Encouraging Learning

Jan 25, 2011 by

Seth Godin has a great blog post about ways we’ve classically looked at trying to help others do things, big and small. The key part I think all educators and parents should pay attention to is this:

The third method, the one that I prefer, is to open the door. Give people a platform, not a ceiling. Set expectations, not to manipulate but to encourage. And then get out of the way, helping when asked but not yelling from the back of the bus.

When people learn to embrace achievement, they get hooked on it. Take a look at the incredible achievements the alumni of some organizations achieve after they move on. When adults (and kids) see the power of self-direction and realize the benefits of mutual support, they tend to seek it out over and over again.

With differentiated instruction and personal learning, part of what’s asked is for teachers to set expectations, encourage, and get out of the way. Parents need to take this same attitude with grades and homework. Set expectations, guide and assist when needed, but basically get out of the way and let the child do it. Too often we fall into the trap that goading or nagging will work. Too often we take for granted that if giving the opportunity, the student just might make a good and reasoned decision. While I’ll be the first to admit kids don’t always have the experience or the frontal lobes to make the best judgments about what’s good for them now or in the future, if you lay out the case for them and provide all the facts and context, they can make surprisingly good decisions.

We need to develop a greater sense of trust in our students, in our colleagues, and in ourselves to do the right thing, most of the time. Too often I see people making plans, rules, policies and the like for the fringe operators, the people who will go out of their way to test limits or circumvent the system. Those people are never going to go away. They will always be there. The parameters need to be set for the bulk of people trying to do the right thing, and then deal with the outliers as outliers, as one-offs, as making human mistakes or bad decisions like we all do. Because some folks can’t be trusted, doesn’t mean we should all live in a police state. Instead, we have to set the expectation of trust and community, and if we do, the vast majority will follow.

Asserting authority should only have to be used when necessary. If you have a true learning community, it should be a trusting community as well, and you earn the respect and authority you have, as a teacher, parent or student. And this means not having to use your power or assert it very often, because it’s taken as a given, as a parameter of the interaction and group. This requires confidence in your position within the community as well, and that it will not be constantly challenged.

And I think this is really where many of us, including myself, fall short from time to time. You need to be confident and secure in your knowledge, your contributions and your place in a group in order to thrive. If you find yourself needing to assert your power and authority frequently, maybe you need to look at how secure you feel in your position, and whether or not the challenge you feel is internal or external. Sometimes it may be your lack of confidence that exacerbates the challenges to your authority, not a need for more and stricter rules.

Just something to think about.

Anne Ford- A Special Mother

Oct 25, 2010 by

Anne Ford, former Chair of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, has a great new book out entitled “A Special Mother.” This is a book all teachers should read, to help understand the parents of students who struggle in school, and what they go through on their children’s behalf.  Likewise, it’s the book teachers should have ready to suggest to parents who are on the fence or seem in denial about their child’s school struggle, and may help them both acknowledge and accept their child for who they are, as well as help them be good advicates for their kids.

When differentiating instruction, teachers need to try to ensure that all students benefit from lessons, regardless of ability or disability.  Depsite all your efforts, there will be some kids with learning disabilities in the classroom who will need additional help.  You’re going to need to have the vocabulary and understanding of where the parents of these children are coming from, in order to help them recognize and address their children’s issues.

This is not an easy task.  But as a classroom teacher, you are probably the person parents most look to for a clue that their child’s issues are not typical and need “something else.”  Without your input, your intuition, your heads up, parents may ignore the issue for years.  As a parent, I know we all want our kids to be perfect, and accepting that they’re not, and worse yet, may have a “difference” or  “disability”, is really hard to hear.  But the educators who first helped me understand and address my own son’s learning probalems will always have a special place in my heart, because they got me to move and address a problem early, before it become more serious and potentially harder to address.  It’s not easy to say or to hear that a child is struggling.  But hiding the facts under the rug, or hoping it will just go away, only makes a problem worse and harder to solve.

With differentiating instruction, you will be assessing children more frequently, and as a result, you will get a great picture of the student’s strengths and weaknesses.  Share this information with parents, including when additional testing may be warranted.  It will help parents become better and more effective partners in their children’s education, and will help make your job easier as well.  Treat your students and their parents like you would want to be treated, and give them the information they need to make good decisions.  They still may not make all the right decisions, and they may still choose to ignore problems, but you will have planted a very important seed towards making that child’s life better in the future.

A Special Mother is a great book to help teachers understand the guilt and self-blame many mothers feel.  Once you understand this point of view, dealing with those “crazy, neurotic” parents should become easier as well.  That Mom who always seems to shake or cry at teacher meetings may be hearing something she knows but has been afraid to say or acknowledge out loud.  That parent who gets angry when their child struggles may be seeing alot of their own struggles in their child, and have a hard time acknowledging not only that there’s something to do for the child, but that no one helped them when they were a kid, and may feel like their own parents let them down.

Children struggling in school can push a lot of buttons for parents, and you may be in the unfortunate position of having to push some of those buttons in order to help your students.  I know I’ve struggled how to talk to good friends of mine when I know their child likely has a learning disability, and I know they may not want to hear anything about it.  This can be very hard.  But it needs to be said and acknowledged.

If children are still struggling even in a differentiated classroom, further evaluation may be warranted.   Don’t be afraid to say so, to parents or to the administration.  Address the problem as early as possible for the sake of the child.  And if you are having problems finding the words or helpng parents deal with the cauldron of emotions, suggest they check out “A Special Mother.”  It can only help.