From the outset I will admit to a breach of copyright in regards to the term “relationship currency.” I stole it from my husband who brought it up when we were discussing whether it’s fair for a classroom teacher to have to discipline a child who misbehaved in a lesson with a different teacher.
He said that he would think carefully about whether it would be worth spending some of his relationship currency, or capital, dealing with the issue. Trust an ex financial planner to liken his student/teacher interactions to transactions. But it really is brilliant.
I have witnessed more than my fair share of moments when all of the deposits I made into a child’s self-esteem account get withdrawn in one foul swoop.
For example, one boy in a previous class was particularly hard to motivate. A discussion revealed that he identifies himself as being naughty, and unworthy of kindness. At home he seemed perpetually grounded and his own worst critic.
Since hearing of this, I tried to prove to him that he is in fact deserving of kindness, no matter what behaviour he tried to use to “put me off” (although some days he succeeded at this a little more than others; I am human!)
I tried many things to make this boy smile. I’d given him the opportunity to be a roaming reporter and take photos in the classroom. I’d encouraged him to use his tech skills to help others in the classroom so he had a sense of purpose. I’d asked him to read to preps while everyone else was silently reading so that his goal (improving his fluency and expression) was made relevant and meaningful.
Over time, these little gestures appeared to sand away at the chip on his shoulder, and I was rewarded with seeing him smile. And even laugh, which made me laugh too.
One such time was when I was sitting on the edge of pool directing a game of “ship to shore” and he swam down under my feet, allowing his head to be my footrest. He struggles to get in and out of the pool quickly, meaning he would not last long in our game, but instead of complaining or distracting others or misbehaving, he made me laugh while offering me a kindness. I chalked this up as a success.
One morning when this boy was particularly reluctant to go to a specialist lesson, I asked him to help shelve books in the library. He jumped at the opportunity, and told me he knew what to do. He was completely absorbed in the task for the whole half hour. A visitor in the library remarked at how quickly and efficiently he returned the books to their rightful spaces on the shelves. We even called him a “machine” and thanked him for making everyone else’s job so much easier. He beamed and asked if he could help out in the library at the same time each week. I beamed too and happily agreed. This kid’s self-esteem account was finally getting some real credits.
Now for the withdrawal. Later that day another person in the library was looking for a book and noticed that all of the shelving that the boy had done was wrong. Assuming that he had done it on purpose, or as a joke, they found him on the playground and told him “not to bother to shelve books again.”
When he came into class, he was crestfallen. I could tell that something was wrong but he didn’t want to talk to me about it. He refused to do any work and began to walk around distracting others. I managed to pull him aside and gently persuaded him to confide in me.
You could see the disappointment and anger in his eyes when he said that he would not be allowed to go back to the library to shelve books, that he had gotten into trouble for doing it wrong. He thought it was unfair because he hasn’t done it wrong on purpose, and he was mad at me for setting him up for failure, reinforcing his self-image of being naughty and unworthy of kindness.
Well, I was disappointed too. Disappointed about the assumption that he had mis-shelved the books on purpose, that he had been spoken to in a dismissive way without being affording the benefit of the doubt. It made me think of adults who get angry at and judge children for not using manners, without first teaching them how to do so. https://ateacherislikeacandle.wordpress.com/2020/07/27/everything-is-learning/
So, the end of the story is that I asked if he could have another chance at shelving, and luckily it was agreed. It took some coaxing to get him back into the library but I managed to convince two of his friends to come along too, and I carefully showed them how to shelve the books.
I discovered that he had been looking at the author’s surname and shelving everything in fiction, irrespective of the code on the spine which dictated the section of the library the book belonged to. An innocent mistake which was quickly corrected.
Relationship currency has power. You need to be always making deposits into the accounts of children. Their self-esteem account, their happiness account, their “bucket”, their “tank”. And pick your battles strategically before you make a withdrawal.
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