We aren't connecting to all of our kids.
So, this morning we had the dreaded two hour late start for professional learning (please read that with a lot of sarcasm). These affairs are usually rife with doughnuts and over-caffeinated teachers. We all settled in with our pastries, pencils, and paper.
We were talking about trauma and social-emotional learning. So, things got real fast. I live in a very blue collar stereotypical Midwest town. Why was it so essential to focus our two hours on trauma? Well, the answer is, because there is an average 4 kids in each of our rooms that have experienced at least one childhood trauma event. That's almost a quarter of our student population. We then watched Removed. This is a story about a little girl in the foster system, and cracks the door into her mind, her experiences, and how she tries to cope. It's accurate, disturbing, and is nearly identical to some of the kids you have walking the halls of your school. That's fact.
During our morning, we were asked to get a piece of paper and trace our hand (my hand tracing did not exactly match the the physical parameters of my hand. It more looked like 5 sausage links on the perimeter of of a graham cracker). On each digit, we were asked to list something that we believe about school and who taught it to us. We said things like, "you are in charge your learning" and "you need to be responsible." Most of those things were taught by our parents or teachers.
We then did the same thing on the back of the paper, but guessed what a child who had experienced trauma would say they believe about school. And, we said things like, "I get to eat at school" and "there are people who care about me at school." The worst part was that we were probably right.
It was heartbreaking, but it didn't open my eyes like the next activity. We went into the gym, and our counselor had written every kid's name on a post it and put it on the wall. She asked us to choose five or six different kids that you could say you had a good connection to. Kids that seek you out to say hi, or tell you what they did last night.
When she said go, teachers were moving. They wanted to get that kid that meant so much to them. They wanted to get that kid who maybe no one else connected with, but THEY DID, and it felt good to hold these post its in my hand hoping that I made even the smallest difference in their lives. But, not all of the post its were off the wall yet. So, she asked us to find three more kids that we wanted to connect with. This was a slower process. Teachers were thinking of those kids in their sphere they could give directed effort to connect with. As I was thinking and reading names, I was look for those that I couldn't stand to leave on the wall. Those that I felt deeply needed an adult to have their back.
After we had chosen, she mentioned that there was a reason that some of the names were written in black and some in red. Something I didn't notice. She had given a survey to the kids the weeks before, and one of the questions was, "Is there an adult at school that you can trust?" The names of the students written in red were the ones who replied "no one."
That broke my heart. 10% of our students responded that there was no one in our school they could trust.
As hard as that hits me, it's not the reason for writing this blog. The reason, the thing that bothered me more that anything, was they names still left up on the wall. These represented our students that we aren't connecting with. Good kids from good families, tough kids from tough families, and everything in between. But we are missing kids. We aren't connecting to all of our kids.
The schools I serve are awesome. These schools are hyper-aware of the needs of our students, but even with herculean effort we can still miss some of our students. So, the lesson is: value the connections you have with your students. Be that role model that may stand in the place of a lack of good modeling at home or reinforce the modeling that is already a part of their life. Most importantly, remember that you don't know what happened to that child between the dismissal of school yesterday to the first bell this morning.