They were twins. One showed up ready to write, and the other showed up ready for a fight. Our session started at 8:00 am, and by 8:05, I knew it was going to be a very long week at writing camp.
“I need you to take a seat,” I said softly, placing a light hand on the fighter’s back.
He wasn’t taking a seat.
And the rest of the kids were watching me: What would I do? How would I react?
Would I just let him NOT take seat after I explicitly asked him to take a seat?
The suspense was building with each passing minute.
He placed his hands on a pair of desks that stood next to each other, hoisted himself up until his feet were dangling, and began swinging between both desks. He seemed to need this.
I realized that he wasn’t ignoring me. He simply wasn’t listening. I don’t think he was able to. There were too many other voices competing for attention inside of his head, and I was just some lady he didn’t know leading a writing camp session that he didn’t want to attend.
I left him swinging and began my lesson from another corner of the room. The other students turned in the chairs to track me. We learned some things together, and then, they turned their attention to their notebooks and screens. Pens began flying. Fingers skipped across keys. They were writing.
And he kept right on swinging.
I wasn’t sure what to do.
“He’s a bit different from most kids,” another teacher in the room smiled quietly, making me feel like less of a failure. She’d worked with him all year, and I was new. She knew him, and I didn’t.
“He’s really funny. And smart. And kind.”
And that’s when I began smiling, too.
“He really loves to read,” she said. “He just can’t sit still.”
I wondered how I could help him write without making him sit still, and how on earth did he read without sitting?
I also wondered how everyone else in the room would come to know his strengths, even as he violated one of the longest running classroom norms in history.
“Well,” I said, “he doesn’t have to sit still to be a great writer or writing community member.”
A Promising Practice
Thankfully, Ellen was with me that week. She’d been telling me about the VIA Character Strengths for some time and had even gone to the trouble of purchasing a massive mat and manipulatives that could help students come to understand and identify with them. On that first day, we scattered them across tables and invited writers to wander the room, identifying their strengths. As the week unfolded, we used them to reflect on our growth as writers and as group members.
Finally, writers were invited to spot the strengths in other writers.
That kid who wouldn’t take a seat? He ended up leaving quite an impression on his classmates.
“You’re really creative,” someone suggested.
“And funny too,” another said.
“I think that you’re very humble,” a voice called from the back of the crowd, and for the first time that week, the kid who wouldn’t take a seat found himself taking a seat. Then, he turned away from his classmates, his face beaming with pride and that brand of embarrassment we enjoy when too many people offer too many kind words about us at once, and we aren’t quite sure what to say.
Strength spotting caught him completely off-guard, knocking him right off of his feet.
As the remainder of the week unfolded, the kid who wouldn’t take a seat drafted an entire short story on his laptop--while standing. He wandered the room seeking feedback. He even offered some to others.
Ellen noticed that every ten minutes or so, he’d stop what he was doing and return to his two desks to swing a bit, but nobody really cared, and even I didn’t mind.
I could tell that he had a lot going on inside that great big brain of his. There were many voices, competing for his attention. I’m pretty sure that some of ours were a part of that great choir.
Interested in learning more about the VIA Character Strengths? Drop by their website, and tell them that we sent you.
A Tool for You
Would you like to try strength spotting in your own classroom? We’ve designed a free tool that makes doing so quite easy. Just subscribe to our site, and we’ll send it your way. You'll find a link on the homepage of our blog and our site.
And come chat with us on Facebook or Twitter. We’d love to hear your story and learn more about how you are designing a compassionate classroom.
Finally, you might be interested in getting a parent's take on this experience. Ellen was there, and she's written a response to this post, from the perspective of a parent who has a kid who needs to move.