Hamilton in High School

My family is growing weary of hearing me quote Hamilton, but like yoga, I see the parallels throughout daily life.  Plus, I like the catchy show tunes and rap verses.

Recently, I found myself trying to talk less, smile more all in the spirit of truly listening to a distressed high school senior whom I will call Hamilton.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t know much about his story except that he is struggling to get by, has at least a few adults trying to put him in his place and, I believe, is smart, determined, competent and struggling to make his way in the world as he searches for how and where he can become a new man.

I am also trying to talk less in general as I hone my listening skills.  I’ve facilitated professional development with teachers around listening.  I’ve taught kids of all ages about listening, I’ve read about listening.  But like most people, I’m not innately a good listener. It takes effort and practice.  In my coach training, we’re focusing on reflective and empathetic listening.  One of the mantras is “listen twice as much as you speak.”   

In my role at a local high school, it is not uncommon for another faculty member to escort a student to my space to have them “sit a bit” or “just do some work.”  My comfortable and spacious place is intended for college and career exploration but de facto, it can be a holding place for kids when other adults aren’t sure where to put them.  I see this as an opportunity to connect with kids, to offer a safe, quiet place for a short time and ideally, to listen to what’s going on with them.  Sometimes, it’s a bit like the Island of Misfit Toys, but everyone needs to have a place to chill and fit in, and if I can be that island, I’m happy to do so.

A teacher who was monitoring a room known by an acronym I don’t even know the full definition of (it has something to do with discipline and detention and is about as barren and sterile as any institution) slid into my room and asked if Hamilton could come down for a bit.  He is, she surmised, “A bit worried about college and school.”

Well, alrighty. “…take up a collection and send him…

When she gave me his actual name, I told her we had worked together before.  He had been all over the place with where he might apply now that it was January of his senior year.  Shortly thereafter, Hamilton appeared before me, dragging his feet and examining the floor tiles.  I was determined to put my reflective listening in action so I could find out what was going on with this kid because his body language told me he was feeling like a beaten dog.

Best laid intentions, but this Hamilton was not conversant.

I tried many versions of “What’s going on?” “And tell me what brought you here?” and “So, waatz up?”  He didn’t lift his head and his arms went further into his sweatshirt pocket the more I inquired. Time to cut him some slack and offer words, much like one does with a preschooler who doesn’t yet have words.

Me: So, we chatted before when you came in to look at schools, right?

Hamilton: Yeah.

Me: And you were thinking about schools all over the country. It seemed like you were looking to get out of the area?

Hamilton: Yeah. I dunno…

Me: Ok, so now you need a game plan?

Hamilton: Head turns away.

Me: It’s not too late, but there is work you need to get on and I can help, I think.

Hamilton: Body hunches over the table.

I gently ask a few more questions, hunting for clues as to what he’s done about colleges.  Turns out other than taking the SATs he’s done diddly.  I ask if he is serious and wants my help, and he looks up at me and makes eye contact for the first time.  His ebony eyes are glistening, with tears precariously balancing on the lower edge of his eyes.  “Yes, ma’am.”

Inhale. Exhale.

 I see the hurt and shame here. Who knows what got him to the holding pen down the hall. 

Dreikur’s roots of misbehavior scroll through my brain:  Attention? No. Power? Maybe. Revenge? No. Helplessness? Definitely.  He wasn’t just acting out, he’s afraid and feels trapped.  “…helpless…

Then he went and did something that got him ushered out of class and here we sit. “…the world turned upside down…”

“I know this is hard and maybe overwhelming. But it’s not too late. We can find options, but you’re going to have to work,”  I assure him.  I tell him about an upcoming community college visit and the local Black College Expo that offers on the spot admissions.  He looks at me, nodding.  I tell him to come back in a bit and I will have some info for him to take home and read – and hopefully –  discuss with his adults.  Normally, I wouldn’t just dig up documents and hand them off, that’s on the kids.  But this kid seemed to feel like nobody is on his side. “… it must be nice. It must be nice to have Washington by your side…”

I get him back in the room and he is looking even more dejected. I summoned a cheerful but not too cheery tone of voice and smile a lot. I show him how the community college admissions process works and explain that if he came to work in this space, he could do it in no time, and I’d be there to help.  Plus, he’d have an admissions decision within a week.  Befuddled, he looked at me as I acknowledged, it might not be ideal, but it gives him an option.

