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  • Three years ago, in my eighth year as principal of the school’s Pretoria campus, we had a principals’ meeting. The others mentioned their allowances for their professional development.

    I knew Terry had just been to Malta for an educational technology conference and John had been somewhere cool in Europe earlier that year.

    In your budgets, I asked?

    Robyn nodded.

    Fiscally, I am a slow learner. The social connection buzz and smorgasbord approach to learning at conferences leaves me cold but, fair is fair. The next year I had a budget line too.

    I wanted more than a trip. I wanted something that would make a difference. Looking over opportunities I came across Howard Glasser and his book, Transforming the Difficult Child.

    That January, I was in Tucson attending the Nurtured Heart Advanced Training Workshop along with close to 100 others. There were teams from school districts across the US. A couple of guys who ran a halfway house in Manchester, UK. A therapist from Northern Ireland. Psychiatrists and social workers working with families, addiction, foster care from around the world. Parents and professionals all desperate for something to repair shattered families and rebuild lives. All seeking an antidote to the fallout and collateral damage that modern resources and behaviour patterns have wrought on children and families.

    The premise is simple, deceptively so. Consider an educational setting.

    The class acts up. The teacher goes into action.

    The class is busily working. The teacher takes a break, everything is OK.

    After a while the message is clear. If you want the teacher’s energy, act up.

    Kids know that about adults in general. They want the energy of attention, recognition, engagement. Our energy. If they follow the rules, are good, more often than not, they are ignored.

    Watch teachers on recess duty. When everything is OK they chat and talk with each other. Kids want attention, they know to create a disturbance.

    Kids also know adults are basically low stamina in the limit setting department. Professionals talk about children testing limits. A lot of the time it’s the fact that they know if they persist the adults in their lives will give in, give up, back off.

    Put it all together and you have kids who have learned to wind adults up to get attention and energy, and who are convinced by consistent experiential data that adults rarely mean what they say especially if it means getting up off the couch.

    What it takes is a basic adjustment in terms of our behaviour. We need to pour our energy into recognizing the positives.

    Think back to a time at a playground.

    Kids call out, “Look at me.”

    “See what I can do.”

    “Watch me.”

    Recognizing the positive is as simple as saying what you see.

    But, as in so many simple shifts, it takes a warrior’s relentless heart to follow the basics.

    I brought copies of Howie’s book for every staff member at my school.

    I used the technique with staff. There is a hush, and sudden intentness that comes through a conversation when I stop and, from the heart, explain what I see them do and how it makes me feel. They look at me differently then. At first they brushed it off. Our Teflon coating for positives is remarkable. But after a time, they hear. I can feel them listening back with their hearts.

    I asked them to take a 30 minute time in class and note the number of positives and negatives they give the kids. I did it as part of a class and was shocked to see that, on my best days, I barely broke even.

    Even so, two year later, I watch teachers struggling with classroom management.

    The difference in what we may hear and appreciate is so very far from what we can produce on our own. Even in the simplest of things.

    I still walk into quiet rooms. Kids engaged. Intent. The teacher smiles relieved that I have walked in when everything is in order.

    The kids look up with different expectations. They know me. Some call out, some ask without words.
    “Did you see that? Did you see what I can do?”

    I weave through the tables, stop by each one because these are lost moments, missed opportunities unless we say, “Yes. I see what you are doing. I see you.”
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