you're reading...
Administration, At-Risk, Education, Leadership, Teaching

A Soft Heart for Challenging Students

Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.
~ C. S. Lewis

Young Thug

We have all had them in class, or seen them in the office.  They challenge our authority, push the limits of acceptable behavior, try our patience and are actively (or passively) defiant.  These kids are referred to as “at-risk”, apathetic, frequent fliers, passive-agressive, trouble makers and many other names that would change the rating of this blog from “G” to “R”.  Their affect ranges from “off the wall”, to “absence of emotion”, and while they represent an extremely diverse range of personalities and behaviors, they all have at least one thing in common: they test our ability as educators to be caring and compassionate. Most of us would be hesitant to admit it, but if we are honest with ourselves, we can probably think of at least one student that we struggle to “like.”

There are any number of reasons that students behave in this manner.  It may be problems at home, lack of appropriate modeling, abuse, repeated disappointments, poor self-esteem, attention deficit,  lack of adequate attention, or a multitude of other issues.  That being said, there is good to be found in any student–they do not behave this way because they are inherently evil.  They behave this way because something is missing, and as educators, we are privileged to have opportunities every day to fill the gap. Like it or not, this may be every bit as critical to the impact we will have on students as teaching our curriculum.

As you begin the week, I would challenge you to show a soft heart for your challenging students. It isn’t easy, but pick at least one student and begin chipping away at their protective defenses.  Do it with encouragement, praise, a kind word, empathy and high expectations.  The key is consistency–don’t give up.  In order for kids to accept that someone cares for them, they have to drop their defenses–become vulnerable.  Many challenging students have spent years putting up protective barriers,  it will take time to bring them down. It is entirely possible that you will work tirelessly to make a difference in a child’s life and not see tangible results for your efforts, but all it takes is a spark to begin a raging fire.  Improve the odds: create as many sparks as possible.

About azjd

Junior high principal by day, aspiring difference maker, and Jedi in my own mind. Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.


10 thoughts on “A Soft Heart for Challenging Students

  1. Great reminder of what we should be doing and how we should be thinking every day. We are constantly in a position to positively affect the lives of children, and the kiddos who need the most help have the most room for growth. It requires us to dig down deep…but hey, isn’t that what we signed up for…?

    Love the post!

    Posted by Justin Tarte | November 22, 2010, 2:58 am
  2. Nel Noddings talks about teaching and leading with an ethic of care, and this is not only for those kids who fit in the box we call school.

    I always find it ironic that the ones that often cause a tear when they leave are those that we see the most. The ones that can drive us crazy are the ones that we are sad to see go because we get know them on such a deeper level; we are aware of the challenges, the growth, and the highlights of their time with us.

    We often hear, “they should be sent home or suspended or expelled” when school might be the only caring, stable place in our students’ lives. The need to be at school. They need that one caring person in their lives.

    Thanks for encouraging us to see the good in all our students and to lend out a soft hand rather than an iron fist.

    Posted by Chris Wejr | November 22, 2010, 3:08 am
  3. I love the comments written in bold especially. Our job as educators is not simply to teach our students, but to know our students. I have found that the more I know about what makes my students tick, their intrests, skills, abilities and things that are important to them – the less likely I am to be challenged by them.

    Ultimately, one of the main reasons students become challenging is because no one has taken the time to “get them”.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Posted by Michael G. | November 22, 2010, 6:22 am
  4. Thanks. I work in an alternative school where all the students have been “sent home, suspended, and expelled” more times than they can count. We are a school of last resort. They are all challenging and it can days to learn to ‘like’ some of them. But they all grow on me and I end up hating to see them go. It’s good to be reminded of this.

    Posted by Kelly | November 22, 2010, 11:32 am
  5. I had a couple of challenging experiences today so thanks for the reminder. I do try to pick out a couple of kids every day that I haven’t really had a conversation with in a while and really take the time to have an exchange. It really makes a difference. It’s so easy to let kids slip through the cracks in a class of 30 or more.

    Posted by Sherry | November 23, 2010, 1:50 am
  6. Hi Jeff,
    Great post. It can get tough sometimes to not give up, but I’ve seen students make a dramatic turn around if only in your my because I refused to give up.
    Thanks again.
    I’ve made your post today’s Power Post on my site.

    Posted by Sam Rangel | December 3, 2010, 4:09 pm


  1. Pingback: The Coopmike48 Daily, Education « Parents 4 democratic Schools - November 23, 2010

  2. Pingback: A Soft Heart for Challenging Students – Jeff Delp – Today’s Power Post | Tips For New Teachers and Student Teachers - December 3, 2010

  3. Pingback: Thing 7C – Google Reader | K12learning - December 10, 2010

  4. Pingback: Molehill Moments: Favorite Posts of 2010 « Molehills out of Mountains - December 28, 2010

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Jeff Delp

Junior high principal by day, sports enthusiast, technology fanatic and jedi in my own mind. Striving to be a difference maker!
%d bloggers like this: