In order to combat the narrative the world presents to our students of who they are as people, from day one we present a new narrative. After spending the last several years working in different classrooms at Cornerstone Prep Lester in Binghampton, Memphis, we began co-teaching third grade this year with a focus on presenting this new narrative to our students. We narrate who each student is so he or she becomes that person. We also teach students the skills to follow the narrative we present. To the student who struggles with lying, we tell him he is not a liar, and give him opportunities to tell the truth. To the student who doesn’t complete her homework, we tell her she is someone who is prepared for each day with homework complete. We call the discouraged, courageous, and give her opportunities to be brave. We call the lazy, hardworking, and tell him how a hard working student acts. We call the angry, kind, and give him tools for anger management, as well as the words of kindness to pass along to his classmates. Our students need someone to believe in who they can be before they can move in the direction. We paint a picture of that future for them, and then give them the tools to move in that direction. We fight against the narrative of the world with a new narrative.
James came to us this year consistently struggling with emotional breakdowns and outbursts. He was self-aware of experiencing various intense emotions. He would speak phrases like “I’m irritated! I’m irritated!” while tearing at his clothes, ripping off his shoes, slamming his hands down on his desk, or collapsing in the hallway. James would sometimes come into school already emotionally charged or something would trigger him part way through the day. His classmates who had travelled through previous grades with James were never surprised by his breakdowns and outbursts.
We immediately went to work presenting a new narrative of who James was as a person. Everything we spoke to James had the same vein of truth in it – you can control yourself, and here are the tools. This was the narrative we wanted James to move toward, and we believed in him.
“James, you are not controlled by your irritation. You are the boss of your irritation. You are irritated, so use these words to tell us and use these strategies to calm down.”
“You are not someone who slams their desk. You are resilient when you get frustrated. You keep your head up. You work despite the frustration.”
We cannot even begin to describe the growth in this student. James still has meltdowns, but with less and less frequency. Students need adults to paint a new narrative of their future, while equipping them with the tools to move toward that future. We know what we believe as adults is displayed in our words and actions, and we want our students to emulate our good beliefs about them.