Turning “Nobody” Into “Somebody”
Author: Kathleen Nelson-Simley
Posted: Thursday - September 10, 2020
Early one morning in 2018, a “twitter challenge” caught my eye. It was from a principal in Missouri. This challenge struck a chord with me. It seemed like a valuable activity. When you are aware of a good idea, I've learned that it's good to go ahead and implement it if you are able. Don't wait! Don't procrastinate! So after I finished the morning announcements that day, I asked all our students to get out a sheet of paper and write down the name of one adult they trusted - someone that they could talk to if they needed. I told them that if they could not think of one, they could write "nobody." I collected all the papers and we began putting our data into a spreadsheet.
Out of about 500 students, we had 38 who wrote “nobody.” That's 38 too many! We want every student to feel connected in our school, as I know you do in your school. We want every child to have an adult they feel comfortable talking to.
I made a slide show of the pictures of our students that wrote “nobody.” We watched this slideshow at our faculty meeting the next week. There were no names attached to any of the pictures and we did not discuss who taught these students. We viewed these pictures in complete silence. It was a sobering moment - one that I will not soon forget. When it was over, I told our teachers, "It is my hope that if we do this activity again in a few months we won't have any students who write "nobody."
That evening, the activity inspired me to tweet about it. There were a number of people on Twitter who asked me what I was going to do with the data we generated. One person responded, "What are your next steps?" That left me feeling a bit convicted. Showing the pictures at the faculty meeting was a good activity, but it was not enough. The fact is, some of our kids don't feel sufficiently connected and we don't want to just hope they get connected. We don't want to leave it to chance. So, yesterday, I gave the list of these students to our counselor and I emailed our teachers asking them to connect with her to "adopt" a student on the list. This isn't a formal process, but it reflects our faculty's commitment to ensuring that every student in our school has an adult advocate. We don't want any student falling through the cracks. That is our goal. Every kid is important. Every kid matters. And they need to feel it.
This story was shared by Danny Steele, a principal at a high school in Alabama, in his blog that I first read in 2018 and recently read again. It was just what I need to hear and be reminded of, especially right now.
Research has always said that there is nothing more important in a child’s life than having a positive and stable relationship with a caring adult. The influence just one positive adult can have on a child can be life changing. It offers the child a sense of security and inclusion, enhances their resilience and coping skills, protects them from risky behaviors, contributes to higher achievement and so much more.
The bottom line is… kids are far better off short-term and long-term when they have an adult they trust, respect and care about and believe they can talk to about whatever is on their heart and on their mind. This is true in life outside of a pandemic, but even more so during a pandemic.
Kids of all ages are currently grappling with a wide range of emotions – anger, frustration, disappointment, anxiety and sadness – just to name a few. The ways in which they process these emotions and the experiences they have had these past six months will be greatly influenced by whether they have at least one “secure base” to turn to.
So, I have to ask…
Are you that one “secure base” for your kids?
Do you have a positive, caring, stable relationship with ALL of your kids?
If you surveyed the kids you work with, would some of them say they have “nobody” to talk to?
No matter how you answered these questions, one thing is for certain…we can’t leave relationship building with kids to chance. As Danny stated in his blog, “We don't want to just hope they get connected.” If we do, we risk some kids having “nobody” to connect with. We need to be intentional about connecting every child with an adult and have a plan on how we are going to make it happen.
If you need some help creating your plan, here are a few proven ideas and resources to get you started:
Make relationship-building a priority in your daily virtual or in-person gatherings with kids, especially throughout the first two weeks of school. Implement ongoing structures and practices, such as welcoming the kids at the door, holding daily check-ins or offering advisory time with a counselor, teacher or other staff person. These kinds of rituals can be informal, regularly scheduled or a combination of both.
Gather information weekly or even daily about how your kids are feeling or the experiences they are currently facing. Use this online survey as it is, or add or eliminate questions, to check in with your students.
Give just 5 minutes of your time to chat one-on-one with kids. It can make a big difference. Click here for a sample agenda and questions you can ask in even a brief encounter with a child.
Identify resources and practices that build a sense of community and encourage relationship-building - like writing postcards, doing interest surveys, having group chats and encouraging partner or team projects – and create a plan on how you will integrate them into your work. Use this checklist to identify other simple relationship-building strategies you can use in your interactions with kids.
Replace punitive discipline with practices that focus on healing and inclusion and give students a voice, such as restorative practices, peace rooms and de-escalation strategies. This comprehensive guide focuses on how you can use Circles as a proactive measure to build trust and community and includes sample activities and lesson plans you can use with your kids.
Identify kids who may have fallen through the cracks and who have “nobody” to talk to. Generate a list of all the kids you work with. Place a yellow dot next to the kids with whom you have a positive, trusting relationship with already. Place a red dot next to a child you don’t have a relationship with. Make a plan on how to reach out to your “red dot” kids. This relationship mapping strategy can also be done organizationally or school-wide. Click here to learn how you can do relationship mapping with staff in-person or virtually.
As we are all in the midst of a global pandemic and faced with the challenges of how to effectively do our work with kids, we must all center and remain focused on the things that matter most. At the most basic level, it is our human nature to want to feel loved, be valued and be connected with others. If you tune in to meeting these basic needs of all your kids, you will be doing the most important work you can do with them right now.
You can’t afford to let even one kid fall through the cracks believing they have “nobody” to talk to. One kid who believes this is one too many. Danny Steele sums it up well, “Every kid is important. Every kid matters. And they need to feel it…It is my hope that in a few months we won't have any students who write ‘nobody.’”
Now, go forth and turn the “nobody” into “somebody” for your kids and be ready for that “somebody” to be YOU!