Head Up, Hood Down: Can the Young People in Your Care Name a Trusted Adult?
We recently spoke with an educator who expressed concern about a student in her class. Every day, the student entered her classroom, chose a desk in the back corner, and put his hood up and his head down. He was disengaged and unmotivated, and the educator had tried everything she could think of to engage the student. She was out of ideas and reached out to our team after hearing a podcast, telling us, “I’ve tried everything . . . I don’t know how to connect with and support this student.”
Educators in schools around the world can relate to the struggles this educator expressed. The student described by this educator exists in every school building. He is not a behavior problem but is disengaged and lacking connection. Often described as a kid who keeps to himself, he has discovered how to easily blend with his peers and has become a master at doing the bare minimum to get through the day.
We listened and offered some suggestions and support: “Not to sound cheesy, but you have called One Trusted Adult. Have you asked the student if he has a trusted adult in his life?” The educator responded, “He is surrounded by trusted adults! He has me, the reading coach, the school counselor, the social worker, the school psychologist. We are all working so hard to support him.” We replied, “That’s amazing, but have you asked the student?” We often find a disconnect between what students say and what educators report.
The educator agreed to talk with the student. We did not expect to hear from her again, but after a few weeks she called back. She shared that, following our conversation, she spoke to the student after class. She asked him if he could name a trusted adult at school. The student mumbled, “No, not really.” She then asked, “Is there any adult at school you’d like to get to know better or who has similar interests?” The student hesitated and, after giving the idea some thought, he shared that there was a shop teacher who had built an electronic lawn mower and shown it at a recent assembly. The student hadn’t connected previously with the shop teacher, but the lawn mower project had sparked his interest.
The teacher set up a time for the student and the shop teacher to meet. They talked about the lawn mower and their shared interests. The shop teacher arranged a time each week to meet with the student and shared that he would be communicating with all of the student’s teachers. If the student attended, participated, and completed his classwork, the shop teacher would meet him weekly, but the student had to do his academic work first. The student’s head came up and his hood came off, and he quickly became more engaged in his classes. He made a connection and could name a trusted adult at school.
We’ve found in our research that educators often assume students can name a trusted adult at school, but when students are asked, fewer than 40 percent of them can! In some cases, this is an issue of semantics. Students do not know what defines a trusted adult. It’s essential that we talk to students, educators, and parents/guardians about what a trusted adult is—and that we share the ABCs of being a trusted adult and why every young person needs at least one.
One Trusted Adult is on a mission to support both adults and students in making bids for connection. Our student programs—including the Ripple Journal program for students ages ten to fifteen and the Branch Out program for high school students—are focused on building personal skills for community contribution, while our professional development programs for educators, mentors, and parent/guardians provide tools and resources to build strong connections and healthy boundaries with young people.
At OTA, we believe that every young person has the ability to lead. Every young person has skills, talents, and unique gifts to offer our communities. Our new student leadership conferences are a great way to jump-start the conversation at a school (the next conference is November 17 and is aimed at middle school students in New England). Contact us if you are interested in sponsoring a middle school or high school conference.
Check out this month’s Magnets & Mirrors, which includes a worksheet on the ABCs of trusted adults to get the conversation started with the young people in your care.