I have been pondering educational matters…specifically, the challenges schools face in addressing the needs of ALL students and how this consideration should impact our efforts at positive school reform. I firmly believe that we need to explore all successful/viable options for improving our schools with the understanding that a single type of educational model will not meet the needs of all students. One of my greatest concerns, regarding conversations related to educational reform, is that we account for all kids – especially those who lack an educational advocate.
These are the kids who are on a path to failure, disillusionment and ultimately disengagement from education. In current educational terminology, they would be referred to as “at-risk” students. Many face significant distractions at home–poverty, abuse, familial dysfunction or indifference, crime, gangs, etc. For others, low expectations and failure have become the norm–they feel beaten down and hopeless. Our goal as educators should be to change their path, raise the expectation (and support) level and reengage them in the type of education that can only come from having hope of a future.
It is not a futile endeavor. These kids are resilient. Many are fighters who have been (or are going) through proverbial hells and survived. They know what it means to overcome obstacles, but they may not be able to translate this strength to the challenges presented at school. I recently read an article entitled Resilience: It’s Academic, by Rob Gira, an Executive Vice President with AVID (written in Access: AVID’s Education Journal). In the article, Mr. Gira stresses the importance of emphasizing student assets instead of deficits. He writes that “viewing students from drug involved, dysfuctional, or low-income families as essentially at-risk can lead to sterotyping, tracking and lowered expectations.” This is something that Pedro Noguera refers to as Pobrecito Syndrome – the soft bigotry of low expectations. These kids don’t need an overdose of sympathy, they do need an appropriate balance of empathy and expectations.
In his article, Rob Gira, talks about the importance of educators acknowledging key beliefs that are the source of their own resilience.
- All individuals have the power to transform and change
- Teachers and schools have the power to transform lives
- Opportunities to contribute are necessary – kids need to be given responsibilities and have the opportunity for meaningful participation.
These beliefs are essential to our ability to enhance the inherent resilience our students possess. It is there, it just takes effort to bring it out and help students apply it to challenges they face at school.
Above all, we need to foster a sense of hope for these students…a belief that they can be successful. From experience (both successes and failures), I know that this is an extremely difficult task. It takes commitment, patience, and perseverance, but no matter how frustrating, we owe these students our best effort. As we discuss educational reform, lets remember this obligation and be certain we account for the educational future of all students.
“Kids who think they are going somewhere behave differently than kids who believe they are going nowhere.” ~Pedro Noguera