The last couple of weeks I’ve been working on creating a writing activity to empower my students. It is called “If you walked a day in my shoes” and it focus on building resilience by owning our stories. In the very few quiet moments where they are all on-task at once, my brain wonders to thinking about the type of people they will be someday. Each of them carry so much pain, doubt, and uncertainty. They are only ten and eleven.
Yesterday one of my little ladies said, “I think I know why I can’t read. I’m so stressed and worrying about my family. I just see letters.” As a fourth grader (I looped up as their casemanager), she was constantly having conflicts with other peers, had a major sassy attitude, and would randomly cry– she never once let on to what was inside her world. Girl drama and catty bullying is insanely hard for me to problem solve and I was constantly having to push through the instant heat wave of frustration every time they came to reading group from recess. “Mrs. Boston, SHE LOOKED AT ME! SHE WONT STOP STARING!” Seriously, people?
For the fifteen months I’ve known her, I had absolutely no idea what was happening in her world. All I knew was what I believed to be true about behavior. Her behavior was communicating something, an unmet need, in the only way she knew how. Somewhere along her journey, she learned how to gain control when she didn’t have any. She learned how to seem strong when she was weak. She learned how yell to be heard. Thank the lord for deep breaths.
Three weeks ago, she came to my classroom outside her usual time and asked if we could talk. Within minutes her entire ten years of life unraveled. It all made sense. It always does once you know. It’s weird how our brains need to know, to make sense of things of things difficult to understand.
On Thursday my school psychologist and I were leading a professional development session about the escalation cycle for our classified staff members. It was the first time I stood in front of colleagues and practiced vulnerability. Someone explained that after they found out what was going on with a certain student at home, it was easier for them to remain patient with them. Immediately heads were nodding and more comments were coming.
After two colleagues had shared how it would be helpful to know some of the students I work closely with stories, to help build perspective so they can support them, I had to share my truth. And here it goes.
It does not matter what a students story is. It does not matter why they are behaving the way they are. What matters is they are trying to communicate something that they don’t have the skills too. Happy, loved, and confident children come to school almost every day ready to learn. Those children are communicating with you in a way that makes sense to you. All kids should be treated with patience, love, and grace.
It might not have been the most popular I said during the PD, but I said it.
I so badly want to start this sentence with my little ladies beautiful Spanish name, but I can’t. During my planning period, I was reflecting on everything I said– hoping that I made sense, I didn’t sound defensive, and they walked away reflecting. I kept going back to the response I just shared. Then this student walked in for group and it hit me.
The one students who’s behavior triggered me the most, who would roll her eyes at me and show me total sass, who was constantly bringing recess drama into our groups, I didn’t know her story and that didn’t change the way I treated her. Fifteen months. Most teachers don’t get that much time with their students. It took her fifteen months to trust me enough to tell me her truth. What if I would have showed her how frustrated she made me some days? What if I would have punished her for her disrespectful comments and actions towards me and others? What if I would have treated her differently? How long would it have been until she shared her story?
Since knowing her story, I treat her the same exact way I did fifteen months ago. While I treat her the same, she treats herself differently now. She takes ownership over her learning, her problem solving, and her helpfulness. Within the last three weeks, her confidence has grown, her kindness has strengthened, and her smile has brightened.
I’m sharing all of this because as I’m working on my behavior supports and strategies post, I realize that we all come from different walks of life. Our perspectives might be incredibly different and that’s okay. But I believe that so much of trying and having success with behavior supports and strategies comes down to what you believe about the child.
My optimistic self wants to believe that if we would not have had fifteen months, the way that she saw me, as her teacher who treated her differently than most, would have been enough to build a trusting relationship with someone else faster than if we never would have been a team at all.
Our students stories matter. Their stories, and ours too, can build the path to resilience or the path to destruction. We need to find ways to make their stories matter to them, not to us. We need to hear their stories in the way they are communicating them. Some are harder to hear, but know they are there.
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