8.06.2012

The Jedi Knight of the Red Cross


Today I'm enthusiastic and ever-so-eager for you to meet my guest blogger, Rebecca Lallier from School Counseling By Heart. I was so drawn to that adorable heart & hand graphic and by the fact that I learned to play piano by heart that I felt an instant connection to this east-coast counselor. And every time I stop by her blog, I leave feeling refreshed and renewed. 
Welcome, Rebecca!

photo of School Counseling by Heart
Click the graphic to learn more about Rebecca.

If you connected the dots on a map from where I am in Vermont to where Barbara is in Texas, you would see a big old diagonal line crossing almost the whole country. I have never met Barbara in person, and yet she is my friend. There she is, almost daily, sharing her thoughts, activities and lessons, and her deep commitment to character education. What a generous soul she is!

When I entered the school counseling blogosphere last year, Barbara’s The Corner on Character was one of the first blogs I started following. And when I started my own blog, School Counseling by Heart, she was one of the first readers to start commenting – she still does - and her words are always so very kind and encouraging. I think I know how her (very lucky) students feel – valued, appreciated, capable, and motivated to do even better! I am so honored that she invited me to guest post on The Corner on Character.

I thought long and hard about what to write. I wanted to give all of you what you expect from this blog – something thought provoking and heartwarming, and something that Barbara would be proud of. (Seriously! I absolutely know how her students feel! I think I might be channeling their fervent desire to please her!  ) 

So here’s a story about character in action. I call it:

The Jedi Knight of the Red Cross

We all know the importance of collecting data about the outcomes of our interventions, but in the world of school counseling, that is easier said than done. Kids may give all the right answers in a post-test, but can – and will - they do what we’ve been teaching them, especially in difficult situations? And it’s so much easier to see evidence when they don’t display appropriate social skills than it is when they do. Much of the behavior that we work so hard to support goes undocumented. It happens quietly, and smooths out waves that sometimes the adults don’t even know are beginning to build. Kids are self-rewarded when they experience the good feelings that come from being kind, understanding, and doing the right thing, so sometimes they don’t even tell us about it.

One morning as I was making my rounds while kids were arriving at school, I spotted a fifth grader standing in the doorway of his classroom. He was hard to miss. He is a large boy, and he was cloaked and hooded in a Red Cross emergency blanket, a safety-pin holding it together under his chin. It was a hot day, and the blanket, with Red Cross logos scattered on an off-white background, reached the ground, almost completely covering him. He filled the entire space, completely blocking the door, although he pivoted to allow entry to his classmates as they arrived.  His face was sad, and periodically a quiet, otherworldly moan escaped his lips.

Parents and substitute teachers gave sidelong, nervous glances as they passed. As I walked down the hall, though, I noted with pride and relief that the kids walking by didn’t even seem to notice this odd apparition. Nobody was scared or amused, and nobody was pointing him out to others. And I have to say, it was an extremely unusual sight, even given the fact that his appearance and behavior were generally quite different from those of his peers.  Really, keening Jedi Knight of the Red Cross is the best possible way to describe it.

For this guy, it was always best to note his feelings simply and briefly, and then get him settled back into the routine pretty quickly without giving the behavior a lot of attention. He couldn’t process in times like this, and trying to do so or removing him from the situation just prolonged his “stuckness.” So told him that I could tell that he was sad and that we would talk later, guided him into the classroom, and got him started on his morning work. The teacher shot me a “Wow! Thank you very much!” glance, but the kids hardly looked up at all, other than to say hi. No one was snickering, no one was elbowing, no one was edging away, no one was even looking, although they weren’t averting their gazes either.

When we talked later, he told me how much the blanket was making him feel safe. I asked him if his classmates had said anything about it, and he said that they hadn’t. I asked what he thought his classmates might have been thinking about it, and he said, “I could tell by their faces that they were thinking, ‘That’s kind of weird. Oh well, it’s probably making him feel better.’”

The Jedi Knight of the Red Cross stayed at school almost all day, going to lunch, recess, specials, and the bathroom just like every other student, before finally removing his cloak near the end of the day. When I checked in with the teacher later, she said that all of the kids had been kind and accepting, and had proceeded with the day as if nothing unusual was happening. But something unusual was happening!

Much of the time, this boy was hard for the other kids to be around. He interrupted their learning by blurting constantly, with both on- and off-topic comments. He made unusual noises. He got stuck on certain thoughts and commandeered classroom discussions. If he was unhappy or uncomfortable about something he expressed those feelings loudly and dramatically. His hygiene wasn’t always perfect, his table manners were, shall we say, limited, and he openly shared that the red marks all over his arms were from bedbugs.  And yet they accepted him, sat next to him, and enjoyed his clever, on-the-spot but wildly unrelated epithets (“Holy leaping techno-muskrats!” and “Holy guacaschmoly!” were only two of many) and descriptive language (about England’s actions in the lead up to the Revolutionary War: “What a clusterbleep!”)

When I talked with his classmates about it later in the week, and told them how proud I was that they had been so kind and understanding, they said things like, “He was just having a hard day,” “I think the blanket helped him,” and “He has a hard life. It’s doesn’t hurt to be nice.” And they volunteered that the kids from the other fifth grade classes had also been kind during lunch and recess when the whole grade was together. They were actually sort of dismissive of my praise. They didn’t need it, because the reward for being kind and accepting was coming from within. They knew how to behave that way, even in the face of a very strange situation, even though they had been given an almost open invitation for derision, gossip, or just a good chuckle.

So there you have it, even though you can’t cram it onto a spreadsheet or shape it into a bar graph: proof that teaching kids how to be kind even when it’s hard, to accept differences even when they’re uncomfortable, to do the right thing even when it takes a lot of courage, works. It creates a caring, open-hearted school climate and helps kids to experience the incredible pride and satisfaction that showing good character brings. And it makes being a school counselor such a pleasure, and an honor.
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Thanks again, Rebecca, for sharing your story. As you know, I went back to work today, so I made this bulletin board inspired by you.




2 comments:

  1. Rebecca, this is such an incredible story! It must be one of the "pinnacles" of your counseling (or education) career. I'd love if you could look back and identify some of the possible markers that led to this wonderful application by the 5th graders. What do you feel it was a combination of? Any particular aspects of your school's caring, open-hearted school climate that you feel made lasting impacts?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Rebecca:

    I like to think that we are most successful at including all kids when the extraordinary becomes just ordinary (those words have been used by a lot of other people in a lot of ways before, but I think they really apply to a classroom where everyone works together without anyone having to try too hard)

    I loved that the kids would tell you that they were just doing what they DO! How exciting it is when that matches up with how we wish they would behave.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    And, Barbara, yet another fabulous bulletin board...

    Kim
    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

    ReplyDelete

I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!

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