I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a new student, a reserved and untrusting tenth grader who met me with questioning eyes and bored body language. Even before she could settle into her chair and express her unhappiness, I sensed the issue. It was a familiar scenario: the questioning gaze, the exasperated tone, the awkwardly draped limbs on the office chair – a scene I've encountered countless times before.
After brief introductions, I surprised her with a direct question, "Are you wondering why you are here?" To this, she responded triumphantly, locking eyes with her parents. I had struck a nerve, and I suspected this had been the subject of discussion during their short ride to my office.
In our practice, we engage with students in grades 9-12. Some eagerly embrace us as rising freshmen, while others drag their feet even into their senior year. We don't pass judgment, worry, or rush; instead, we wait and meet them where they are at. This was precisely what I conveyed to my new, somewhat prickly student during our initial meeting. Over the years, I've learned that the physical reactions I receive from students early on are often rooted in uncertainty, anxiety, and stress rather than the actual meeting itself.
As a middle school teacher and a mother of four young adults, I've come to understand the importance of meeting children where they are at. This seemingly small yet crucial decision allows us to initiate relationships with our students in a safe, less threatening environment. Prior to delving into the myriad tasks, discussions about extracurricular activities, and grades, I prioritize listening. I firmly believe that for students to produce their best work during our time together, they must feel safe, heard, and, most importantly, respected. Once these foundational elements are in place, students become remarkably receptive. They arrive at meetings with clearer eyes, diminished skepticism, and a sense of accomplishment. The transformation is almost magical, occurring at their own pace—some sooner than others, but they all eventually get there.
So, the next time your teenager storms out of the room, rolls their eyes, or doesn't respond to your text, remember the power of listening first and meeting them where they are at. The rewards, as I've experienced, are truly magnificent.