By Michelle Palladini
I always believed that my job as a School Resource Officer was about serving and protecting youth in my community with compassion and understanding. However, I learned many people believe this position contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline. Some have articulated that police are not qualified to work in schools, and worse, that most Officers lack empathy and reliability. When I heard or read these comments, I would fiercely defend the integrity of my profession saying, “How can the public paint us with such a broad brush?”
Reflect for a moment on the generalizations people have made about your job as a service provider (counselor, teacher, school administrator, coach, etc). How do these comments make you feel? Is your attitude defensive, indifferent, tolerant, or something else?
When I began studying mindfulness, I started to understand how complex these relationships really were and that my defensive attitude only contributed to the breakdown. I noticed that although I had compassion for the children and the families I worked with, I still saw myself as the “fixer” or “protector,” and unknowingly, created an “us and them.” Through my mindfulness practice, I started to see the interconnectedness of all people, and began to protect and serve in a truly authentic way. I became more focused on listening, thinking and acting with kindness and curiosity, which became a daily intention I put into practice. I began empowering people, and working collaboratively with others in my “village,” as opposed to imparting my own opinions and succor.
Allow me to share an example from the field:
A few years ago, my school was working with a student named Michael who was frequently in the Principal’s office.* He was issued a number of detentions, and was regularly absent from school. We quickly learned that we had no help or support from the adults in Michael’s life at home. It seemed no matter how hard everyone tried during the school day, everything would come “undone” went he went home. As such, people were quick to give up, disillusioned with the thought of mentoring him anymore.
I decided to have one-on-one meetings with Michael when he got into trouble, but as hard as I tried to get through to him, he remained resistant. I felt frustrated, resentful, and defeated; maybe this is one child I just can’t reach.
After some time, I realized I was going about this wrong. I was only showing up when Michael was in trouble. I was trying to befriend him when he was angry and upset. When I looked inside myself, I realized this “befriending” was a bogus way of trying to correct the behavior, or solicit information about what he did wrong. Rightfully so, Michael didn’t trust me. He saw me as an authority figure and one who would respond with a heavy hand, extraneous (or in his words, “annoying”) problem-solving techniques, and/or a motivational lecture when he stepped out of line. Most importantly, he saw me as I was; trying to be his friend in a way that was not completely genuine.
I decided to think about the goals I set for myself when I began my role as a School Resource Officer. My personal mission statement was, “to compassionately protect and serve by investigating problems with kindness and curiosity.” I began using my own mindfulness techniques to understand that Michael was not behaving this way towards me because he wanted to make my life miserable. Instead, he was a child whose behavior needed investigating from a place of care and concern, and dare I say, love.
It became my mission to truly understand what Michael what was going through, and how I could best serve him. I decided to change my interactions from lecture to conversation. I started listening with the intent to understand; not with the intent to reply. I told him how happy I was to see him each day. I smiled. He smiled. Ultimately, Michael and I bonded once I began to connect with him in an honest and from-the-heart kind of way.
I also brought the village together to wrap our arms around this child, and collaborate on services for him, conscious of what’s unfolding moment to moment; not projecting into the future. Collectively, we all began listening, thinking and acting with kindness and curiosity. Today, Michael has come so far! His grades aren’t the best, and he still has some behavioral challenges, but he is happy, healthy, and safe, protected by the adults in the school who do a lot of good for him in six hours each day.
My advice for you? Develop a daily practice that is rooted in intention; this will help you to serve your community in a mindfully compassionate way.
- Take a minute in the morning to recite the following intention (or come up with your own):
“I will stay present in each moment today, acting with a kind, curious, and compassionate awareness, for myself and others. I will work with my village to support, empower, and be truly in-service to others.”
- Come back to this phrase throughout the day as needed. Are you practicing curiosity and compassion? Are you working in partnership with the village? Are you noticing any frustrations, projections, biases or opinions you hold? If so, just bring awareness to it.
- At the end of the day, reflect on whether this intention had a positive effect on yourself and others today. Perhaps track your progress in a bedside journal.
Journey well and walk easy on the path! Remember, you can’t help but be in service when you live your life on purpose, with compassion for self and others.
* Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
Michelle Paladini presents How ‘Mindfully Compassionate Policing’ Builds Trust, Legitimacy, and Villages to Support our Kids at the 2018 Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference.