Intercultural Responsiveness

A Blog By Tom Altepeter

Gone in 60 Seconds

Gone in 60 secondsSometimes you gotta get ‘em in, and get ‘em out. There’s a whole lotta things going on, a whole lotta things to take care of, and spending a bunch of time on every single issue just isn’t a luxury we can afford. Simply put, there are problems created, those problems need to be solved, and they need to be solved quickly. And, so it goes.

But then, every once in a while, you take a breath, and you realize you happen to have some time, and you think, “Maybe, just maybe, I’ll work on this situation the way I’d really like to work all the situations.” Today was one of those days. I connected. I listened. I learned. Something I typically deal with in a minute became something I experienced in an hour.

He left a mess, was made to clean it up, became rude about it, grabbed a student’s shirt, and then dropped the f-bomb on a staff member. Pretty straightforward – disrespect, physical aggression, inappropriate language – discipline referral – in school suspension. Own it, fix it, change it, accept your consequence, serve your time, and move on. Badabing, badaboom!

Then, the alternative. He’s a quiet kid, but can be extremely quick to anger – especially around adults. “Tell me what happened.” Silence at first, and then mumbling. Slowly, but surely, the full story comes out. It takes a lot of prodding. A lot of reassuring. A lot of clarification. We finally get there: “So, you weren’t upset about cleaning up – you were upset about being blamed for making the mess. You were upset that the student was making fun of you for having to clean it up. By the time the staff member stepped in to end the escalation, you were pretty jacked up. Yes?” And the look on his face told me that he truly felt heard.

By the time I was having him determine what he needed to do to make this right, we were on a roll. He owned every single portion of his behavior – walking away from the mess, grabbing the student’s shirt, and cussing at the staff member. He explained what he could have done differently every step of the way to avoid things ending the way they did. And, he wanted to meet with each person involved – not to blame, but rather to make things right. The student who created the mess apologized and agreed to spend time cleaning the next day. The student who had his shirt grabbed could barely digest the lengthy apology before offering one up himself for his smirking and laughter. The staff member received one of the most genuine and well articulated apologies I’ve ever heard, and relationships were salvaged in the process.

Don’t tell me educators don’t need more resources. The math is basic. Affording the time and attention that every single student deserves when it comes to their needs – academically, behaviorally, emotionally – requires more resources than we have. But it doesn’t stop any of us from trying. Never has, never will.

Gone in 3,600 seconds … and not one of them wasted.

One Response to “Gone in 60 Seconds”

  • Kathy Mayer says:

    This makes me cry — not with sadness, but with joy for the child who experienced the value of the lesson, who was heard, who got to be be whole again. And with joy for you, Tom, for seeing and seizing this opportunity, for putting in the extra effort (as so many, virtually all educators do), for taking time to share it. I can learn from this. I hope I do!

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