Expect miracles. Believe you can make a difference and then work to make it happen

In the movie, Stand and Deliver, when faced with a group of students struggling to meet the standards of the curriculum, Jaime Escalante suggests that “students will rise to the level of expectations” (Menendez, 1988).  It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t instant but he believed and proved that with courage, effort and a variety of formative and summative assessments that he could take a group of students from some of the lowest math classes in the school to success in one of the most challenging math classes in North America.  Oh yes, and a bit of ganas or desire would be required on the part of everyone involved.  It’s a great movie if you haven’t had a chance to see it I highly recommend it.  I introduce it to illustrate that a group of students systemically excluded, possessing a wide range of challenges were able, with the right supports, to experience a life-changing miracle.

At the very front of that miracle, the first step without which it simply would not have happened was a belief that whatever limits staff perceived for those students they could be challenged and changed.  Mr. Escalante believed, initially more than the students, more than the student’s past academic achievement supported, more than most of their parents, that the students could do more and ultimately be more, than what was previously believed.

At the most basic of levels, every life is a miracle.  Some miracles are a little bigger than others, some take longer, some won’t necessarily happen during your watch, but the question you must ask yourself is whether you truly believe in miracles.  Do your actions demonstrate you believe you can have a positive impact on the frequency of miracles, large or small, in the lives of your students?  Are you willing to look for the opportunities and learn what you need to learn, develop the skills you need to be part of the solution in the lives of the students with whom you work?

There is a natural enough tendency to dismiss the miracle as the exception, the one-off. But when it comes to students and success would you prefer to be the miracle exception or the student trapped in the mistaken perception?  It happens.  Consider the story of Ido Kadar (2012), as you read the book you learn about Ido, a severely autistic young man unable to communicate.  His mother shared that, “Ido’s first speech teacher told me that he was mentally retarded.  “How do you know?” I asked.  “Maybe he can’t show what he knows and is merely ‘functionally retarded?’”  “It’s the same thing,” she said” (p.26)

My wife, Chauna, was an education assistant for about 14 years.  We read the book together while driving for several hours.  I’m not ashamed to say that there were times when she had some trouble seeing the words and my vision of the highway as I drove and listened was blurred by the tears in our eyes as we reflected upon the students with whom we’ve worked.  It is hard to think of the students who, one way or another, we may have negatively impacted by our limited ability to look for or find the key to their challenges.

In November of 2008, Ido wrote, “I hate my situation in life.  Is it fair to give a person a mind to think but no means to communicate with others?  Is God good or is God indifferent to my pain?  I wonder, is God ever going to help me?” (p.44).  Perhaps it is up to us to help.  It’s our responsibility to prove by our actions there is no indifference to the students who are struggling in severe situations like Ido’s or any of the myriad of challenges the students we work with face each day in our schools and communities.

Sources: 

Ido’s Website – http://idoinautismland.com/

Kedar, I. (2012). Ido in autismland: Climbing out of autism’s silent prison.

Menendez, R. (Writer). (1988). Stand and Deliver. USA: Warner Brothers.

Other books you might want to check out on this theme:

Barnett, K. (2013). The spark: A mother’s story of nurturing genius. New York, NY: Random House

Grandin, T. (2006). Thinking in pictures: And other reports from my life with autism. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

One of Temple’s Ted Talks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fn_9f5x0f1Q

Kluth, P. (2010). “You’re going to love this kid!” Teaching students with autism in the inclusive classroom (Second ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Moore, S. (2016). One without the other: Stories of unity through diversity and inclusion. Winnipeg, MB: Portage & Main Press

 

 

 

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My Bad…

John Maxwell (2013) starts his book with a question, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail” (p.1)?  It’s certainly easier to cliff jump into a lake if you know it’s not going to hurt, the water will be warm, and there is no risk, no fear, no chance at failure, even if failure is a bit of a belly flop entrance to the water. But would it be the same experience?  The same challenge?

(this water was quite cold by the way…I’m 3rd from the top)

And sometimes more is learned than won….

 

Now, this isn’t about life-threatening experiences, it’s about the willingness to try, to reach, to succeed and ultimately to be willing to fail along the way to succeeding or perhaps as Maxwell later asks us to consider, “what do you learn when you fail”?  Stories, urban myth or otherwise are all around us of great inventors and the multiple times they failed in what they were working to develop before it worked.  They didn’t fail at say inventing the lightbulb, they learned a 100 or 1000 ways that the light bulb couldn’t be built and then…after all those lessons like magic, let there be light.  The overnight success has more than a few hours of learning process invested that on many occasions looked nothing like a success.  Somehow, we must ensure we, as the guides for our students and those who work with us in education, embrace the learning process for what it is, a collection of peaks and valleys wins, and losses that can hurt a bit and reward a bit along the way.

Along with that line of thinking, I like this podcast series I’ve come across recently and while the voices are mostly teachers and administrators I think all of us in education can identify and could probably find a story or two to share.  It’s called “My Bad…” you see it in sports, the QB or point guard makes a bad pass, the receiver drops a great ball, they point to themselves and say to the others, “my bad…” I messed up, I didn’t get that right, and of course, implied in the statement is the notion that they will get it right the next time as a result.  (Doesn’t always work that way but hey I did suggest there were a few 1000 my bad’s along the way to inventing the lightbulb).

The website for the My Bad podcast is here https://www.bamradionetwork.com/my-bad/ you can also find the My Bad podcast in iTunes podcast section.  Some stories may not apply to you, others can hit right between the chambers of your heart.  Check a couple out.  More importantly, recognize the theme of the podcast; we are in the work of learning from mistakes, most of what we do is formative and “My Bad” is a part of that formative process when we mindfully work to learn and improve.

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Maxwell, J. C. (2013). Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn: Life’s greatest lessons are gained from our losses. New York, NY: Center Street.