I took my girls mountain biking today. This isn't something we do often (although I would love to) but they are athletic and ride their bikes often enough to be decently proficient so I thought it would be fun. It's fall, it's sunny...life is golden. Let's get out there and enjoy it!
My oldest wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea, but I convinced her to try it. We headed out in good spirits and began to make our way down the trail. The girls walked when they were unsure and rode some really great stuff! The sun was shining, the air had that crisp fall bite to it, the forest had that amazing vanilla smell of sun-warmed ponderosa pine. It was lovely!
It was time to head back up the road the to the trailhead and the truck. As she stared up the road the look on my oldest's face got darker and darker. "You promised!" she yelled. "You promised there wouldn't be any up!" Not quite what I had said but definitely what she had heard. The storm rolled in...literally and figuratively. As my oldest raged at me the clouds rolled in and the skies opened up. We were now walking our bikes uphill in the pouring rain, my oldest yelling and me trying to keep my cool and keep the girls moving up the hill. Good times.
It made me think, however, about the things we ask of kids. My daughter had told me that her legs were tired from a busy week. She had said she wasn't super excited to go. I still made the decision to push her to do it. And then I got frustrated with her when she behaved exactly the way I should have predicted she would behave given all that she had told (and shown) me earlier in the day. I knew she could do it, but I failed to take seriously the contextual influences that were affecting her today.
I wonder how often we do this to our students. How often do we fall prey to what author Mark Katz (Children Who Fail At School but Succeed At Life, 2016) calls "erroneous perceptions"? How often do we expect children to behave the same way day after day, without taking into consideration the contextual influences that may be at work?
Although today's experience will likely not scar my daughter forever, repeated exposure to adversity can have negative consequences for kids, especially those who are at risk at home or at school. As teachers, we can unintentionally create negative experiences by failing to take into account the contextual experiences of children, even children from the same home. By expecting that just because a child could do it yesterday, they should be able to do it today we create conditions that cause some kids to experience failure. By assuming that because a child can do a complex task they will also be able to do a simple, but unrelated one, we cause some children to experience failure.
Last year, with my lovely group of grade 2s, there were days and times when I could sense that we were not going to be able to manage the lesson I had planned. Another day, maybe, but not today. Too much energy, too little energy, too low of a tolerance for frustration. Whatever it was, it was clear that we needed to shift gears. It is easy enough to do this for the whole class, but can we do it for individual students? Can we find a way to shift gears when we see that a student is "off" today? What if they seem off most days? Can we meet them where they're at? Can we offer them understanding and opportunities for success, even if that looks substantially different from the rest of the class?
The next question, of course, is how? How can we shift gears for one student while ensuring that the others continue to move along their own paths as well? How do we let go of the shoulda, woulda, coulda's and focus on the now for each student?
Over the next little bit, I will be delving deeper into this idea...with practical tips and suggestions, research and resources to help you meet your goals.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!