The reason behind the behavior

Last week, I was on Twitter, and I noticed this tweet:

It has me thinking about the baggage that our students carry each day. Unlike in the image that Weinstein shared, we can’t see that baggage as something that’s labeled and apparent for us.

Part of the reason that this stood out to me has to do with the time of year – we have just reached the end of the first grading period in my district. By now, we have most likely identified a couple of students of concern. Maybe that concern is academic. Maybe the concern is behavioral. Or maybe the concern is related to attendance.

That attendance group is the one that I want to dig into today. Let’s think about it, for most of our students, being present at school is not purely their responsibility. I am the principal of a suburban elementary school. Most of our students are between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. Who is responsible for making sure our students are present and on time for school? Most of the time, this responsibility falls on the shoulders of the parents. Most kids at this age do not set their own alarm clock, get themselves up and ready, get breakfast, or do whatever else needs to happen to be able to be present and ready to learn. Most of our students rely on their parents to make sure that happens. And some of our students have already had A DAY just to get here. Especially if they are part of a family dealing with the trauma of homelessness, illness, or food insecurity.

So, let’s think for a moment about what we say when a student shows up to school a little late. I know that often we hope that all our students can arrive here on time and ready to learn. I also know that there were times that I took it as a personal affront when a student showed up to my class late. I know that when a student shows up late, it means they may have missed the things we’ve already done – we must adjust attendance, find out lunch count, and re-explain things that we’ve already gone over with the students who were present. It’s hard to not feel a little frustrated in this moment, and think to ourselves, “Why couldn’t they be here on time?!”

But when we have thoughts like that, the little bit of frustration we feel invariably creeps into our body language, tone of voice, etc. Even when we think we have the best of intentions, our “Why are you late?” may come out in a way that feels confrontational to a student. When someone feels confrontational to you, do you look forward to being around them? I know I don’t!

So, instead of questioning them, or pointing out to them the issues that come from being late, work on being able to look at them, smile, and say, “I’m so glad you’re here!”

When we set that warm and welcoming environment, we create a sense of belonging for our students. When you have a student who carries with them a variety of traumas, that welcoming environment is exactly the thing that they need. And for our kiddos who need a relationship to feel welcome and prepared to be successful, feeling like someone is glad to see them might just help them feel even more motivated to be here on time, or to push their family to make sure they are here on time!

What are your thoughts? What strategies might you have to help support a student who is carrying a variety of trauma with them each day? Let us know your ideas in the chat below!

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