Not built to break

I have been listening to the signs of the twitter and educational universe and the moments in my classroom and the theme of Equity keeps coming back and reminding me of it’s importance. It is funny as I was sitting thinking up a title for the blog this week the amazing Whitney Houston song, “I didn’t know my own strength” just popped into my head and primarily this piece of the beautiful song,

Found hope in my heart,
I found the light to life
My way out the dark
Found all that I need
Here inside of me
I thought I’d never find my way
I thought I’d never lift that weight
I thought I would break
I didn’t know my own strength
And I crashed down, and I tumbled
But I did not crumble
I got through all the pain
I didn’t know my own strength
Survived my darkest hour
My faith kept me alive
I picked myself back up
Hold my head up high
I was not built to break
I didn’t know my own strength

Whitney Houston “I didn’t know my own strength” written by Diane Warren 

I am going to come back to the song but I wanted to discuss a few observations around equity and then swing back around. 

So this all started when I was listening to Kylene Beers discuss the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations. The idea that as teachers we place limits on our students through our instruction. Limiting the opportunities to show higher level thinking by sticking them in “basics” until they can “handle” the harder work, the implication being that those who are already struggling never can make it out because we have already categorized them as struggling and struggling learners couldn’t possibly be higher level thinkers…right? The further issues become when people categorize a group of people (different races, socioeconomic level, family structure…) as typically lower achieving and thus less worthy of those higher level tasks. Of course, this is just garbage and horrible teaching practice when looked at but the fact is that it is happening without much of a second thought. Consider your own classroom, is there a student that you might jump to alter the work, “dumb it down” without giving an attempt at success? Do you find that your opinions of the student impact the assigned work and that you think they could do more but do not ask them to? The ” I guess this is good enough” approach to student assessment is robbing our students of that great gift of curious learning. We should be pushing ourselves as educators and pushing our students to challenge the limits others have set on them as well. Our day is made of purposeful decisions (or at the very least it should be) let’s make sure that it is not doing the opposite of our mission statement by placing limitations on learning and students reaching higher despite struggling in other areas. 

I continue to be inspired by these posts on equity and while at the gym listening to a podcast on the Cult of Pedagogy I heard a line that I just loved, 

Challenge the normalization of failure

Dr.Pedro Noguera

I thought that this tied in beautifully with Kylene’s original claim on the bigotry of low expectations. The normalization of failure is a very real problem in education. I notice this even in the small communities I work in different groups of students are not challenged for lower performing work. Even at the youngest ages, these students are just accepted as lower performing and failure in their work is less and less questioned. Sadly things like family history, race, and poverty are used to normalize failure, “they do worse because….” “Our demographics just mean we produce lower results…” these are comments I have heard in data meetings. This permission that we are giving ourselves to fail students because believe me that is what the normalization of failure is really about. We, as teachers, are normalizing our failure to help our students in need. We turn to programs that give us an easy to follow script. We accept whatever is passed our way that guarantees success with minimal if any inquiry into how students feel about said program. Teachers are turning over what makes us great, the unique things we bring to the job in favour of a shared program because then when the kids do poorly we can place the blame on that forced program rather than look at our own teaching. The normalization of failure. 

SO I ask what do we do? And I go back to the wise words of Diane Warren sung by Whitney. We need to be a light in the dark for our students, we need to be there to make sure when they stumble that we help them up, that we do not accept failure as an end but as a beginning. It is very likely that our students do not know their own strength. We need to help them get there. Like a spotter in the gym we need to be ready to take that little bit on to help them move forward instead of being the voice that says it is ok to quit. That voice that normalizes failure with a list of excuses to remove any ownership teachers should have in the learning process. We don’t just get to claim the great like so many instagram teachers do to gain some likes. We need to be getting into the tough stuff with our students we need to give them chances to show they are more than than a struggling grade and that one area of struggle does not indicate all areas will be. 

Let’s be the support for our students with great teaching, let’s provide the support they need to know they are able to do hard things and that failure is not bad if the next move is forward towards solving the problem. I love this quote from Mary Howard that I captured during a Twitter chat. All of our students deserve our best, they deserve a shot at displaying all of their thinking and we should never make failure permissible as a holding place. 

I have the smartest friends 🙂 

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