It seems like every second week we hear terrible news about a disenfranchised young person wreaking revenge on their community in a violent way. In February, 17 people lost their lives at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida when a former student went on an armed rampage.
But there are many more lonely children who don’t go on to be violent and garner international media attention. Perhaps they disengage from their community and don’t go on to reach their potential. Perhaps they become angry and struggle to form healthy relationships.
One thing we do know is that catching those lonely children early and helping them to become part of their school community can only help the child and those around them.
A few years ago, author Glennon Doyle wrote about an interaction she had with her son’s teacher Kathy Pitt, and her method for identifying the lonely kids in her classroom. It’s such an inspiring lesson in compassion that it’s being recirculated again.
Glennon asked Kathy to explain to her the new way the school was teaching long division, so she could help her son Chase with his homework, and then a meaningful conversation developed from there.
“Afterwards, we sat for a few minutes and talked about teaching children and what a sacred trust and responsibility it is,” Glennon wrote.
“We talked about shaping little hearts to become contributors to a larger community – and we discussed our mutual dream that those communities might be made up of individuals who are Kind and Brave above all.”
Glennon said Kathy then told her about her method for really seeing what’s happening in her classroom, and who might be feeling isolated or lonely.
“Every Friday afternoon Chase’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week,” Glennon explained. “She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week.”
Then over the weekend, Kathy would study the students’ submissions, looking for patterns.
“Who is not getting requested by anyone else? Who doesn’t even know who to request? Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated? Who had a million friends last week and none this week?” Glennon wrote.
“This story is about what happens when we go through our day and notice people who might not get noticed,” she told Today.
She explained that Kathy’s plan was never about finding “exceptional citizens”, but rather about finding the lonely kids. “She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She’s pinning down – right away – who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.”
Kathy was determined to look beneath the surface of what she can see going on in the classroom to find out what is actually going on – how the children feel about themselves and their classmates. “It is like mining for gold – the gold being those little ones who need a little help – who need adults to step in and TEACH them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, or how to share their gifts with others,” said Glennon.
Kathy began doing this exercise every Friday after two students killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in 1999.
“That’s the day she realised kids need to be seen,” Glennon told Today.
“This brilliant woman watched Columbine knowing that ALL VIOLENCE BEGINS WITH DISCONNECTION,” Glennon wrote. “All outward violence begins as inner loneliness. She watched that tragedy KNOWING that children who aren’t being noticed will eventually resort to being noticed by any means necessary.”
Studies confirm that these acts of violence are linked to loneliness and disconnection. Anything that can help identify those that need help early has to be a good thing.
“I hope that’s the message they’re getting,” Kathy told Today. “I care about you. I want you to care about each other.”
Kathy has since retired, “after decades of saving lives,” wrote Glennon. “What a way to spend a life: looking for patterns of love and loneliness. Stepping in, every single day – and altering the trajectory of our world.”