“Mr. Pickerd, I just can’t do today!”
These words fainted out of her mouth as she drooped there in front of me.
“What on earth is wrong?” I asked.
This proved to be the right or wrong question at the wrong or right time…I couldn’t tell quite yet, because what poured out for the following minute or two became a litany of stressors in the life of this young student: test here, practice over there, paper due then, work in the meantime… The list continued. She felt driven to the point of confusion, of disarray, and was no longer able to focus on the moment.
My teacher (and more so my parent) heart wanted to sit her down and help her decide which of the too many activities was or were pressing her beyond her limits, but that wasn’t what she wanted. Time to put away the toolbox. She needed to lay it all out and be heard, nothing more at the time.
If this were an isolated situation, I might be able to chalk it up to a student who has opted to take on too much. That is not the case, though. This student walks, stands and sits alongside a host of others who try to take aim at the moving target of success. They grow up learning that being your best…always is the goal. Never stop. Try everything. Excel at it. Do all you can do every time.
This sounds great, and it has risen to the point of moral, familial, and social obligation for some. What is it doing to our learners though?
What is it doing to all of us?
One result is that when I believe this way, everyone around me holds the potential of being a competitor, someone who will keep me from being ranked number one.
Another outcome is that my brain never shuts off because I never run out of obligations calling on me to “be the best”.
Yet another is that I lose track of who I am…that is if I have taken (or better yet been given) the opportunity to consider it in the first place.
Back to the student… as my teacher heart and head began to calm down and collaborate, I looked for a way to understand exactly what stands behind all of this stress…what comes as a result…which risks linger. In doing so, I recognized that I stand little chance of changing the reality of the matter. Many of the causes and results of stress among students stand far beyond my zone of influence. Nonetheless, I recognized that I do have an opportunity to refuse participation in the creation of more stress in the lives of my students.
So, my summer reading list for summer 2017 grew. I googled “books on the brain” and began ordering from the local library. Some of the books were easy to grasp, while others stretched me. I agreed with what some posited; I set others aside. In the end though, through reading about the brain, I began to understand a bit more about my students…about myself.
How I encounter my students (all of them) makes a big difference. How I take time to really understand them means more than indicated by any study I have ever read. What I do with the physical space in the room to promote community and mobility speaks about how important our “team” is. I have learned a great deal about evaluating and using it to build up students and help them set personal goals, rather than allowing it to reflect how little they know. Most of all, I have learned to look at my students with a new clarity of who they are and are becoming…
that each comes with gifts that contribute to the whole and bless the rest of the class.
Resulting, I have learned to pay closer attention so that I can sense what the group needs and when: when to back off on the syllabus and engage with the class at a personal level, when to listen more and team build, when more time needs to be given for an assignment, etc...
So how does all of this have any connection to a stressed student?
It is more simple than we might imagine. Slowing down from time to time and looking at those around us brings us to a new perspective. We start to see the people around us in a new way. We begin to see our connectivity with them and how we can share with one another, learn from one another, and lift one another up… all of which give us an opportunity to understand that we are important, that we belong, and that we are not alone.
If I know that I am connected, that I am part of a group to which I belong, and that I am therefore not alone; I’m likely to experience a lower level of stress and therefore add to my potential for becoming.
I desire for my students to learn who they are and become those people, and I therefore am going to do
everything that I can to help them do so.
Perhaps then I will be less likely to have a student approach me and say, “Mr. Pickerd, I just can’t do today”
If you would like to watch a short Ted talk on this topic or read an article about it, please see the links below: