I knew he was a very unique case. I knew he does not do well with directives. So, I made the decision to develop new expectations specifically for him and to include him in the process. For so many years, he's rebelled from instructions that were imposed on him, but what if he imposed them on himself? I asked him to come see me before school. Actually, I asked him repeatedly as he kept missing our appointments, but he eventually did come. We sat down alone together and began thinking about how I can make my classroom a welcoming environment for him while still ensuring his success. We negotiated back and forth for a while until settling on some basic allowances. For him, here's what we decided:
1. He's allowed to step into the hall without asking if he felt he needed cool down time, as long as he stayed close to my room and it was for no longer than 5 minutes.
2. If there are days when he does not feel comfortable in his 4-table group, he can move to an outside desk and work individually, provided it does not become persistent.
3. With assignments that would typically require time at home, he can complete as much as is necessary to be able to explain to me every important concept that assignment focused on.
4. He is welcome to get up and move about the room as long as I am not directly instructing the class at the time.
5. He must NEVER say or do anything that could be considered disrespectful or threatening to any of his classmates.
We both signed and dated this contract. I made a copy for him to keep in his binder and kept one for myself. For the first few weeks, although I needed to remind him about our agreements a few times, these slowly became the norm. Other students were initially surprised to see him doing these things without me addressing it, but they slowly adjusted as well. Recognizing the need for him to have some autonomy in my classroom expectations did more to develop trust and mutual respect than anything else I've done this year.
This sounds very simple, but it's gone a long way. Again, I've learned to forgive and forget, every day. He's had days where you would never suspect he required any special attention. We've also had days where I felt all of our trust and respect had been shattered and all of this work was for not. But again, it's not his fault, I can't relate to him, he's not mad at me, and fair is not always equal.
So, regardless of the day we've had- regardless of how easily I could dismiss him as someone worthy of my effort to save as so many adults have done in the past- I've thanked him, with a smile. I've told him specifically to have a great day, and that I'd see him tomorrow. In the halls, I keep eye contact on him until he sees me, and I waive with a smile. What used to be a deliberate effort has become commonplace. Whatever bridges he thinks he may have burned are immediately restored, and although he rarely smiles back, he always acknowledges me.
I don't think I'm the only reason he's still on our campus. He has a handful of adults on our staff that are on his side and working to develop their own mutual trust. He's a young man with some incredible resilience to simply make it to school every day. He has every quality we want in our learners- confidence, self-pride and determination. All we need to do is help him recognize the need to reconsider his academic priorities a bit. His protective wall has saved him from debilitating pain that, again, I can't relate to. But I'd like to think that, for every block that's been added during this school year, two have been taken down.