’t get through Unit 12 Lesson 9 in math by the end of the year something terrible is going to happen. This students’ behavior isn’t fair to the other kids. It’s taking away their opportunity to learn. It sets a bad example. I need to DO something about it quickly or somehow this behavior will spread like a T Swift album.
I would argue with you the opposite is true. If we don’t get students to see their unique talents and abilities then we have failed them. If we don’t make school a place where kids feel connected, develop their passions and leave with a sense of drive and purpose then we are failing society.
Taking the extra time that it may require to build a relationship with a struggling student will actually take up less time in the long run because you will have an advocate in your classroom as opposed to an adversary.
If you are still struggling with finding the time, I would recommend trying the 2X10 strategy. I read about it in an ASCD article a few years ago and it has helped many of the teachers I have worked with to build better relationships. Every day for ten days you take two minutes to share something personal about yourself with that student. Many times when we ask our troubled students things about themselves they come back with crickets or very little information. This strategy helps to overcome that barrier and the student starts to see connections with you which opens them up to share more about themselves. It helps them to see you as a human being as well and not just the daily source of their frustration.
I promise. It’s worth it.
One of the reasons I felt so compelled to share this story this week was because of a new book I started reading by Dr. Brad Gustafson called Reclaiming our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education. The foreward is actually written by a student who discovered his passion for drawing in Kindergarten. This talent continued to be fostered throughout his elementary career by everyone in the school to the point where he has connected with published authors and is inspiring others and making a true difference. His talent for artwork could have been seen as a nuisance or something to be put on the back burner for the curriculum, but it wasn’t. Now this middle schooler is inspiring others and making a difference. Not gonna lie. This story brought me to tears.
Let’s make stories like this one the norm as opposed to the exception in school.
Take the time.
Be the difference.
Thanks for reading. Christina