Sunday, September 7, 2008

Solving problems, the Longfellow way

*Note: for the sake of this story, the name of my school has been changed to Longfellow.*

On the first day of school, we gathered the 42 second-graders in the schoolyard to play some team-building games. A few minutes in, I noticed that a student new to the school, Arthur, was exchanging heated words with Shawn, a student who has been at Longfellow for 3 years. I quickly approached the boys, and asked what was going on.

Arthur replied angrily, "He hit me!"

"I did not! It was an accident!" Shawn growled back.

"No, it wasn't, stupid!" Arthur shot the insult Shawn's way without thinking twice.

I intervened quickly, deciding to give Arthur the benefit of the doubt.

"Arthur, at Longfellow we don't call people names like that. If you're upset with someone, you can tell him you didn't like what he did, and he will say, 'What can I do to make you feel better?' and you will tell him something that will make you feel better, like a handshake, or standing next to you in the game. Here, Shawn, will you show him?"

"I didn't like it when you called me stupid," Shawn obliged.

"Now you say, 'What can I do to make you feel better?'" I coached Arthur.

He repeated the line in a grudging tone, through clenched teeth, so I responded as I always do in that situation: "I can see you're not ready to solve the problem with Shawn. You're still feeling too upset. Come on over here and have a seat on the bench so you can calm down and feel better. I'll come check to see if you're ready in a few minutes, and after you solve the problem with Shawn, you can come play the game again with the rest of us."

A few minutes later I walked back casually over to where Arthur was sitting.

"Are you ready to solve the problem with Shawn?" I asked.

"I think I need one more minute," he answered.

I hid my surprise at his obliging tone, and told him I'd be back in a minute.

One minute later: "What do you think, Arthur? It's been a minute. Are you ready to ask Shawn what you can do to make him feel better?"

He said he was, so Shawn came over, and I got pulled away by someone else. A few minutes later, I saw the boys rejoining the game.

"Did you solve the problem?" I asked. They nodded.

"Great job, Arthur. You're learning how to solve problems the way we do them at Longfellow already, on the first day! I knew you'd be able to do it," I told him.

It was not surprising to me how effective it was to give him that chance. Instead of assuming he was a bad kid (although I could see he has the potential to be a challenge), I assumed he hadn't been in a school where he'd learned these techniques before, and where insults weren't interrupted effectively. He had a logical consequence (leaving the game for a few minutes to calm down), and surely the fun of the game helped him be ready to give my problem-solving technique a try. But the spirit of my interaction with him -- that he just needed to learn how we do it at our school, and that we don't ever call people mean things at our school -- preserved my relationship with him, and gave him a chance to do the right thing. I tried to present the situation as a native would to a foreigner -- oh, that's not how we do things here, you just have to learn our way.

It doesn't always work this well, but I imagine Arthur has been in similar situations before and has been labeled the "bad kid," and then what motivation does he have to prove he's not bad? But on the first day at a new school, he had some motivation to prove he could learn the "Longfellow way," and when given the opportunity, he did.

1 comment:

  1. Great handling of kid conflict, Heidi. some of our leaders need to learn how to use words effectively too to handle their disagreements.