Honesty is the Best Policy

It may come as a surprise to some, but there are days when I’m in a funk (ok, I know you aren’t surprised and in fact, can relate). I call it being prickly (and I have porcupine earrings I can wear for those days). I can imagine that if I was in “one of those moods” and had to get in front of classroom of students it could prove challenging, especially if the students are also in “one of those moods”.  My hope is that this blog can help provide an approach or perspective to possibly alleviate what could potentially become an even worse day.

One technique to consider is “fake it to make it” and muster through the day. There may be occasions when it is necessary. But I’ve learned from experience that that strategy doesn’t necessarily work, or at least work well. Kids are very observant and can tell if you are faking it, regardless of how good of an actor you may be. And as a mental health professional I can tell you that isn’t the healthiest way to go. Adversely, I’m hoping that we allow ourselves to feel our feelings, acknowledge them and address them. I’m proposing that we consider an alternative option, which could help things to improve for you and hopefully those around you, while potentially staving off some unforeseen or brewing emotional disruption.

So just what would happen if you approached your classroom with honesty and vulnerability, during your “funk” days (or any day for that matter). I’m suggesting that it may be ok to be truthful with your class about how you are feeling. You could be in a good place that morning and that would be easy to share. Something like, “Good morning class, I’m so happy to be here with you today! It’s going to be a great day!” OR maybe just maybe, you have had a (typical) rushed morning and are feeling harried, distracted, and edgy and would prefer to be anywhere but there. What would happen, in those cases, if you said to your students, “Man, what a morning! I’m feeling _____ and I’m not at my best right now”. You could even disclose why, if it’s appropriate to do so.  What do you anticipate would happen? Some of you may think “Well, if I did that the kids would take advantage of me”. And granted there could be some truth to that, depending on the personalities in your class. But I’m choosing to be optimistic and hopeful that most young people would appreciate your transparency and show you support. Consider it a chance to model for them how to handle emotions or a difficult situation in a way that is healthy and doesn’t hurt anyone. You would show them your ability to be self-aware and to self-manage. What a great example for them to imitate. Not to mention, this strategy demonstrates that you trust them, respect them and are, wait for it, wait for it…. human too.

Additionally, I think it is ok to include a request of your class as well. Perhaps you could say something like “I’m requesting an extra measure of cooperation and understanding from all of you until I’m in a better place”, or whatever it is that you feel like you need from them, obviously within realistic limits. I’m a strong believer in asking for what we need. This provides another good example for them around self-awareness and relationship building skills. It shows them how to be in touch with their feelings and needs, express what they need in a constructive way and to look to others to help support those needs. As you know, children look to us for support and expect us to be strong for them in their moments of weakness, and we should be, but sometimes perhaps we forget that kids can also be strong, have their own strength and resilience and want to show love and compassion to the adults in their lives, and will, if given the opportunity.

I remember a time when I was scheduled to conduct a “mandatory” training for state employees who worked in an urban community (Stereotypically, state employees are underpaid and overworked, which was the case in this scenario, so appropriately they were a bit jaded and “prickly”). So as fate would have it, of course, the directions that I was given for where to park and the locale of the meeting room (at the university where the training was being held) were wrong. I could feel my anxiety rising. I was raised to be PUNCTUAL and as an “in-recovery control freak”, I like to know where I’m going. Eventually, I found a parking structure (not the right one, but it worked) and the training room, which of course was full of people who were getting tired of waiting. And naturally, none of the equipment I was planning to use was set up. Needless to say it was QUITE a morning! But instead of getting defensive or ignoring what I was feeling, I was honest and direct with the crowd of restless attendees. “Man, have I had an adventure this morning, which means you have also been on an adventure. Don’t you hate it when things don’t go the way you’d hoped they would?! I really need some grace this morning and appreciate how patient you have all been while things get situated here. Just think, things can only go up from here.” The grumbling, including from me, ceased, people relaxed and the mood in the room shifted. We were able to get on with our day in a more calm and joyful vibe. It ended up being a good, interactive and enjoyable day together (The great lunch helped too…when all else fails have a delicious lunch that includes cheesecake!).

Lastly, I think it is also important to let your students know when you are doing better.  Perhaps you could share how things improved or what you did to make a change. This shows them that you don’t have to stay “prickly”. You have a choice and the power to do better and feel better. Your example could empower them to follow suit. I suspect the environment in the room and the outcome of the day will be more productive and pleasant with this approach. Try it, see how it goes.