Me:  Does any of this sound like a plan that gives you some choices?

Hamilton:  Nods and pulls the paperwork closer to point at the “apply here” link.  “…get the job done…”

Me: Think you can come in next week and we’ll do that?

Hamilton: Nods.

Me:   Let me hear it…

Hamilton: Yeah, yes, ma’am. I will come. Thanks… 

As he stands up, he towers over me and  I see his eyes are, again, wet.  I nodded my head and smiled. “…there are moments where the words don’t reach…”

This kid wasn’t misbehaving in class just to piss people off. Like so many high schoolers, he is worried about the uncharted path ahead. Perhaps he is realizing he should have done things differently, made different choices. He was feeling stuck, trapped, without choices and maybe without support.  We’ve all been there and it’s crappy.

I tried listening, even when he was barely able to speak. Empathy and reassurance it had to be, talking less, smiling more.

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Here’s to talking less, smiling more!

8 Traits

8 traitsv2

The past few posts have focused on defining family but in a broader sense, this blog is about what we model and instill with the children in our lives and the lessons we learn from each other. A huge part of raising and working with kids is keeping in mind the end game.  That doesn’t mean being wedded to a certain outcome (soccer star, valedictorian, Ivy-League college) but more a general sense of the values you want to instill and the kind of person you hope this little person is and becomes.  While much of development is dependent on temperament, health, experiences outside the home, parents and caregivers are the first teachers and often, the most significant role models.  

 

It’s important to spend time thinking about what you want to model and instill, and to know that this may change over time.Each family will grow to have it’s own unique blend of values and priorities. This may include a range of other big and small ideas, such as:

Joy

Compassion

Accountability

Courage

Faith

The foundation for building a connected family and children who learn to navigate their world with confidence, empathy and a willingness to accept challenges are based on eight traits explored on the blog.  They are:

Creativity

Empathy

Listening

Love of literature/communication

Perseverance

Play

Problem solving

Resilience & resourcefulness

 

These are eight traits, among many, that are the foundation upon which strong families are based.  It also shares stories of a wide range of children in the classroom where these traits are nurtured and contribute to both the child’s development and the school community.  Each of these traits helps give rise to confident, caring and engaged children who learn to advocate for themselves and people and issues important to them, as they learn to be self-reliant and motivated thinkers and do-ers in an increasingly complex world.

With two emerging adults – kids that are late teens and early twenties but not yet fully adults – it’s easier now to look back on how we raised them.  There were definitely periods we were far too bleary-eyed or stressed to consider the big picture! Over the past twenty years, our ideals and values have shifted as circumstances and needs changed.  We faced challenges and many joys, but throughout these halos and hiccups, there are many values and traits that we clung to and strived to model and instill.

 

Over these same years, as I worked with children from ages three through thirteen, I was fortunate enough to work alongside dedicated colleagues who shared similar values and commitment to what we modeled and expected from our students. Beyond my own two offspring, I saw hundreds of kids from various backgrounds learn to navigate school and life with courage and integrity, learning from their mistakes and growing.  What’s most important to me as a person and my family can be summarized:

 

  • We must have the courage to be both creative and empathetic in our lives. We must listen to our hearts and the people around us. Everyone and every situation have something to teach us when we listen.  
  • Communicating with others orally, in writing, in our body language and our actions are essential in this world.
  • Literature has much to teach us, as well as an ability to help us escape from the world, explore new ideas, and connect with others.  
  • Life isn’t just about work; it’s about play and joy, too. Play is essential for big people, little people and all people, so we need time for authentic play that allows us to do something we love with no  purpose.  
  • Whether in play or work, we will need to problem solve, often. This requires looking carefully at the situation and trying new things. We will fail, and we will succeed, and we will learn.
  • To navigate our relationship and our world, we will be called upon, again to be brave, as we develop resilience and resourcefulness. Life will be complicated and messy and rewarding. We have to jump in the game and give it our all.  
  • As a family, we need to support each other as we take this journey, honoring each other, being open to the possibilities, holding each other accountable as we celebrate the failures and successes of our individual and collective growth and contributions to the world.

Our most important job as parents and caregivers is to raise children who learn to be self-sufficient, competent, caring and willing to contribute to the world – a world we cannot know right now, but can only give our very best effort to raising good kids who will go out and do good in their own ways.

What’s most important to your family or for you to model and instill in the children you work with?