As my students were assembling to play a game at the field today, one student walked away and did not respond to my calls to bring him back. After the initial jolt of, “OMG HE’S NOT LISTENING TO ME!” wore off, and I watched him settle onto a nearby bench, I got my group situated and went to chat with him.
While my instincts are to immediately berate a student for defiant behavior, I am working on leading with a different approach. In Mindfulness for Teachers, Patricia Jennings writes about how we all have “scripts,” or stories about why our kids act the way to do they and how they will respond. If our script is something like, “That kid is being a pain in my butt, and he needs to do what I say!” we respond in a way that often damages the relationship and may bring about compliance, but not necessary learning. If we notice that script, and then reframe it as a question, “I wonder why that kid is acting that way?” we bring ourselves to a place where we can problem solve.
Sitting next to him on the bench, I leaned over, “So, what’s going on? Why did you walk away from the group?”
“Oh, I hate games like that.”
My knee-jerk reaction, “So what? we don’t always get to do what we like, but that doesn’t give us the right to walk away.” What came out of my mouth was, “So, you left because you didn’t want to play the game?”
He responded, “Yeah, and I’m getting really stressed about this upcoming trip to China…. and later… my family might be getting kicked out of our house soon because the stove isn’t up to code.”
We brainstormed ways he could manage his stress around things outside of his control. And then we rejoined the group to walk back to the school.
He didn’t do what he was “supposed to.” But I’m glad I led with, “What’s up?”
The next time you notice your script playing out, instead of assuming you are correct, try asking, “What’s up?” or “What do you need right now?” Then we get to teach instead of force compliance.