Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Toughest Question of All

"Will my child be okay?" is hands down the most difficult question a parent can ask.

It's so difficult because, when a parent asks this question, there are often really complex issues driving the query.  Issues that do not have, and will never have, easy and pat responses.

And, I personally feel that the only teachers who are permitted to respond with a resounding yes to such a question are those who are brand new to the profession and have yet to develop the ability to respond to such a question with insight and plausible, workable solutions; who have yet to develop the confidence and insight that would enable them to answer "Yes, but. . .".

I also think that this is a question that reflects just how difficult it can be to raise a child, let alone a child who struggles .  A parent doesn't ask this question of just anyone.  They must truly feel (or expect) that, as teachers, we CAN fix the problems their children are experiencing; that we have the skills and knowledge to HELP. It is this incredible level of trust, perhaps even blind trust, or, probably more accurately, fear that their child isn't going to be okay,  that makes this question even more challenging.

So.  When I am asked to respond to this question what do I do?  What do I say? Well, I hope my response is guided by the late Rita Pierson whose mission in life was to find a way to help EVERY child learn and fulfill their potential.

I hope that my response, although guarded, is always hopeful.

I hope that my response highlights the strengths of the child.

I hope that my response honestly takes into account the child's challenges.

I hope that my response offers up plausible, actionable, possible solutions.

I hope that my colleagues and my administrators can  diplomatically voice our misgivings,  find common ground, and then work together to bring these solutions to life.

I hope that my response is taken in good faith, as I don't know everything.  I can only work to find solutions. I can only base my responses on what I see and know from my daily interactions with the child in question.

This leads me to another aspect of my response to the question "Will my child be okay"? Many times, there are things the child can actually do.  I love this quote.  In my classroom, I can always provide learning experiences that are interesting and personalized.  I can learn as much as I can about a student's learning preferences and style, I can be their champion and let them know daily that I believe in them, but at some point, a child who struggles is going to have to decide for themselves whether or not they are going to  be an active participant in their learning journey, instead of letting themselves be victimized and defined by their challenges.  This lesson is hard and not always palatable, but it has to happen.  In such a situation, though I hope:

That the child's voice will be heard.

That the child's own fears, misgivings, hopes and dreams will be taken into account and respectfully integrated into the proposed solutions.

That the child's needs supersede the expectations either explicit or implicit that I, the school, or the parents might have.

And finally, (and so many of the parents I have the privilege of working with do this with so much grace and aplomb that I marvel each and everyday), I can only respond to this difficult question when the partnership between myself and the child's parents is open, honest, and based upon mutual respect. Revisioning a child's path involves: finding solutions, building confidence and self-esteem, enabling learning, supporting curiosity, and looking towards a positive and productive future.  Those are my goals as a teacher.  But, without an entire team working together to engineer actionable solutions, I cannot  respond appropriately to the question posed by the concerned parent.

When we all work together as a team.  When we are  a kind and caring community,  when we look past marks and standings, when we stop pointing fingers and making excuses, when we sit down with our all our cards out in front of us and honestly express our hopes and fears, THEN, together, as a team we can all say "Yes, absolutely" to the most difficult question of all.

All students have LearnAbiltites. Let's make sure we give them what they need.