I had some run-ins with my principal recently; he redirected me on three occasions.
One morning he passed me in the hall and said, “Hey, the lab door was unlocked this morning. You need to make sure it’s locked.”
The next day he said, “Aaron brought a can of soda pop into your room with his breakfast. You need to address that.”
The third day he said, “You weren’t at your assigned spot in the hall this morning. It’s important that the hallways are monitored.”
None of these was a major issue, and nothing was threatening my job. I wasn’t being yelled at, but I felt defensive, angry, and hurt.
I wanted to reply, “Hey, I wasn’t the last person in the lab” and “I already talked to Aaron about the pop” and “What about every single day when I am in the hall? You don’t say anything then! You don’t even know why I wasn’t in the hall!” But I’m a confident, secure adult with a great relationship with my principal, so I simply agreed to what he said. I didn’t react, but it got me thinking about students and how they react to me.
In his book Why Do They Act That Way?, brain researcher Dr. David Walsh discusses how adolescents often perceive that adults are shouting at them when they in fact are speaking in a normal tone of voice. Their defensiveness and sensitivity cause them to hear yelling and scolding when the adult is merely giving them a simple direction or redirection. They frequently overreact because they feel hurt. They feel their relationship has been damaged, and rather than talk about it, they lash out in frustration and anger.
How often is my first contact with a student a redirection?
How often do I tell a kid to pull up his pants or turn in her homework before I even say hello?
Is it any wonder some feel like I’m yelling at them and respond defensively or snap angrily at me? As I reflected on my feelings about the principal’s comments, I thought about how I can use those feelings to better understand students’ reactions. They respond to me exactly as I wanted to respond to him, but they lack adult perspectives and filters, so situations can quickly escalate. What if I started a conversation with a friendly greeting or a question about a basketball game before I bring up the sagging pants or the homework? If my first contact is positive and friendly, students are less likely to hear a redirection as yelling.
Building relationships is a fundamental component of the Developmental Designs philosophy, and a hugely important component in helping our adolescents on the path to successful adult relationships.
Ann Larson Ericson has been using the Developmental Designs approach in her classroom for more than eight years. She teaches high school chemistry and physical science at Community of Peace Academy, a public charter school on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Posted February 2014