Committee for Children Blog

Build, Seek, Learn: A Student’s Connection to School

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This week's Committee for Children blog post is from Senior Program Developer Bridgid Normand.

WashingtonMy first teaching assignment was at a small school in a very poor neighborhood of London where the boys played soccer incessantly out on the paved yard with the high wire fence and the girls hung around the edges talking and watching the boys. One of the best soccer players was Paul. But he was also the talk of the teachers’ room and he was in my class. The other teachers warned me that no one could get him to do his work, and he made constant jokes in class. They were right. For the first few weeks he made my life miserable. Not only was he very resistant in his own quiet way, but he was also very funny. I went home at night puzzled and often despairing.

One day when he had to stay in at recess for not doing his schoolwork, I invited him to help me set up for an art activity. This involved carrying a large bucket of water up the stairs into the classroom so we could have water to mix paints and wash brushes. Much to my surprise, he was visibly cheerful as he hauled up the large bucket. We chatted about this and that as we set up the paints. The next day he asked if he could stay in again and help hang up the paintings.

And slowly, over a period of a few weeks, Paul became my most consistent helper. He began to take pride in the classroom. He completed his work. He stopped acting the clown in class. I grew to see that behind his veneer of resistance, there lay a sensitive boy hungry for connection. As I came to know him better, I learned of harsh treatment at home by an older brother and an alcoholic father, and of meager family resources. 

What I learned that first year from Paul was a profound and lasting lesson for me. It provided a path to follow with each and every child: Build a relationship. Seek the good within. Learn the story. I learned that each and every child yearns for connection. Now many years later, as a program developer here at Committee for Children, I have become familiar with the volume of research attesting to the critical importance of building positive relationships with students. But it was Paul who showed me the way.

Next week's blog post will be from Sherry Burke, director of program development and research, who will tell us how her previous work with communities to address problem behaviors informs her current work in prevention education.