Teachable moments don’t always happen in school, and when they do, it’s not necessarily in the classroom. This week, one educator is being lauded for his ability to look beyond the rules to impart one of life’s larger lessons.
When student Anthony Moore showed up to class wearing a hat in violation of the school’s dress code, Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School principal Jason Smith knew something was wrong.
Eventually, he was able to get Moore to open up. After about 30 minutes, the youth finally explained he was embarrassed by the bad haircut he’d recently received.
“He didn’t say straight out, but I feel like he didn’t want to be laughed at,” Smith said. “The barbershop and hair cuts as Black males is very important in the community and looking your best and being sharp, it’s just a cultural aspect.”
Understanding the foibles of peer pressure all too well, rather than simply dismiss Moore’s concerns and mete out disciplinary action, in a stroke of “shear genius,” Smith came up with an alternative solution: He’d fix the cruel cut himself.
It wasn’t just an idle offer. Smith’s been cutting hair since he was a teen. After showing Moore photographic evidence of some of the do’s he’d done, the young man agreed to the compromise.
So, braving the winter snows of Indianapolis, Smith drove home to get his gear and then headed back to re-align Moore’s wayward hairline. Moore willingly submitted to Smith’s barbering skills and was pleased enough with the results to return to class—sans hat—where he was able to finish out his school day in good spirits.
Moore’s mom, who’d okayed the impromptu haircut, was grateful that instead of going by the book and simply suspending her son, Smith chose to seize an opportunity to help the young man feel better about himself.
“All behavior is communication and when a student is struggling, we need to ask ourselves, ‘What happened to this child?’ instead of ‘What’s wrong with the child?’ Smith said. “‘What need is the child trying to get met?’ And really, the future of urban education rests on that question.”
While it’s a question without easy answers, being able to recognize it when it’s being asked—as well as being willing to take the initiative to transform a minor transgression into a teachable moment—is what makes educators like Smith a cut above the rest.