Friday, July 15, 2016

Tough Conversations

What If a Student Came to You About........

Dear Readers,

As adults, we frequently find it difficult to find a balance in our lives between healthy living, personal obligations and professional responsibilities. Luckily, most of us have family, friends, spouses, PLN members, tribes, crews, groups, chats, some type of "go-to" when we feel like we are drowning. We rely on these support systems to encourage us, listen and make us feel like we are not alone.  

What about our students? So many of our middle school students (I work with them on a daily basis) are overwhelmed today with academics, extra-curricular activities, relationships, family, friends, jobs and things we know nothing about. Being so young, they often do not have the "toolbox" of strategies that we have developed as adults, as we have experienced life. 

Some young adults have a strong support to lean on, while others do not. Some make good choices when dealing with stress and others make decisions that they think will help them at that moment in time regardless of the impact it may have on their well-being or the people who love them.

As educators, we all have our own personal comfort level(s) with different topics and experiences. Our students may confide in us forcing us to have tough conversations. 
  • Would you be ready to engage in tough conversations?
  • Do you know what topics you would feel comfortable talking to students about? 
  • Do you know what topics you would feel uncomfortable talking to students about?
I am fortunate in that there are few topics I am uncomfortable discussing with students. It has allowed me to establish powerful relationships as both a classroom teacher, administrative intern and reading specialist providing interventions. 

Over the past few years, I have immersed myself in Young Adult Literature. As a result, I have discovered many titles that have main characters facing teen issues relevant to their world today. They have helped me in learning about the students I work with, as well as being resources to recommend to parents, teachers and sometimes students if appropriate. 

On the other hand, these are books our students are reading. I have seen many of them in the hands of those I teach. Consequently, I have had students inquire about some of the issues they encounter in them. I also think it is important to be aware of what our teens are reading so if/when they approach us we are ready.

These recommendations, thoughts and opinions are my own. I hope they can be of help to you as they have been to me.


I had the pleasure of seeing Jay Asher speak at the Rochester Teen Book Festival a couple of years ago. 

The main character of his book takes her own life. She leaves behind 13 cassette tapes for different individuals in her life. It reveals the plot that led to her decision. 

It is a very powerful story about the importance of listening to our students. We hear them, but do we really listen? 

This title is one of a trilogy. It speaks to the word of athletics and also how one accident can change lives forever. 

A young man is the driver when a teammate is killed in a car accident. Drinking was involved and he does not know how to move forward.

It is another powerful story about a young adult who feels there is no other option but to take his own life.

My Reflection: Suicide is so complex because it impacts so many people, it is like a Domino effect. What if this happened in our schools to a student? What if it happened to a family member of one of our students? I once helped a student write a personal narrative on a death by suicide in the family. What would your comfort level be in helping that same student?

Eating Disorders

I have also had the pleasure of seeing Laurie Halse Anderson at Rochester Teen Book Festival. I work with middle school girls who are consumed with their weight, looks and how they are perceived by others. I frequently hear the phrase, "I need to lose weight."

This is the story of two young females who are desperate to be as thin as possible. It costs one of them her life. Consequently, the other friend has to find a way to come to terms with her illness in order to be healthy and the loss of a friend.

My Reflection: How can we help our girls to see the beauty they possess on the inside and outside despite the massive amounts of images they are constantly exposed to depicting an unrealistic reality? What if a student came to us with a concern about a friend? What if we had a concern about a student? 

Self-Injury (such as cutting)

I once had a conversation with someone who was concerned about a young woman she knew who was engaging in self-injury behaviors. I recommended this book to that person and the feedback was it gave some insight into the mind of someone who feels the need to hurt himself/herself.

I have also had experience with a young adult who engaged in this behavior. The important thing I learned was students should never feel ashamed to talk to us about what is happening in their lives.

My Reflection: Cutting can be a scary and intimidating topic. How would we react if a student was engaging in this behavior? What would we do if a student confided that another student was doing this?


When this book came out, it was being passed around between 8th graders. I remember a parent asking about it. Luckily, I had read it and loaned that parent my copy. 

The story is told from a male perspective. He befriends a female that some would consider "rebellious" and makes "poor choices". However, he is drawn to her and must face the turmoil that seems to follow her.

It combines several issues that are interrelated and connected to one another.

Personal Reflection: Our students are good people who sometimes make poor decisions. How do we help those who need healthier ways of dealing with "life"? How do we help others to not make those same decisions?

The Tip of the Iceberg.......

Of course these are just the tip of the iceberg in amazing Young Adult Literature. Our students count on us as their support system, sometimes we might be the only support they have. It is important that we recognize our own strengths and difficulties in having difficult conversations.

Thank you to all educators for everything you do each day! You are heroes to so many of our students!