Rita Pierson said in her brilliant video Every child deserves a champion: “You say it long enough it starts to become a part of you.” She was referencing that she told her students “I am somebody.
I was somebody when I came.
I’ll be a better somebody when I leave.
I am powerful, and I am strong.
…I have things to do, people to impress, and places to go.”
This year I adopted a saying for myself because I needed to change how I ran my classroom. My new phrase was “I don’t have time to get children in trouble.” I want my classroom to be a safe and wonderful place, we don’t have time to get in trouble. I tell my students this all the time. I am amazed at what has happened because of this choice. It has become a part of me. I no longer have time to think of punitive consequences or to be bitter with students. I don’t take their actions personally, I remember they are children, and that they are still learning. This does not mean my classroom is a free-for-all. Quite the opposite.
Last week we were on the carpet and one of my students said something along the lines of “I can’t figure out what was ugly.” (I think she was referencing something from a book but I can’t remember) and one of the boys behind her said to his friends about the other child: “Did she look in a mirror?” [The other child didn’t hear this FYI]
Now, if you are reading this you may be shocked at that statement because on the surface it seems incredibly mean and hurtful. It may seem like his words intended to hurt.
When I had time to get kids in trouble, things may have transpired this way: he would have probably been called out in front of his peers to his embarrassment and shame. Most likely he would have denied it to save face. Naturally, he would need some missed recess too. And probably forced to apologize too. Make him feel the pain.
But, none of this would have solved the problem at hand. I hurt thinking I ever used to treat children this way.
But I don’t have time for that. Not anymore. I don’t have time for punitive consequences. I don’t have time for embarrassment or shame. I don’t have time to call kids out in front of their peers.
I do have time for solutions, for being kind and firm. I do have time for private, quiet conversations. I have time to build relationships with my students, and I know this student is a kind person. I have time to remember they are only 11 years old and are still learning to be human. They have only been on this God-given earth for 96,000 hours. Why do we expect perfection from them?
What did I do instead?
My first step was to stop the conversation right then. He needed to know that his behavior was not appropriate. I said nothing else except “John, stop.”
After we finished on the carpet, and the rest of the students were working, I called him over so we could have a conversation. Not a one-sided teacher lecture, but a real conversation.
“Can you tell me about telling [jane] to look in a mirror?”
“That kind of statement could be hurtful.”
[In a sincere tone] “Oh I didn’t mean it like that, I was trying to be funny.”
“I understand, next time, think about what others might feel before you say something like that.”
“Ok I will”
[Had the other child heard, we would have talked about solving that part of the problem which usually leads to a non-forced apology]
Other conversations in the classroom usually follow a similar format.
[Calling over a student who has been clearly off-task]
“Hey [joe], can you come talk to me? What are you doing over there?’
“Thank you for being honest, what needs to get done right now?”
“What can you do so that your work gets done.”
“Sounds good, need a different spot to do that?”
“No, I think I will be okay.”
These solutions work. Sometimes it takes one conversation, sometimes it takes multiple.
It takes time. It can be exhausting. But each day I enjoy it more and more. Helping students become better humans has taken on something new for me this year. I love helping them solve problems. I want them to have self-efficacy so they may solve problems without me. I don’t have time to get kids in trouble anymore, and I will never make time for it again.