Good cop, Bad cop, Or Balancing with Help?

I recently had one of those encounters that left me questioning myself, and I see that as a good thing, because I don't think it is healthy to feel like I have all the answers.  The particular day I am thinking of was a sort of 'good cop/bad cop' experience with a student, between me and another teacher ( a somewhat regular substitute where I work).  The child came in to class with his coat on, hood up and attitude in place.  He sat down and promptly ignored the morning work and took out a graphic novel to read instead.  He has a hard life and has seen more hardship in 9 years than I could dream of in 40.  The previous week had been a particularly difficult one for him.  My take on this child, since it was first thing in the morning, was to see if I could engage him and help him to shift his mood to a more positive one where he might get some work done.    The substitute interrupted to tell him to get out his morning work.  After only a few more minutes she returned, "Since you aren't doing your morning work now, you will have to do it at recess."  You can see the good cop bad cop scenario taking form, but unlike a Law and Order episode, the two of us were not working together.  I will admit I was a little flustered by the interaction, and couldn't imagine what on earth this teacher was thinking.

The next day, I saw the other teacher and we had time to talk.  I explained that my intention was to try to help the student shift gears so he might have a chance at being a productive learner throughout the rest of the day.  The other teacher expressed her frustration with the student "Getting away with not doing his work" and feeling like "He needs to be held accountable.", that "He needs to learn."  They are legitimate concerns.  When kids with hard lives show up at the classroom door, not ready to learn, still carrying the baggage that is their life it is not a situation conducive to learning.  We both, we all, agree on that.

Where the dichotomy begins is how we approach trying to solve the problem.  I realize, after pondering this situation right now, that this child could benefit from Ross Greene's Collaborative Problem Solving between teacher and student.  That's is not where I intended to go with this, but the connection is legitimate based on some information I have been reading about on The Center For Confidence and Well Being website.  There is an abundance of information on this site that I find useful in thinking of how to help kids like the one I described here.  For instance the article Resilience and Vulnerable Children includes Proffessor Bridgit Daniel's outline of 6 ways teachers, counselors, and other significant adults can help a child who has been put in a vulnerable position in life.  These ways take into account her belief that the approach we take with kids should not emphasise their vulnerability but "honor and build on human qualities for survival".

The six areas comprise:
  • Secure base – where the focus is on secure attachment relationships
  • Education – where school is a place, teachers are seen as people and learning is seen as a process
  • Friendship – where the ability to get on with peers is supported
  • Talents and interests – where opportunities to boost self esteem are nurtured
  • Positive values – where kindness to others is encouraged
  • Social competencies – where the ability to behave appropriately is developed.
This further endears me to Dr.Ross Greene and Collaborative Problem Solving because it is based in the kind of trusting relationship that must be established to help the children who need it most. (And don't get me wrong, All children need it) If the child does not yet have a secure relationship in school CPS could play a key role.  In CPS we as teachers are learning and trying new problem solving strategies right along with the children, we are not just telling them what to do.  CPS takes into account children's  strengths and allows and encourages the child to build on those.  Through CPS we can address positive values and social competencies in a humane way, with the goal being that the child will develop skills in those areas with time and attention.  This will also, potentially play a key role in helping a child move from a fixed mindset, ex. "My life is terrible." to a growth mindset, "I can learn, I can change my life" as noted in works and audio of Carol Dweck, also highlighted on this website.  If you have never heard Dweck's Mindset talks you should check them out, they are really enlightening.

Back to my Good cop/ Bad cop scenario, I realize we are all balancing our need to feel like we are helping these kids and at the same time trying to provide the the kind of structure and limits that will help them develop life long skills.  I find myself on either side of the beam on any given day with the child I mentioned above.  Despite, my frustration with the teacher mentioned, I get her.  Now more than ever I believe the key to stay on the beam is to take the hand of the child and work on the problem together, to meet the needs of the teacher (ie. limits set) and child (emotional and learning needs met)


Paper Trail :)

A funny thing is I just sat down with a pen and paper a minute ago trying to figure out what it was I was going to write about today.  I had a fleeting idea, but I wanted to get some chores done first, then when I decided, "this is going to be a while I better write that down"  The idea whoooshed out of my brain.  So, not one to give up on an idea I found a scrap of blank paper and a pen anyway and just wrote what popped into my mind that wasn't my idea.  On the paper I wrote:
  • flimsy
  • flip
  • trash
  • paperwork
Aha!!!  It struck me! (I thought this was cool, because I did not know it would work) Earlier today, as I was cleaning off a flat surface in my kitchen of the familial rubble that piles up there, I planned to perhaps write about the paperwork dilemma.  If I thought junkmail and the paper burden was a problem before I had kids, I was not even in the slightest bit prepared for the onslaught of paperwork that is dumped out of the backpacks of three kids attending different schools.  I had no idea that such piles of paperwork had the capability to bury even my thoughts and ideas so that I would have to find a quiet place to pull them out as I did today with my pen and paper experiment.  

The beginning of the year is the worst, as you could probably guess, because the school actually expects you to look at everything, read, gather info, sign, return x 3 and every school has different forms for the same stuff so I can't just copy one and be on my way. To be sure my kids start school off on the right "foot", I have to make note of phys ed and dance days, (and other movement oriented days that I always mess up the names of and am sure to have my kids correct me), and on which day of the week they fall for each child.  I pin up the lunch menus, which the kids never need unless I throw them away.  I post the school calendars and try to figure out if any of our days off synchronize, rarely.  

Then, there's the kids' work that comes home. . .  Don't get me wrong, I love to see what my kids are doing at school, check out their writing, see their artwork, and all, but then what?  I usually choose a few things to hang for too long on the fridge or tack board, striking artwork or other cool stuff goes into my cellar stairway ie. shrine to my kids. (pics below)  But let's be honest folks, there is a lot of crap that comes home.  Piles of worksheets with nouns circled and mad minute math fact sheets, blah!  So for those things I do not deem worthy of long term visiblity, I leave in a pile somewhere until I can sneak it into the recycling or the wood furnace without one or more children noticing and guilting me with the looks of shock, horror, disappointment, and lagging self esteem that result when they realize I do not keep every scrap of paper that falls out of their backpacks.

I take some strength from a friend who refuses to keep all that stuff.  But I haven't mastered the ruthless toss.  I balance it with trying to keep some of it, a few choice things.  I know that my way is more exhausting though. Now, in the age of pinterest, the process of deciding is even more excruciating because I feel inclined to keep every finger or toeprint project that comes through the front door, and damned if they don't have  a bazillion (is that even a number??) different ideas for fingers, toes, and paint!!! 

On a side note, writing this was a lovely distraction from sorting and "filing" the endless paperwork, thanks for reading :)

This last photo is my almost finished glass mosaic underwater scene which is on the wall below the child artwork shrine :)