I dropped my oldest daughter off to soccer practice, and as I made the turn toward my opening garage, I had to pause momentarily so as not to drive into the still rising door. A glint of sunlight highlighted a small spider scurrying up a single strand of silk stuck to the insulated bottom of the door, and it made me wonder what would become of that spider as the garage door finished opening and closing. But, as my car came to a stop and I stepped out to enter my house, I wondered something else. What was the spider doing before it caught the bottom of the door and rose with it, frantically attempting to determine what would happen next?
Aside from the hours upon hours devoted to state testing and processing discipline referrals, the better part of my time recently has been focused on preparing and delivering equity training for some groups in our school district. It’s the work that matters most to me, aside from my ability to interact directly with students and help them navigate the choices they are making as they grow up imperfectly in an imperfect world. It’s the work that keeps me struggling at times to make sense of what we’re doing as educators. I’m part of an institution that is focused on student growth and achievement. While I’d like to see us focus more on relationships than tests, I can’t disagree that we should be promoting student growth and achievement. Still, where are we taking them, and where are they coming from?
We spend countless hours as educators attempting to determine how we need to help our academically and behaviorally struggling students grow and achieve in our system. We’re certain of the system, argue that it’s what we must operate within, recognize that so many seem to thrive in the system, and are constantly baffled by our few successful but mostly failed efforts at conforming those “other” students to the system. We will point to every external factor we can find. We will speak endlessly about how these factors beyond our control limit our ability as educators to help students be successful in the system. We will repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again, and then, when frustration continually builds, we start to shut down.
Change starts with me. It starts with you. Change happens when we accept how little we truly know about ourselves and those we work with. It happens when we acknowledge that “our” system isn’t what works for everyone, and we take meaningful steps toward being responsive rather than forcing conformity. Change is only beyond us if we elect to perpetuate the myth that it is beyond our control, beyond ourselves.
I want to know what the spider was doing before I showed up, and I believe the spider will survive, regardless of my passive indifference as it hangs by a thread. If I wonder that and believe that about a spider, surely I can muster up just a bit more for a student. So can you.