Every child has a story.
It doesn’t matter if they are entering pre-kindergarten or getting ready to graduate next week, they have a story.
That story, their narrative, is everything.
As educators, I think we often find ourselves in the mindset that our job is to teach content...and content alone. Before going into administration I taught fifth and sixth grade, and I was very much under that impression. I knew relationships were important, I knew my students needed to know how much I cared about them, and their success. Yet what I lacked, what I failed to see, was the reality that every child comes with a unique background, a different story, and one that shapes the way they come to school, the way they learn, and the way they grow.
Our students need to understand, need to know, that we see them for who they are...amazingly wonderful individuals.
It doesn’t matter which school you work at, the demographics you serve, the percentage of free or reduced lunches provided, the number of parents in the home, or the vocabulary they use… None of that matters, because every child has a story that is vital to who they are, no child is exempt from having one. So in order to truly be effective, in order to truly reach every child, in order to be the best educators possible I believe we need to do all things with this thought in mind: My students all have a story, are all individuals, and every one of them needs to know I love them, will take care of them, and know I will do all I can to understand what they need to learn and feel safe.
What would happen if an entire school decided to put love first?
As a Christian, my faith, and everything I believe in, is founded on the idea of love. I don’t believe in human perfection, I don’t believe in a life without mistakes, I don’t believe in judgment, and I certainly will never believe in the idea of anyone not being good enough to be loved and accepted for who they are.
So I must ask again, what would happen if an entire school decided to put love first? What would happen if an entire staff focused on building genuine relationships with each other beyond the surface, always assumed the positive, and decided to support each other, rather than see the flaws we are naturally going to have since we are all human? What would happen if an entire staff decided their mission is about building students up, their mission is about focusing on the positive, their mission is about understanding why a student is struggling so we can best support him? What would happen?
Teaching requires grace.
A child’s story can often help provide the reason for needing grace. Yet how often in moments of frustration is it easier to send a child away rather than remember their story? How often do we find our frustration begin to take over with a student refusing to work, when the truth is his story is one of brokenness, a lack of success, and a need for forgiveness? How often do we tire of that student who wants to answer every question out loud without raising his hand, only to forget he is starved for attention at home, and is expected to get all A’s and just wants someone to see him for all his efforts? How often do we tire of the student throwing his things, only to forget a diagnosis that would be so challenging if it was us in his shoes?
We have no power to control a child’s story before they come to us, regardless of what that story might be: Homeless, broken, tired, has seen things no child should, has successful parents too tired to invest in him, everything has always come easy to her, struggles to see his value, regrets her past decisions… What we can control however, is the story that takes place after they enter our building and classrooms… I never felt more safe than at school, I was never more recognized and accepted than at school, I never felt success like I did at school, I was truly loved in my second home - called school.
Every child's story matters. Maybe it’s time we start to focus on that narrative, and believe academic success will come when a child truly feels loved, supported, accepted, and heard. After all...If we focus on love, if we focus on grace, how could we possibly go wrong?