This past week I spent four days with the 6th graders on their “Week Without Walls” trip. Being outdoors, in the fresh air and away from the day-to-day rhythm that life naturally falls into gave me a great chance to step back and think about a lot of things. While most of my time was occupied by 30 11-year olds, I also had the chance to be inspired on a number of occasions by these dynamic pre-teens.
Believe it or not, one of the most inspiring moments of the trip came thanks to some good old fashioned 6th grade dramatics. In brief, a couple kids were “in a fight”, there was a misunderstanding that had blown out of proportion because each side felt they were right. After a long mediation session each of these young adults was able to see the other’s perspective. They resolved, for the future, to better communicate and seek to find a resolution before reaching such elevated levels of conflict. At the end of the day this interaction could’ve been any two 6th graders, anywhere in the world…there was nothing particularly special about the interaction. However, it seemed special at the time and it got me thinking…
Why is it so easy for our students (the younger ones in particular) to forgive and forget? How do they so easily move on from such interactions? After thinking about this and watching with a more focused eye, I think I saw some hints as to what might be the real secret – it comes down to their relationships and their flexibility.
One fact is simple, they’re malleable. These young minds are fully aware that they, in fact, don’t know everything. They can step back and admit that they were wrong or that they could’ve handled a situation better and they grow from it, they truly are reflective creatures (even if that doesn’t always seem to be the case!) I often wonder, as we go along the road to adulthood, does this skill fade…do we become the “old dog” who can’t “learn new tricks”? Or does our Mindset change as we age and, supposedly, grow wiser?
They’re empathetic as well. It’s one thing to be malleable, but if you can’t see the other side then how can you grow? It hit me like a ton of bricks how empathy just oozes out of these kids. As adults I expect that many of these kids will brush off such “childish” issues in the future, but right now they have a superhuman ability to truly feel the emotions of their friends (and even sometimes their combatants). This can prove difficult when ten kids are reacting to one friend’s pain/heartache/perceived injustice, but when it comes to conflict resolution this empathy is a true superpower!
Most importantly, however, these 6th graders know each other and they know each other well. They’ve built relationships consistently for a long time (some of them for years). Some are better friends and have more positive relationships than others but there is a certain level of understanding that exists amongst all of these kids. They know each other’s secrets and they know each other’s buttons (and how to push them!) As 6th graders, these kids are in the beginning stages of learning to interact successfully with their peers provided all of these new-found interpersonal insights. For some it has opened doors, they’ve built their friend circle and are enjoying the fruits of such understandings. The relationships they’ve built can withstand misunderstandings and “fights”. These kids can fully engage in a disagreement, resolve the issues and go back to being best friends within minutes…it truly is a superpower.
As educators, and people in general, I believe that we have a lot to learn from these young minds. While watching and learning from these mini-adults I realized I needed to work harder myself. It dawned on me that I didn’t know these kids as well as some groups of kids I’ve worked with in the past. I was forced to consider how this could impact my interactions with them. Had I built up enough of a positive relationship with each of these kids? Enough to withstand a difficult conversation and still come away with a mutual level of respect? Since so many of my student interactions tend to be related to behavior or academic discipline I grew concerned. Luckily I’ve been down this road and I feel confident in my ability to build relationships…I jumped right in and began connecting with students – it turned out to be the best part of my week!
How have you worked to connect with your students? Have you built the level of relationship that is strong enough to withstand those difficult moments and come out the other side strong?
Take a step back and think about the relationships you’ve built…could they be strengthened? I know I’ll be working hard to (re)connect with students over the coming weeks, especially those with whom my connections are weakest. Building the positive couldn’t be more important and it’s never too late to jump in!