The Heart of the Matter

So this week I want to talk about struggling students, or more to the point, our responsibility as educators to truly get down to the heart of the matter when it comes to why kids aren’t learning. I firmly believe that every one of our students wants to achieve, and it’s not enough for us to say that they’re “just being lazy”, or “not applying themselves”, or “not living up to their potential”. Kids don’t come to school in the morning wanting to fail, or struggle, or feel like they’re dumb. Kids also don’t come to school in the morning looking to spend their day being bored or unchallenged…….it’s so easy for us to get frustrated with students who aren’t reaching our lofty expectations, without really making the effort to find out why, and it’s even easier to cop out and put the responsibility all on them to turn it around. We get frustrated when kids don’t finish their homework…..we get frustrated with kids when they act out and behave inappropriately…….we get frustrated with kids who consistently underachieve……..and often times in my opinion, we don’t dig deep enough below the surface to find out what’s really going on.

Think about all the things that can get in the way of student learning…..particularly throughout the pre-teen and teenage years. There are so many obstacles to learning that it’s a wonder how kids make through at all……depression, peer pressure, diagnosed and undiagnosed leaning disabilities, hormone changes, poor self esteem or a lack of self confidence, parental pressure, boredom, and a fear of failure just to name a few. It’s hard for many kids to “do school” the way we expect, and many of our students aren’t what some might call “school smart”. When it doesn’t come easy to them and they begin to struggle, they end up consistently hearing things like “you need to try harder”, or “you’re not taking your education seriously”, or “you need to start taking ownership of your learning”…….well, I think we all know as professionals that it’s not that simple. I just finished reading an amazing and enlightening book called Speaking of Boys by Michael Thompson, which opened up my eyes and heart to a number of things that I either didn’t know, had forgotten, or had been taking for granted. I had a lot of time early last week while I was traveling home from the recruiting fair to really think about our kids, and I looked deeply at our programs, our assessment expectations/practices, and the way in which we (as a collective faculty) approach our struggling students. Honestly, I am excited to make a few changes in my own approach and commitment to deciphering the mysteries of our “underachieving” kids, and I want to encourage and urge you all to do the same.

Over the next semester, let’s all take the extra time to truly get down to the heart of the matter……..and to find out what’s really blocking the pathway to learning. Talk to me,  the student support services team, your colleagues, the parents, and most importantly, to the student about what can be done and how we can help. Every student has their own story, and every student achieves at a different rate……let’s make sure that the obstacles in their way are removed (or at least identified) so we can maximize the opportunities for them to learn. I don’t think we should be satisfied until all of our kids are reaching the high expectations that we’ve set for them, or until we’ve at least identified the real reasons why they’re not. It’s a lofty goal I know, but one that is attainable and educationally responsible in my opinion. Please dig deeper everyone, and help turn our struggling students around into success stories. With the quality of educators currently on our faculty, and the incredibly inspiring young adults that come to our school, I am confident that we can get this done. Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to dig deep for our students and be good to each other.

Quote of the Week………..
A student never forgets an encouraging private word, when it is given with sincere respect and admiration.
-William Lyon Phelps

Article #1 – A 3-Step Process for Achieving Success in Struggling Students (Marshall Memo) A 3 step process
Article #2 – A Seamless intervention System for struggling Students (Marshall Memo) A Seamless Intervention System for Struggling Students
Article #3 – Support struggling Students with Academic Rigor (ASCD) August 2012

About Daniel Kerr

Dan Kerr is now Lower School Director at the American School of Paris. He previously served as Intermediate Division Principal at Academia Cotopaxi American International School in Quito, Ecuador, and prior to that was the Middle School Principal at SCIS in Shanghai, China. Dan has also worked at JIS in Jakarta, Indonesia and he began his International career in Abu Dhabi. Dan is thrilled to be joining the ASP family and will be accompanied by his wife, Jocelyn, who will be working as a counselor, and his two children, Max and Gabby. 
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