Sunday, September 11, 2011

Living in the world of possibilities- becoming powerful beyond measure.

I've been looking for inspiration as a new school year begins.  Every year my school district holds its annual kick-off event, and this year along with about a thousand other people, I had the tremendous fortune of listening to the story of Ben McConnell.

Ben spoke about the power every teacher possesses to positively affect the lives of their students, and he knows of what he speaks. Ben has dealt with a litany of health issues that have made his life so much more challenging than most, but he hasn't complained. The journey he has taken, and the attitude he possesses are nothing short of remarkable. Ben provides a humbling example of resilience and strength; primary elements that inclusive teaching and learning environments should be designed to nurture. Ben described teachers who found ways to access his unique motivation to be involved in school beyond measure.

As a completely blind person, when he showed up to become a member of the school crosswalk patrol, it would be understandable that his participation would be unwelcome, but one teacher found a way to help include Ben. That teacher set up Ben as the "phone organizer" to ensure that patrollers knew when they were supposed to be on duty, who was sick and needed a replacement or whatever. That teacher who went outside the box to enable Ben's participation in the crosswalk patrol was able to because she knew Ben, and she knew Ben didn't see limitations; only possibilities... such a vital element of inclusion in a strengths-based school. The act of becoming useful and involved in an effort to make the school crosswalks a safer element helped grow Ben's resilience and esteem. He had a purpose, and he shared it with a group who benefited from his contribution. He became powerful beyond measure as part of the crosswalk patrol group, just like he has in so many other elements of his life. Ben faces his fear.



I was riveted to everything Ben said during his presentation, but he made a statement that resonated with me more than anything else.. he said every student has a story. His advice to teachers is to learn that story just like so many had learned his. This is a message I have been projecting for a long time, and one that I have written about a lot. Every student, (and we're all students enrolled in the infinitely large school of life,) lives inside the perspective that only he or she possesses. Our perspective is like our fingerprint; unique to the exclusion of all others. In order to help shape and steer our student's perspectives toward meaningful and  positive involvement in life, we have to know what lens they are looking though to begin with, and be accepting of their personal lines of sight; their reality tunnels. These are their worlds that we have to notice, think deeply about and engage in to the best of our ability so we can help kids weave their stories purposely and productively with each other's and ours.

As a person who has benefited profoundly from his exposure to caring and accepting teachers throughout his life, Ben is proof that "normal" is just a setting on the dryer. He provides an undeniable testimonial advocating for inclusive educational environments that MUST include exposure to caring and accepting teachers... and I would add significant others who work in schools: teacher's assistants; para-professionals; volunteers; wrap-a-round service providers etc. We are those people.

Let us not miss an opportunity to be powerful beyond measure by providing opportunities for all kids to be powerful beyond measure.
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