One day after school, one of our second graders, Tamara, approached me and asked, “Why would a teacher ask me a question that a book already explains the answer to?”
Brilliant or Annoying?
I saw a curious, confident critical thinker who was pushing everyone’s thinking. The teacher at her previous, highly-acclaimed neighborhood school saw a pain in the derriere who wrecking her well laid out lesson plans.
How we see children teaches them who they can become. Every single child deserves to be seen through the lens of their strengths and immeasurable potential. Tamara’s parents reported she dreaded having to go to her prior “great school.” In fact, some days she would go to great lengths to avoid attending. Now in sixth grade, Tamara is a confident, eco-minded animal rights activist with strong peer and teacher relationships. The shifts in programming from Tamara’s first school to the next were not costly or difficult to implement; however, they did require parents and educators to be open to new ways of thinking about school and curriculum. The foundation is set in positive perceptions.
Esteemed educator champion, Parker Palmer, once wrote, “Every gift a person possesses goes hand in hand with a liability. Every strength is also a weakness, a limitation, a dimension of identity that serves me and others well under some circumstances but not all the time…The point is not to ‘get fixed’ but to gain deeper understanding of the paradox of gifts and limits, the paradox of our mixed selves, so that we can teach and live more gracefully within the whole of our nature.”
As educators, one of our primary responsibilities is to illustrate the strengths-based aspects of student sensitivities. The more society learns about neuroplasticity and enhancing cognition, the more empathic children become. Our thoughts are powerful! Children feel how teachers see them; what educators think, children may very well become. How do you want teachers to see children? As obedient test takers? Troublemakers? Innovators? Learners? Educators can’t grow learners and innovators without being students and changemakers themselves. The implicit curriculum teaches just as much, if not more than lesson plans – educator behavior teaches children how to navigate the world. Moreover, a prescriptive curriculum limits learning. Leaning into paradox teaches tolerance for ambiguity, critical thinking and perspective taking. One of my personal goals is to learn something new in every class, to model the discomfort of venturing into the unknown and truly learning alongside students every single day.
“Educe,” the root of education, instructs teachers to bring forth that which already lives within each student. Here lies the essence of learning, to reveal and fuel each child’s unique SoulSpark so all feel connected and honored as we journey together. Engaging youth in dialogue as we work to create more just education systems supports in growing changemakers. Big changes can begin with little, yet critical paradigm shifts. We all have the power to choose our thoughts, to see the strengths in each other’s sensitivities. After all, pure power that liberates is born from sensitivity; strength can not exist independent of vulnerability.