This summer a child named Sir Fredrick* has made the lives of both teachers and students miserable. His evil ways caused strife, pain, and dischord at our camp all summer. As Sir Fredrick showed up to camp today he was already a thundercloud. His mother had obviously been yelling at him and it came out that he had punched his sister. Sir Fredrick's mother threw a few threats through the door to her messed up child and then fled.
I had the misfortune to have Sir Fredrick first in class and it wasn't five minutes before our first power struggle began. As I went through my progressive discipline we quickly reached a fever point. Instead of my usual method of getting sterner, I tried something different. I told the class that Sir Fredrick was obviously having a bad day today, because of things that happened at home this morning. Upon hearing this Sir Fredrick burst into tears and retreated to a quiet corner to begin sobbing.
As I looked at the shocked looks on my students faces I said, "Today we are going to write a card to Sir Fredrick to try and cheer him up." Being resilant little kids the class quickly forgot the trama that Sir Fredrick had caused them all summer and began to empathize with him.
As the first student finished his card he delivered it to Sir Fredrick and he quietly rejoined our group. My class began writing additional encouragement cards to parents, grandparents, and anyone we could think of. Without being told to, Sir Fredrick quietly joined our work and began an appolegy card to his sister. Once his emotional need for friendship and forgiveness was met, he was able to relate normally with others.
As I left camp today I saw Sir Fredrick tightly holding the cards that we had given him today. They may be the last positive words he hears for a long time. If I had proceeded into a power struggle with Sir Fredrick we probably would have regressed into the agrivated and angry argument that has characterized Sir Fredrick's summer. However, today I was reminded that love and encouragement can be stronger than threats and punishment. Who else do you and I know that needs to hear some encouraging words today?
(In the comments below, please let me know ways that you encourage your students.)