It is the end of another challenging day at McClure, a Tulsa public elementary school tucked into a neighborhood where residents worry about low income and high crime. Physical education teacher Mike McShane spots one of his students walking through the gymnasium.
“Thanks for that letter you wrote me. It meant a lot to me, dude,” McShane tells the little boy. “Your future is very bright. I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow!”
“What we see in homes where there’s trauma is there’s no language,” McShane says as the child departs. “There are no conversations that maybe you and I took for granted and got to have with our parents and extended family about the future and about education and about life.
“Then a lot of the behavior challenges that we see is because of the trauma that’s been experienced. The way we negate that is by building relationships.”
McShane is in his fifth year at McClure. When he started, he might have considered a more rigid “you’d better listen” approach.
“There’s still some value in that, but we need more than just discipline,” he says. “There are so many different experiences and developmental issues going on in an elementary school. We need to create a relationship with these children and let them start to become a more active participant in the conversation about their life.”
McShane has those conversations with his students in front of a gym wall decorated with pictures of Muhammad Ali, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Serena Williams and Simone Biles, among many others. He works his way down to another display titled “Path to College,” then to another about nutrition.
“From the wall, we meditate. That’s a huge tool for us. We practice yoga. We play,” McShane says. “Humans, and especially children, are designed for play.”
McShane is encouraged by McClure Principal Katy Jimenez, by her perspective.
“We have mandatory meetings every Monday after school. Once a month, we do diversity chats where we’re learning about the trauma some of our students are going through,” he says. “We’re kind of on the ground level with a lot of young people, so we have a huge opportunity to connect with them and bridge.”
McShane revels in the fact that as a PE teacher he sees the entire student body. That enhances the effect he can have as an adult influence.
How does he know he is making an impact?
“I don’t know. I hope,” he says. “I can show you a note I just got where a kid wrote it out. ‘Hey, coach, the conversations we’re having, I wouldn’t have passed my assessments if it wasn’t for you talking to me about the challenges of stress and how it affects us and affects our performance.’ Every once in a while you’ll have a student come back and say, ‘Hey, you’re helping.’
“At the same time, every once in a while you’ll see students in the seventh or eighth grade that you wish you could have helped more. Some of that stuff is out of our hands. You just keep showing up and doing your best.”