January 22, 2013

Fresh Start, Powerful Tool

I recently remembered that kids who attend most public and private schools in my area are nearing the end of the first semester of their current academic year. That means the high school kids in particular are bracing for upcoming final exams, after which they’ll begin a new term. And on the first day of second semester, many will begin new classes taught by teachers known to them only by reputation.

Likewise as a teacher, you’ve either just begun a new semester or you’re on the cusp of it. In some cases, you’re continuing with basically the same students you’ve had since last September. But perhaps you’re beginning new second semester courses populated by students you know only by reputation, if at all. With those kids – as well as with those you’ve known for months – this time of year is a great opportunity for a fresh start.

And what better place to begin than by acknowledging anew a truth you must know: each child and young person on the face of the planet is a unique, one-of-a-kind individual. Each student who walks through your classroom door has a particular, individualized combination of strengths and weaknesses, and one of your main responsibilities is to discover both in each pupil so that you can then decipher how to help each one maximize his potential. Of course, you could attempt to move everyone along on an assembly line of learning, expecting each child to do the same thing in the same way at the same time at the same rate. And you surely feel the pressure to go along that conveyor belt at times.

But you know better. I know you do because you know Dr. Kathy Koch. You know that each child is a never-to-be-repeated unique miracle. You know that each person in the world has been endowed with eight distinct ways of learning that we call the “multiple intelligences” and that we need to value all eight, even in busy, crowded classrooms.

Thus, I encourage you to choose to see each of your students from that perspective starting on Day One of your second semester. Remember that:

·       The boy who fidgets may not have ADHD. Maybe he’s simply body-smart;

·       The young lady tapping her pencil on the desk as you explain class expectations might not be trying to distract. Perhaps she’s music-smart and is unconsciously responding to the cadence of your voice;

·       The child who stares out the window may be noticing the pattern of frost on the glass because he’s nature-smart;

·       The one who’s doodling in her notebook might be picture-smart and knows she pays closer attention if she draws while she listens.

Of course, some students have legitimate behavioral issues as well, and kids need to learn to use their smarts appropriately. But I know from experience that it’s so much more productive and pleasant when a teacher chooses to look first for the positive in her students. And deciding to deliberately search for each one’s multiple intelligence strengths is a powerful first step in that process.


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