I was originally going to title this post I believe in Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, but it is an assignment for University and I was not certain that my Professor would think it fit the assignment. We were asked to follow the model of the “This I believe” essay from NPR to express a belief statement of our own. This is what I settled on. Grateful for Dr. Gholdy Muhammad and her work and message that inspires my practice.
This I Believe
I believe the children are our future (Houston, 1986)
I laughed when I thought about starting this assignment with the great Whitney Houston. While it is true, I think ultimately at the core of my beliefs are students and their unique genius. I believe that all students are genius, and it is our job as teachers to nurture and support that genius. My thinking on this shifted the first time I listened to Dr. Gholdy Muhammad speak. As she outlined her incredible framework for learning, she said regarding our students, “We must start their stories and identities with their excellence.” This phrase hit me so hard that I wanted to keep the reminder with me all of the time and it now sits above my head in my classroom. So, we start the year talking about our excellence.
Too often, our students are viewed for what they can’t do, not what they can. The testing culture of society wants our students to fit into the same box, and when they can’t, we subject them to interventions. We forget about all the things they can do because of the things they can’t. Their story becomes one of deficit and failure.
I believe we must focus on their genius.
Dr. Asa Hilliard said, “I have never encountered any children in any group who are not geniuses. There is no mystery on how to teach them. The first thing you do is treat them like human beings and the second thing you do is love them.”
How simple and powerful. But we lose sight of that simple truth through all the noise.
The student who creates brilliant pieces of art in response to simple lines from text, genius.
The student who teaches his classmates about the intricate workings of a tractor, genius.
The student lost in his drawings, genius.
The student who sings, genius.
The student-athlete, genius
When I made the shift in my classroom to recognize the genius first and foremost not only did my instruction change but the whole environment did.
Last year I had the most beautiful class; scheduling made it necessary for me to teach English 10-1, 10-2, 20-2, and 20-4 classes all together at once. At first, I didn’t know how I would deliver instruction to 4 different courses with different curriculums in a way that served all my students. Then I asked them, “what do you want to learn about?”
We explored so much as they discovered their genius. Students blogged, created picture books, wrote chapters of novels, crafted incredibly heart-wrenching poems. We explored multimodal work. Words turned to images. Students took risks.
Beyond just academic growth, something else started to happen. Students began to see and celebrate the genius of others. Students began asking if they could present poetry or show off their creations. We so often talk as teachers about how we can inspire our students. How do we help them shine? I think I have the answer.
We stop telling them what shining must look like.
Ultimately, I believe in the individual genius of all students.
I believe in their excellence.
I believe it should be celebrated
In my favourite movie, Stardust, as the climax is reached and it seems like all hope is lost, Claire Danes character Yvaine proclaims, “What do stars do? They shine!”
I believe that when we trust in our students’ genius. When we see it and give them the space to grow, they too will shine. I have seen this in action. I have witnessed the impact students who see their excellence and genius validated has. In an education system that sees countless students unable to achieve a standard, we need to start asking ourselves about the standards we are setting and how we measure success rather than asking students to fit inside a box.
Like Gholdy says,
“We must start with their genius and their joy.”
This I believe.