It seems like a simple idea and a given in education: We always assume the best for our students…don’t we? As much as I’d like to say we give our students a fresh start each day, I’m not always sure that’s the case. In working with our students day after day, is it possible that we start to teach to labels and past experiences? And before I go any further, I need to make sure I clarify that I’m extremely lucky to work with a staff at Little Mountain Elementary who go above and beyond for our students to give them the best chance to be successful on a daily basis. When I talk about “we” I am writing about all of us in education in general terms. But if I’m being completely honest, I’m guilty of identifying students by how they perform academically or behaviorally at times.
I started thinking about assuming the best at a recent event in our building. Our 4th graders were fortunate to have Youth Frontiers with them for an all-day Kindness Retreat last month. Shortly after beginning the event, one of the team leaders from Youth Frontiers asked for volunteers. The students would be asked to do some acting and improvising in front of 150 of their peers. Of course, when asking a group of overly excited 4th graders if they want to volunteer for something (even though they had no idea what it was), 95% of them raised their hands in anticipation. As I was watching this process unfold, that’s when my mind started thinking about assumptions. Would our staff have picked those students to volunteer or would we have picked students who were always outgoing, good students, maybe a background in acting? Not surprisingly, the three students who were randomly selected and not necessarily gifted in those areas never faltered. They were funny with their answers to goofy questions and improvised without missing a beat to the strange scenarios put before them. They had the entire gym laughing right along with them the entire time they were on stage.
The team members from Youth Frontiers had no predetermined assumptions about kids. Every 4th grader who walked into the gym that day to high fives, smiles, and welcomes from the high school student leaders and Youth Frontiers team did so with a fresh start. They were all able to forge their own learning and their own path for the day. As an observer, watching our students learning outside of their normal routine and performing tasks that were quite different than a typical school day was powerful. I learned so much about our students in that environment. The question I continue to come back to is how do we create that feeling for our students each day?
The above quote from Brene Brown rings so true in my experience. In the best of classrooms, this quote might read, “All I know is that my classroom thrives when I assume my students are doing their best.” Ken Williams is one of my favorite authors and speakers. His work with PLCs and culture is the way we should be developing our schools. Each time I see Mr. Williams speak, he never misses the opportunity to say “learning for all means all. All means all!” In order to embrace that mindset and be purposeful about learning for all of our students, there needs to be a shift in thinking. If we don’t think a student can master a standard, they won’t. If we don’t think a student will reach a reading benchmark, they won’t. If we don’t think a student can make it through a lesson without being disruptive to others, they won’t. If our Youth Frontiers leaders had hesitation and caution when they selected the three 4th graders to come up on stage for the Kindness Retreat last month, the students would have reacted with that same hesitation and caution instead of absolutely rocking it.
Our students will perform to the expectations we put in front of them. They all deserve a fresh start and high expectations every day they walk into our classrooms. One of the great Confucious quotes is, “He who says he can and he who says he can’t are usually both right.” In the arena of education, our students need that belief modeled for them. Let’s set the bar high, remove labels, and believe in them even when their confidence waivers. All means all!