Sunday, October 5, 2014

Advocating for the Underdog

Who doesn't love the underdog?  The cinderella story? The improbable comeback? I have a soft spot for the underdog.  Growing up I loved the feel good stories, maybe that's why my favorite movie of all time is Hoosiers.  One of the best cinderella stories I can remember was in 2007.  The Fiesta Bowl featured The Mighty Sooners from Oklahoma versus the Blue-Turfed boys of Boise State.  For most of the game Boise State hung tough but it was obvious they were going to come up short.  And then this happened...

Boise State pulled off the improbable with the "hook & ladder" and the "Statue of Liberty".  This was easily an Instant Classic!  

Most people love the underdog...

This past week I had the opportunity to attend camp with our 5th graders at Mystic Lake.  I look forward to the three day trip.  To see our kids showing independence, courage and teamwork always gives me a feeling of pride.

This year was more of the same, but this year also had a couple of question marks surrounding our trip.  The question marks centered around our special needs students.  Ever since I volunteered at the Special Olympics as a teenager, my awareness, sensitivity and understanding have all been heightened.  In the lead up to this year's trip my concerns were two-fold:  One, how could we give ALL students the opportunity to enjoy camp?  Two, we needed to have multiple plans in place just in case things went awry.   

As educators we often use two phrases:

1)  What is best for kids?

2)  What is the least restrictive environment?

During the days and weeks leading up to camp I had several conversations with parents.  Discussions ranged from sleeping arrangements to bee stings.  One conversation that was of specific concern involved our special needs students.  The big question, could they handle it?

My stance going in was that we had to give them the opportunity.  Basically we had to give them our best effort.  We couldn't give up on a student before they even started.  During my educational career I have witnessed many adults lose perspective.  The focus shifts from "What is best for kids?" to "What is best for adults?"  During my sixteen years in education this has always been tough to see and hear. 

As we embarked on our annual trip to northern Michigan I felt cautiously optimistic.  I felt as though I had adults in the right spots, I frontloaded the Mystic Lake counselors, I met with a couple of our own counselors and I was honest and straightforward with parents.  The planning and preparation was done.  

The first day at camp is always an eye opener.  This year the kids started out with enthusiasm and excitement. It lasted until just after dinner.  Next came a bit of anxiety for some.  Several students got a bit homesick and our special needs kids needed a bit of down time. In the past some students have needed to call home, needed to be reassured by their parents and then they get right back at it.  This year was a little different.  A couple students needed some extended support...but that is what we do. We support our kids!

Day Two had a couple neat events.  Just after lunch I headed to the canoes & kayaks.  Once I arrived I saw Mrs. Chamberlain with one of our young ladies.  I talked with her for a minute and I figured the three of us would take a canoe and head out onto the lake.  Remarkably our young lady did not want to sit in the middle, she wanted to be in the front paddling.  So, we changed the plans and I ventured out with her.  I'll admit, in the back of my mind I had already told myself it was okay if we tipped.  I wasn't going to get upset, I was simply going to smile and chalk it up as a memory.  But we didn't tip! In fact we paddled around the entire lake!  We were out on the water for an hour and we talked, took in the sights and practiced paddling.  What a success!  After we finished canoeing the entire group headed to the open field for games.  Two young ladies began playing kick ball. This was pretty adorable to watch. 

Our Annual Trip to Mystic Lake felt like a success.  I always stress about the details, but as I reflect on the past few days I smile.  The smile comes from the opportunities we gave ALL students.  I'm not going to say it was easy, but that's why this is an underdog story.  The odds were not in favor of ALL students making it to Friday.  But just like a feel good story you'd see on television...we did it!  I'll admit, I learned a lot these past few days.  We will encounter challenging moments, but as adults we must find a way to help our students succeed.

As I wrap up this post, I challenge you to look inside yourself for two answers.  The first is, are you truly student-centered?  I'm sure you know someone in education that is not.  You know what that looks like.  The adult that is looking at the clock, checking the contract language and bringing down the climate of the building.  I hope you rise above and focus on kids first!  The second is, do you expect the best or fear the worst?  When we work with ALL kids we will encounter challenges.  Kids are human beings and often times can be unpredictable.  Yet the mindset of the adult is critical.  Each day I challenge myself to expect the best.  We have many champions in education, the people that love the underdog story and do whatever it takes for our kids to succeed!

This week's big question:  What do you stand for?  


Monday, October 6th:  1st String Team Class 3:45-4:30
Tuesday, October 7th:  PTO Meeting 7pm
Wednesday, October 8th:  K-2 Assembly at 8:45am
Friday, October 10th:  Staff Meeting 8am in the Library
Friday, October 10th:  AM Fire Drill

Articles Worth Reading:

Keep Driving @Fearless_Teach

Videos Worth Watching:

Food Fads with Ellen (3 min)

Family Feud...Good Answer...or not (1 min)

3 Questions that could change the World! (3 min)

Catchphrase with Jimmy Fallon! (3 min)

What are your true colors? (3 min) Inspiring!

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