1 + 1 = 1

Changing mindsets is tough!

Changing the mindset of 10-year-old boys is very tough!

Changing the mindset of an educator with 18 years is toughest of all!

Just yesterday I had to “handle” two different fights. I spent much time speaking with five boys about why they shouldn’t fight. I gave my usual “Branch Rickey-Jackie Robinson” speech about how it takes more strength not to fight than it does to fight. I felt like it went pretty well, but I’m never really sure.

Looking back I heard myself saying things like, “Trust me I’ve been doing this a long time” and “I’ve never been in a fight in my life.”

In hindsight what possible resonance did I think either of these statements could have had?

So what that I’ve been doing this a long time!

So what that I’ve never been in a fight!

All these statements proved was that I’m older than them and I’ve lived a life of privilege.


I’ve made up my mind that I’m going to start meeting with these young men on a regular basis. I have got to find a way to reach these men and it’s not going to be by making more distancing remarks like I did yesterday.

Today was our first day. Five boys and I sat in my office and we ate lunch. We talked. Well mostly I talked today. But I did tell them that these meetings are going to evolve.

See first I need to get to them to know me. I have to let them know that I am somebody worth listening to. Is it significant that I am a 43-year-old white male and they are 10-year-old African-American boys?

Of course!

And they know this! Why would they listen to me right away just because I am the vice principal? Well, they might listen, but they won’t hear me. And there is a huge difference between the two.

Them getting to know me. To know what I’m about. To know what I value. They need to hear my story so that I can in turn hear their’s

That is the first 1.

Next, and hear is the crucial part. I must get to know them. I must listen to their stories. I can’t just assume and I can’t just always blame their fights on the lack of self-control. These young men live in a world that is foreign to me. Just because I’ve worked with children for 18 years that doesn’t mean I’m an expert on them. It certainly doesn’t mean that I have the slightest idea what it means to be them.

So I’ll listen.

No, I’ll hear.

And I’ll do the best I can to try to understand where they are coming from. I’ll do the best I can to hear their voice and not just listen to their words.

This will be the second 1.

Finally, we will try to come up with a collective voice that can help us move forward. Could I suspend these young men every time they fight?

Absolutely! It’s right in the handbook. What does that accomplish? Not much. Does it make us better tomorrow? No. Will there be times when I will suspend these men? Maybe. But my goal is that through these lunchtime meetings. Through these conversations. Through us hearing each other, we can reach a point that we become a WE.

I will never be a 10-year-old African-American boy and I will never have any idea what it is like to be one.

They will never be a 43-year-old privileged white male and they will never have any idea what it means to be one.

But maybe, just maybe together we can become a collective voice that can figure out how we can keep moving forward for the next 3 months.

I think it’s at least worth a try!

That is the final 1.

So you see sometimes one plus one can equal one.

And in this case it is so much more than 2!


  1. Jon, I think the importance of the conversation, reflection and relationship building with the student is more important than the consequence usually. Can’t wait to read an update on this in a few weeks. You’ve got it!

  2. Really enjoyed reading your transparency. It can be so easy to hide behind policy and look at things from a concrete perspective. Your reflection made this situation different. I applaud you for trying something different and truly trying to connect with the boys. In the long run you are trying to change the cycle, unfortunately all good things take time. This could very well be one of those lessons that you won’t see completely play out. Sometimes I wonder if they will remember the conversations when they are adults.

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