As I walked by a classroom yesterday, I heard a teacher yelling at a student with a very forceful voice and exaggerated body language. This immediately took me to another place and time, the time when Mr. Black karate chopped me so hard in the back of the neck that I peed my pants instantly in front of the entire class. Why, you might ask? Because I ran on a corner of the grass instead of the sidewalk. You see, Mr Black, had a very strict rule that grass was not a place for children. I was playing tag with my friends and in the chase, I took a short-cut across the grass to place the tag. And there he was — I froze in fear. He chopped, and I peed. “Go clean yourself up he growled.” (I wonder how my head stayed attached to my body with that forceful chop).
I still fully feel the deep humiliation and shame that a small first grader should not have experienced. Still, 50 plus years later the experience brings tears to my eyes. I spent the remainder of that school day in soiled clothes, watching the clock. When I arrived home I went up to my bedroom and put on my pajamas and crawled in bed. I told my mom that I was sick. I was simply too ashamed to tell her the truth. “Come down and I will make you some supper.” My mom said as she lovingly put her arms around me and took me down the stairs to each some of her delicious cinnamon rolls.
We live in a perilous world. A world filled with disadvantage, sadness, and inequity. A world where a young child does not always go home to a clean house with warm cinnamon rolls and loving reassurance from a caring family. Sometimes a loving and caring adult at school is the only safe person in a child’s world. William W. Purkey, the author of Invitational Education, addresses a 12 to 1 Ratio (Blue Cards: Positive, beneficial, rewarding interactions -- Orange Cards: Negative and/or toxic feedback and interaction) . According to Purkey's research, "Each person (even those with the best of circumstances) require at least twelve blue cards (positive experiences) for every one orange card (negative experiences) just to "make it through the night." This ratio indicates the strength of orange cards (negative or toxic experiences), and the actions needed to counteract them. When too few blue cards are received, or too many orange, the ratio falls "below minimum" and terrible things begin to happen. Individuals begin to lose self-esteem, optimism, and hope. This loss is coupled with the appearance of pessimism, hostility, and terrible anger. "Nobody likes me, respects me or cares about me, so I don’t like, respect, or care about others either." When children have experienced trauma, the ratio of blue to orange needs to be a staggering 19:1!
Teachers: Please give out the blue cards freely!
"The reason the blue and orange card metaphor is a valuable one, is that it serves as a constant reminder that everything people do, and every way they do it, is either positive or negative, beneficial or lethal, inviting or disinviting." says Paula H. Stanley of Radford University, VA (Read her full article here).
Purkey reminds us further in his research that everything counts! "The way a phone is answered, a letter written, a word spoken, an office painted, a colleague treated, a policy established, a program implemented is either helpful or harmful."
Maslow (1970) captured the essence of the blue and orange card metaphor when he wrote: “Let people realize that every time they threaten someone or humiliate or hurt ... or dominate or reject another human being, they become forces for the creation of psychopathology, even if these be small forces. Let them recognize that every man [sic] who is kind, helpful, decent, psychologically democratic, affectionate, and warm, is a psychotherapeutic force even though a small one."
Teachers please treat your students with the caring and kindness they deserve. Be the kind of teacher who sends a child home happy and full of positive experiences. These blue card experiences have lasting effects, that can change the pathways of life. Thank you to the countless educators who are handing out blue cards to the point of exhaustion! A kind and caring adult makes all the difference in a child’s life.