Learning between the lines.

I found myself in an interesting situation in the first 2 weeks of school with a young student.

I’m going to call this student Buddy (B).

I guess Buddy decided to start this year off on the wrong foot. I teach preschool-8th grade music and Buddy thought that from day 1, music was a good place to do whatever he wanted. The first day B tested me at least 4 times within the first 10 minutes, but decided he needed to go full out. My kind re-directions and patient day-1 requests were not being followed, so B received the first consequence of the 2012 music classroom. We talked after class about it, but there wasn’t a lot of remorse or willingness to listen. After a very similar experience with the bigger group in choir class the next day, I was sure that I was in for it this year…or B was.

I vented with my wife (also an education major turned graphic designer) about the situation and we talked about some things I could possibly do before or during class to redirect or include him more. I thought about it and had a few ideas, but I couldn’t have planned for the opportunity that would present itself a few days later.

It was during a recess period where I saw Buddy sitting alone in the middle of the playground grass as far as possible from any other student. It was a beautiful day for a little stroll across the playground, so I decided to pull up some lawn next to Buddy. I sat down without saying anything, stretched out my legs, leaned back on my hands and let out a relaxed sigh. This is when I would normally ask something like, “So, how’s it going?” or “I see you’re sitting alone, what’s up?” or even better … “Tell me about how you’re feeling today.” All great psychological/educational questions, right? Get inside that kid’s head! However, I decided to go at it from a different angle, so I said, “Wow. Isn’t it a beautiful day? I love how just about every day in California has blue skies and lots of sunshine. Isn’t it awesome?” B agreed with a slight smile and nod. I continued, “I used to live in Minnesota and it would rain a whole lot more and make things muddy or wet, plus it’d be grey and cloudy for a bunch of days.” B asked if it’d snow too. I said it did and it was really fun for a while, but it got really cold too, which you got used to … most of the time. A younger student came over (“Hank”). I asked Buddy if they had met so I introduced them, but pointed out that B was a really cool guy and they should definitely get to know each other. Hank ran off. Then “Sally” came over to say hi to me. I introduced Buddy to Sally by telling her that Buddy very fun, so maybe they could play a recess game together sometime. She ran off as well. Buddy was just looking at me with this confused/interested look on his face and said, “Do you know what I’m really good at?” At this point, if Buddy had said training Zebras to jump over the moon, I was going to run with it. Buddy said, “Kicking a ball.” I said, “I’d really love to see you boot that ball over there.” Buddy ran over, grabbed it and (I thought – please, please make it a good kick …) sent it sailing! He got a big cheer and of course had to do it a few more times.

This is where it really got cool …

Sally and Hank returned and kind of just hung around us. Kids are still learning how to join in. Buddy jumped right on it and said, “Do you think Hank and Sally want to play?” I said that maybe he should ask them. Buddy went over and invited them to kick the ball around with us and even helped get the ball when they sent it in the wrong direction. The transformation was incredible.

So how did choir go later that afternoon? Buddy was following all requested directions, listening, participating and having a good time. I almost forgot B was there, because my eyes and attention could be used elsewhere and therefore focused on teaching the class. It was great!

This was just another reminder that people are lifelong projects. They aren’t tasks to be checked off a to-do list. Sometimes I feel like one-off consequences for kids are like giving up on a piece of a major project. If you a project at work and this one piece of it kept giving you trouble, but it had to be a part of the plan, would you push it aside for later when it might not fit with the rest of what you’d accomplished? No, you’d have to develop it, strategize, pivot, get creative and maybe mold it a bit to work where it should.

If teaching had an even bigger relationship component (especially in our education and training), then I think we’d have less behavior issues and the time we have for academics may be slightly less, but much more fruitful, because there will be more attentiveness, engagement and willingness to learn. You’d probably see future payoff in the workplace when people’s team projects succeed because they know how to encourage, be honest without using sarcasm, take criticism constructively while still knowing their self-worth, and be willing to try again without crumbling because of failure. All of these things are developed through intentional relational interaction, before, during and after the instruction of the actual material like math/reading/science/history. There are so many skills learned between, under and around the lines.

As a side note: I can attest to observing and knowing many teachers who are fantastic at this and have made it a core principle in their teaching, because they inherently know it is necessary.

Some teachers may say it’s not their personality, responsibility or that they don’t have the time to add another subject. I would reply that all people desire encouragement, a personal connection and intentionality. Why don’t we weave that into every subject and interaction? We can all do it authentically with our own personal style. And yes, if we’re truly educating future citizens and leaders, it is definitely our responsibility.

Let’s all teach between the lines and help shape all of our children into empathetic, creative, confident, thinking people.

A little related news: check out a new app being developed that can help us as adults encourage and strengthen each other to be even better selves than we already are. http://blog.lift.do/post/25435255834/everything-there-is-to-know-about-lift

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6 thoughts on “Learning between the lines.

  1. I hope it’s no surprise that I believe this 100%!! Why should children give us their respect/obedience/trust if we haven’t given them evidence of the greatest of all these, love? I truly believe that the purpose of Christ Himself is about establishing a relationship and we can personify Christ for each of our students by just showing an interest in them and loving them unconditionally.

  2. I loved this story. It just speaks volume to what our educators mean to students. Our children are our future and if we want it to be a bright future we need more teachers who are willing to spend a little extra effort helping people fit into the puzzle of life. Way to go”B” and keep up the positive attitude-you will go far.
    Emily Chant, Lakeville, MN

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