Believe into being is a phrase that I have chosen to live by since I began my career in education. When we believe in others we have the power to influence actions. You see, our identity, who we are, has been built over the years. We have layers and layers of experiences that have impacted us in some way. Frank Smith (2006) writes, “Personal identity is not something that we find by looking at ourselves in the mirror, nor is it given to us by the efforts and opinions of others. Identity is constructed from the way others influence the way we behave and see ourselves. We learn from the company we keep, and the greatest learning is generated by our perception of the way other people see us” (91). Knowing that our “learning is generated by our perception of the way other people see us” it is time to start thinking about how, in education, the identities we influence in and out of the classroom are crucial. We influence our young learners, their families, and our colleagues. Therefore, it is important to think about how our language matters and that one of our goals in education should be to believe in others – the children and families we serve as well as our colleagues. With this said, we need to change the rhetoric in education. We need to start thinking about how we approach everything with a growth mindset (Dweck, 2007). This is a journey that my colleagues and I have been on over the past few years. How do we change our language to truly help those we work with (both children and adults) build a positive identity and have strong self-efficacy?
I’m sitting at my desk (a few months after writing the above paragraph) and I’m thinking about the Title I meeting that we have tomorrow – thinking about the questions that need to be grappled with in order to consider how we are best serving our children. Our school system is truly a gem, yet like any systems, we have work to do. We are constantly thinking about how to move forward in our work and challenge one another so that we can do what’s best for kids. It’s why I love working here and yet it is hard. It’s hard to think about how programming might look differently when it means change. Let’s face it, change is hard. It takes time.
We have been on a journey in the past 4 years to operate from the growth mindset mentioned earlier – that’s our vision… working from strengths… thinking about how our language impacts children and one another. Yet, putting that into practice is difficult. Why? Because we know what we know and how we’ve done it in the past. It’s why that change is slow and takes time. We honor where educators are and we nudge one another forward (Thank you Matt Glover for always reminding us of the power of a “nudge”). It’s thinking through how our language builds the system.
That’s why I’m excited about tomorrow. Often times, Title I is portrayed in a negative way. Language about children across the US that receive “Title I services” is often a language that creates an identity for children that more than likely is not reality. This language influences beliefs about self as learner and about school.
My wonderings for tomorrow and the future are:
- What does it mean to make our programming joyful?
- How does the work we do align with MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports)?
- In what ways do we identify emerging strengths opposed to weakness? How might this look? How do we celebrate opportunities for growth?
- How can we positively “brand” our important work?
- How might our processes be fluid to meet learner needs?
- How might we give more choice and voice to the supplemental supports designed?
- How are supplemental supports authentic?
- In what ways might inquiry be used to support our most striving learners?
- How can supplemental supports be engaging?
- How can we present information and teach in diverse ways so all learners (adults and children) grow and learn?
- How is our instruction and assessment learner-driven? What ownership do children have in the work they are doing in the classroom?
As you may notice, in our language we have chosen to think about the work we do in a positive manner. Some key differences are:
- The use of supplemental supports versus intervention. An intervention is something you do as a last resort… our learners are young. They learn differently and our system needs to celebrate that and realize our job is to support learners to move along this continuum of learning – it is not to identify them early on as “at risk” and label them in a way that shuts them down. In From Striving to Thriving (2017), Harvey and Ward discuss the need to “Table the Labels.” They suggest 5 things that we can do to grow confident capable learners: “Let go of the labels; champion a true growth mindset; encourage empathy; get to know your kids, ASAP; and create conditions for interaction and boundless reading” (p.38). This book goes on to explain that we need an “intervention on interventions.” This is so true. Therefore, let’s not call it intervention – let’s call what we do a supplemental support – we are not RESCUING kids, we are facilitating learning so they can become independent readers, writers, mathematicians, thinkers, etc.
- The use of opportunities for growth instead of weakness, gap, or need. We all have opportunities for growth yet when we label someone as having a weakness or being behind causing the gap we typically then think of all the ways to close the gap – how are we going to fill in those “deficits” whereas if we focus on our opportunities for growth we have now created a space for learning to happen and think about those emerging strengths versus deficits.
- Let’s face it. We are all striving in various ways. So let’s call it striving instead of struggling which has such a negative connotation. You can also say developing or emerging which speak into building an identity. Our entire life we are building who we are, asking the question, “Who am I” and those around us help us answer that question. Just think of the power of our words in the way we describe things can help someone build a positive identity as a reader or a negative identity. Our words can either make or break others. Let’s choose to use those words that build others up.
- And let’s not label someone as doing something good or poorly. Speak into the identity that you are trying to “believe that person into being“. So instead of saying, well good readers do… or good writers… just say, as a writer you will… as a reader you… Look what you just did as a mathematician… Build them up and then nudge a little…
I think about these four things along with the importance of building resilience, nurturing risk taking, and helping learners be comfortable with the uncomfortable… this, along with purposeful language, creates identities and communities for everyone to thrive. So as I think about this meeting tomorrow, I feel as though we are at a crossroads. As a team we have the power to align our programming with our beliefs – our mission, vision and instructional model. We have the power to make a difference and see how we can approach learning with our striving readers, writers, mathematicians, and thinkers in a way that builds confidence, understanding, a love for learning and brings joy to their hearts. Learning should be joyful so our supports need to nurture that joy!