The Adult in the Room
I was recently talking with a friend [read: ranting]. Earlier in the week, I had been called "too kind/nice/sensitive" for the billionth time. My friend asked me why it bothered me so much. And, this is what I parceled out: I grew up with the label, and it followed me into teaching and later as a principal. It is never said as a complement; it is often said as an admonishment. It is seen as weak and ineffectual, as though a kind/sensitive person cannot possibly do a good job.
What is even more troubling about this, to me, is the idea that a person being kind to students, middle school/high school aged students, prevents me from being an effective teacher or leader. Why wouldn't someone want to be kind and sensitive when working in a position of responsibility for students?!
Let me be clear, I am not talking about being a "pal" to students. I set and keep boundaries. And, I do this while prioritizing how the minor in this situation is feeling. I am the adult in the room. What does this mean? I believe it looks like the following:
I set the tone for the classroom, whether conscious or not, so be conscious of what you are feeling and spreading
I acknowledge when I have been wrong and/or hurtful
I try not to take things personal
When I fail at this, I do the following: take a break if needed; take the student aside to have a private conversation; acknowledge the comment/action hurt (not the student); ask if they are doing okay and if can I help in any way; listen; listen; listen.
I do not hold grudges
These are not revolutionary tactics; I learned them from other adults in my life. These adults were compassionate, kind, and kept boundaries with me. Being the adult in the room is both possible to practice and to do consistently. (Even when you're not in a room.)