Mary Robinson Reynolds' Learning Story


Excerpt from ‘Making A Difference with the Power of Connection’ by Mary Robinson Reynolds, M.S.Filling Randy’s CupWhen I walked into my seventh grade classroom on the very first day of that school year, I found Randy standing on top of his desk screaming and jumping around like a wild monkey! He was a highly intelligent boy, who had learned that by behaving wildly and out of control in front of his classmates, he would be able to fill his cup with attention. By the time he reached middle school he had already been labeled as SED (Severely Emotionally Disabled). I had been informed that Randy’s own mother didn’t want him, and he lived with his grandmother most of the time. Over the years, neither one of them had attended parent-teacher conferences. Randy was essentially on his own.Mr. B., the Behavioral Specialist, had worked with Randy all through sixth grade. Each day Randy worked with Mr. B., he would come back to the classroom just as out of control as when he left. By the end of the first week of school, Mr. B. confided in me that he considered Randy a ‘lost cause.’ The Specialist didn’t believe there was anything that could be done for the boy.When I heard Mr. B.’s ‘attitude’ about Randy, I knew it would be unproductive to continue to send Randy to him for help. I told him that it was fine with me to try leaving Randy in the classroom. Great relief washed over Mr. B.’s face. However, I suggested that Mr. B. meet with Randy the following day, to give me an hour to visit with my class about my plan: ‘Operation Concentration.’Some teachers and parents believe you’ve got to have school-wide Positive Behavior Support in place before you can reach out and help a child.To convince yourself that you have to wait until a school has, and reinforces, clear behavioral expectations, is to simply choose not to step up to the plate. Yet there’s one philosophy that always works: ‘If it is to be, it is up to me.’When you are faced with a situation like this, understand that everyone is involved whether they wanted to be or not. Because I’d had success with all the extremely challenging students I’d worked with, I decided that the three hours I had with Randy in my classroom were going to be enough to fill his cup for a lifetime. I was going to see to it that this was Randy’s best school year ever!I decided to ignore the sarcastic, disparaging remarks from Randy’s other teachers about his behavior. I sensed that if he got his cup filled every day in my classroom, it could play forward into his other classes.The next morning, while Randy was with Mr. B., I opened a Community Meeting with the class, and explained the direction we would take as a compassionate community this year.I had a few guidelines that I expected them to follow firmly for two weeks I told them that during the first week of school, I’d noticed that they were participating in Randy’s disruptive behavior, whether they realized it or not. I acknowledged that they might not like him, because he had a history of wild behavior in school and would often do aggravating things to them or their work.Then I allowed a brief open discussion about their own personal feelings and fears about Randy, from previous experiences with him in earlier grades. With each example they gave me, I helped them to understand how they may have inadvertently ‘participated’ with Randy in generating a negative experience. In helping them understand how their own ‘attitudes’ about Randy stimulated more loud behavior, they began to understand how it must feel from Randy’s perspective and how he reacted strongly to their attitudes. At the conclusion of our community meeting, I shared with them my three expectations for Operation Concentration for the next two weeks.Operation Concentration1. No Throwing An Attitude, no Eye Rolling, no Egging Randy On’or you’ll hear from me about what Attitude Adjustment you need to make.2. You have the right to look to me to intervene immediately when Randy, or anyone else, is invading your space and keeping you from your work.3. Your job is to remain neutral and to concentrate on your work, without rolling your eyes or ‘throwing an attitude’ at Randy. You have my permission to say, ‘Randy, that’s not okay, please stop it now.’ If Randy doesn’t stop, I will intervene.I explained that, as we became neutral about Randy’s behavior, it might escalate. By not getting negative attention the old way, he might become louder and even more invasive.We role-played how launching attitudes does, in fact, escalate anyone’s behavior, and they began to understand their part of the equation. We also role-played how to concentrate and give zero attitudinal energy toward Randy when he was acting wildly and trying to get their negative ‘attitudinal’ attention.When Randy arrived back from Mr. B.’s, I asked Mr. B. to sit with my class while I took Randy into his office to explain how things were going to proceed this school year.I told him I wanted him in my classroom full time, and that I had asked Mr. B. to release him to stay in the classroom with all of us. I told him that in this year’s class’our special community’his wild monkey behavior was no longer acceptable. I said that I had put some guidelines in place so that neither he, nor anyone else, would bring negative attention on themselves. I explained to him that I felt that his acting like a wild monkey was just his way of hurting himself, and I could not allow him to do that any more. I cared too much, and I wanted him in my classroom.Telling ‘unwanted’ children with huge abandonment issues that you ‘want’ them in your classroom is a healing soothing balm for them. Repeating it often continues to fill their cup and that big gaping hole in their hearts. A healed heart and a filled-up cup solve all kinds of behavior