Yesterday was Field Day at Jane’s elementary School. Obviously, I found this wildly exciting:
But come on… FIELD DAY! What could possibly be more fun?!?
When I was a kid, Field Day was my day of triumph. I got to shock people every year with the fact that I could RUN. I was fast. I guess I didn’t look particularly athletic. And, to be honest, my parents didn’t really push sports. And coming home dirty from school was frowned upon. So, yeah, rough & tumble wasn’t really my game. Which made it even more fun to kick ass every year in the field day race. (To be fair, I usually wasn’t first. I typically placed a solid second–which was just ass-kickey enough to suit my taste.)
Imagine my complete confusion yesterday when some kids didn’t want to participate in Field Day. WHAT?
Look, I know all kids are different. I know that some kids really don’t dig outdoor stuff. And there were definitely those kids. But I got the nagging feeling that, for some of the kids, something else was at play.
It didn’t come together for me until last night, when I attended a Social Emotional Learning training at Jane’s school. We were discussing the roll of community meetings in SEL–that’s when the kids get together each morning to greet each other and sometimes to share a bit about what’s going on in their worlds. Greeting each other by name is important, the instructor noted, because some children rarely hear their names associated with something positive.
Even a kid like Jane hears things all the time like “JANE! Pick up your clothes off the floor.” “JANE! Did you take the dog out?!” “JANE! We HAVE TO GO. Hurry UP.” And Jane comes from a non-financially-stressed, co-parenting household with one parent who doesn’t work full-time (and another who does). So, basically, on paper Jane’s got a good thing going over here and often her name is used to fuss/redirect/scold. What’s it like for other kids?
Flash back to field day: Jane’s teacher is hugging a little girl who doesn’t want to participate, while giving race instructions to the other kids. Once she finishes with the instructions and general corralling of children (which is like herding cats), she refocuses all of her attention on the crying kid. She uses the little girl’s name repeatedly, telling her how much fun she’ll have, how everyone will cheer her on, how she’ll be so proud of herself when she’s finished. Jane’s teacher can do this because she’s spent ALL YEAR building a relationship with her students, reinforcing a safe-space atmosphere where the kids encourage & cheer for each other. The teacher was being totally straight-up when she told the little girl that her classmates would cheer for her. That’s what they do for each other. That’s what she’s taught them, coached them, encouraged them to do.
The little girl ran the race. And she came back beaming. And sure enough, the kids cheered her on, yelling her name the whole time.
I don’t know the little girl’s story. Maybe she was just having an off day. Maybe she isn’t encouraged a lot to try new things. Maybe she was just afraid of failing (aren’t we all?). But I do know that having an adult who really SAW her helped her take a leap and do something she was unsure of. And she was GREAT the rest of the day.
Being around Jane’s school a lot has changed me in many ways. I’ve definitely pushed myself to be more empathetic, to connect with kids, and to always go with kind first. Every kid has a different story. If I’m patient and caring enough, they just might trust me with that story one day. And, to me, there’s no greater honor than a kid telling me what’s on their heart.
Oh, and it turns out that Jane might enjoy racing at Field Day just as much as I did when I was a kid:
I’ll count that as a win.