Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Whole Student

Due to surgery and forced time off for recovery, I have been reflecting on the ‘good ole’ days and heading back to school.  It is timely, as my district started school two weeks ago and most of the surrounding districts returned or will return shortly.  It was while I was subdued by pain medication and could do nothing but think that I began to reminisce about the excitement of heading back to school.  I zeroed in on my high school years and the excitement of shopping for back-to-school clothes and school supplies.  I did not always get exactly the clothes or supplies I wanted, but always everything I needed. 

More than the new things, I remember being excited at the thought of new classes and having a consistent social life again.  After all, that is what middle and high school was for me and continue to be for many other tweens and teens.  It was the place where my social circle expanded beyond family.  It was where I learned to deal with challenges and develop coping skills.  It was where I worked hard to define my social status among peers.   It is where I developed positive relationships with other adults and began to test the boundaries of those relationships.  It was where I learned that I could do the bare minimum and still be above-average (the birth of my academic procrastination that I battled through undergrad and grad school).  Overall, my school experience was positive, including many opportunities to succeed, as well as learn from failures.

Fast forwarding a few decades, and now working in education, it is apparent to me that the start of school triggers similar and very different responses for young people.  I now know the student population is more than genders and ethnicities, but instead, ranges across the whole gamut of demographics (foster, homeless, pregnant/parenting, juvenile justice involved, military family, transgender, low and high socio-economics, English language learners, students with disabilities, etc.). Just as the demographics differ, the specific school experiences also differ greatly. Given this fact, student demographics require educators to be jacks of all trades. This is an unfair industry expectation, but very necessary to ensure the success of ALL students.  Success for ALL students makes it paramount for Instructional Leaders, like myself, to lead educators through transitions that are in the best interest of the profession and student outcomes.  It is equally important to preserve and embellish what is working well, and ensure that all practices be evaluated through an equity lens.  Change is difficult, but necessary. 

In a nutshell, the challenge is for educators to balance instruction and meeting all of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for their students in order to maximize learning. 

Although introduced over 70 years ago, in Abraham Maslow’s 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation," many current day frameworks are rooted in this theory, such as social-emotional learning, trauma-informed practices, and developmental assets.  Before students can be expected to learn, their basic, psychological and self-fulfillment needs must be met.  When vested stakeholders come together, these needs may be met through innovative, collaborative, no-cost/low-cost practices.   For long-term sustainability and impact, any practices must be memorialized in board policies so the changes outlast any individual. Change does not happen overnight.  It has to start with changing beliefs, before changing practices and outcomes.  

Edison Educational Consulting is available to facilitate stakeholder conversations and support planning system change around this shift.