I am reading Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD and this morning I read the author’s thoughts on dealing with difficult children in school. He was called in to train teachers in one school in NVC, his non-violent communication process. While most of the teachers saw good results, a few who probably didn’t quite master the process, found that their efforts to use NVC failed miserably. In fact it made matters worse. Rosenberg called eight boys into a room to talk, he found that these teachers actually lost respect of the students because they couldn’t get the class under control. Some of them actually wanted to learn. “The teacher lets them get away with anything.”
With Rosenberg using his own method, he got the boys to listen and to contribute their thoughts as to what they thought needed to be done. Some suggested physically restrining or hitting but Rosenberg nixed that idea. One boy suggested a special room where a student could go (or be sent by a teacher) until he felt like sitting still and learning. When Rosenberg suggested a student might not go to the room when sent out, the student said, “They’ll go.”
Rosenber brought the idea to the teachers and it was implemented. Of course, there was an adult in the room who happened to be trained in NVC. Rosenberg suggested that one reason it worked so well is that it was an idea put forth by a student. Interestingly, while students did go there, they also returned when they were ready to cooperate.
The story reminded me of a situation years ago when I was the coordinator of a religious education program of junior high students. There was one boy, David, who was a total disrupt-er in the classroom and the more the teacher tried discipline, the worse he got. Finally, I told the teacher, “When he gets out of hand, send him out and I will take care of him.” I had some understanding of ADHD at that point and I also knew that this particular boy was filled with anger because he had spent the last six years in religious education under the direction of Sister Catherine Marie whose methods were pretty archaic when it came to discipline of rowdy kids. He’d spent more time sitting in her office than in the classroom and over the years listened to hours about what a bad kid he was. He’d often been sent home and his mother and dad were also angry…at Sr. Catherine Marie. They really wanted their son’s experience of church to be a good one.
When David was sent to my office the first time, I said to him, “David, could you do me a favor and walk around and collect the attendance charts from outside the classrooms and bring them back to me?” He was shocked. After he returned, I asked him what had happened in the classroom and he gave me his version. I told him that it didn’t matter to me whether he went to religion class or not but it did matter to me that, if he didn’t go, he wouldn’t learn anything about his religion. “Maybe we can come up with another way,” I said. I found that his reading and writing skills were not at his grade level, so I said, “How about every time you come, we will talk for a little while about religious stuff and then you can be my helper the rest of the time.” He agreed. We carried out our plan and became friends.
Some people might think me wrong, but I the last thing I wanted was for David to leave his years in CCD hating the Church. As it turned out, he did anyway, but his mother told me later that the experience he had with me that year was his best in his religious education experience. “No one has ever taken the time or made the effort to understand my son,” she said. “He hated Sr. Catherine Marie and it colored his view of the Church because that is who she represented.”