Picture this: A student abruptly walks off our school’s Field of Dreams (i.e., our athletic field, where intramurals are played), fists clenched and head down. A staff member catches up and starts to say something. Then she remembers RCE — an acronym for Recognize, Get Curious, Empower, that encourages the practice of an evidence-based mental health modality that all teachers and staff at Eagle Rock School have recently started to take to heart.
The staff member realizes she is angry at the student for reacting to an emotional trigger during intramurals and storming off the field. Instead of judging the student or reacting in kind, the staff member checks in with her own mind, body, and emotions, and takes a deep breath. As a result, she makes a nonjudgmental acknowledgement of why she is feeling that way and walks silently alongside the student.
A calm conversation ensues, with the student talking about what happened on the field, the high level of expectations the student has for themselves, and the self-imposed pressure to ‘get it right’ all the time.
The staff member listens attentively, then helps the student go deeper by asking questions, all the while providing a nonprejudicial space for the student to explore what’s actually going on. The student admits to feeling insecure and needing to constantly show off or project a sense of competency to others.
The staff member then empowers the student to identify personal solutions and ideas of what is going to work for them to successfully climb out of the situation. Together they come up with a plan and commit to following through with it.
Recognize, Get Curious, and Empower (RCE)
The above scenario pretty much describes how Eagle Rock staff and instructors are incorporating RCE in the daily lives of our students. What prompted our decision to believe in this modality in our day-to-day interactions?
If you’re at all aware of how we do things here at Eagle Rock, you know that this is a diverse community, and that our individual relationships look very different, based as they are on backgrounds, identity markers, and other situational factors. The idea is to honor those differences while providing reference points in how to best support our students.
Because, let’s face it. life for high schoolers is complex, often emotional, and demanding. Regardless of where it’s located, high school is the perfect scenario for mismatched opinions and misinterpreted relationships — both in and outside the learning environment. RCE draws on several evidence-based models, including Motivational Interviewing, Attachment-Based Based therapy, Solutions Focused Therapy, and Mindfulness. Here at Eagle Rock, we’re buoyed by several staff members who fully understand the complex makeup of our student population and are helping the rest of us use the modality in our daily interactions.
The objective is to offer some additional best practices in education and personal growth to ensure that we are supporting students as best as possible. Put simply, RCE can be used when a teacher or staff member approaches a student with issues that must be dealt with.
Below, we break down how the program becomes successful in a residential high school setting such as that offered to Eagle Rock students. First up, Recognize:
Recognize yourself. Where am I at right now? What’s going on for me? Am I in the right space to have this conversation? Do I need to recalculate to regulate and calm myself? Or do I need to get into my body more?
Recognize your conditioned tendencies. By slowing down and examining our own conditioned tendencies and automatic reactions, school leaders enter a conversation armed with an abundance of resources. Conditioned tendencies occur almost instantly — quickly bypassing the conscious mind. But by bringing a nonjudgmental awareness to a teacher’s impulses, the result is empowerment and many more choices in how to respond. The objective is for the staffer or teacher to react based on their conditioned tendencies.
Refrain from judgment. Here at Eagle Rock, our students long to be seen — truly seen. The last thing they want to feel is ashamed or guilty. As a result, our staff goes out of its way to avoid instilling such emotions in our students, which, could actually cement those maladaptive tendencies.
Get to the heart of it. Our staff and instructors are taught to assume that a student’s behavior is an effort to communicate something deeper. So, instead of just accepting a superficial response when an instructor or staff member asks them what’s up, we instead stay with the student and calmly engage with questions until that student reveals what’s actually going on.
Our students know the answer. Most of the time, our students know how to provide a solution to whatever they’re dealing with. All that is required is a little guidance in coming up with their own approach, prompted by questions such as, “How exactly do you want to play this?” or “What are we going to do?”
Instill confidence. When our staff members and instructors are seen as competent, knowledgeable, and strong, they embody that. Our students are strong as heck. What Eagle Rock School is doing is helping them see what’s already inside of them.
Focusing on what works. Finally, our education leaders and staff are in business to help uncover our students’ natural inclination to properly identify challenges and solve problems. We do so by asking questions that prompt positive responses. We ask them if they “ever faced anything like this in the past? And, “How did you get through it?”
Using RCE, we encourage students to dig deeper into who they are and to come up with their own solutions to challenges and problems. Remember our scenario above with the student who walked off the field? By practicing RCE, it all comes down to a belief that our students are incredibly intelligent and resourceful and are capable of navigating whatever challenge they may face.
When a student confronts a challenging situation, our staff is expected to hear them out and maybe ask some questions. But it is the student who must develop the skills necessary to succeed at whatever they’re aiming for. At Eagle Rock, aim to equip students with tools and beliefs that they can count on for the rest of their lives, and RCE is one of the tools we now use to help everyone engage in that effort.