Sunday, November 2, 2014

Eggshells in the classroom?

One of the most famous educational quotes ever spoken was by George Evans.  He stated, "Every student can learn, just not on the same day, or the same way."

My belief is similar, I believe all students can succeed.

A few years ago my son had a student in his classroom.  The student's name was Wade.  The year my son was in class with him was a real struggle.  As a parent I heard my son complain about the boy. Each time I sat down with him and listened.  Then I encouraged him to stand up for himself, to speak with an adult and I also taught him to walk away.  Day after day the stories continued. As parents we talked with the teacher and we were assured the situation was being monitored closely.

Unfortunately it wasn't just that Wade pushed and hit, he also made the learning difficult in the classroom.  Our son came home with marks on his paper.  I asked him what these markings were...Drew said, "Wade wrote on my paper."  I could tell young Wade either had it in for my child or was disrupting the learning environment for many kids.

Then it happened.

I received a phone call from the school.  I was informed that my son had fallen off a piece of equipment and he was hurt.  My wife went and picked him up.  When she walked in she could tell Drew wasn't himself.  He looked groggy and sad.  She immediately decided to take him to the doctor and have him checked out.  Before she left she asked Drew what had happened.  Drew said, "Wade pushed me."  I know my wife and I know that inside she was fuming.  Once they arrived at the doctor Drew was taken back for an x-ray.  After a bit of time the doctor came out and told us...Drew had a broken arm.

As parents we said all the right things and told him he was going to be fine.  I also told him that his Uncle Nick broke his arm as a boy and he turned out to be a doctor.  We really tried to pump Drew up.  But inside we were both at our wits end.  Our family endured a trying year, we met with the school and the teacher, but those were just band-aids.  We had to get our son away from young Wade.

As a parent this story is how one child can destroy a safe learning environment.  As an educator I will share this...

I believe all kids can succeed!  I will stand behind that statement for the rest of my days, but take a good look at that doesn't say all kids will succeed in every classroom or every school. As educators we must solve the complex puzzle of students.  How do they learn best?  What are their motivators?  What are the strengths and weaknesses? Education is not a one-size fits all approach. Being an educator has allowed me to experience many success stories.  I live for the underdog that turns things around and flourishes!  Yet occasionally we are thrown with severe challenges.  In my 15 years of education I have witnessed so many successes that I can't even count them.  Unfortunately I have endured some unfortunate events that still sit with me.

Five years ago I had a child that was simply on the edge.  There were many days that nothing negative would occur.  But then something would set the student off and when he lost it, it was like an explosion went off.  I'll never forget the time I watched the student throw a chair, swear profusely and whip a pair of scissors at people trying to help him.  After this occurred the general consensus was fear.  Day to day I could see the fear in classmates eyes.  Many students did not want to interact with the boy.  It was an atmosphere of walking on egg-shells.

As educators we tried hard to NOT poke the bear.

So this leads me to my thoughts.  When we talk about creating a successful and safe learning environment we often think this includes ALL students.  But what if ALL doesn't mean ALL?  What if one student creates an unsafe learning environment?  Does this then mean, The Good of All Supersedes the Good of One?

I used to believe ALL meant ALL.  Now I believe this, the one thing every family expects is their child will be safe and have the opportunity to learn.  This is expected.  

My stance has evolved over time.  Personal experiences have shaped my beliefs.  If one student creates an unsafe learning environment or disrupts the opportunity for others to learn, we as educators must be willing to put the needs of the whole over the needs of one.  I still believe all students can succeed, but maybe not in a room with 25 other students.

This Week's Big Question:  Have you ever had one student change the entire dynamic of your classroom or school?


Tuesday, November 4th:  PTO Meeting 7pm
Tuesday, November 4th:  9am Tech Meeting
Wednesday, November 5th:  CP Federal Credit Union Assembly (All grades in Gym) 8:45am
Wednesday, November 5th:  Report Card data due
Thursday, November 6th:  Tornado Drill AM
Thursday, November 6th:  4pm School Improvement Meeting
Friday, November 7th:  Report Cards go home
Friday, November 7th:  Staff Meeting 8am in Mrs. Struck's room

Articles Worth Reading:

Dear Teacher @TonySinanis

No More Scores, Only Feedback @Jennifer_Hogan

Making Connections @DJrSchug

Silver Linings @Jonharper70bd

Learning Walls @Jeff_Zoul

Making Difficult Parent-Teacher Conferences Easier @gpescatore25

6 Changes Towards Personalized Learning @pernilleripp

Partner with Parents @scholastic

2 Secret Tricks of Highly Productive, Self-Disciplined People @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Wheel of Impressions with Kevin Spacey (5 min)

Ellen sends "Scandal" to a Haunted House... (2 min)

The Best of Ellen Scares... (2 min)

Voices of #michED (1 min)

Together... (2 min)

Crazy...just crazy (2 min)


  1. Interesting read, Ben! This story leaves me with questions.. Where was the psychologist, the behavioral assessment and behavior plan? It's a sad story for both Wade and your son. A lot to think about...

    1. Sometimes the process takes time. Unfortunately time isn't always on our side. I've done this enough to know that varying opinions are everywhere. Sometimes what seems fast to one person is an eternity to another.

  2. Ben,
    I hope your son is ok. This is a very powerful post and reflection from the perspective of a parent and principal. If only we could spend more resources on social work, classroom ast, behavior interventionist, and/or school psychologist to focus on building relationships, to provide sustained behavior interventions, while increasing individualized supervision and supports to students and families. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I can completely relate Ben. I have faced the same challenges many times. I always try to be an advocate for all of my students as well, but when it comes to the safety of the students, then I have to believe it is even better for the one, to be removed from a situation that could end up putting him in a bad spot as well. I want "Wade" to be able to grow up and make friends, and not feel like everyone is afraid of him. While there are not near enough supports for our emotionally or behaviorally challenged students within the school system (and I hope that changes) they still need those supports, and maybe they need to find them outside the system so they can come back to it and be successful at a later time. Never an easy decision.

  4. I am sorry for the year your son endured. But I can also see your post from a completely different viewpoint. As a parent of a child with special needs, I see how the school failed Wade that year. Or maybe Wade came so far, that one might call it a success. Maybe Wade was not safe at home, maybe he was abused, maybe he needed psychological help or maybe the kid who sat behind him in class was a sneaky bully who whispered horrible things to Wade all day and the didn't know how to get help. Any which way, from your post I take the point that Wade should have been removed and not allowed to stay that year. I'm sure there is much more to his story, and as an administrator yourself, you probably already know there are things the school can't disclose to other parents, no matter what the situation with their own child. There are so many other things Wade needed, and I find it safe to assume that he had very little self confidence at that point. Maybe not removing him from school was the thing that saved his life that year. Just playing devil's advocate I guess.