Thursday, 18 August 2016

With Every Student, Always Presume Competence.

One of the great pleasures of teaching is the daily exposure to the great diversity of minds. No two minds are ever the same and it only makes sense that educators need to know as much as they possible can about how students learn and how to provide the most conducive environments for learning possible.

By understanding the concept of neurodiversity, and shifting our perspective as teachers away from the notions of disability and deficits to the notions of ability and presumed competence, we pave the way for all students to learn.

One of the great proponents of neurodiversity is Steve Silberman whose book, Neurotribes ought to be required reading for all educators. It is rich, it is informative, and it is profound. Silberman is a staunch supporter of neurodiversity. Please enjoy his recent TED talk The Forgotten History of Autism:

Recently, the TED-Ed Blog featured a Q&A with Silberman.  In it, Silberman provides insights that will be beneficial to any educator who has Autistic and/or Neurodiverse children in their care. You can access it here.

For me, Silberman's most important statement is that as educators, we must always presume competence. A child is hardwired to learn. Finding out how that child learns is of course the challenge, but in this day and age where we are beginning to realize just how much disability is societally constructed, it is perhaps even more important that we enable our teachers to be as creative and flexible in their practice as possible. Educators also need to be optimists. They have to believe, in their bones, that progress is always possible and that there is always a way. Finally, they need to have empathy. Out of empathy, arises a desire to do the best they can.

But empathy can only come from knowing. Here are two talks that do not dismiss the difficulties neurdiversity can bring into a person's life, but, at the same time, celebrate the fact that human life in only possible because of difference.

First, Faith Jegende Cole's talk about her brothers:

And lastly, a humourous and honest talk by Alix Generous:

It is never my intent to dismiss just how difficult teaching can be. Neurodiversity presents many, many challenges and a neurodivergent child's LearnAbilities aren't always immediately manifest. But if we focus first upon what a child can do before focusing upon all the things they struggle with, maybe, just maybe, we can begin to create a world where everyone gets the education they deserve.