Offering grace vs. unintentionally enabling
What is the difference between unintended enablers and someone who offers grace? We are living in unprecedented times and no matter what, this pandemic is going to leave a deep imprint on our children. There are many factors we can’t control, like the necessary social distancing required to avoid the spread of COVID-19 or whether or not school is open. It’s easy to fall into a disempowered mindset that there is little we can do, especially when we ourselves are fatigued by the challenges this coronavirus presents. This kind of approach will almost certainly mean lowered expectations and acceptance of excuses. But right now our kids need us to shift our thinking and remain diligent in raising them to be well-adjusted, independent, and resilient adults. They need us to be No-Nonsense Nurturers.
Thirty years from now, if someone asks your students how they remember you, what would you want them to say? An ideal response would be something like this:
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget how she supported me during those trying times. She managed to be empathetic but also provided the encouragement I needed to strive for success. There were many times I wanted to give up or just let myself off the hook, but she taught me how to deal with the stress while doing the work to reach my goals. If it hadn’t been for her, I might not be where I am today.”
Clearly this teacher was striking the right balance of support and accountability — operating as a No-Nonsense Nurturer. “We need to offer grace” is a common response to the many challenges our students are currently facing. But what’s the difference between offering grace and unintentionally enabling our students?
- Accepting excuses. Jayla is habitually late to the virtual classroom. The teacher reminds students every day to be on time, and even follows up with Jayla one-on-one to check in, revealing that her mother keeps forgetting to remind her to log back on after lunch. Rather than come up with a plan to remedy this, the teacher figures that the mother has a lot on her plate and lets it go.
- Abandoning consequence systems. In the brick and mortar classroom, the teacher consistently held students accountable by issuing consequences like reflection sheets and change of seat. In the virtual classroom, the teacher doesn’t see how she can provide consequences that will support a student to get on track considering the student can just log off.
- Over using praise. In an effort to keep things positive and upbeat, the teacher praises students constantly, even when they didn’t have to work very hard for it, like showing up to class with a pencil and paper. This overuse of praise waters down its effect and ultimately suggests that we don’t expect much more from our students than meeting these basic foundational expectations.
- Providing too much or too little support. A teacher knows that Carmen has a little sister in the room with her as she attends class, so rather than supporting Carmen in finding a distraction-free space the teacher reviews the correct answers at the end of the lesson and tells everyone, especially Carmen, to make sure they put in the right answers so their grade won’t be negatively impacted.
- Extending a deadline. Hector’s grandfather is being hospitalized due to trouble breathing as he battles COVID-19. Hector can’t visit him in the hospital, and is really worried that his abuelo, 68-years-old and diabetic, won’t pull through. Hector’s group presentation in History is due Friday, but Hector hasn’t been able to focus. The teacher extends the deadline for the group by one week and offers to join their next virtual meeting to support them in dividing the work and deadlines that are reasonable and fair.
- Adjusting course to accommodate a need. Brioni had to attend her virtual class from the car because her father unexpectedly picked up an extra shift at work and couldn’t leave Brioni at home by herself. The expectation during class was to complete the spelling test using the private chat feature, but it was really challenging to do from the phone. The teacher set up a time during office hours for the student to join from home and redo the test to demonstrate mastery.
- Providing more checkpoints. Byron has really been struggling with anxiety and depression since the pandemic hit. He started a new medication to help him through, but it’s making him really groggy and he’s finding it challenging to stay on top of things. The teacher sets up three checkpoints before his English essay is due to review progress and provide support and next steps for Byron.
- Listening and finding opportunities to build coping skills. Luisa gets up in the middle of class stating she’s going to the bathroom, and she’s visibly upset. She returns fifteen minutes later and her eyes are red and puffy. The teacher places a post-it note on Luisa’s desk as she walks by asking her to meet her for lunch. The teacher asks open-ended questions and listens as Luisa shares that she was experiencing an anxiety attack because the story they were reading reminded her of the guilt she was holding onto after a fight with her sister. Luisa shares that she’s had several anxiety attacks and it’s making things really hard. The teacher knows Luisa is an athlete and hasn’t been able to participate due to COVID-19 restrictions, and suggests she sign up to use the school gym after school so she can get some exercise. The teacher follows up with Luisa the next week to see if exercise is helping.
Choosing to offer grace instead of enabling students often requires educators to lean on their empathy to make the extra effort to demonstrate critical care. While many of us are experiencing compassion fatigue as a result of our own pandemic-related challenges, as No-Nonsense Nurturer educators we must put on our oxygen mask before others. Self-care is critical for those taking care of others, and it also serves as a necessary model for children. After all, this generation of kids represents our future and it’s our responsibility to prepare them.
By Jackie Surratt, M.Ed., Associate, CT3
CT3 transforms the quality and culture of education for youth, especially those in traditionally disenfranchised communities.