When Push Comes to Shove: Patient Pathways to the Release of Responsibility

When you push something you work to keep it in motion and you stick with it.  You might step away for a moment, like when you push a grocery cart you let go every now and again to choose a ripe mango or grab a quart of ice cream, or when you push a child on swing, that child repeatedly goes away during one part of the swing arch but always comes back during another part.  When you shove something it’s gone.

I would suggest that when it comes to the development of children, certainly elementary school children, we’ve got to push much more than we shove.  In fact, I would further suggest that the only true shove elementary educators need to impart on our students comes as we wish them well on their way to middle school.  There does come a time when we can no longer keep watch over them, but until that time arrives, it’s exactly what we’re charged with doing.  From kindergarten to fifth grade we have to think about that eventual shove and the development of independence it requires.  Below are a few strategies I use when working on releasing the responsibility of independence to my students before push comes to shove.

The Stroll.  I like The Stroll because nothing about it says, “you’re in trouble.”  Even so, you can use it with students who are in trouble if you’re looking to serve a side of learning along with the trouble (something I highly recommend).  The Stroll is simple.  You walk around the building for five or ten minutes with a student of your choice.  As you walk you demonstrate professionalism, kindness, compassion, humor, comradely, respect, and any other characteristics you’re interested in modeling through the interactions you have with other students, teachers, parents, and anyone the two of you come across.

Sometimes during strolls the student you’re with has organic opportunities for guided practice as well.  The Stroll is simply a nonchalant way to extend a relationship and model your expectations simultaneously.  Once you’ve strolled, you can decide on a range of next steps from simply dropping the student off wherever he or she is going, to processing the interactions that he or she just witnessed and/or engaged in.  You can be overt or subtle.  The Stroll is easily adapted to meet the needs of any given situation.  You may or may not see some immediate growth, but regardless, it’s a good start and a viable practice for ongoing efforts.

The Commonality Declaration.  For me this strategy works best when dealing with communication through frustrations (but there are certainly other applications).  It is what it sounds like.  You tell a student about how it’s difficult to communicate when you’re frustrated.  The cool thing about telling a student something like that is that it’s true.

Students, especially young ones, don’t naturally default to understanding that the adults in their lives are human beings.  They don’t always see that we’re alike in many ways.   When I tell a student who’s just made a bad decision during a moment of frustration that I too have to work hard to focus on positive thinking and good decision making when I’m frustrated, that student usually takes a moment to think about it.

When I talk about my own challenges as related to the situation at hand before accusing, reprimanding, and/or suggesting major disappointment, it usually preempts the accusing, reprimanding, and suggesting major disappointment parts in such a way that nearly renders them unnecessary.  The Commonality Declaration, when delivered with authenticity, can be an inroad to some great collaborative learning…even during the most challenging disciplinary situations.

The Belief Statement.  This is the one where you make it unwaveringly clear to a student that you believe in him or her.  It’s where you convince a student beyond a shadow of a doubt, no matter how that student came to be sitting on the other side of your desk, that you believe he or she has the capacity to pull through even the toughest challenges into even the most miraculous triumphs.  My district’s superintendent, Dr. Bob Shaner, consistently reminds our administrative team that, “We are in the business of hope and inspiration.”  The Belief Statement is a good strategy for communicating that there’s always hope, and when delivered with sincerity, it can help to open doors of inspiration for self realization and positive progress in the incredible students that we serve.

In what ways do you support, encourage, and communicate with your students when, and before, push comes to shove?

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

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