One Meaningful Adult

One Meaningful Adult

This morning, I had the privilege of hearing Jonathan Mooney speak at Arvada West High School.  Jonathan painted a poignant picture of his experience as a dyslexic, ADHD student and the role that pivotal adults in his life played as he navigated our education system.   Through a series of personal stories, Jonathan challenged our traditional educational practices, arguing that “we confuse the global faculty of intelligence with the skill of reading” and “when all we do is “fix” kids, the message they get is that they are broken”.  His message resonated strongly with me from both a personal perspective as a mom of a nontraditional student and from a professional perspective as a teacher who works with nontraditional and traditional students alike every day.  

I wrote about my own son in a recent post.  I could see my son in Jonathan Mooney as he stood before us on the Arvada West HS stage.  My son is a creative, inquisitive, inventive learner outside of school.  At school, he doesn’t fit into the traditional definition of what constitutes a “good” student, which in his case primarily means that he is not a “good” reader.  He doesn’t like school and I can understand why.  Jonathan challenged the 150 plus educators in the room to “build school experiences that ask how is this student smart, not how smart is this student” and that “we have the opportunity to help kids understand that intelligence isn’t determined by 1 skill”.  I would love to watch my son and his teachers acknowledge and develop his strengths rather than always focusing on what he, and the traditional school system, call his deficits.

I also saw so many of the students I have had the opportunity to work with over the years in Jonathan.  Kids who walk into my science classroom with 7 years experience of being “fixed”.  Kids who think they have nothing to offer except trouble.  Kids with a fixed mindset who believe they aren’t smart.  It is heartbreaking.  Jonathan reminded me of one student in particular that I had the privilege of working with last year.  This student was tough.  There were plenty of nights when I couldn’t sleep trying to figure out how to reach him.  There were plenty of days when I had to take a deep breath after he said something rude or mean to myself or his classmates.  He hated school and who could blame him.  Four of his seven periods in the day were focused on “fixing” his deficits.  I don’t think he had any electives in his day because of all of the intervention classes.   Jonathan reminded us that “there is a strength in every student that is a pathway to success; our job as educators is to find it”.  It took months to develop a relationship with this particular student and then, just as we were finally figuring it out, the school year ended.  I hope that the tiny bit of success we had, the identification and development of his strengths which, yes, he has, carry forward this year for him and change his path.  

As I get ready to begin a new year of teaching with new students that each bring their own individual strengths, challenges and passions into the classroom, Jonathan reminded me that connections and relationships matter.  I need to remember this when the going gets tough.  I need to “define kids by what they can do, not what they can’t do”.  I need to ask “what are you good at” and not accept “nothing” for an answer.  I need to remember that every student has something to bring to the table and that it is my job to help them find and develop this nugget.  And I definitely need to remain an advocate for that student that I worked so hard with last year.  After all, one meaningful adult can put a child on a different path.

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