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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Some Bonds Must Be Forged

By Jon Harper — November 18, 2014 5 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by Jon Harper, an assistant principal in Sandy Hill Elementary School (Cambridge, Maryland).

Oftentimes, actually I believe all the time, our success is directly related to our ability to form quality relationships with the students that we serve. Sometimes forming these bonds is quite simple. And then there are times when we try everything imaginable to make a connection and we get nothing.

Recently I have had two very formative experiences that have helped me to see with new eyes, the way relationships can be formed. While we’d all like to think that relationship building is simply a matter of putting in the time, I think in some cases a whole other element must be present.

Webster’s online dictionary provides the following definition for the verb forge:

“to form (as metal) by heating and hammering”

The thing is, once two things are bonded by a heat source, it will take something very powerful to break them apart. I am hoping this is the case with relationships that I forged this past week with two students who were both in unique states of distress.

The First Time

I simply happened to be passing through a classroom when I noticed that a student was on top of a desk and quite upset. Because I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, I went to the neighboring classroom and just hovered. I have learned that sometimes kids can calm themselves down without any help from us. This was not one of those times.

Next, I had two teachers, who may not have seemed as intimidating as the vice principal, attempt to calm the student. This strategy was equally unsuccessful. Now it was time for me to have to intervene. The child had begun making decisions that were going to threaten his safety and the safety of others in the room.

I had no choice but to get him down from the desk and make sure that he was safe. This only increased the student’s anger and caused me to have to hold him to ensure his safety and the safety of anyone nearby. I had long since removed the class because it was safer and because nobody needs an audience when they are in distress.

After about twenty minutes the student calmed down and we were able to talk. In the midst of the event I handed the teacher my cell phone and had her call the student’s parents so that I could meet with them right away. They came in and I was able to share with them everything that had transpired. I explained to them in detail how the situation had elevated to a point in which I had to call for them. In the end, they thanked me and I felt like a bridge was built between us.

More importantly though was the student’s change over the next two days. Each time the student saw me he was friendly and very positive. Moreover, the student actually gave me several hugs. This was something that he had never done before and something that surprised me based on the event that took place earlier in the week. Our bond was actually made stronger despite a very tense and stressful encounter.

The Second Time

Sometimes kids just simply need a place away from the eyes of their peers where they can go to cool down. My office just happens to be that place for several kids and I am glad I am able to provide that for them.

This past week one regular visitor came to my office in a state more elevated than I had ever witnessed before. He came in my room and proceeded to slowly turn over one of tables that had folders and papers lying on top of it. At first, I was so shocked that I just sat and watched the whole meltdown occur. I knew that his actions caused no major damage. But, it was my table, with my things on them that he just nonchalantly tipped over.

I continued to simply watch.

Then he grabbed a 20 sided foam die that I had on the floor and began throwing it at the walls. My office door was closed, so I was the only one in the building that knew what was taking place. I knew what he was throwing couldn’t hurt anything, but when he began throwing it at the wall where I have my family photos and my kids’ art work I knew it was time to intervene.

While I knew that I had to do something right away, I also knew that this young man’s anger had not subsided. So I told him to come stand directly across from me and put his palms on top of mine. The object of the game was to slap the other person’s hands before they can move them or vice versa. We played this game for a while until I was convinced that he had sufficiently released some of his negative energy.

Next, we had a catch with the die and there were times that he threw it so hard it almost knocked me over. At this point I was hungry and asked him to follow me to the lounge while I got a sandwich out of the refrigerator. It was a day old and consisted of natural peanut butter on whole wheat bread. Not exactly a savory meal, but I was hungry.

We went and sat back down in my office and went on YouTube to watch the Rubik Cube world record holders. Earlier in the year I had purchased several in the hopes of channeling some of this young man’s energy. As were watching the screen he actually asked me for some of my sandwich. I was surprised because all I had ever seen this child eat was sugar rich foods, but I gladly shared half with him.

As we continued to watch the videos this young man, who actually has issues with people being in his personal space, sat right next to me and proceeded to ooh and ahh over the world records that we were witnessing. I couldn’t believe it! Was this the same child that not thirty minutes earlier had turned over my table?

My Takeaway

Bonds are not always formed in the way we would expect. Attending sporting events, making positive phone calls and giving complements often help us to build strong relationships with our students. But sometimes it takes more that. Sometimes bonds are formed through fire. Sometimes bonds must be forged. They are not always easy and you will rarely see them coming, but when you do form these bonds I have a feeling that they will be very hard to break. At least that is my hope!

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.