When something that worked before doesn’t, it’s disarming and disorientating. Not knowing what to do, I told these students to sit down and I tried to continue the lesson. The boys didn’t settle down so I asked them to meet me in the hallway. I put on a music video of the song we were working on for the other kids and propped the door open. Then I found myself looking at these three students with no idea what to say.
Before I knew it, they all stated in with their excuses:
“Are you going to talk to him? It’s not my fault? He distracted me.”My mind swirled around to different possibilities. I could talk about individual responsibility, the thousands of choices they make every day, or how they created ripples that spread throughout the classroom. The problem is that I had tried all of these ideas with these kids and nothing stuck. And then it hit me. They are blaming other people for their actions. Other people are “making” them misbehave. It takes a smart and stronger person in some ways to manipulate another person . . .
“It wasn’t my fault, he was making a funny face at me.”
“I couldn’t help it, he was making me laugh.”
I put my hand up to quiet them and asked “So you are saying that you are week?”
“This other kid made you laugh. That must mean that you are easily manipulated and that you are not a very strong individuals. I thought you were a strong, smart and determined individuals but from what you are saying, it sounds like you are really, just pretty weak.”They insisted that they were strong and that my initial impression of them was correct. They stopped talking about other people and instead focused on this idea that by putting the responsibility on other people for their behavior it inadvertently revealed weakness. I ended the conversation stating, “Don’t every give others the impression that you are weak. I know that you are strong guys and by portraying yourself as weak, blaming others for your actions, you will fail to get what you want in life.”
I brought the kids back into the room and they did really well for the rest of the lesson and they came back the next day ready to work.
Now I don’t think that this is the end of conversations with these students but at least I figured out one more way to get a message to them. These conversations are tough and sometimes the negative message doesn't work, which is why its essential to remind the students how much you believe in them. This is the message that builds relationships and helps kids learn to believe in themselves.