issues. I told him that I saw him to be a wonderful, talented, smart’maybe even genius’ young man, and I expected him to have his best year ever with our class! I also framed it as ‘our’ class, so he would begin to take ownership as a member of our community and class. All for one and one for all would be our motto! Together, we returned to class where everyone was on Operation Concentration! Randy expected to get some attention as he walked in with me, but no one looked up. He went over to his desk, and tried to engage the student behind him. The child looked up, gave a kind smile then went back to work. Then he tried to aggravate thestudent in front, then the one to the side. I was watching him peripherally. Everyone stayed focused and neutral. As children came up to my desk to ask their questions, Randy began to escalate his behavior, leaving his desk and going over to some of the students who had historically taunted him. They all continued to concentrate, remaining neutral as they did their work. They looked at me and I looked at them. We had silent communication going. Everyone could feel the difference.Randy went over to the book case, shaking it to throw the books on the floor. He looked to see who was watching. No one paid attention. Everyone kept working.Over the next hour, Randy tried in vain to get a rise. I did an occasional, attentive walk-by, expressing positive acknowledgment to each student’s work as I went. Randy, who was emotionally undone, had not joined his group or opened his text book. There was nothing I could praise him for, so I asked him if he’d like to come up to my desk and do some work together to get started on the assignment. It was just enough of an invitation to give him some relief. He asked if he could put his desk by my desk. I said that I’d love to have him up by my desk so we could get the assignment underway.So back and forth he went’my desk, his desk, my desk, his desk’asking really meaningless questions, just needing to feel my proximity, my energetic connection and care. I greeted him each time with heartfelt interest and a readiness to listen to whatever it was he wanted to ask. He was officially ‘wanted.’In the next two weeks, Randy continued to be disruptive, as he attempted to get negative attention from his peers.
He’d try to cause classroom havoc, to fill his cup the old way. But little by little, the members of the class who had previously hated and taunted him, began to acknowledge him accommodatingly, as they had observed me doing not only with Randy but with each of them, for their participation in creating the best classroom community this school had ever seen!The Ripple EffectAs time went on, I began to notice that, in the hallways on the way to his other classes, Randy held his own with the older kids who had upset and teased him over the years. I even saw him skipping along with joy from time to time, as he was headed to his next class. Reports came in that he was doing well on the playground and that he even had made a few new friends.My focus was solely on what I could accomplish with the three hours a day I had with Randy, and the other students who needed their cups filled. A review of the previous year’s achievement test results revealed that 65% of the children in this class were considered to be at-risk and failing, while 35% were in a moderate to high academic range’a huge number of children whose cups needed to be filled!Because of Randy’s history of extreme behavior, his classmates quickly embraced the hope and directives I offered consistently, from the very first week of a new school year, until we grew into the community we envisioned.I did not concern myself with what might happen when he went to his other classes, or what might happen to him in his home environment (unless I suspected abuse, and then I would most certainly have intervened). I did not concern myself with what was out of my classroom unless I saw someone mistreating him in the halls or lunchroom. I trusted that his experiencing what it was like to feel ‘wanted’ and to be an ‘insider’ in our community would go a long way.As the school year went on, I happened upon a conversation between several other teachers, talking about Randy in glowing terms, saying that they didn’t know what had changed Randy, but that he was definitely doing so much better in their classes.At the last parent-teacher conference of the year, his mother showed up, for the first time. I raved on about how wonderful Randy was, how intelligent and creative I found him to be, and what things I wanted him to continue to improve on. There was a quiet acknowledgment between the two of us, as I read pain coupled with relief on her face, that her child was happier and having a productive year.’And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’ -Anais NinMaking A Difference with the Power of Connection is available to read in its entirety online Mary Robinson Reynolds, M.S., Educational Consultant, Parent, Author and Producer of the world renowned Internet videos, , and ‘ amassing over 10 million views within a few short months of their releases ‘ spent many years as a classroom teacher K-8 and then as a counselor K-12. For the past 20 years she has been invested in educators learning how to create an ALL engaging, highly productive classroom and to individualize instruction. Her techniques empower parents to bridge effective communication and leadership with teachers and child care providers. She also teaches leaders and managers how to be more effective in leading improvement in their organizations. She has written six books and has spoken to over 20,000 people in two year period in every major city in the U.S. She has developed a program to ‘Rethink Learning Now’ at: ‘ Taking Education to the Next Level where ALL children succeed.