Finding a student’s academic successes is usually pretty straight forward. But, what about those students who don’t excel in traditional disciplines? It’s not possible to offer an endless array of courses, programs and academies that capitalize on every person’s passion. So, how do we ensure that we celebrate and grow their unique gifts?
Personal connections are the answer.
When a child feels a strong bond with an adult in their school they glow a little bit brighter — they open up, take risks and try new things. They become better today than they were yesterday. They grow their gift.
I can think back to my time as a classroom teacher and school administrator – and the memories that bring me the most joy are those when I remember a student glowing with self-esteem – when we talked about their talent, their interests, their hobbies, their dreams — when there was a connection that made a difference.
Let me tell you about one student whom I remember like it was yesterday, but it was actually in my first year of teaching — 1988. Let’s call this student Joel.
Joel was severely limited in his physical capabilities as he was in a wheelchair and living with cerebral palsy. His verbal communication was limited to sounds and no words. He was not in regular classes but in a program that worked on fundamental academics and life skills. I was his teacher for a relatively short period of time — but in that time I was able to find one of Joel’s gifts.
We bonded almost immediately. He was incredibly patient with me as I worked to establish a successful communication system with him. He would laugh at me as I struggled to understand his needs, but that was what made our time together so wonderful. He trusted me and enjoyed our time together.
I’d hear his wheelchair whirring down the hallway at great speeds and turning suddenly into my classroom. When he entered my room it instantly filled with joy.
I’m pretty sure we laughed every day we were together.
I remember running into him in the community a few years later. He had moved out from his parent’s place and was living in a group home and seemed very happy. When we were chatting I tried my best to understand him and he laughed at me like he always did as I fumbled along guessing incorrectly.
One of Joel’s brightest gifts was his joie de vivre — his pure joy of being with others. That smile never failed to make my day better.
I consider it an absolute privilege to be in a profession where we can make an indelible impression on the lives of young people, helping them to reveal their gifts to the world.
And while I can’t objectively measure the impact of someone like Joel’s gift of a positive approach to life, what I do know is that by allowing his gift to be nurtured our world is a little bit brighter.
And in the end, isn’t that what our goal in education should be about?