The students attending the alternate school were great teachers.
I do realize that they arrived at the alternate setting to be counselled and taught by me and the other teachers in the building. But I am also certain of one thing. While we provided the opportunity for them to learn and thrive in that unique school setting, I was also transformed through the experience.
These particular students had all been indefinitely suspended from the regular school setting due to behavioural issues such as chronic absenteeism, non-application to their studies, drug or alcohol abuse, and violence.
The majority tended to come from homes that faced challenges including various forms of abuse and violence, addictions, mental health issues, poverty, and significant brokenness.
Generally these students were quite creative, bright, and perceptive. And they were definitely honest, opinionated, outspoken, and very street savvy.
I grew to understand that they were like round pegs who had been trying to fit into the square holes of public school. And in the end, they and their schools were unable to make it work.
So they were sent to the alternate school, which allowed them to work at their own pace with the provision of additional supports.
Very quickly I learned that trust was going to be key. Because with out it, the negative patterns that they had experienced in their families and previous schools were just going to be repeated.
For when significant adults had shattered their trust – in their pain they had responded with negative behaviours ranging from defiance or withdrawing. All of which further contributed to a downward spiral of poor communication, an increase in negative emotions such as frustration and anger, failure, and broken relationships.
These adults would tell them that something was important, yet do something different. They would make a commitment, but not follow through. They demanded respect, but showed little or no respect in return. They had told them they were loved, and then abandoned them and their families.
As a result, these students had been deeply wounded. They were guarded. And very tentative about engaging with anyone until they had decided whether they were worthy of trust.
So they scrutinized us. Assessing whether our words and our actions were congruent.
Evaluating whether we consistently followed through on our promises and commitments.
They tested us. Seeking to discover whether we would persevere. Whether we would continue to invest in them, even when they lost their tempers or were absent for extended periods of time or shared some shocking, heartbreaking story from their lives.
Establishing whether we were committed, and cared enough, to be relentlessly and consistently honest with them, even when it meant they needed to be confronted or rebuked.
They wanted to know if we would stick, and they could rely on us.
And so, working with these students deepened my understanding of trust. They taught me that trust is earned when our words and actions consistently match. When we speak with honesty and respect.
And our words are lived out in our behaviour.
Where our word is our bond. When we say we will do something, we do it, or we reschedule it. Never, ever letting the commitment or promise slip away, forgotten.
Trust is a treasured gift, and a sacred responsibility. It must be earned and nurtured. It is key in developing and maintaining good and solid and loving relationships. Creating the fertile soil where growth and transformation can become real possibilities.
For an index of all my posts in the series, please click here.
Photo credits: Redd Angelo, Jose Murillo, from Unsplash