Trust, 20 reps, twice a day

I sustained injuries to my self-image this week. The damage has affected my outlook and the vision I have for my students, for my classes. The injuries were inflicted by students, though I take responsibility for allowing them to cause the amount of damage they did. I let certain things get to me that had I had more long-range vision, stronger fortitude, more wisdom, I might have faced it better. The unrelated events happened largely over the course of two days, and I allowed the resulting anger to steal an evening from me as I went over and over the scenarios, complaining to people close to me and trying to figure out appropriate consequences for the offenders. I was really rattled.

I’m not a big pray-every-time-I-get-a-hangnail type of person, but I have at times found strength asking for guidance in handling situations for which I am at a loss. I fell asleep one night asking for such guidance and holding up individual students who I know struggle with a multitude of issues.

Too frustrated this Saturday morning to be very productive, I found myself giving up on the optimism pervading #satchat, while I’m still feeling that ‘you give them an inch, they rub your face in it,’ (not my norm at all), and swinging over to Pinterest, the epitome of losing yourself in what seems productive, but probably isn’t.

But it was.

A couple of mood-lifting quotes got me started, and actually made me smile.

Those were warm-ups to what I really needed to read, which was Todd Finley’s post on Edutopia, “How to Trust Your Students.” That was the prescription I needed.

I’ve already gone deeper into the post than I should have without explaining at least topically the transgressions that occurred. You see, I’ve worked to open up what students at our school are allowed to do through technology and being online. I have taught English and journalism for six years. I have fewer sections of English than my department counterparts because of the newspaper, yearbook and intro to journalism classes, but one of the major advantages my freshman English students have is the use of my Mac lab.

Knowing that the CCSS promote publishing writing online, I’ve been cheerleading for getting our students blogging and teaching other tools of online communication.  I asked for and received permission to have my intro to J students blog last year, with a few stipulations. Feeling my oats, I went forward and asked to teach a class in digital communications. This class would consist of learning how to properly use social media, including online safety and digital citizenship, and would include blogging, curation and presentation web tools, and Internet research methods. The principal liked and approved the idea, and our IT guy was behind me completely. In fact, knowing I would be addressing issues with students, he loosened up some of the long-standing blocking. Things were looking good. Students would obviously appreciate this freedom and understand the responsibility that goes along with it.

Not so fast.

Within the space of two days, one student took advantage of another who hadn’t logged out of her gmail account, very inappropriately; a yearbook student’s entire server folder of photos disappeared (I love time machine); and another student used someone else’s photo as his Edmodo profile picture. Why am I giving them these opportunities? On top of that, I have two or three students who simply don’t want to be at school for anything more than to draw attention to themselves and try to make people laugh or cringe. I get pulled into a daily battle with these kids that keeps others from being able to enjoy what could be a good experience. The whole week made me feel dumb, used up and frustrated.

So I see this post on trusting students. What? Haven’t several of mine just proven themselves untrustworthy? Close to the beginning of the article, I read the line, “students witness their peers ramp up their antisocial behaviors,” and easily visualized several of my kids as they roll their eyes in exasperation at the antics of the two or three. Finley goes on to say that this behavior results from authoritarian punishments. I had to think back but recalled that yes, I’d been authoritarian in reaction to the misbehavior. Was that so wrong? He says we can break the cycle with trust, but we have to be willing to risk that they may betray that trust. Later on, he points out that trust is developed gradually, “Don’t believe in trust at first sight.”

The post includes a how-to for those of us holding our hands out to our sides, palms-up.  Give it to receive it. GET TO KNOW YOUR STUDENTS. I think he means not just the easy to get to know, the likeable ones. He quotes teacher Michelle Connors as she compares her students to oysters. She recognizes that her students have had hard lives and have built up shells to protect themselves. As a teacher, she must use perseverance to get them to open up to her so that she can find the “pearl” that is within them all, and show them that they can be successful.

Finley suggests sharing power, getting student input about what and how to learn. I’m happy to note that I have done this. I was also pleased to read that he would approve of my putting my tables in clusters rather than rows because it demonstrates trust.

Throughout the post there was the common thread that it won’t be easy, it won’t happen overnight. You have to build the trust, provide second chances, be willing to have bad experiences along with the good, but that you must be consistent, you must be willing to work it every day.

Even though I’ve never gone through physical therapy, I’ve been with those who have, and because my middle son will soon graduate with a degree in athletic training, I’ve listened to many stories over the past three years about recovery, exercises, repetition, commitment, consistency. So it follows for me that as I feel I have been injured, trust has been presented to me as the prescribed therapy. And as anyone who has ever had to endure physical therapy following surgery knows, it will be tough – tougher on some days than others, and there is no doubt that I will want to give up on some of those tough days. But those dedicated athletes struggling through recovery have to keep the end goal in mind – playing at optimal health again. For me, I have to remember that within each of these kids is that pearl, and some of their shells will just be tougher to get through than others.

I’m feeling a framed photograph of an opened oyster just below the clock would be in order.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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