Nervous Gorillas: Don’t Judge an Action by it’s Cover

Do you know what I learned the other day?  I suppose that’s a silly question.  Unless you’re a mind reader, how could you know something that I haven’t told you yet?  Actually, the question was rhetorical.  I expected you to respond, “No,” or “What?”  I asked because I was setting up a scenario by which I could tell you.  The other day I learned that when gorillas are nervous they beat their chests.

This bit of information was interesting to me because before I learned it I thought that Gorillas beat their chests because they were confident.  If my source was correct, it turns out that the chest beating is an insecurity thing.  It works too.  I’m guessing that whatever the gorilla is nervous about either goes away quickly or yields to the gorilla as soon as the chest beating begins.  Gorilla chest beating is just about as frightening as it gets.

Here’s the thing, we can’t know what someone is thinking…only what they’re doing (even if the someone is a gorilla).  Sometimes though, we make judgments about actions that might or might not be accurate.

In more that a decade of studying how to be an educator it’s never been suggested that I should compare students to gorillas, but I’ve decided to go out on a limb here.  When we see students acting out it’s easy to become frustrated.  The moment I heard about why Gorillas beat their chests I thought about some of the behaviors I see students exhibit and how important it is for me to remember that I’m not a mind reader.

It’s my job to care for the students that I serve.  It’s my job to assume positive intentions.  When I was a kid I occasionally felt nervous, especially in situations where my confidence wasn’t at it peak.  I beat my chest during a few of those times.  Well, maybe I didn’t exactly beat my chest, but I did act out in various ways.

In working to help students learn from their experiences at school I’ve got to remember that distracted behaviors are sometimes the result of feeling unprepared, lacking understanding, worrying about not knowing what to do or how to progress in positive ways.

Educators are well served to remember that there’s no one path to student wellbeing and achievement.  None of us are mind readers, but each of us understands that one important part of being a kid is not yet knowing how to express yourself in every situation.  Let’s remember why gorillas beat their chests and be careful not to judge a student’s actions on a surface level, but to dig deep into building trusting relationships with each one, so that if/when they act out we can maintain the patience and compassion to always respond with an eye on learning and growth.

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

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