- Give people grace because they are often doing their best.
- Be willing to bend school rules if they give students comfort and don’t hurt anyone.
- Consider how bending school rules can help students feel more welcome at school.
I went through the Dunkin’ drive-through the other day. As the 2 cars in front of me ordered, I kept my eye on the clock as I had someplace to be. I was feeling a little frustrated when I reached the window because I was most likely going to be late. As I was handed my coffee, I realized there were only two people working. It was then that I remembered grace.
This was not their fault.
I should have left myself more time if I wanted to get my morning jolt. It made me wonder if we are still giving as much grace at school as we have in the past couple of years.
Where Has Grace Gone?
Our students are continuing to struggle as we begin to recover from a pandemic. And by recover, I mean getting back to school full time without any of the mitigations we had to put in place previously. Students are back to learning at a quick pace and being held accountable for their attendance and performance. In many classrooms, it seems to be business as usual. Have we forgotten about giving grace, empathy, or compassion to our students and colleagues?
Leela is a student with anxiety. She was anxious just thinking about returning to the school building last fall. One of the things that bring her comfort and allow her to feel safe at school is her knitted kitten hat. She wears it as a sort of armor. Wearing this hat to school allows her to come to school and participate in her class. It is a security blanket that allows her to do her classwork. She was able to survive that school year. She didn’t thrive and was still resistant to accepting some of the support that she needed for learning specific academics. We tried to meet Leela where she was and provided grace and understanding by allowing her to wear her knit hat to school.
Fast forward to the new school year in her upper elementary classroom. We’re now starting a more typical school year. Students are expected to come to school every day and keep up with classroom learning. They are not allowed to veer from the handbook, which means Leela’s teachers will not allow her to wear her kitten knit hat.
As an administrator and former principal, I have to ask why? I know we are concerned about enforcing rules in our handbook and the disruption that may occur if all students started wearing knit hats to school. Safety is a number one concern and we want to be able to see students’ full faces. I know all of this but I also know that we have students who are still feeling anxious about being at school, for many reasons. Why can’t we allow knit hats or even hooded sweatshirts? We have students that are still choosing to wear masks. Most of them are not wearing them because they are worried about germs, but because the mask provides them with a sense of security and another layer of armor. It’s the same with hats and hoods.
If wearing a hood or knit hat in class provides a student with a sense of security and safety, why do we push back so much instead of allowing them some grace? Do we consider the impact on that student? The impact on others? Are other students going to start wearing knit hats in school because their one peer is wearing one? Is it possible to set a standard in our school that everyone gets what they need and that this student needs to wear a hat?
How does allowing Leela to wear a hat make an impact on her and on her mental health? It’s simple to say that we don’t allow hats in school, it’s another thing to say we won’t allow you to wear a hat that you need to feel secure and safe at school.[scroll down to keep reading]
Grace Inside the Box
When you think about Leela’s story, I’m sure you can relate this to another student and another situation where a student needs some grace in order to be their best at school. We tend to think outside the box when trying to support students with a variety of learning or social-emotional needs. Students wear headphones when loud noises bother them or make them anxious. We provide students with movement breaks or bands on their chairs to allow them to get some movement while learning. Teachers use timers, fidgets, and a variety of flexible seating to support students. Many of these may be considered out-of-the-box strategies. What about IN the box?
If we’re willing to make all of these accommodations for students, why can’t we provide some for the in-the-box needs of students? These can be as simple as allowing Leela to wear her hat to school or allowing Jenna to wear her hood up when she feels she needs this extra armor. This may be even allowing students to chew gum if it helps them pay attention. Too often, we are nervous to give grace inside the box because we’ve been accustomed to enforcing what we see as school rules without questioning why or what is the worst that can happen or even what is the BEST thing that could happen for this student.
Kids Do Better with Grace
We all still need grace. We need to keep trying new things as we recover from the pandemic. I could (and maybe I will) write an entire blog post or series on how we should be rethinking school based on what we’ve learned during the COVID era of teaching and learning. I’m seeing an increase in students being diagnosed with anxiety and the need for special education evaluations. Our kids are not okay. We need to give them grace. It is not their fault that the foundational years of education for our middle elementary students were during a pandemic. We need to get to know our students, understand what their needs are, and ask them what will help them and make them able to learn.
When I think about Leela (and others like her) and her need to wear a knit hat to school in order to access school, teaching, and learning, I say “why not?” That is the easiest accommodation I would have to make for a student. This should be something easy for us to do for her as she continues to learn to manage her anxiety and get to a place where she feels safe enough at school to take her hat off.
Let’s Give Them Grace
Think about the students you are teaching this year. Is there anyone that needs that little extra something? How can you provide a little grace, empathy, or compassion to support them? We have the power as educators to give students grace and meet them where they are. Give grace to all your students this year.
About Bobbie French
Bobbie French is an educational leader, presenter and writer from Massachusetts.
Bobbie has been an educator for over 24 years. She has been an elementary guidance counselor, classroom teacher, special education coordinator, Title I Director, Preschool Director and Administrator.
Bobbie is passionate about focusing on the whole child and creating an environment where all students have a sense of belonging. She appreciates and recognizes the hard work of teachers, and is committed to supporting others to be their best for kids every day. Her passion and enthusiasm for creating a positive and engaging school culture is contagious.
Bobbie is also an avid photographer and loves to tell her school’s story.