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January 2016 | Volume 58 | Number 1
The Wonder Years
On July 1, I assumed the position of executive director and CEO of ASCD with great enthusiasm. This role allows me to engage with educators across the globe on issues of mutual importance—designing highly effective learning systems for every student and providing support and resources for the educators working with them.
Throughout my career, I have had the good fortune of collaborating with talented colleagues who are fueled by a desire to help all students. They lead with their hearts and their efforts are often reflected in the smiles, twinkling eyes, and hugs from students. Often, these are students whose lives are jolted by circumstances not of their choosing—poverty, disrupted family lives, and environmental factors that lead to a loss of hope at much too early an age. After all these years, I have come to realize that the strong bonds forged between students and a caring educator can mean the difference between hope and despair.
Teaching and learning are complex activities and neither has a simple pathway leading to success. One basic tenet, however, remains true. Relationships matter, especially to our most vulnerable youth. I have witnessed countless examples of educators who reach beyond their classrooms to make a difference in the lives of their students. These include a kindergarten teacher who attended one of her student's first varsity soccer games, a principal who accompanied an 8th grader to his mom's hospital bedside, a high school teacher who visited a recent graduate at college to offer support, and a 1st grade teacher who sends a package of cookies to every one of her former students in their first week of college. Whether or not these acts led to increased test scores doesn't matter; what matters is that they impacted the lives of youth in ways we cannot measure.
While students today face incredible challenges, the most vulnerable among them can be even more stressed and lose hope due to a lack of support and discrimination. Research is clear that poverty is the single greatest threat to a child's well-being; it can impede students' ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Additionally, LGBT youth experience greater emotional distress than other peers, which leads to a lack of success in school and life and a decreased sense of value.
It is particularly concerning that, as noted by the National Center for Education Statistics, one out of every four students reported being bullied during the 2012–13 school year. Even more disturbing is that 74 percent of LGBT students were verbally harassed and 36 percent were physically harassed based on their sexual orientation, according to the 2013 National School Climate Survey.
Students find the most helpful things teachers can do are listen, check in with them routinely, offer support, and ensure that they have a safe place to learn (National Bullying Prevention Center). While schools are not equipped to counter all of the social hardships placed on vulnerable youth, educators can offer a place of refuge and support, especially by fostering strong and respectful relationships. Long after students have left their classrooms and schools, they will remember how they were treated, not the facts they had to memorize along the way.
As I reflect on the thousands of students who have crossed my path, I have been enlightened by their wise counsel—when I took the time to listen. From Michael, who told me my science lesson was irrelevant; to Kya, who informed me why her fighting was necessary; to Emily, who shared why staying inside for recess was emotionally healthy for her; to Carlos, who explained why he stole food from other kids' lunches, I became a better educator and, in fact, a better person. Candidly, there are students whose lives I did not manage to make better, and for them I continue to carry on my life's passion—to make the world a better place, one kid at a time.
Here's to the kids who teach us so much and to the educators who learn from them every day! ASCD is proud to be a partner on this journey.
Copyright © 2016 by ASCD
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