Chris Hogan, an EntreLeadership personality with Dave Ramsey shares: “Everyone needs AIR”. He uses AIR as an acronym that means, appreciation, inspiration, and recognition. Chris believes that these three elements help us to breathe better. Today is the final installment in our three-part series on “AIR”. As a reminder, the R stands for recognition. As an educator, we recognize students all the time for good grades and passing tests such as STAAR. But what about those who fall through the cracks, those students who are failing? Did you know that sunflowers can be weeds? Harriet Tubman once said: “I was a neglected weed.” Those weeds are majestic flowers that rise to the sun in recognition of its power are like those children in your classroom who are failing. This week’s blog shares a story about Mrs. W., a teacher who stopped and recognized a student and the impact it made. She used best practices such as differentiation and cultural responsiveness to reach a student who was struggling. Take a minute to read this blog. You will discover that you can become the “sun” in someone’s life!
Terri’s Story about Ms. W:
As a nation, we are really good at recognizing children. After all, we shine when our students shine. Pee Wee football players all receive a trophy, no matter what. We praise children when they have good grades and good standardized scores. Duke University has a program to look for students with high standardized test scores. San Antonio Prefreshman Engineering Program is available to middle schoolers who have good grades. So you see the better our students do the better we look, so it's natural to praise those who help us to shine.
On the flipside however you may wonder, what about those students who are struggling? You may ask, do we recognize them as well? Unfortunately, the answer is no, we often don’t. A good question to ask then is, do we look for sunflowers in the weeds? Do we recognize our “neglected weeds”?
Mrs. W. did. She had a student we will call Maria. Maria came to our school and did not know how to read, or even recognize the alphabet. She struggled with remembering what was just presented to her – retention. Her foster mom did not engage with us and was “standoffish”.
Maria giggled and talked out of turn a lot. She did not engage with us a lot. She was deflecting. She knew she could not do the work presented to her. Mrs. W. was frustrated – she had tried all the methods she had in her toolbelt. Mrs. W. asked for assistance and our wonderful Special Ed director, who was Mary Poppins, and Wonder Woman rolled into on, Mrs. C., attempted to work with the foster mom to no avail.
Maria was in a STAAR testing grade. On her first benchmark, she scored 9%. Mrs. W. continued to work with her. On her second benchmark, Maria scored 21%. At that point, Mrs. W. was at a crossroads. Teachers often focus on those who pass benchmarks or who are on the cusp of passing. Mrs. W. could have continued on as usual and hope that help was on the way for Maria.
Mrs. W. didn’t do that. She did a HAPPY DANCE and praised Maria for bringing her benchmark score up by 12 points! She recognized her work! She called Maria’s foster mom with the good news. There was an improvement. Was Maria going to fail the STAAR test, probably, but there was progress and Mrs. W. recognized her for it.
Let me tell you what that did for Maria. That day she came up to me in the lunch line (principals wear many hats) and excitedly told me that she had made progress and brought her score up by 12 points. She was jumping up and down with joy. She had experienced success and had been recognized for it.
That happy dance changed Maria’s life. Maria started to pay attention in class and even raised her hand from time to time. The foster mom came around and started to work with Mrs. C, the Special Ed director, to get Maria the help she needed.
It turned out that the foster mom was reticent because she was not Maria’s foster mom. She was the neighbor. One day, Maria’s mom asked this woman to babysit for an afternoon. That was two years ago. Maria’s mom abandoned her, and her neighbor was afraid to tell anyone.
With the help of our Counselor and Special Ed Director, Maria’s situation was sorted out and she was on her way to get the support she needed.
Let’s go back to the moment Mrs. W. did that happy dance for 12 points. Mrs. W. could have just said “oh well, she’ll never pass” and moved on. No, Mrs. W. was culturally responsive and chose to recognize a student in need.
What difference can this story make for you?
Today, if you are a teacher, go back to your students and look for those “sunflowers in the weeds”. If you are not a teacher, do the same in whatever you do. Taking the time to recognize someone can make all the difference in the world! You are capable of changing and one little chance can change the world! Literally, you can change someone’s life simply by using the “R” in AIR.
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