Individual Development and Group Identity
Shimshon was the mentor for a Kav L’Noar group of 8th graders. The biggest challenge was to make sure that every student got the chance to develop in the individual way they needed, while also building a sense of group identity. That was not easy when the same group had so many different things to work on. One student was distracted all the time. There was another student who was too aggressive while two were too passive. One who had no sense of boundaries and one who refused to share anything at all.
It was hard enough to get the entire group to even show up on the same day, let alone create a group dynamic. The only consistency was that no one really knew how to behave in a socially acceptable way. When it came to social situations, every student would get it at least slightly wrong in one way or another.
Nobody ever really talked to Ilai at all
Ilai loved animals and spent most of his time thinking about them and finding stray cats on the street to feed. He was famous in his grade for the time he brought his pet hamster to school in his pocket without permission. Ilai was promptly sent home when it was discovered the hamster trying to escape. Ilai was much more comfortable with animals than with people. He would never willingly have a conversation with anyone.
He was pretty silent in the Kav L’Noar group. One thing that almost no one knew about Ilai was that his mother had been battling cancer for many years. Nobody talked about it with him because nobody ever really talked to Ilai at all.
As the weeks went by, Shimshon made a huge effort to create opportunities for everybody to work on their particular issues. The group explored how to keep calm, how to stand up for themselves, how to find value in things that may be unexpected, and how to talk and be heard. Students started to make progress. Ilai too began to open up a little and his contributions were then duly acknowledged by the other students.
When 8th graders pay a shiva call
One morning, Shimshon came into school as normal. Before he’d even had a chance to take his coat off, his entire group surrounded him. ‘Have you heard?’ Ilai’s mother passed away on Friday. We need to go immediately and pay a shiva call. You need to take us all right now!’
The school swung into action and quickly hired a minibus. Within an hour, Shimshon and his Kav L’Noar group were on their way to Ilai’s house. The boys who struggled to show tact or respond to social cues at the best of times spent the entire journey discussing how to behave. When to speak and when to be quiet, what to say and what not to say, what would be expected and what would comfort Ilai. They were entirely united and entirely focused on the task in hand.
When they all trooped in together, Ilai looked overwhelmed. The boys hugged him and sat around him, asking him how he felt, telling him how sorry they were and how sad they all felt for his loss.
After the shiva, Ilai returned to school and the group carried on almost as before. What was different was that everybody continued to reach out to Ilai. They group maintained a safe and supportive space for him. And Shimshon no longer felt that it was a challenge to create a group identity- the boys had built it all by themselves.