Piling On

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers

While I realize that the football season just officially ended, I can’t help but think that we in education are continuing to imitate a technique often seen in this national pastime. It is one that annoys me every time I see it and yet I am beginning to think that I am sometimes guilty of it myself.

It didn’t hit me until last weekend when I overheard my wife reprimanding our daughter. I was in the other room, but I could not believe my ears. My daughter knew better than to do what she had just done. Her attitude and actions were wrong. I was a second away from storming into the room and reiterating what my wife had just said when it hit me.

One scolding at that moment in time was probably enough. That didn’t mean that she wouldn’t need another strict reminder later on in the day. But at that very moment my daughter did not need to hear it from me that she had messed up. She knew it.

And yet I think, how often do we do this to our students? Many of our students are broken and bent before they even walk through our door each morning. We know who they are. They are already down.

So why do we continue to pile on?

Don’t get me wrong. There are certain situations and circumstances that require more than one adult to intervene. And there are certain students that might need more frequent reminders than others. But we should be able to identify these by now. We are the adults. Furthermore, I think we must ask ourselves, will our actions make the situation better or worse? If the answer is worse, then I think we must re-evaluate what we are doing.

I am not implying that we ignore bad decision-making or that we let things go. But I do believe that oftentimes the end result of a pile on is a more beaten and battered person. That limps away. By themselves.

Is that what we are after?

We must stop weakening our warriors. If not, how will they continue to find the energy and the motivation to come back and fight another day?

This past Friday I was hovering near the pile myself. I had already begun writing this post, so I should have been more aware. But sometimes, in the moment, clarity of thought and purpose isn’t always what we’d hope it would be. I was called to a classroom to help with a student who was, and is always, in a state of crisis. He is a student who probably spends most of his days at the bottom of the pile. Granted he does require many adults to help meet his needs.

But we’re not meeting them.

Once I got to the classroom and told him that I needed him to speak with me, he literally sprinted out of the room. I was able to get him to come into my office and I was hoping that he would talk to me about what was going on. What was causing him to continue to make poor choices? As I am writing this though I realize that I knew the answer to that question and did not really even need to ask it. He is worn down and exhausted as a result of being piled on day after day after day. He has the ability to see the pile forming and he knows all too well what it feels like to be at the bottom. So he runs from it.

For a few brief moments I was able to calm him down and get him to forget about the pile. But then he could see the look in my eyes and knew that I in fact was someone who had been on the top of that pile before. He saw me hovering. Hovering because I did not want him to run away. Hovering, because I was more concerned about him running away. When I should have been more focused on helping him regain strength. Helping him walk a little taller.

Just when he was about ready to break away from my office a colleague of mine entered the room. And he could tell right away that she was not in uniform. She was here to help him, not pile on. She hugged him and he knew right away that he was safe. Her purpose was to help him back up. Not keep him down. And lift him up she did.

I learned much in that moment.

I learned that I have much to learn about this game called Life. I am getting better with the help of those around me and I will continue to grow with each new day.

More than anything I learned that I don’t need to pile on. That oftentimes a hug or a held hand can be much more effective than what I see on Sundays. I’m glad the season is over.

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7 Comments Leave a comment

  1. We have to find ways to help kids into winning streaks. Just like leaders find ways for their organizations to have small wins, building momentum towards success, we can do this on an individual basis with students we work with each day in our schools and clasrooms. When kids feel like winners, they feel safe.

  2. Jon,

    What a great reminder! In my role, I am often privvy to the “Pile Ons” that occur when a student has made poor choices. As adults, we are often talking about the disciplinary response that is required, how to respond to a situation that has occurred. I’m not sure, though, that we are always thinking about how to reach out a hand to the student who is down and needs help to stand stronger, and to make better choices in the future. I have a colleague who is fantastic at this – he always makes sure that he is communicating directly with the student on his/her level about how to change, and the help that will be needed to do so. I need to emulate his example, and be sure that I am not a part of the “piling on.”

  3. Jon, what a great reminder that it is our CHOICE whether we contribute to the piling on or whether we reach in with a hand to pull someone out from under the pile. By extending our hand, it doesn’t mean that we condone anything or allow someone to “get away with something” that they shouldn’t. It means that we choose to find another way to change a student’s behavior besides burying their face in the dirt. We have to make sure that educators know techniques other than piling on so that they are empowered themselves to empower others.

  4. Wow! I never thought of this in this way. It was an amazing eye-opener. Thank you for that. As admin I should know better than to be a part of the pile. I will definitely think of this each time now.

  5. I start each morning with a simple prayer for my students. “Help me to see Christ in them and for them to see Christ in me.” I am going to add “Help me to reach out my hand and pull them up and not pile on.” This is such a powerful reminder. Thank you.

  6. Jon, this resonates with me for two reasons. One, when we consider the idea that we sometimes, “weaken our warriors” we forget that we need to remain by our warriors’ sides and “fight the good fight” together. And two, I appreciate the image of being “at the bottom of the pile”. That’s never easy, but we know that there are valuable lessons that take place there. Our job continues to be an important one – to instill “the fight” for those “under the pile”. Thanks for always being there for others when deep in “the pile”.

    Dennis

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