I’ve been thinking about teachers with empathy and concern.
What would it take for teachers under pressure to deliver results to get a neurodiverse group of kids through gates by certain dates? What would it take for a teacher to believe that the damage is more dependent on the message a child receives than the child’s struggle to achieve? (See the blog 'There are no educational emergencies’)
I interviewed Heather Wells on Episode 7 of the Wonderfully Wired podcast and we spoke of Sir Ken Robinson’s work and his ideas that good teachers Engage, Enable, Expect and Empower all students. We said that good teachers start from the perspective that all kids are natural born learners and that if learning isn’t happening something needs to change in the teaching, not the kid.
As I reflect on what Judah and I actually did in my three month intervention to restore confidence, motivation and learn some of those life skills most needed, I ask some obvious questions:
How can a busy teacher intervene in the same way?
How can a motivated parent?
I want to find what is reproducible, but you can’t just take three months off from your day job! How is what I’m learning helpful for you?
I’ve discovered the biggest change is not a time concern, it’s a starting point concern.
The child in front of you is not a problem that needs fixing, he is facing problems that need collaboration to tackle.
The child in front of you would do well if he could, he isn’t isn’t willful and defiant when he looks angry and reactive.
The child in front of you doesn’t only need remedial teaching, and if that is your only response, the message is clear: he needs fixing!
The child in front of you does not urgently need to ‘catch up’ to others, but needs to believe in his ability to learn. Once that happens, he can grow, but you have to remove the urgency and the fight.
The child in front of you is not an educational emergency.
Julie Bogart, author of Raising Critical Thinkers urges us to respond with affirmation instead of urgency. She encourages us to see resistance to write or do math as an act of an emerging self- protection. It doesn’t feel good to write when writing is this hard. Instead of jumping in with panic and coercion, we need to back off and communicate confidence.
“I think sometimes we’re in this big urgency to overcome resistance instead of providing the supportive environment that helps them overcome it themselves.” says Julie.
I remember as a homeschooler taking Julie’s advice by asking a resistant math student facing 20 questions: “How many sums do you think you can do this morning?”. She said three and we did three. And that’s what we did in the days when the struggle was high, allowing ourselves to SLOWLY grow and learn instead of throwing out the baby and the bath and the math and the confidence. I’m glad to say we didn’t stay there, today she’ll describe math as her favourite subject.
Does this mean we are meant to not have expectations of kids?
Dr Ross Greene insists that expectations are good. To the good teacher, I would say don’t err on the side of expecting less from Wonderfully Wired kids! Children live up and down to such expectations. The problem isn’t the expectations because when a child is meeting expectations, no one even notices.
But when incompatibility comes, as it does inevitably with ALL children, we HAVE to check the starting point of our response. Instead of sweeping in with our fear, anger and concerns, we have to allow for the slow process of individual growth affirmed by our confidence.
Slow is the key.
And as we let go of the fear, kids live up to expectations and start to get the message that their challenges aren’t permanent and pervasive.
And then we get to even talk about a bigger idea of education, not as a list of ‘mastery of methods and right answers’ but something the curious, creative, hungry to learn student will succeed at, no matter what the current challenge.
In this month's episode I asked my listener to reflect on what actually is most urgent and helpful for a struggling student: I’m thinking, this bigger, wilder idea of education might be good news for our different thinkers if we allow ourselves to get out of panic mode and imagine what is possible.