What a difference a year makes

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We went into the school this morning to meet with the principal and M’s teacher.  Unlike the numerous meetings we attended at the school last year, when all we talked about was how badly things we going, this morning we talked about how M was succeeding.   He still has some challenges, particularly during transitions and during recess.   But for the most part, he is getting through the day sucessfully.  He isn’t asking to go home or telling the staff how much he hates school.  He has a smile on his face most of the time.   And even better, the principal hardly ever sees him – she told us she has to seek him out, rather that him coming to her.  Last year, he spent a lot of time in her office – sometimes more than in class.

We spent a few minutes chatting without M in the room.   Then the principal invited M into her office so he could participate in the conversation.   The principal and his teacher both told him that they thought he was doing well.   The principal reminded him that this time last year was a completely different story.   Although he doesn’t like to talk about last year very much, he did agree that things were significantly better.    

M was clearly a little uncomfortable during the conversation and was wiggling around in his seat.  He pulled one of his legs into his lap and kept tugging on one of his socks.   Usually when the discussion is going in a direction M doesn’t like, about his behaviour, he tends to check out and either refuses to participate in the conversation or starts being silly.  This morning he listened to what was being said and answered the questions posed by his teacher and the principal.

Two things really struck me about what the principal said to M.  First, she stressed to him that he was learning to manage his behaviour himself.  He has an Educational Assistant who is with him for a good part of the day, but as she noted to M, the EA can’t make act in a certain way.  It’s M who is deciding how to react to certain situations that a year ago would have caused him to strike out or completely meltdown.  Yes, he has support, from his EA and his teacher, but M is the one who is making the decisions.  And he’s making lots of good ones. 

I think this was an important message for M to hear.  For the last number of years, most of the feedback he has gotten at school has been negative.   He’s a smart child and even if no one was telling him directly that he was messing up, he understood that his behaviour was problematic.   Not just because he spent so much time with the principal or got sent home, but because other children didn’t want to hang out with him, either in class or outside.  M’s school is very strict about bullying but kids are tricky creatures and they can let fly with an insult when the adults aren’t looking.  And they can communicate their displeasure with another child by ignoring them or just not letting them participate in a game or activity. 

So today M’s didn’t hear any criticism. He just heard praise. 

The other important message that M heard from the principal is that H is a caring person.  She related a recent incident about M giving a spontaneous hug to another child who was upset.  M said he hugged him because the child was his friend.  But this is not the first time M has done this.Despite the fact, that he is often on the carpet for trying to hurt another child, M has the capacity for kindness.  He is particularly able to recognize when someone else is struggling.  And he cares enough to try to help.   Most often, he will reach out to the children he considers his friends.  He has more trouble expressing or showing empathy to children he doesn’t like.

As I explained to M later in the day, he has a big heart.   I suggested the next step is to help him use that as a starting to be kind and respectful to everyone, including people he doesn’t care for.  I pointed out to him that while we can teach him lots of things, but we can’t teach him to have a big heart.   Which he clearly does.  M is a lot of things, but he isn’t mean.   After the discussion this morning, I am optimistic that we can help him draw on on his innate kindness and caring more and more, rather than striking out.

Next week is a break from school.   Winter will soon be over.  Even M recognizes that January and February are tough for him.  I am under no illusion that it will be smooth sailing for the rest of the year – that is just not M’s path.  But thanks to the meeting this morning, he will be able to spend the next week absorbing positive messages.  It will be a nice change.


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