We Can All Play a Part

When I talk to other teachers about my school, I often hear, “well, you’re small enough that you can do that.” There’s an attitude that we have a luxury of being small and well-staffed – so we can pay attention to things that public school teachers can’t.

Yes and no.

While we certainly benefit from our staffing ratio, there are strategies we use in therapeutic schools that any public school could put into effect with minimal legwork that go miles in their support of all learners. These changes range from small things, like teachers offering differentiated break opportunities in class, to large rethinking of school structures like discipline/suspensions/expulsions.

This article from the New York Times’ Opinionator column describes some of the work being done in the field right now in creating trauma-informed schools. It’s a good introduction for teachers or schools just beginning to think about how to incorporate trauma-informed practices into their systems and structures.

In a month I’ll be facilitating a conversation at EduCon Philly on Understanding, Intention, and Awareness: Lessons For Everyone From a Therapeutic School. My basic feeling is this: what we do at our therapeutic school isn’t a proprietary “program,” an expertise that takes years to develop, or a secret methodology. It’s an understanding of where our students come from, an awareness of how we bring ourselves to the work, and an intention crafted with the student’s needs in mind. Trauma-informed, special ed-informed, just informed in general  we can all move our schools forward with some self-reflection.

If you’re at EduCon, I look forward to starting the conversation with you all. If you won’t be, let’s connect! How do you think we can move our schools toward more supportive practices for children with trauma histories?

What we assume when we talk about homework

Some thoughts related to my conversation at Educon 2013:

When we talk about homework, we’re talking about the wrong thing.

We talk about how much students can be expected to do in one night. We talk about whether they can be responsible. We talk about practice vs. new learning at home; we talk about “flipping” the classroom to redefine what homework looks like.

 

When we assume that students can get their homework done, we assume a lot.

 
At the most basic level, we assume that there is a “home.” We assume that at that home, there is a physical place for the student to do their work – a table, a desk, maybe even a computer and internet access. We assume that in that place, there are pens and pencils, erasers, keyboards, paper.

 
We assume that around that work space, there is quiet. Beyond quiet, we assume there is calm. We assume that this table is a safe place, that there are no family members, friends, acquaintances, or others in the space who threaten the student’s safety or perceived safety. We assume that the room isn’t too cold in the winter or too hot in June. We assume that constant drama in the home doesn’t distract the student from the task at hand.

 
When we assume all this, we’re also assuming that the student has made it home after school, that she isn’t working or caretaking. We assume that school is a relatively high priority in the lives of our students, or a priority at all.

 
If we take all of these things to be true, we still find ourselves with the student looking at the paper, or the computer screen, and assuming that that student has the internal skills of time management, frustration tolerance, and mental organization to complete what is being asked of him.
When we talk about homework, what we’re really getting into is the student in context. We need to consider the student’s whole life outside of and including school. I am lucky to work in a very small school where I can individualize my teaching to account for each student’s life in context – but I believe that you can do this at any scale by providing structures and supports for all students.

 

I don’t want to offer any solutions or suggestions about homework or anything else – I want to raise to the surface the assumptions we make. It’s not wrong to make these assumptions, and sometimes we assume because we have no other information. But when we become aware of them, examine them, and then respond intentionally, we become better teachers.

 

Let’s continue this conversation at Educon – I’ll see you there.