There are many self attributes your pupils bring to your lessons. This is how I realised the power of one of them.
Oliver had told me that he wanted to be a footballer and would constantly either watch it or want to play it with me in the garden. When the professional clubs invited him to train he was super excited. I tried to help by talking to him on the way to training and discuss what had gone well and what could be improved on next time on the way back. I tried to be positive but increasingly found that I had to remind him that we needed to go, to get his kit ready, even to persuade him to get in the car. When he got to training he seemed to be going backwards and would often stare sadly over at me, rising to anger as if I was making him do this. I tried to talk to him and suggested stopping but he always claimed that he wanted to do it and said he would try harder next time.
I accused him of laziness and told him that it was hardly surprising if he didn’t enjoy the sessions if he wasn’t committed.
Oliver was seven years old.
It was three weeks later that we had the breakthrough. We saw that he was upset and insisted that he spoke to us about why. We said it was clear that something was wrong and, after two spells of being told to go to his room until he told us, that he opened up.
Oliver was being bullied at school. It hit us like a thunderbolt to be honest. He said that a few boys at school were stopping him from playing football and, because they were bigger he could do nothing about it. He went on to say that they had hit and kicked him, and tripped him in front of others to make him look stupid. When we confronted the teachers about this they said that they knew about this, has dealt with it ‘whenever’ it had happened and that if they spotted it brewing in advance they sometimes kept Oliver in at break or lunch. No one had told us anything. It had been going on for about six months.
Oliver was experiencing a growing hopelessness. Too good for one level of the game he loved, he was finding the next level tough to shine in. Being seven he was proud of the attention from clubs and initially went to school boastful of his talents and accolades. Three bigger boys determined that their job would be to bring him down a peg or two. Successes were distant memories, comparisons with those around him demoralising as he was now around super talented boys who had been in the Pre-Academy system a year or two – they were hardened to the tough edges of a system that released boys each six weeks, they knew the routines and were quicker to understand the game based practices that Olly was still new to. Now he was feeling increasingly marginalised at school and no one seemed to be helping him. Oliver had gone from hero to zero.
To compound this his Dad had now called him Lazy.
Planning for pupils exhibiting signs of hopelessness
I will feel forever guilty for not seeing that sooner. I teach this stuff but didn’t see it in front of myself in my own son. I was carried away with the excitement and I didn’t think my experiences and knowledge at work applied to this new environment. I just got it wrong.
I will, however, be eternally grateful that we found out when we did. We changed his school and scaled back the football. Oliver is smiling again. It appears that we got there in time.
We need to be mindful that all of our pupils have self attributes. This story has a particular one that manifested itself in the form of hopelessness. If we take the time to look and identify the indicators we can adjust our planning to maximise the chances that these pupils are engaged in their learning and given the opportunity to thrive. My experiences have taught me to look for them specifically and not assume that the great opportunities in the ‘learning’ and ‘challenges’ before them will override every attribute they bring.
If they look withdrawn, their mood changes and they become more easily irritated, if they appear to actively withdraw their effort, give up and fail or even refuse to engage – never call them lazy.
They may be feeling hopeless and genuinely be exhausted by the burden of that feeling. Labelling them by the outcome behaviour that presents itself misses the point, does not affect them positively and could even damage their self esteem further.
Consider alternatives in your lessons:
• Welcome them, and all pupils, at your door by their names
• Have clear and unavoidable starter activities, including having all necessary materials available to minimise delaying tactics
• Remember and refer to relevant previous success when beginning a new challenge / task
• Use the vicarious success of a fair peer to show that a task is not insurmountable
• Give notice and an opportunity to discuss with peers before any ‘ in front of the class’ questioning
• Ask other questions of them quietly and discretely
• Take time to check on their progress as you circulate your classroom
• Catch them doing well and praise process not just outcome to them and their parents / tutors
• Make sure that your door is open, that you take opportunities to notice them for who they are
• Communicate with other staff that you have this concern – it could be that some counselling is needed and could well ultimately be a welfare concern that could get worse and lead to more serious manifestations of hopelessness including self harm