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)

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