After years of struggling in school I found myself faced with a life altering decision, Should I drop out? I was sixteen years old. Up to that point, I had struggled with a documented LD, was retained twice, been suspended numerous times, and shipped out of district to an alternative program. My mother and I were on welfare, and my father was nowhere to be found. So, with all the wisdom and foresight my adolescent self could muster, I made a choice. I dropped out of school.
That was twenty-four years ago. Today, as an assistant principal, I find myself working with kids ready to make the same decision. Each time I ask myself one question, What could someone have said or done to keep me from dropping out? In that moment, it is about one thing – making them understand that someone cares and believes in them.
Empathy is my weapon of choice. No kid in crisis wants to take advice from someone they perceive to be disconnected from their situation. By empathizing with students, you begin to earn their trust and open lines of communication that may help them stay the course.
3 Strategies To Empathize With Students:
Listen To Their Story: Listening is paramount in establishing trust, because if a student feels that you are not listening to them, they will never trust you. Also, it will help you better understand their situation and provide you references for future conversations.
Acknowledge Their Frustration: To show that you truly understand a kid’s situation, you need to acknowledge that what they are feeling is legitimate. Connecting is key, and validation is one method that can help a belive that you care.
Collaborate on a Solution: Kids in this situation often feel a lack of control over their lives. Working as partners towards a solution is the best way show the student that they matter, and that you are their to support and help them get over the roadblocks.
Comment with your strategies on how you help students feel connected.