Recently my school leadership was faced with a decision regarding course provisions for our students. One decision came about on the basis of previous numbers and success which always sits uncomfortably with me as it relies on the provision of resources only. I am not suggesting for one moment that schools should not make decisions based on what is viable, however I think that question should be asked last.
I think we should first ask ourselves “What is best for the kids?”
If the answer is keeping the program, then we then need to ask “how can we make it work?” We need to exhaust this “how can we” before we take away opportunities.
I am truly proud of the work we are doing at our school and the continual improvement we are making. I know that the culture is focussed on the needs of our students but I believe we do need to continue to develop challenges and not risk being stuck in a cultural deficit model.
Yes many of our students come from families struggling financially and emotionally and some of our students are even without family. There is within our community unemployment, mental health and substance and alcohol abuse. This of course impacts on our students, however when we focus on what kids can’t do we suck the life out of learning! When we focus on what kids can do, we build upon skills and understanding and provide challenge and opportunity.
In my work teaching students with disabilities, it is essential to focus on what they CAN do. When we do this, we raise the bar and these children constantly rise to the occasion. If I said “she will never speak clearly”, “he will never get a job”, “she will always need a carer”, I stamp out opportunity. When I ask instead “how can we develop that further?”, “where can we seek help from?” or “what is the next step towards independence?” I open up to improvement.
When I completed my final year of secondary school, it was in a very small school with only 50 or so final year students. I was following an academic path and fortunately despite very small numbers, my school facilitated the most challenging academic subjects despite there being only 5-8 students in the subject. They did this because opportunity was valued. They MADE it work, by combining classes and supporting students. Had this not been the case and these subjects not been offered, my tertiary opportunities at that time would have been minimal.
I know I have said this before and I think it will continue to be a bit of a mantra, but I do truly believe we need to fight for the things we know are best even when it seems the path is too challenging, because when we move from CAN WE to HOW CAN WE, our chances of finding a creative and positive solution increases.