I have recently made a new friend. She is all about fashion, with flashy purple glasses and outfits full of glitter and glitz. What I know about her is that she is NOT a morning person, she loves books by Mo Williems, and that she has a gorgeous smile when she is proud of herself.
I also know that reading and math are hard for her, and that it is frustrating when she wants to be a good student but feels like she can’t. At those moments, her brain gets “stuck” and her feet carry her out of the room. Her arms begin to wave, the tears stand out in her eyes, and she begins to escape, then turns to come back, then turns to escape again. The war between wanting so very much to be a good student and the panic at her own skill gaps plays out with each step of her booted feet.
She is grateful for my presence, but she is not ready to hear my voice and make a plan. She is not in a state where a caring gesture would be helpful. To her, that is a signal that she has lost her struggle to be with the group. She comes to an abrupt stop, the tug of war at a momentary stand still. This is my window.
“We are going to go for a walk,” I say, and she stalks down the hallway away from her classroom. I stay a few steps behind her power walk, as she is still not ready for interaction. On our second lap of the school her small fists have slowly unclenched themselves, and the clicking of her boot heels on the tile floors have become less forceful. “Whoa,” I say, with all the inflection I can muster, “Look at that!”
She stops, and gives me a side eye glance. She knows what I am up to, but she allows it to happen. Her boots take her over to where I am standing, and her breathing slows as whatever it is I have pointed out on the bulletin board allows her to disengage from the fight in her head and pauses long enough for me to help her.
“Let’s keep walking. To the gym,” I say, and this time we walk side by side. We begin a casual conversation, about her likes, and what she has to look forward to this weekend. We start to label how these things will make her feel, what “zone” she will be in. Then, as we reach the gym and about face to make another lap of the school, we circle back to the current situation and talk about our zones again. By the time we near her classroom, we have made a plan to go back inside.
Sometimes, my friend is able to use her walking feet to scoot right back into her room and to her desk. Sometimes, her feet screech to a halt just outside the door and her face begins to close up again. We keep going, another lap or two, and try again.
These are my favorite parts of the day: it may seem time consuming, but I love being able to help this student. Not just because of the sparkle her style brings into my world, but because she is trying so hard to do her best. And that is the best kind of student!