The following was written by a friend and was shared with his staff in an email. John O'Brien serves as the principal at Rabiner Treatment Center. In many ways, what John has written applies to our work with all students at some level in relation to our aspirations for them.
The more I ponder the more I’m realizing that these children we work with are children without much hope. The Lord knows that we all have high hopes for them, but do they have the same aspirations that we have for them? The difference here is that we can loosely throw around the hopes we have for them, for in our view, the hopes are as plentiful as the grains of sand on an ocean beach, but is that a shared vision? I believe they are holding tightly to the small handful of sand they were able to grab just before they were carried away in the turbulence of their young life and they are not so willing to share their small portion.
We spend many moments attempting to convince them that the future holds wonderful possibilities for them, especially if they would just buckle down and concentrate on the concepts we lay before them. Then when they reject our efforts to help them, and acknowledging here that rejection hurts, we experience frustration. What does frustration look like? What does it sound like? Is your neighbor frustrated? How do you know this? How do you deal with the frustration in you and in others?
I truly believe the answer to that is in our ability to understand who we work with, kids without much hope. So how can we instill hope in the hopeless? Maybe we should start at their level, to where they cling to what little hope they have left. You may think I’ve really lost it but I have seen it work, I just didn’t know what to name it.
If you want to know what they hope for just ask them, not in some superficial way, but in those special moments you have with a kid. You all do it, it’s that time when things are real with these kids and they trust you. Can hope be drawn with a pencil? Can it be written down? Can it be taken through the lens of a camera? Can it be shared through a song by a favorite artist? Can it be discussed in the proper moment? Sharing their small portion is not something any of us can take lightly and it is truly a gift when given. Treat it with all the dignity and humility that you can for it happens rarely, but be ready for it for if we ask, they may answer.
Once they share their hopes with us we also get a glimpse of their fears. Think of the fears that these kids have in their life, it’s frightening. Do you think that the void left by the hope that has been torn from them is replaced by fear? I believe it has.
We see the outward sign of those fears daily and wonder why that kid is running from our room, or out the building. Do they trust us enough to come back on their own or do we add to their fear by threatening or humiliating them when they return, or do we welcome them back? That difference says a lot about you in the eyes of these children.
Let’s all work in helping these kids find their own hope so while with us they can reflect, sometime in their own future, back to the time spent with us as a significant moment in their life’s journey.
Staff, thanks for all you do for the children entrusted to our care, job
John J. O'Brien
Principal, Manson Northwest Webster
Rabiner Treatment Center
1762 Johnson Ave.
Ft. Dodge, IA 50501