Last year I attended a workshop on starting gifted and talented programs in school districts. The presenter (who was awesome) said something during the workshop that has stuck with me ever since:
“I live in the grey areas.”
He said that in reference to the fact that, when it comes to identifying students for gifted and talented programs and designing services for them, it’s not always clear cut what should be done. Multiple factors have to be considered and, in the end, the specific needs of the child must be determined and then we must work to meet those needs.
This doesn’t just apply to gifted and talented students. It applies to all students in our classrooms. And while “find the need and meet it” sounds clear cut, it really isn’t, not in our world of shiny, pre-packaged glossy intervention kits, resource-filled reading series collections, and online programs that promise to fix whatever ails a student.
So it’s not clear cut. It’s actually kind of hard. It’s time consuming. It means problem-solving students on a regular basis (sometimes a daily basis) and troubleshooting in order to figure out how to help students improve their learning. It means there’s no magic bullet we can purchase for students that helps them be successful in mastering all content or challenging them if they already have mastered the content.
And this grey area of what students need to be successful makes sense once you acknowledge the fact that all students are different…so why would we spray them all with a one-size-fits-all intervention/instruction/program and then pray that it works for all of them?
I long ago learned to embrace these grey areas of education, which is why I tend to generate frustration in people that ask me to purchase “one-size-fits-all” curricula or to make course pre-requisites more rigorous so as to exclude students or to implement practices based on misconceptions or to allow policies and programs that punish students in order to gain compliance rather than ensure learning.
The frustration comes when I invite them into the grey areas, when we discuss if what they want will meet the students’ academic needs. Usually the answer is no, it doesn’t..and then the realization hits that the solution for the problem is more complex than purchasing a kit or making it so students have to make it over higher hurdles to get into a more advanced course or any seemingly simple magic bullet solution.
The frustration comes when we start looking at students as individuals rather than a collective whole. Then they grey area gets a pretty dark shade of grey.
Is it more work to live in the grey areas? Yes. Is it worth it to get students what they need? Always.