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.


  1. It's so important to be reminded of these words every once in a while. Our students are more than numbers or names on a list; they are children, going through things, and sometimes we just need to stop and listen to them for a minute. Thanks for reminding me of this, Dr. Steele!

    1. Thanks for reading! And for the encouraging words!

  2. This reminds me of a recent keynote I witnessed by Tom Murray; He shares a video where all of these characters are living their lives, but no one around them is privy to the text that appears in the video. It shares the behind the scenes "stuff" that the people are either putting up with or perhaps celebrating in their heads.

    The idea is that we must not be assuming, but rather be open to the unimaginable hidden lives behind our students. I like that you basically asked your red-haired student, "What's up with the red hair?" instead of assailing her. You introduced dialogue rather than battle. You may never have learned about the trauma this girl was experiencing. I hope the best for that student!

  3. I've seen that video. It's powerful, indeed. Thanks for reading the post!

  4. What is the name of the video that Tom Murray showed?

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