Monday, March 24, 2014

Recognizing the Quiet Gifts of the Other Half

Earlier this year, our Intro to Leadership teachers put together a very well attended Recognition Breakfast for our staff and students. Each staff member could invite one student who they felt was deserving of the honor. I left the criteria somewhat vague, although I did push for the students who may not always be selected and recognized by their peers and school for their positive efforts. We called it the Pawsitive Breakfast; after all, we are the Union Tigers.

This past weekend, I received a very timely and warm email from a parent where I was reminded of why we make these extra efforts to give every student a chance to be recognized. Despite amazing efforts by our staff in and out of the classrooms to support all students, there are always more opportunities to recognize those students who often fly slightly under the radar at our schools. 

Here is the email:

Last night at the dinner table (our student) enthusiastically shared with us what he is learning in Journalism. It seems he's quite passionate about Photo Shop. The fact is, it's the first time we have heard him excited about anything school related! 

You see, (our student) loves beauty and he loves design. He's probably the only (middle school) boy I know who snaps pictures of everything he sees as breathtaking. Clouds, trees, anything outdoors. 

He's also gifted verbally and has quite a knack for arguing. He's extremely empathetic towards people and animals. He has trouble sleeping if we passed a homeless person without giving him food from our car supply of goods. He's a negotiator - not just for personal gain - but loves to help resolve conflicts between people. His infectious enthusiasm and leadership is a delight to many. Enduring, overcoming and continuing to battle the anxiety he has endured has taken more resolve than most adults would be able to handle. 

Sadly there's no award for those things at school. Instead he continues to compare himself to his sister and friends who happen have strengths in math, science and language arts, the subjects regarded as markers of intelligence and a prosperous future in our school system.  

This article really struck a chord with me. This is more of an observation than an actual request for anything. 

Please note as well that in my gut I believe that you are doing everything, within your restricted system, to discover and celebrate the various gifts of all of your students. I'm like (my student), or maybe (my student) is like me, always rooting for the underdog, gravitating towards the students who are quiet, awkward, not so popular in this culture. Recently he's stood up twice for kids who were made fun of - a boy with a back brace and a lonely boy who sits by the gym everyday. 

As a parent, this carries more weight to me than the good grade. I'm confident (my student) will find his way and we will encourage and support him on his journey that will probably not be "traditional". If I could wave a magic wand, I just wish the school, in general, was a place where all teachers and staff celebrated and recognized the quiet gifts of the other half. 

Thank you for recognizing and taking action when you let (our student) pick an elective. You have always been his advocate and gone above and beyond for him. You are great at what you do. 

Have a great weekend.

What this parent did not know is that I tested out Google Forms with my staff last Wednesday. One of the questions on the Google Form was "what student has impressed you the most this year?" As I scrolled through all of the responses, I was impressed that the above parent's son was mentioned by a staff member as having impressed them the most throughout the year. Truthfully, he is a worthy candidate. We do have staff members who recognize these students; the goal is to make sure our students hear our voices of support and approval.

All of our students have strengths. They are all "gifted & talented" whether it be socially, athletically, academically, emotionally, or otherwise. Sometimes, the focus in middle school is solely on academics; other times, especially in our high schools, our athletes receive a disproportionate amount of attention and recognition. The strong push to being academically college ready ignores the skills our students will need when they're at college, living alone, and interacting with other 18-22 year-old student of varied backgrounds. 

Thus, my goal: let's find ways to realize the awesomeness in all of our students. Yes, the education setting can be a "restrictive system" at times, but this doesn't mean we can't create opportunities to celebrate and recognize the varied gifts of all our students. Build a master schedule that includes electives like Journalism where all students can be successful. Don't wait for the next Pawsitive Assembly to celebrate the gifts of your students, whether it be singing, sharing, or even Photoshop. I guarantee that you will be impressed.


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