Try as we might, there are often times when we are unable to connect with a student. And it becomes very frustrating. And it is easy to take it personally. I have before and I am sure I will again.
I recently had an experience that gives me hope. And maybe, just maybe, it will do the same for you.
It started on a Friday afternoon. That time of the week where, if we are being honest, we cross our fingers and hope that time moves quickly. Not so much because we want to be away from school. More because we know it is that time of the week when kids get anxious. And when kids gets anxious they sometimes make poor decisions.
I was called to a classroom for a student who was struggling. Nothing major, mind you. But surprising, in that it was a student who is normally very compliant. He had already ignored the first adult who had come to help. And then he ignored me. Literally, just walked away from me. I couldn’t figure this out. And it bothered me because, as I mentioned, this was not typical for him.
He began the following week like he finished the previous one. Non-compliant and not very responsive to any redirection. I wasn’t too worried because none of his behaviors were endangering himself or others. And yet it still bothered me that I was unable to make even the slightest connection.
A staff member came to me with some information that made everything clear. The young man had recently had some things take place in his life that fully explained his change in behavior. It all made sense now.
I was ashamed of myself for the feelings I had had about his behavior. I had even decided what I was going to do if he ignored me again. That would teach him I thought to myself.
I guess I really had no way of knowing what the young man was going through. But I could have at least given him the benefit of the doubt until I did.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
This new information was helpful, but I still had yet to find a way to connect with this young man. And I was determined to do so. But I also had a school to help run, so I didn’t dwell on this for too long.
But then something happened. I saw an opening. And I got lucky.
As I was walking down the hallway I saw him sitting on the sofa. By himself. Probably just needing some time to himself. And when I looked at him, it appeared as if he was drumming on his chest. I had an idea.
Come with me. I wanna show you something I think you’ll like.
And to my delight.
For some reason, watching this young man drum on his chest reminded me of Bobby McFerrin and his amazing talents. So I quickly pulled up a YouTube clip of McFerrin and showed him. The first clip was okay. But the second one had him mesmerized. After about ten minutes I figured I better get him back to class.
We didn’t talk. And I didn’t ask him any questions and I didn’t bring up any of the past week’s events. But the look on his face told me everything. He was in. I told him we could watch McFerrin again the next day. He hugged me on the way to his bus that day. Thursday.
The next day became busy and because of the impending snow, we had an early dismissal. When I saw his teacher in the hallway she told me that he left a note for me on my desk letting me know that he had stopped by.
I was just at my desk, but I must have missed it. Looking at the clock I realized that dismissal was going to begin in three minutes. Ahhh! I rushed to his room. Told him to bring his things and we hurried to my computer. We were able to sneak a few minutes of McFerrin before his bus was called.
He turned to walk out the door. But just before he was about to leave I asked him for a hug.
And he gave me one!
The same kid who had walked away from me just one week earlier.
I tell this story not because I think that what I did was clever or unique. I tell this story because I know educators are making these types of connections every day. I tell this story because I know how easy it is to think that our now is going to last forever.
A lot can change quickly. So we must be alert. And we must be ready when that opening appears. Because sometimes all it takes is one small gesture to make a big difference. And never forget the difference a week can make.