Friday, September 4, 2009

Help all children succeed

David Holmes is executive director of the Lee Pesky Learning Center. The center works in partnership with Blaine County schools and community organizations, including the YMCA.


There are no stupid children. There are different children, but there are no stupid children.

As parents, teachers and children organize for a new academic year, this is a good time to think about a few ideas that will help every child succeed in school.

The truth is that school does not come naturally and easily for all children, perhaps for most children. Schools are charged with organizing, teaching, testing and sorting students according to common rules and criteria. Even Blaine County schools, which are blessed with outstanding human and physical resources, are hard-pressed to "leave no child behind."

Yet, there are some core principles—and attitudes—that hold promise for all children, regardless of age. Teachers and parents are at their best when they keep these principles in mind:

Unconditional Positive Regard

Though the counseling psychologist Carl Rogers espoused this idea for working with his clients, it applies to every learning situation. Children may struggle or march to a different drummer, but they must hear that we treasure them, indeed, love them. This positive regard cannot be conditional on a child's successes or actions. Children know where our hearts lie.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Expectations are all-powerful. Children must believe that they will succeed, and what we say and do makes a big difference in their expectations. Unfortunately, all too many children receive the opposite message from school and life. High self-expectations, I believe, are 90 percent of success.

Recognize and Honor Learning Differences

Children differ in how they think and learn. Children take different paths in life. Every parent knows this. Yet, teaching and parenting often ignore this reality. We are at our best when we support—and build on—the unique strengths of our children and students.

Intervene When Necessary

Many children, perhaps 20 percent of the population, are born with a cognitive gap, commonly called a learning disability. A learning disability is really a learning "difference," a neurological difference in the way a child processes information. All too often, parents fail to recognize or acknowledge what they know intuitively. Early intervention is crucial, and state-of-the-art help is available in our schools and at the Lee Pesky Learning Center. We must not ignore what is common and fixable.

Model Our Values

Adults are not perfect, but we know what is right and moral. Children do not miss a thing, and they take their cues from what we say and do. A mean act carries a message. A humane act carries a message. To every extent possible (we are human too), we must strive to show the right way. If we do not do this, our children we will be adrift in a world that all too often lacks an ethical and moral standard.

Hold every child in high regard. Believe in success. Build on strengths. Give help when needed. Teach values. These simple ideas can make all the difference. They are universal avenues for achieving what we all want for our children: happy, healthy, successful people with a strong moral foundation.

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