Melting grudges

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Student watercolor from the High School of Language and Innovation.

As a principal, I hear complaints from teachers and students about each other.  “Ahmed refuses to participate.”  “Ms. X didn’t help me even though I was raising my hand.”  I typically try to “solve” or mollify the complaints quickly so everyone can move on.

This week, coming fresh from a seminar on listening, I heard complaints differently.  Behind the complaints, I found hurt feelings and disappointment.

I came in for an early meeting with two teachers who are respected and even loved by their students.  We were deciding which kids needed extra academic support.

As we went down the list, the conversation seemed normal: “Jennifer could use more support outside of class.  Mohammed is doing fine in the class, he won’t need extra help.”

Then the tone changed, hitting upon two names: “Samantha doesn’t care.  She doesn’t do any work and when I talked to her about it, she said ‘whatever.’  Neither does Abdul.  He does nothing in class.”   Continue reading

The Pressure to Punish Part II

Briliant hues

Last week, I wrote about a student who sent an angry email to a teacher during winter break. I talked about my own initial instinct to “jump to punishment” instead of finding out what had happened.

Returning from break, I was reminded of another layer of complexity: the parents’ pressure to punish.

The day we returned from break, I assumed that the student who wrote the email would feel remorseful. We would start off with discussing why the email was a problem, the student would apologize, and all would be well.

Nope: the student returned to school angry, sure that he was “right” to express his feelings in the email.

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The Pressure to Punish

Snowing in the Bronx

Right before winter break started, a teacher approached me, visibly upset. A student had sent him an email saying, “I hate you” and wishing the teacher a “horrible” winter break, among some other unkind things.

What had preceded this email? The teacher explained that he had called the student’s parents in for a meeting regarding the student’s behavior. Afterwards, the student had sent the angry email to the teacher. (On a positive note, the email was clearly written and formatted correctly, a “modern skill” we now teach in our English classes.)

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The upset of praise

TrophyLast year in the 9th grade, Robert* had a rough start.  He would argue with directions, wander hallways, and frequently cut classes.  We were alarmed to see these habits so early in his high school career and did our best to address his behavior.

However, we didn’t see a major change until July: over the summer, Robert calmed down and got focused.  He attended summer school and had a math class with a teacher he admired.  In August, he passed the state math exam.  He started his 10th-grade year well, arriving on time, participating enthusiastically in classes, and performing well.

Then, the cutting habits started to creep in again.  We noticed he’d skip his last class of the day, history.  This year, we started a much stronger approach to addressing cutting.  We developed a system to stop students in the morning who had cut class the day before.  We met with them and helped them re-think how and why they should stay in school all day. Continue reading

No, you’re sitting here.

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At the beginning of the year, I did a presentation for a 9th-grade class. As the students walked into the classroom, I told them where to sit. “Good morning! You can sit here,” I’d say, pointing to a table.

One student chose another table than the one I had pointed to. “I’ll sit here,” he told me, plunking himself down. He smiled and folded his arms.

“No,” I said. “You’ll sit here.” I pointed to the original table. I smiled back.

“But I can work better here,” he insisted.

“No,” I said again. “I’m very happy you’ll be in this class today, and so I need you to sit here.” I pointed again and repeated myself: “Here, please.”

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I like you just the way you are

20170222_120237.jpgA friend was recently telling me about his experience when he was a child in the 5th grade.  “I used to get in trouble before the 5th grade.  But my 5th grade teacher, she liked me.  It was like, she never expected me to do anything bad.  So I didn’t.”

I recently saw the excellent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor about Fred Rogers and his children’s television program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  One of the extraordinary things about Mr. Rogers was his obvious, unconditional love of children.  Like millions of others, I watched his program as a young child and I remember him saying, “I like you just the way you are.”

I realized what an unusual idea it is to be “liked” just the way one is.   Continue reading