A foster girl changed my life. Really, she did. I'll call her Sandy. She came to live with us when she was 14, a girl other families had shied away from because of what she'd done. Sandy had been charged with five counts of attempted murder. When my husband and I read her file, we asked, "Why?" Why would a kid do something like that? What had happened to drive her to this? It was the most important question we could have asked.
Sandy changed a lot during her time with us and so did I. I saw her life experiences as the major reason behind her choices. I came to understand that the question to ask isn't "What's wrong with the kid?" but rather "What happened to her?" This understanding has served me well as a teacher.
There's a reason kids act the way they do. Most of the time it's a defense mechanism to keep them feeling safe or in control when they feel neither in their home environment. Our district has done Trauma Sensitive Schools (TSS) training and learned about Acute Childhood Experiences (ACEs). This training brings to the forefront the question of "What happened?"
Recently my principal had us watch a 60 minutes segment reported on by Oprah about kids and trauma. Honestly, it was a segment I think every educator needs to view. It can help teachers see their kids in a different light and ask the "What happened?" question rather than the "What's wrong with him/her?" question. The first looks for the reason behind the behavior. If we can figure that out, we can deal with the root of the issue rather than just be punitive in our reaction.
When we see kids acting out, let's look for the why they are acting that way--the what happened to them. Kids want to feel safe, secure and loved. When those are threatened, they act out.
Sandy was the best foster child we ever had. We still keep in touch with her. Today she's married with three kids of her own. As a young teen, there was a reason why she did what she did. We just had to learn to ask the right questions. It truly did make all the difference.