117/365 How Can Schools Meet the Developmental Needs of Children? #YearAtMH

I’ve been asked by Sam Chaltain to contribute to the conversation over at EdWeek around the series A Year at Mission Hill. I’ll be offering a take on each episode and interpreting some of the research that might be relevant and trying to make it practical. This piece was originally posted at EdWeek.

Of the many poignant moments in Chapter 4 of A Year at Mission Hill, my favorite is of teacher Jada Brown sitting and rocking a student (1:50). The image, as well as the rest of this episode, helps to draw focus to the physical and socio-emotional needs of students in all schools. Sadly, these are the needs most often lost in the current conversation of how we can build the sorts of schools our students most sorely need.

As Mission Hill’s teachers repeatedly point out (and as any teacher who works with children knows), students who step into our classrooms do not come into existence the moment they cross the threshold into the school building. They bring with them all of their experiences, all of their memories, and all of their needs as developed over the course of their lives up to that point.

And, they are children. While the majority of adults can filter these things as they move through their days socially and professionally, students often do not have such filters in place; they are at various stages of developing the tools needed to manage their interactions with others and intrapersonally.

While full-inclusion schools such as Mission Hill are also working with students with more pronounced needs around the management of their emotions and the filtering of stimuli, it’s worth noting that this work is important for all children.

Learning is better when we attend to the needs of the whole child.

Such is the reasoning behind ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative. Launched in 2007, the Initiative is designed to widen the narrowing thinking about what it means to educate children and prepare them for their futures based on the following tenets:

  • Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
  • Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
  • Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
  • Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
  • Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

Recognizing that sending these tenets out into the world alone would only help a certain segment of the teaching population, ASCD and its partner organizations have compiled research and action plans to help teachers and school communities begin the process of setting their unique courses to better supporting the children in their care. These are the types of conversations we see embedded throughout the practice of the teachers at Mission Hill.

Returning to the image of Jada Brown comforting her student in the rocking chair, it is important to look more deeply at what is happening in the scene. Yes, there is socialized comfort at play. Brown is offering a safe mental and emotional space for the student and likely offering helpful verbal de-stressors.

Another key component often overlooked or never considered in most schools and classrooms is the balancing of the student’s sensory diet Brown is offering through her positive touch and the rhythmic rocking of the chair. In short, she is helping to balance the chemistry of the student’s brain toward the goal of greater control of behavioral outputs. It’s the kind of work occupational therapists like the late Bonnie Hanschu do every day: considering how students’ tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular systems can be brought into greater harmony. Sadly, it’s also the kind of work many teachers never hear about in their pre-service or professional development work.

For more information on occupational therapy, try these resources compiled by the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Seeing the students in our care as their whole selves and building our understanding of how strong physical, sensory, and socioemotional supports work together to build clear pathways to academic success is work worth doing. More than that, it is work that must be done.

114/365 All the News that’s Fit to Align with What We’ve Already Read

dead newspaper

I’m just getting to today’s ASCD SmartBrief in my inbox. I don’t often have time to run through it, but it’s summer, and such extravegances are permitted.

The subject line today, “Principal: Testing is about measuring knowledge, not meeting deadlines.” The link leads to this Education Week commentary from Ryan McLane, a junior high school principal in Utica. I’ll leave the content of McLane’s piece to him.

This isn’t about that.

The second story is about 21st-century skills and a Gallup survey sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning and the Pearson Foundation.

Third? A story on Texas schools uncovering knowledge that taking kids on field trips helps them think about what they might want to do after school.

These are the top stories under “Learning and Teaching” for the day. While they speak to the trends of the American education landscape, but they do little to push at the boundaries, challenge popular beliefs or uncover new ground.

The other categories in the brief follow a similar pattern.

My ire was probably its highest under the “Whole Child” section which featured a single story on the pantopticonian increase in demand for survelliance cameras as the answer to school safety concerns followed by “Wyo. considers training teachers to recognize students who are at risk of suicide” under a sub-sub-heading.

To say this reflects a saddening national conversation would be an understatement.

Perhaps I’m asking too much of a SmartBrief as well as showing a naive hope that what remains of the Fourth Estate might take on the mantle of helping their audiences critically evaluate the objects of their reporting. At the very least, it would be nice to see any continuing coverage of school closings taking place across the country and how they might disproportionately effect students from different ethnicities differently.

Special thanks to my English teachers who, even though we were firmly in the 20th century, helped me to develop the distinctly 21st-century skill of critical thinking and reading closely.