Last week, I walked in to what seemed to be another normal day with a fifth grade class. Within the ten-minute passing period, one of the students (we'll call him Thomas) approached me to ask if I had researched the next question he and I had encountered in reading up on the International Space Station, space, and other related topics. This one dealt with the English name of a specific part of the ISS. And I failed.
How? Because I didn't do what I told him I would do.
Usually a student might be let down, walk away with a sigh, not feel appreciated, or (D) all of the above. What did Thomas say? "It's okay, Mr. Scott. I understand." Before I could apologize again, remind him that I have a baby son and blah blah blah, he continued, "I have a baby brother. I know how you feel." He then smiled, walked away, and went back to reading his space book and creating a puzzle about the information he was compiling.
Wait. What? Did he just empathize with me? Whoa.
I was touched. This 11-year-old boy softened my heart in one of the best ways I've felt in my five years of teaching.
This experience connects very much with two books I'm currently reading, Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn and The Whole-Brained Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson.
Unconditional Parenting: Thomas didn't get upset with me, raise his voice, pout, or even look the slightest bit unappreciated. He was patient, spoke in a normal voice, and expressed a desire to grow together (as he has every time we've talked). He empathized with me by telling me he understands, giving a non-verbal with a smile, and moving on to what he was doing. He treated me with love instead of a force to comply, and he let me feel in my own heart in lieu of focusing mainly on the behavior and telling me how to act.
The Whole-Brained Child: Thomas connected this situation right-brain to right-brain. He didn't say anything that logically had me move on and forget about it. No! He expressed his experiences and emotions with my feeling at that time. He didn't have to say anything to redirect me following his compassionate words because I knew what I had to do. And I did it the next moment I could research ISS. ;)
Sometimes, we as parents/teachers may try to redirect children without the connection needed beforehand. We also could have tendencies to coerce them to obey rather than to guide them in their thinking. What this boy did last week made an impression on me and proved how applications from these two books can travel both ways in a relationship.
This event echoed one of many things I enjoy about teaching: The students help me become a better person.