This story reminds me so much of an experience I had years ago, working at Family Life Center in Petaluma. Since I know that Kelly also worked there, once upon a time, I wanted to share this story because I know she'll appreciate it and others may as well. For those who don't know, FLC was an amazing residential treatment center for emotionally troubled adolescents, many with significant learning disabilities. Kelly and I both cut our educational teeth there, back in the day, working with some extremely challenged, and challenging, youth.
Wednesdays were staff development days, and we routinely challenged ourselves with many of the same types of emotionally therapeutic exercises we asked the students to engage in. It could get pretty heavy, to put it mildly. But one week we had a guest speaker, a bigwig from the "parent" program in Arizona, and something happened that I'll never forget. We had been doing various icebreakers in small groups all morning, and right before lunch we started playing a game with the entire staff. We were in a circle (that was kind of our thing) and our guest would start by making a statement that had a pattern to it. The next person would try to make a statement that fit the pattern, would get a "yes" or a "no", and the next person would go, all the way around the circle as many times as it took for everyone to figure out the pattern. Then we would start a new one. The first couple were pretty easy, and fun. For instance: "Puppies are, dogs are not...kittens are, cats are not...pineapples are, grapes are not." The trick was that any words with double letters "were" and any words without a double letter "were not."
Then it got weird. Our guest speaker started a round with some outlandish statement about the moon. We went around the entire circle without anyone figuring out the pattern. We tried it again and a couple people got it, but most of us (myself included) were still stumped. And we tried it again. And again. And a few more times. A couple more people eventually figured it out, but the rest of us were just getting more and more frustrated, and hungry (did I mention it was lunchtime?) and ready to quit. The mood was shifting to a very uncomfortable place, and the facilitator was ready to let us off the hook to break for lunch, but then one of our Program Directors ( Jon F., who Kelly will remember) spoke up and said something that has stuck with me for all these years. More or less, he reminded us all that the frustration, and discomfort, maybe even embarrassment and anger, that we were feeling at that moment was what many of our students lived with every day. We weren't used to not being able to figure things out, and we were getting upset over one silly exercise that didn't have any real bearing on our lives. Many of our students had a hard time figuring ANYTHING out on their own, sometimes and especially things that were really important to achieving success or even just surviving in the world. Allowing ourselves to be outside our accustomed zone of "knowing things" and "making connections" was crucial to understanding our students' perceptions of reality. If WE could begin to understand the very real, often infuriating and/or terrifying struggles they faced on a daily basis, sometimes ALL day, just to UNDERSTAND things they NEEDED TO KNOW, THEN we could start to understand why they acted the way they did sometimes, and better help them overcome those struggles so they didn't have to feel so angry, or afraid, or alone. But we had to be able to feel frustrated, and impatient, and angry, and still not quit, because that's what we asked of them. So we kept going until everyone got there. Turned out the "pattern" was that you could say any crazy thing you wanted, about the moon or anything else, so long as you started with the word "Okay..." So simple, yet so maddeningly difficult for so many of us. Until it wasn't.
I can't speak for everyone there that day, but for me it was a huge eye-opener about the experiences that some of our students have with learning, and why compassion is so important in helping someone work through frustration, especially in the classroom. Thanks, Jon. And thank you Kelly for telling your story, which helped me remember this one.