“Every time we make a tiny change in our own life, our path is altered. We can decide to change a belief… and… each of our choices – the big ones and the small ones – alter our lives in major ways. And, sometimes it’s the “small” ones that change the course of our lives the most.”
Ann Ranson, Discovering Wisdom blog One Path: Belief in the System
Years ago, I was a teacher who was on an easily-recognizable path in life. My practice was based on how I was taught and how I was taught to teach. Formal training focused on how to teach reading, math, etc., and how to create lesson plans. The focus was on the method.
I assumed that in each class, some children would learn easily, some would struggle, and others would fail. Each of those groups of children were a necessary part of the Bell curve. When children failed, they were discussed, tested, assigned a label, and their lives changed forever. Can you only imagine what it would be like to be in a place for years and be told every day that you fall short of expectations? And can you imagine being given a formal label that describes exactly how you are weak?
It never crossed my mind what was happening to my struggling students as a result of their failure in school. It didn’t occur to me that their failure would take away their feelings of competence and their feelings of hope for the future.
The Pivotal Moment
Time went by. I got a bit older and maybe more observant. Then came one little shift – a little doubt that began to sprout in my mind. It was 1990 when I began to question my assumptions about student failure. It was dawning on me that my kids were bright. Even the failing ones. I felt so many things: squirmy, uncomfortable, dismayed… how had I not noticed this before? My failing kids were bright. They just were not learning.
My intuition – that right-brained based mental function – was telling me that my failing students would no longer fail if I taught them differently. When I gave room to this intuition, my whole life began to shift. Everything changed. My belief changed, and as my belief changed, so did my path, my practice, my focus, what I relied on, and finally my career changed. I began testing logically and tangibly my theory that failing students would be able to learn if I taught them differently. And I dove into child-centered design of lessons and materials and never looked back. WHAT I taught my students was the same, but HOW I organized and taught content was radically different. I looked at the child 1st to uncover his learning strengths and then designed my lessons.
The Outer Path: Belief in the Child
I moved away from my traditional teaching methods: the auditory teaching style, the need for students to listen, pay attention, review, study, drill, memorize. And I moved towards incorporating super powers into my practice, elements that would make it easier for all learners to remember.
At first it was all trial and error, but over time, the tools that worked began to surface. These are right-brained elements that add a context, meaning, and a hook for memory to abstract, left-brained elements. The best of the best include:
1. Stories which activate much of the brain and provide unforgettable hooks for understanding and memory.
2. Body movement which reflects the learning content and is stored all over the body.
3. Images that show in a glance the content and which are stored instantly and unforgettably.
4. And more, such as metaphor, rhyme, color, patterning, etc.
Success was no longer limited to that top (roughly) 40% of students who are left-brained learners, prefer auditory and sequential lessons, and for whom traditional classrooms are designed. The other 60% of students, which fall into the category of visual-spatial learners who need a right-brained approach to learning, were now enjoying a level playing field.
With success for all as our new benchmark, everything changed. There was a spirit of collaboration, children learned about how they learn, they learned to believe in themselves, and they felt competent and capable. There was very little they could not do. They passed tests, they gained skills far surpassing grade level requirements, and they gained something no one will be able to take away from them – that belief in their own ability to learn and achieve whatever their hearts desired.
The stakes are too high for our children to continue on in a way that is not working for the majority of learners. If we believe deep down in our hearts that children are wired to learn, our actions will follow that belief and then we will give our children their futures.
I love this quote, “One decision changes your entire reality, but that one decision you have to make again and again and again until it becomes natural to live in such a way.” Eckhart Tolle.
Making the change from the system to a new child-centered system is slow-going at first. But like any new skill we learn, the more we practice, the more fluent we become. Soon this new way of teaching children will be automatic, and more than worth our effort, considering that when we teach children according to their strengths, they will believe in themselves, and belief is everything.