Sometimes we overlook the things people need us to see most.
Recently, my daughter participated in a community musical for Frozen. Dad’s don’t always make the most objective judges, but I’m telling you she and her fellow cast members put on five incredible shows. And after the final show, we headed to a local ice-cream establishment to celebrate with family and friends.
One of my daughter’s friends from the cast, who happens to be visually impaired, joined our family for the celebration. (The fact she is visually impaired will be more relevant in a moment.) I want to share a couple of my favorite memories from our ice-cream celebration first.
While we were eating together, we took turns telling jokes and laughing profusely. (At one point I was accused of telling cheesy “Dad jokes” but I unequivocally deny this because I was sharing some of my best stuff.) And I’m not sure how this next part started, but a few of us eventually found ourselves taking turns singing theme songs from our favorite cartoons and television shows while others guessed the show. It was So. Much. Fun.
But here’s where this gets interesting.
There was one point when my daughter’s friend started belting a song and I literally got chills. Her voice was unbelievable. And for some strange reason I hadn’t noticed it until that point...which is really ridiculous considering she had one of the main character’s roles in the musical.
As much as I tried to tell myself otherwise, I don’t think I saw past her walking stick until we spent that unscripted time together. Again, sometimes we overlook the things people need us to see (or hear) most.
I wonder how many students come to class feeling like their identity is more closely tied to what they can’t do than to what they have already accomplished. I’m guessing you may have felt this tension before too; sometimes it seems like the system itself is partially set-up to identify and fix students’ weaknesses more than anything else.
I discussed this idea in Reclaiming Our Calling and wove the importance of relationships and connectedness into the very DNA of the book. One of the questions I elaborate on in the book is, “What would school look like if we held the whole learner in the same regard as high-stakes tests?”
This is something worth thinking about in light of my missing how unbelievably talented my daughter's friend was. While achievement matters, we can’t allow ourselves to overlook the many different strengths students possess.
I’ve never met an educator who didn’t want to be accountable for helping students learn. Not once. But I have spoken with countless educators who feel as though it’s becoming more and more challenging to truly see all students.
Fortunately, a series of small (and intentional) steps can help you create a classroom and school where people feel seen. And chances are you’re doing a lot to ensure this happens already.
Oftentimes, our mindset and inner narrative influence the degree to which students feel seen. So how might we take control of this inner narrative and point it towards students’ strengths and passions?!
Here are three questions to help you see the things students need us to see most:
If this blog post resonated, you might like my newest book, Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education. The book tackles a tension many educators are feeling using a combination of stories and practical strategies. If you’re interested in technology integration, Renegade Leadership: Creating Innovative Schools for Digital-Age Students is a best-seller with Corwin Press. Both books are built on the belief that everything we do in education starts with relationships and connectedness.