I know we are all affected by the most recent school shooting in Florida and those events have prompted anger, outrage, debate and discussion throughout the world. If you haven’t already had a discussion with your students, don’t be afraid to allow the conversation to work itself into your class or even set class aside to hear your students. It is vitally important that you truly hear them – and that students know you’re listening and that you care.
At times, students (and even teachers) come to the office after they have a conflict with a peer and most of the time someone’s feelings have been hurt and kids don’t know how to deal with the hurt feelings themselves and/or the guilt and responsibility of having hurt someone else’s feelings so they continue this cycle of one-upping someone until they’ve spun the conflict out of control and it’s too much even for them to understand. As an adult looking in at the conflict, it seems complete nonsense, hardly comprehensible. To the adolescent, however, the conflict is an all-consuming distraction that disrupts personal security, confidence, and rational thinking (not to mention learning).
Most recently, I worked with two young ladies who had hardly ever spoken to one another, despite having shared a class for half the school year. Yet, here they were, enraptured by an all-consuming conflict, each dragging along friends and parents to witness and encourage or diffuse the conflict. (Note that if any of those parties was effective at diffusing the conflict, it wouldn’t have come to me.) It is hard to understand then, how two girls who had never spoken, not even on social media, could become embroiled in a hateful conflict. It is hard to understand until you dig into the peer perpetuation of nonsensical drama (it is still really hard to understand) whereupon you begin to understand the power of peers and gossip and how easy (and fun for some) it is to spread lies. The saddest part of this is that two young ladies, who are both charismatic and friendly, who share common interests, will miss out on friendship or even a good acquaintance, because other people, seemingly friends, spew ugliness and rumors about the other which are completely unfounded and petty.
Really, who can blame them? This nonsensical conflict is just a reflection of life in today’s society. One can look at our recent political climate and our President’s tweets, the social media popularity of a Kardashian who is famous only for drama, or look at television and the latest Housewives of Pick-a-City where women feud over the most ridiculous first world problems…or the Bachelor where the cattiest woman often wins what we know to be the temporary affections of some pretty, yet morally vile, young man. There really are few celebrated examples of women, or anyone for that matter, supporting one another.
I go through all this to share the simplest message in working with these students: Listen and be kind. Listen – we have to listen, even if the story is long and can’t be followed. Try to make sense of their story – and their feelings. They need help understanding their own feelings and that it’s okay to feel more than one feeling about the same person, event, or idea. Don’t just be kind, but teach kindness. Kindness can be as simple – and EASY – as a smile. Just smile. It makes you feel better and makes everyone around you feel better. Start with you – spread it to your family…your classes…to our school…to our community… Kindness is the best way to immediately and positively impact the world around you.