Sunday, February 9, 2014

Being Normal

Paul had his most recent surgery last week. It was a "routine" procedure involving the rods in his back needing to be extended to match his growing body. Fortunately everything went well and Paul is home resting and recovering from this latest experience. Aside from the physical pain and discomfort that Paul feels every six months when he has this "routine" surgery, there is also the emotional pain that creeps its way back into his heart and mind... 

"Why do I need to have back surgery every six months?" 

"Why was I born with this problem?" 

"I hate having surgery every six months!" 

"Why can't I just be normal like everyone else?" 

Needless to say, hearing these words hurt almost as much as the pain we feel when we wait for hours during Paul's surgeries. Granted, Paul is "normal" in so many other ways for a boy his age - he is obsessed with Minecraft, he loves eating chicken fingers, he thinks farting noises are funny, he hates doing homework, he can tell you the most random and obscure facts about Star Wars and Marvel (especially the villains - this kid LOVES all the bad guys) and he loves playing video games! Is he a "normal" nine year old? Yes but every six months or so, he is reminded about how different he is from most other nine year olds in his world and all he craves is a bit of normalcy.

In considering this idea of "normal," I think of the many children in our schools who just want to be normal - these children don't want to stand out; they don't want to be unique; and they don't want to be special but instead, they want to be normal. The child who is impacted by a reading disability and only craves to read the same books as his classmates but can barely navigate the first page. The child who has trouble fitting in socially and all she wants is to be accepted by certain peers who are so wrong for her. The child who is impacted by severe allergies and all he wants is to sit at the same lunch table as his classmates and enjoy the same meals. We know these kids because they are present in every one of our classrooms, schools, districts and lives. We also know these kids because we may have been them at one point in our own lives - just wanting to be normal! Wanting to fly under the radar and go unnoticed like every other normal person.  

So, how do we treat these kids who want to be normal? How do we respond to them when they are struggling and expressing their frustrations? I don't know about you, but I generally respond by pointing out what makes them special and spotlighting all their strengths. In school we might provide a student with intensive services in the area of need. Or we might have them spend time with the school psychologist or guidance counselor to work through their issues. Whatever the situation, we try hard to make things better - not necessarily normal though. 

Well, today, in talking to my son, I realized he didn't want to hear about all the things that make him perfect and special in my eyes. Instead, he just wanted to hear that it was ok to feel the way he feels and that being normal isn't such a bad thing. And you know what? He is right - there are plenty of times in my life where I just wished things could be normal and uneventful... maybe even somewhat boring. In the end, I realized how lucky we are that Paul verbalizes his feelings and expresses his desire to be normal. So, in the future, I will thank him for sharing his thoughts with me and instead of trying to make him feel special, I will acknowledge his need to be normal and do my best to treat him like every other "normal" person. 

I am not sure what this looks like in school... maybe we let that struggling reader tackle the grade level text if that is what makes him feel normal for a little while even though we know he may not comprehend the content. Maybe we let that young lady who wants to fit in sit with that clique at lunch if that makes her feel normal, even though we know she may get hurt in the end. Don't get me wrong - I know that every child is incredibly special in some way but I have come to realize that maybe sometimes letting them feel normal might be necessary. Maybe if we let our kids feel normal some of the times, they will come to realize for themselves what makes them unique and special and then they won't be so interested in being normal.        

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Educon: Game Changer

Innovation… failure… risk taking… thinking outside of the box…not accepting the status quo… deliberation… collaboration… control over our learning spaces! Those are the ideas, concepts and goals that permeated my mind throughout the entire Educon experience last weekend (took me a while to process the experience because there were so many layers to it). 

So it seems to me that our kids come to school ready to innovate… willing to fail until they are successful… happy to go outside of the box because of a discovery they may uncover… not just being obedient receivers of information… not passively sitting back while things happen to them... Our kids are active thinkers who don’t accept no when passion and interest is driving their learning. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, many schools end up squashing those qualities in our kids… we don't make them a priority... we don’t value them… we don’t assess them… we don’t see how they “fit” into the curriculum... we can't assign a number to creativity, innovation and disruption and so that means they don't fit in the current landscape of public education! 

Well, what I realized at Educon is that these qualities students enter school with should be at the center of everything we do in our learning orgnizations… whether through 1:1 implementation or a BYOD program or wearable technology or conversations about project/passion based learning as the anchor for all classrooms… we have the control to empower our kids and facilitate learning experiences in our schools that value innovation, disruption, failure, risk taking, collaboration and thinking outside of the box just to name a few. We, as educators who are there to advocate for our kids, have the power to shift the focus from teaching to LEARNING so the qualities our children enter school with are nurtured and fostered because that is how our students will be prepared to go into the world and change things for the better. 

This is what Educon meant to me. It gave me hope; it brought clarity to my vision for our school; and gave me access to like minded individuals who inspired me, stretched my thinking and pushed me further outside of the box! Thank you to Chris Lehman and the entire SLA family for hosting a most powerful learning experience!