Education is best known today for its mandates, emphasis on test scores, and a growing number of teachers leaving the profession. Not a day goes by where I watch the news and don’t see something negative about public schools and education in general. What bothers me, and honestly (for lack of a better phrase) ticks me off, is that for every negative news story published in the media, there are hundreds of celebrations and positive stories which go unnoticed. Each day in our public schools, children learn something new, gain confidence, take risks, create, innovate, learn to empathize, and adds a sentence to their future story. While these stories sometimes make the news as an add on “feel good” portion, they are rarely the focus. Why is this? I have a theory, although it can step on the toes of some. We as a profession are ultimately at fault. Why? Because we do not share enough greatness. We do not celebrate enough. We do not honor kids for who they are first and foremost…little people. We focus too much on the student, and not enough on the personality behind the student. Please know I am not pointing fingers here…but viewing education from the perspective of someone on the outside looking in.
Small children are simply AMAZING. They have talents, ideas, worries, humor, and are full of questions. They are busy little people with their own hopes and dreams that are untainted by the demands and reality of our world. They don’t know about the pressures to “fit in”, or to not be as intelligent as the child next to them. No one has convinced them that they can’t do anything they want to do. They dream of being superheroes, ballerinas, princesses, and NFL football players. Who are we to tell them they can’t? Our number one goal should be to remind them each and every day to be who they are, and help them do so. If we want to raise confident kids who won’t give up when something is difficult, we need to ensure them each day to be themselves and to be comfortable with who they are. We are made different for a reason. Each child contributes something authentic to our classrooms and schools. How can we get them to realize their potential? I believe it happens by simply allowing them to exhibit their individuality. We often want kids to conform to the way we do things, when we should be conforming to our kids. How can we foster the idea of being different as a great trait? If we were all the same, where would we be as educators?
I often reflect on the difference in the attitudes and dispositions of our youngest kids (our prek students) and our oldest kids (our fourth grade students) at my school. Both classes of kids are full of incredible personalities, talent, and potential! What disheartens me is the level of confidence in our prek kids compared to our fourth graders. There is a huge difference, and there shouldn’t be. Our littles are continually taking risks in centers, building, creating, drawing, and redoing when things don’t go the way they planned. The prek kids don’t get as discouraged. They simply press on. I’ve noticed the older kids become, the more challenged they are to chase perfection and to give up easily when something becomes difficult or doesn’t go their way. What happens between these years? I believe it is the expectations of kids to conform to routinized school days, one time shot assessments, and behavior expectations with blanket consequences (to name a few). What would happen if we focused just as much on life skills as we do on content?
The list above is a great start! Modeling this list for kids, sharing examples, and validating when kids do these things helps instill patterns of behavior and dispositions that will help them overcome challenges! Whether it is difficult content, conflicts on the playground, or peer pressure they face, honoring who kids are and enhancing their life skills will help mold kids into people who will confidently take a stand to make a difference. It will foster kids’ self confidence in who they are, which is the ultimate path to happiness and success.
The following video features a child in my school. He is confident in himself and his ability. He knows he is smart, and he knows he is talented. He likes who he is, and he takes advantage of every moment to share his personality! This is what we want from our kids. We want them to shine, even when the world seems dark. We want it to be impossible for someone to take away their sparkle, their personality, their unique way in which they see the world. Before they can be successful students, they must first be recognized as people who can and will contribute to the world around them. Don’t waste an opportunity to let a kid shine, and to let them express who they are. Don’t be the one to dull their sparkle. One more thing…let’s be more like Carson ourselves. Let’s hear the music, and dance like noone is watching. What an example that would be for OUR kids. Now…watch and learn from this amazing little guy.
Kids are little people who will one day be big…let’s make sure they love who they are now, and instill the confidence in them to express who they are meant to become.