Neil Gupta, Ed.D., Lead Learning Partner
Out of all the 1970’s TV remakes, I am still waiting for the remake of the Six Million Dollar Man! There he was, Steve Austin, an astronaut whowas injured in a crash and rebuilt with robotics to become super human! What 5-year old wouldn’t have been glued to the TV to watch him in action. What child wouldn’thave dreamed to be him! At the age of 40, and complaining of a chronic backache all the time, I still dream of being rebuilt and relish those famous words from Oscar Goldman, “We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.“
Who wouldn’t want the chance to be rebuilt into something better?
As educational leaders, we may not have access to the million dollar technology for our students, but we have an even richer asset of time and having the right focus on what our students need. It is imperative we realize our potential and the opportunity to rebuild our students from the right perspective.
As a parent, I got to experience this first hand. A few years ago, my son was placed in a very high middle school math class. As a previous high school math teacher, and knowing my son, I was skeptical about his ability to keep up with the rigor from this placement. But, based on the teacher’s recommendation and my son’s desire to try it out, I consented.
The teacher was awesome! She created a mastery-based approach to the classroom environment in which students were allowed to redo assignments and retake tests; so, learning would be the focus. Although his report card grades reflected high marks, I could see my son frustrated nightly and witnessed him invoking the multiple retake opportunities on an on-going basis.
That spring, scheduling began to take place for the next year. I set up a meeting with his teacher planning to suggest we move him to the lower tier next year. The teacher met me at the door for our conference and escorted me to a table with a huge pile of my son’s homework, projects, tests, and quizzes spread across the whole table. The teacher went right in to a monologue sharing my son’s work samples throughout the year. One after another, she shared small but incremental improvement interwoven with gaps in fundamental concept understanding. As she was building her case to recommend having him moved to the lower tier next year, she glossed over what I found to be the most important data she could have shown me out of all the papers she shared with me.
In addition to all of the assignments she had given and administered throughout the school year, she had her students take a quarterly self-assessment in the form of an attitudinal survey. The responses from one question on the 20 question survey my son answered sealed the decision for me: “I am good at math”.
In the fall, my son rated himself 10 out of 10 to that question. But throughout the year, I saw that number decrease to 8 and then 6.
While I could have looked at his actual grade on his report card (an “A” by the way), I could say he was doing fine. My mind could have wandered to work with him more or hire a tutor to help him understand the concepts at that point. But, that didn’t matter compared to me needing to attend to his self-concept and attitude towards being “good at math”. For him to rate himself lower that much in one year was what I needed to attend to more than his understanding of math concepts.
Too often, we are in a rush to look at the product or work output such as grades, wins, or other performance metrics. Yet, we don’t spend time realizing that attending to a student’s heart, attitude, and self-reflection is more important.
If we are honest with ourselves, we may be able to provide the proper intervention and support to get students back on track with content mastery. But, if a student has lost their desire or self-determination, this could be be irreparable.
In the rush to help our students, let’s not forget the need to focus on the affective side of our students and that we hold the power to rebuild them because we really do have the right resources at our disposal.