This is Kanoon. (ขนุน: Jackfruit)
He likes to smile, a lot.
Kanoon and I have been on a journey together since day one of Sunshine Studios.
Kanoon is a very capable artist and according to his mother (whom I’ve had many meetings with) really enjoys coming to Sunshine Studios. He is one of the first students to be signed up for any program or class that I offer. His mom has even started worrying about what is going to happen when Kanoon (a 5th grader) goes on to middle school as I do not offer classes to that age group.
However, in class, Kanoon doesn’t really give me the impression that he wants to be there at all. He is one of the only students that I have ever had blatantly refuse to do a project and has very frequently given up on a project before he finishes.
I have talked to his mom about this, really questioning her choice to have him in the art classes if he’s not interested. I’ve explained that he’s often tired after school and if he’s not willing to do the projects he just sits for two hours doing nothing. But, she insists and Kanoon continues coming.
After about three weeks of butting heads with this particular student, I decided I needed to take a different approach.
I had noticed that Kanoon would work on a project until it’s almost done and at that point he would quit. I would try and push him to finish, but wasn’t getting any results and then, when his mom would come pick him up, she would look at his project and express disappointment in him.
Something needed to change. As I can’t change his mother, nor was I affectively changing Kanoon, I decided that it has to be me that changes. I would have to fight my urge to get annoyed with this kid and instead become his ally.
Instead of getting frustrated with Kanoon when he would tell me that ‘he’s finished’ after just barely beginning, I would encourage him to go take a break, buy a treat, take a walk and then come back and re-start. This actually shocked him at first, he was so used to my pushing him to keep going that he didn’t really know how to react to my openness to his stopping.
In fact, I started making him take 10 minute breaks and then after his break I would come and sit on the floor next to him and tell him how great of an artist he is. I would just gush over what he was doing, point out things that are really good and offer him suggestions in his technique. I started giving him very individualized attention. I started telling him, ‘Ok, Kanoon, you can finish now and have an ‘ok’ project–or you can keep going, push yourself a little more and have a piece that you will be very proud of.’
Not surprisingly, something started shifting in Kanoon’s behavior.
Number one, he started trusting me. I was no longer fighting him to perform, but encouraging him to be his best.
Number two, he started finishing his projects. Be it the breaks or just the idea of having something he was proud of, Kanoon would fill the class time working on his projects, even after his peers had started cleaning up.
And his mom, she started praising his work! (Maybe not to his face, but to me…)
I suppose none of this should be a surprise, but it was a humbling lesson to me. I was getting so irritated as this kid. A kid who I know doesn’t have a steady home and who seemingly doesn’t get any encouragement from his mom. I was getting irritated by someone who desperately needed praise.
The power of words. The power of biting your tongue and working in the opposite spirit. Instead of rejecting the student who is rejecting my lessons, I chose to befriend him. Instead of fighting his complaints and getting mad, I gave him options.
Kanoon and I have come a long way in our relationship; neither of us are the people we were at the beginning of the term. My only regret is that I played into the irritation as long as I did.
Here is Kanoon with his acrylic painting.
This project was hard for everyone, so many new skills being taught at once. But, Kanoon pushed through. We worked on this for three whole weeks! And the result, a smiling Kanoon and an awesome cat painting that he is, and should be, proud of.