"Kids do well when they can."
This is the first blog post published in a series to share how Arete is gearing up for the 21/22 school year. There are practices, approaches, and resources designed by Dr. Ross Greene and the organization "Lives in the Balance" that will underpin our discussions of student needs and behavior before the next school year starts.
This is only our second blog post, but it still feels inappropriate that I haven't celebrated our teachers yet... they're incredible! I'm so, so grateful they're a part of the Arete community. Our students benefit so much from the patience and understanding that our staff prioritize. While I think some of their skill is a part of who they are as people, but it takes a lot of professional practice to get to the point that they're at now.
With each year at Arete, they get better and better... which is why I'm particularly happy to share that we didn’t have any staff turnover from 20/21 to the 21/22 school year!
... so what's the secret? Why are the Arete staff coming back? It certainly isn’t because teaching is a glamorous profession, the compensation is fabulous, or because it’s an easy job (sorry, that may be a little too honest).
I may risk oversimplification here, but I think that our students are the reason that our staff sticks around. If you’re looking for verification, go check out our staff pages- they really like working with 2e students. And who can blame them? They're amazing! There’s a zest in the 2e population that you simply don’t find anywhere else. Frankly, I have a hard time imagining working in a general education setting. But if you’ve got 2e students in your classroom OR 2e kids in your house, you know that along with all of those beautiful eccentricities and personalities, there are real challenges and messy situations to navigate.
We're often in a position to act as behavior coaches. Our students don’t always communicate their needs clearly and/or appropriately. So how do we handle challenging situations with 2e students? Gifted education doesn't really offer a winning approach. Special education has plenty of approaches, but so far we haven't found a method that fits squarely with 2e students. There’s no one-off workshop or training that can give us all of the answers. There really aren’t any clear procedures to follow step-by-step.
After seven years of practice, the emerging truth is that it’s not specific, replicable strategies, but a fair and consistent approach to each unique situation… a framework that helps us de-escalate frustrations, validate feelings, and work to improve the situation.
Some of the cornerstones that we will build our practices around this year (and echo in our past) are the perspectives/practices designed (or at least honed) by Dr. Ross Greene. There is so much depth to Dr. Greene’s recommendations for working with students like ours so it’s a shame to boil them down too simply, but if I had to distill which practices of Dr. Greene’s are the most influential to student success at Arete, it would be the following:
Kids do well when they can. If they aren’t doing well, it’s because there’s something in the way. It’s less likely that they’re “being difficult” simply because they would like to be difficult.
Kids have a better shot at succeeding if we can solve the problem collaboratively rather than tell them what’s what. That means their voices need to be heard and taken just as seriously as the teacher’s voice (even if teachers do ultimately hold the authority at school).
So how do Arete teachers put it into practice?
The first step is to really believe that those two summaries of Dr. Greene’s works are true. It’s more than intellectually understanding the ideas- it’s having an emotional and internal understanding that our students are doing what they can and we won’t do anything for them if we think they’re just trying to get away with something. It’s very easy to get caught up thinking about how students “should behave” rather than the reality of the situation. And really, where do we educators get that “should” language from? It’s often a combination of what we think would work for ourselves in a similar situation, our own past school experiences, and how our parents raised us… none of which are particularly appropriate goal posts for our students.
A regular criticism of “kids do well when they can” is that it’s a little too generous in interpreting our students’ adolescent behavior. “Surely they try to get away with stuff sometimes, right?” … of course they do! Adolescent behavior is just that- adolescent. A little bit of obscuring the truth here, a sprinkle of laziness there… these things happen and no one should be put on trial for them. What’s important is to start with with assumption that our students want to do well and they will do well when they can. If we operate from there, it’s easier for us to be empathetic and get to the root of what’s really going on for our students. Sometimes we find out that maybe it’s not about an unmet learning need, sensory overload, dysregulation, etc… it’s just a young person learning who they are and/or how to behave. Or maybe they're just having a bad day. And that's okay. Kids do well when they can.
We will always get more out of trying to understand them first than demanding that they understand us immediately. I think one of the main ingredients in the "magic sauce" that comprises our staff is a willingness to accept these posits. It's not always easy but we work hard at it because our students deserve it.
"Okay, so a student is having a bad day, they get frustrated, say something rude to a classmate, and leave the room. The teacher assumes that they aren’t trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, but there’s something making them feel frustrated/anxious/upset… what do they do next? Talk to them? Collaborative problem solving?"
It depends. That’s another blog post. For the time being, I would encourage you to take a look at the resources below. I
YouTube Video: Kids Do Well if They Can- Ross Greene
This video is 4:32 and there are other parts you may consider watching. There are plenty of great Ross Greene video resources to explore- this is merely a starting point!
Website: Lives in the Balance.
This is an organization doing very important work, founded by dr. Ross Greene. There is so, so much to be learned here.
Thanks for reading!