A few years ago, I was standing outside of a classroom, while one of the children I worked with ran up and down the hallway tearing things off the walls. He was having a full-blown meltdown and I was standing there, waiting it out, ready to intervene 1) if anyone was at risk of getting hurt or 2) when he started to calm down so we could talk it out.
I had my eye on the situation. And I knew exactly when it was appropriate for me to approach this child. Yet, the thing about doing this OUTSIDE of the classroom – in the hallway where parents and administrators were walking up and down the stairs, wondering what the hell was going on – is that we were both exposed to public criticism and judgment.
He was viewed as being a “behavior problem” and I was viewed as the teacher who “wasn’t handling it.”
From the outside looking in, I looked like I was just watching the incident. Not intervening. Not making the problem disappear.
It was uncomfortable for me. I wanted to pull every adult to the side and tell them, “Don’t worry. I’m handling this.” But, I couldn’t do that. I didn’t have time for that. Because I needed to keep an eye on this child. The objective was to approach the child at just the right time. I knew I needed to let this play out, let him express his emotions. But I also knew I would need to intervene if it escalated to the point of hurting himself or another child.
I also didn’t want to step in too early. Because attention was what he was after most days. And giving him attention in the midst of this whole thing would only reinforce the behavior and I didn’t want him to think he needed to do this to get my attention.
So, no. I couldn’t exactly pull every adult to the side and say, “Hey. Don’t worry. I’ve got this.” Because, in doing so, I would lose sight of what I was attempting to do.
Reassuring others that I was doing the right thing was not as important as DOING the right thing. Because, by turning my attention away from the moment, I would immediately have stopped doing the thing I was supposed to be doing.
So I continued to focus my efforts on this child. Because, deep down, I knew that what I was doing was the RIGHT thing. I had such a strong relationship with this child and I was able to identify his triggers and predict his escalation cycle. I knew that it would only be a few more minutes until he calmed himself down and we could have a productive conversation about how he could have handled things differently. And I knew that he would then practice using some of the coping tools he had learned from his counseling sessions.
And then, together, we’d walk back into the safety of our classroom – where his teacher and his friends knew the process in which we come back from these moments. He would apologize to his teacher, attempt to repair any physical damage he made, and explain to his class how he was feeling. His class would then give him suggestions on what he could do when he was feeling a certain way.
The safety of a good classroom is a beautiful thing. You have this culture you create where your kids understand each other and know what to expect day in and day out. They understand that certain kids need a few extra check-ins throughout the day and they just carry on with their work until the child returns.
The few times that these moments would trigger discomfort in me was when the behavior slipped “out there.” Out there in the hallway where people had the potential to see how I “wasn’t handling it” by standing by, waiting for him to come down from it.
The outside observers were there for minutes. Seconds. A snapshot of this child’s journey.
They weren’t there watching the productive conversation that came after. They weren’t there when I praised him for using a self-soothing technique. And they weren’t there every day for the past three months, noticing that these escalation cycles were becoming more and more infrequent and lasted minutes instead of hours.
They weren’t my priority.
And I knew the minute the outsiders became my priority was the minute I was going to lose my child and all the growth we had made together.
Over time, I realized that people will have their opinions. They will make an assumption about my ability as an educator with a 2-second snapshot of how I handled a situation. (Or their perception of how I handled it).
But I knew – in my heart-of-heart – that I was doing right by the child. I was doing what was best for the kid. I knew – deep down – that my approach with this child was working and that was all I needed.
There was no need for me to stop and justify what I was doing. There was no need for me to have a conversation with the parents – reassuring them that I had it under control.
I had it under control.
I just knew it.
It’s been nearly two years since then. Two years since I was standing outside the classroom door, eye on my child, ignoring the confused looks and quiet judgment.
Two years since I had this realization.
But it’s only now that I’m realizing how applicable this is to LIFE. Not just in the classroom. Not just with my students. But a lesson I’m realizing about my own self and my own journey.
When you know that what you’re doing is right and when you know that what you’re doing is coming from a place of love, you don’t need to stop what you’re doing to justify your actions to anyone.
You don’t need to second guess yourself.
You don’t need to feel discomfort.
Because when your attention goes to these people or these feelings of guilt, you lose sight of what is important. The thing that you’ve shown up for.
All that you need to do is check in with yourself. Turn inward. Ask yourself, “Am I doing right by my self and the people affected? Am I doing this from a place of love?”
There is no need for you to seek external validation when you know – in your heart-of-hearts – that what you are doing is right.
Question of the Day:
- We all seek external validation. No matter how hard we try to turn inward, our society is constructed in such a way that we seek approval from the people around us. Our supervisors, our spouses, our kids, the strangers on the subway. It will never disappear completely. All we can do is work on turning inward – little by little. Who is it that you find yourself seeking validation from? Analyze that a little bit and figure out why. Are you doing the right thing? Is it coming from a place of love? Then why do you feel you seek external validation?