August 2014 Newsletter
Dear Friends and Brevard County Educators,
It’s “back to school” time once again! Our teachers are gearing up for their incoming class of students, preparing lesson plans and readying classrooms, and many children and families are making their annual end-of-summer treks to area stores for clothes and school supplies. Attending school and one’s related experiences play a key role in healthy childhood development.
Most of us can reflect back to our youth and remember that one special teacher who made a meaningful difference in our lives, who left a lasting imprint on our memories. Teachers are great influencers and play significant roles in the lives of their students, spending a great deal of time observing and interacting with the children in their classrooms on a day-to-day basis.
As such, teachers are strategically positioned to observe and sense when there is something unusual going on in a child’s life but in most instances they are not furnished with this information, even if it’s known and available. This puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to being proactive in providing necessary support for a child who may need it and that is unfortunate, because the teacher may be the only positive force in that student’s life and the only individual positioned to advocate on behalf of him or her.
Several years ago, I had the unexpected privilege to speak at the New Brunswick, Canada Teachers Convention. The keynote speaker fell ill and I was asked to take their place just a few hours before the event. Without a speech prepared, I decided – based on my experience as a school social worker – to speak on the topic of “creating a compassionate response in the classroom.” The address focused on how to recognize the physical, mental and emotional signs of abuse and neglect as well as the misunderstood behaviors that often present in the classroom as a result.
Children who are or have been abused, abandoned or neglected typically live by three laws: 1) they don’t talk, 2) they don’t trust, and 3) they don’t feel. Without the ability to talk openly the child feels a sense of isolation and rejection. Without the ability to trust, the child misses out on developmentally appropriate experiences of being nurtured and protected and allowed to simply be a child. Without the ability to feel they can become detached and depressed, lacking the experiences in life that should bring a child joy. These self-protective measures may surface as a result of the stressful circumstances they are experiencing and cause the child to suffer in silence, alone and afraid.
So how do educators, charged with the primary responsibility of educating students, balance the academic side of teaching while creating a compassionate response in the classroom that resonates with these children?
The key is to understand that a child who is homeless, witnessing domestic violence or suffering from abuse cannot easily detach from their situation and apply his or herself to achieve academically.
When the people intended to love, nurture and protect them don’t, there is a great deal of confusion experienced by the child. Lacking the maturity, skills or resources to find solutions and ease the pain and fear they are experiencing, maladaptive behaviors often surface. These behaviors are signs the student has unmet needs or may feel powerless, and requires the support, compassion and intervention of a caring adult. When the child suffers additional secondary trauma such as bullying, removal from their home or parental incarceration, they may begin to act out.
Effective approaches include taking an interest in the child while respecting their personal space. Offer a simple smile or affirming nod when they do well. In so doing, you are modeling an appropriate child/adult relationship by establishing healthy boundaries. Say a kind word. Provide an opportunity for the child to lead and succeed. Create an environment that conveys the classroom is a judgment-free zone and refrain from labeling a student based on their behaviors. Build a level of trust with the child so they may open up and disclose their needs. These are just a few simple strategies that can be employed, understanding that all children who present with behaviors in the classroom are not the result of abuse.
Look beyond the behavior and ask yourself, “what is the unmet need?” Help to develop a sense of belonging in the classroom where students can feel included and accepted and foster the development of peer relationships. Rather than respond to the behavior with a stigmatizing label, such as the child is a “trouble maker,” reframe language that helps identify and address an issue, and understand that his/her behaviors are telling you he/she has unmet needs or may be in a crisis.
Build and reinforce a sense of competency and mastery in the child. Find what they do well and focus on their strengths. Look for opportunities to build the child’s self-esteem. And when you suspect abuse or neglect report it.
Thank you, teachers for all you do! Know that you do make a difference, sometimes a very big difference, in the lives of our children.
I’ll close sharing a poem that has always been one of my favorites.
“My Special Teacher”
I’m happy that you’re my teacher;
I enjoy each lesson you teach.
As my role model you inspire me
To dream and to work and to reach.
With your kindness you get my attention;
Every day you are planting a seed
Of curiosity and motivation
To know and to grow and succeed.
You help me fulfill my potential;
I’m thankful for all that you’ve done.
I admire you each day, and I just want to say,
As a teacher, you’re number one!
I wish all of our teachers, children and parents a happy, achievement-filled and successful school year!
Chief Executive Officer