Wednesday, October 9, 2019
The Girl with Red Hair
She was just being defiant. I was certain I needed to suspend her.
She had streaks of bright red hair - like fire engine red! We had a large high school of 1800 students, but I was in the hallway a lot, and I couldn't help but notice the hair. I casually warned her a few times that she would need to change the color of her hair because our code of conduct didn't allow "unnatural hair color." Several days passed, and I still noticed the hair. As an experienced administrator, I knew I had bigger battles to fight, so I always tried to steer clear of "going to the mat" over dress code violations, but at this point, it seemed like she was just being defiant. So I confronted her during a class change. I told her I didn't want to suspend her, but she seemed to be leaving me no choice. I basically said, "What's your deal!?" Her eyes got wet, and I could tell she felt shame just having to talk to me. (She was never in trouble, had never been sent to the office, and aside from the hair color, went totally under the radar.) She went on to share the personal drama she was having to live through at home. She finally said something that knocked the wind out of me: "Dr. Steele, I feel like the color of my hair is the only thing in my life that I can control."
This is a moment that I will not forget. As I write these words, my eyes are welling up... thinking about this young lady's feelings of desperation... thinking about the lives that many of our students are living... thinking about the challenges confronting many of the kids in our schools - challenges completely unknown to the adults in the building. When I heard her story, my preoccupation with hair color suddenly seemed absurd. I know we need rules. And students have to be held accountable for following the rules. I get it. But it is vital that we take the time to hear and actually feel the story of our students. We will never understand our students if we don't stop to genuinely listen. But we can't just listen to their story; we have to actually care about their story. When we do that, our perspective will forever be altered. That is when we can connect with students; that is when we can impact students; that is when we have the chance to really make a difference.