Kathy Pitt is not a famous sports icon, a world leader, or celebrity. She is much more than that. She makes it possible for children to grow up to be any of those things, and so much more. She’s a teacher.
In Pitt’s career as an elementary school math teacher, she has been on the front line championing the most neglected kids and teaching surprising life lessons to every child. One lesson she gives priority to is about bullying, and one of her strategies to teach that lesson stands out from the rest.
A mom asked for tutoring from her son’s teacher, because she didn’t understand his math homework.
Glennon Doyle Melton’s son was fortunate enough to have Mrs. Pitt as his fifth grade teacher.
“A few weeks ago, I went into Chase’s class for tutoring,” wrote Melton in an article on her blog.
That’s exactly the kind of thing Pitt appreciates—a parent wanted to learn about her child and what they were doing in class. But the tutoring wasn’t for Chase—it was for his mom. The boy was doing well in class, but Melton didn’t understand the math concepts he was doing in his homework.
The lesson started with math, but turned into a conversation about life.
Pitt patiently walked Chase’s mom through some of the important math concepts her son was working on. But it was a conversation they had after the lesson that left Melton’s mouth agape.
They learned that they both agreed that the actual subjects taught in the classroom, like reading and math, played a secondary role to teaching more important life concepts.
It’s a common belief among some of the most successful teachers and parents that if you don’t place a priority on reaching the hearts of children by teaching kindness, contribution, teamwork, and courage, you’ve kind of missed the mark. Many teachers can teach subjects, but it takes an excellent teacher to teach kids.
Habits Of The Heart
Their discussion led to Pitt mentioning a special strategy she used to find out which students needed such kindness and support the most. Melton wrote in her blog:
“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. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.”
Pitt explained that after those little pieces of paper were collected and the children had left for home, she spent the rest of her Friday afternoon each week analyzing them, looking for patterns, such as:
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?
Identifying Where Help Is Needed
Pitt told Melton she used that information to identify children who were lonely or having difficulty connecting with other kids. She noted what kids might be falling through the cracks socially or were being ignored by their peers.
And, perhaps most importantly, she was identifying who the bullies were and who the kids were that were being targeted by bullies.
Melton described this strategy as being “like taking an X-ray of a classroom to see beneath the surface of things and into the hearts of students.” She added, “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.”
“The truth comes out on those safe, private, little sheets of paper.”
The observant mom was getting more than a lesson in new math that afternoon. She was learning from a master teacher about how bullying works and how to address it.
Melton continued: “And it’s a bully deterrent because every teacher knows that bullying usually happens outside of her eyeshot — and that often kids being bullied are too intimidated to share. But as she said — the truth comes out on those safe, private, little sheets of paper.”
Chase’s mom recognized the simple genius in Mrs. Pitt’s approach. She asked her how long she had been doing this.
Pitt answered, “Ever since Columbine,” she said. “Every single Friday afternoon since Columbine.”
Bullying can lead to violence, and violence is born of loneliness and disconnection.
After Melton learned of Pitt’s strategy to counteract the damages of bullying, she was floored by its simple approach and effectiveness. She then wrote the essay that she shared on her blog and Facebook page.
The blog was titled “This Brilliant Math Teacher Has a Formula to Save Kids Lives.”
“This brilliant woman watched Columbine knowing that ALL VIOLENCE BEGINS WITH DISCONNECTION. 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.”
That day, Melton received two very important lessons—she learned from an expert educator both how to address the problem of bullying … and a few new math facts.
Melton is also an author, blogger, and founder of the Momastery Facebook Page and Together Rising, a nonprofit whose mission includes alleviating the “critical, urgent needs of women and families who have nowhere else to turn, and to create a community of committed, impassioned givers.”