The human brain is nothing less than amazing.
We certainly have some control over our thoughts, but in many ways, our brains operate on their own terms. Just consider the number of thoughts that your process throughout a given day.
Yesterday, I went for a vigorous desert hike (after a challenging week at work) in hopes of “quieting my brain.” It was a great hike — stunningly beautiful and relaxing in it’s own way — but, my brain was anything but quiet. Instead, it used the endorphin boost to shift into an extensive problem solving session. It was so productive I am considering the possibility of moving my office to the Superstition Wilderness.
Lately, I have struggled with some student behaviors I have seen at our school. It has been very stressful for me and I know it is taking a toll on my staff. I am concerned about the academic, social, and emotional impact it is having on our students. The behaviors are something that must be addressed, but that process is easier said than done — there is not an easy solution.
I’ll be honest, I am not a strict disciplinarian — I see things in gray. Not black and white. My mindset on issues of behavior has been shaped by people like Dr. Ross Greene (Lost at School), and Dr. Allen Mendler and the late Dr. Richard Curwin (Discipline with Dignity). I am a believer in the notion that behavior is a symptom and a successful intervention will include the student as a partner in an effort to address the root cause of the behavior(s). It is a challenging, and time-consuming, process.
But, this post is not about discipline, or behavior. It is about what determines our value as human beings and how we make that assessment. Specifically, it is about how adults, and society at large, “help” students develop their sense of value. That being said, a student’s sense of value certainly impacts their attitude toward school (and life), as well as their behavior.
At a very young age, we begin to shape a child’s sense of value and whether intentional, or not, much of it is dependent upon their performance, appearance and/or behavior. For example:
We begin sports at an early age and many of these leagues are extremely intense and competitive. Kids quickly learn to assess their ability (or inability) to adequately compete with peers.
We assign grades and test scores and place students in percentiles and on “data walls.” Imagine the cumulative impact of twelve years of failing grades and being told you are academically performing in the bottom quartile of your peers.
We compete for spots in prestigious schools. I’m not alluding to colleges students applying to Harvard and Stanford. I’m talking about pre-school and kindergarten programs. We even have schools within our public school system that send the message that certain students are not “good enough” to attend which also implies that the school they do attend is inferior. To make matters worse, adults believe and perpetuate this narrative.
Through television, movies, and social media, we bombard our kids with images of perfection. We perpetuate the false message that value is dependent upon looks, wealth, fame, or possessions.
We don’t spend enough time listening to our students and helping them understand that their academic performance and behavior are entirely separate from their value as a person. Yes, these things matter, but they do not define worth.
How could all of this not impact a students sense of self-worth and their perceived value as a person? It does, and it is causing huge problems. Not just behavior in school, but mental health issues that impact student performance, outlook on life, and mental health. I am not an expert, but we currently have a suicide crisis in this country and I can’t help but believe that a misguided sense of personal value plays a significant role.
So what is the solution? I don’t have the answer, but I am going to ask you to try two things this week.
First, tell your students, your kids, your colleagues — anyone — the following:
Your value as a human being is not dependent upon a grade, a test score, your behavior, the school you attend, or what other people think. You are infinitely valuable just the way you are. Period.
Be sure your kids understand that their value as a human being is not something that is earned, or lost.
Second, go a week without judging other people.
I am going to tell you right now that is impossible. We make hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny judgments about people every day — people we know and those we don’t. In fact, look at a stranger and see what pops into your brain — it may, or may not, be pretty.
When you do find yourself judging other people, take the time to “walk your brain back,” demonstrate empathy, and remember that this is a person of infinite value. See if this doesn’t change your outlook on the individual and humanity.
Personally, I still have a long way to go. I hope you will join me in the endeavor. Our humanity is at stake.
I hope that someday we will learn the terrible cost we all pay when we ignore or mismanage those people in society who most need our help. — Hon. Judge Sandra Hamilton