Earlier this week, we got a call to one of our teacher’s classrooms to get some help in dealing with a ‘disruptive’ student. When I arrived, the teacher greeted me at the door with a very perplexed and slightly frustrated look on her face. She pointed out the student and began to explain that he was very disagreeable, argumentative and even combative. Her confusion came from the fact that even though we have had moments with this student before, his behaviors were out of character, very ‘odd’ and ultimately disruptive.
As I walked him to the front office and began asking him what was going on, I quickly began to see the behaviors the teachers described. He was even short and borderline disrespectful to me. [For clarity, I don’t write that to sound like, “How dare he talk to the principal like that!’, I say that because over his 3 years at Spring Lake Middle, I have come to know him, his family and situation very well and he and I have a good relationship]. As I approached the front office, one of his support teachers, Mr Cooper, saw us and inquired about what was going on. I asked him to join us, thinking that two heads were better than one.
When we arrived in my conference room, I asked the student about the night before, ride on the bus and arrival at school, thinking that this was either a turbulent night in the neighborhood or some issue with students at school. Other than arriving to school on the bus late that day, there was nothing out of the ordinary. I had to leave out of the office for a quick minute and when I returned, Mr. Cooper shared some a powerful piece of information he got from the student in an astonishing 60 seconds.
The student had not eaten in 40 hours. He was absent from school the day before and in all the hurry never ate anything more than a half a peanut butter sandwich. Our cafeteria makes a point to always be ready for every late bus but that day he wasn’t with the bus. We were literally seeing a student whose personality, health, mood, emotions were being seriously affected by grave hunger.
I snuck the picture above to share with my staff later but in it you see a desperate principal who reached out to the first adults he could find to get whatever donation they could give. Its not in the picture but I did give him a bottle of water from my office so it wasn’t totally unhealthy. 12 minutes later, Mr Cooper and I were dealing with a different young man. He was back to being mild-mannered, pleasant and conversational. We even joked about how he doesn’t eat the outside part of the doughnut, only the part that touches the inner hole. Like I said, we know and love this kid.
At a faculty meeting earlier this year, I shared with the staff that we are always two questions away from learning something significant about our students, our classes and our school. If we are willing to ask questions, we can learn something that will allow us to make a profound difference in the lives of students.
What Can We Do?
Build Relationships – [‘Relationships, relationships, relationships.’ Jimmy Casas] I’m thankful the teacher was sharp enough to see that something was off with the student and knew to reach out for support to get some help. I’m grateful that his support teacher saw us in the hallway and was able to get to the two questions. While I’m confident that others could have had success in this situation, I don’t think others would have had the patience to deal with an ‘unruly’ middle schooler. Its only because we knew this student that we were able to intervene, see through the pain and intervene.
Don’t Take ANYTHING for Granted – Educators are busy and overworked and have the TREMENDOUS task of leading the learning in the classroom – a lot goes into that responsibility. But even through that, we have to be vigilant and mindful of what’s going on with our students. Sometimes, we go beyond the two questions just to make sure all is well.
Keep Some Snack for Students – You just never know.
This was a profound reminder. Those who know me know a lot of my passions are in the best teaching and learning practices, what learning can look like and what best leadership practices and strategies help us get to where we need to be. But I started teaching in schools like the ones I have led and am grateful for the unique experiences that have helped shaped me. All of us in our different communities and schools, have to keep in the forefront that we serve kids and all kids have needs of some kind. I will always work on my ‘2 Questions’ skill.