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Equity for Invisible Disabilities

As progress is made in the understanding of children whose brains develop differently, there is one area that continues to be problematic: the assumption that when a child is challenged behaviorally, the parents must not parent or the child is just being “difficult.” But for a parent who has tried all the “tried and true” methods with no results, the backstory is quite different.

The reality is, that for a child with developmental delays in executive functioning or maturational issues, the need for scaffolding and appreciating the baby-steps is incredibly important. If we heard that a teacher would not allow a child who is behind in reading to go to recess until they could read on grade-level, why would we do that to a child who has executive functioning delays that affects their impulse control. Of course, the issues need to be addressed, but I can promise you that a child who is repeating maladaptive behavior and receiving negative results isn’t in it for attention. And they certainly don’t enjoy it! Could it be that a fresh perspective is needed when looking at our frequent flier behavior challenges?

Many children who struggle with behavior challenges or organization simply do not connect the dots and they desperately need someone to come along side them to help them do it. Much like a structure under construction, they need behavioral scaffolding. And they need to know their small successes are just as important as the kids who get Student of the Month. So, be that person. Help them connect the dots. If tried and true consequences aren’t working for a kid, quit doing that and look outside the behavior chart box.

When you teach you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be! For ideas on how to reach children in the classroom that are having trouble connecting the behavior dots, contact me for coaching and professional development opportunities at deannat@deannawestedtdeannawestedt.org

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It Only Takes One

As a school administrator for over 20 years, my mother always noted the importance that every child needed to have at least one person in their life that deeply believes in them and champions them. And it is an unfortunate fact we know each year, that at least some of our students will come from a home where that may not be the case. While the majority of parents genuinely do their best for their offspring, there are those cases where while a home situation may not qualify as CPS worthy, yet the support and cheerleading may be missing for that child.

But the good news? While we are not able to completely replace that space in a child’s life, we can be that one person for that child. We are brought into other’s lives, sometimes for life (here’s looking at you life-long friends!), sometimes for a reason, and sometimes for a season. (Or any combination of these, too!) These children are brought into our lives, and we into theirs, and we can be that source of belief, compassion, and encouragement for that child who may not have that resource coming from home.

While the school year is a while away still, take a moment to be grateful for the children that were brought into your life (yes, even the difficult ones because they challenge us and show us where we need to grow). And then set your eyes forward and resolve that you will be that source of encouragement for that “out of the box” child.

When you teach you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be!

Check out my website at deannawestedt.com for ways that I can walk alongside and find ways to be that person for those children who need us just a little bit more.

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Practical Ways to Prevent the Deficit Model

Yesterday, I discussed the deficit model, a specific phenomenon that happens when a person’s challenges, perceived challenges, or characteristics outside the cultural “normative,” are focused on and used to make decisions about the individual.

One example of this is when young adults of diverse cultures are discouraged from taking advanced placement courses, despite their demonstrated ability and motivation. Another example might be when a student who has a learning disability but also has gifted characteristics, is delegated to the “extra support group at all times,no matter what their ability is in the skill being taught.

Today, I want to give some practical suggestions for how to identify deficit model pitfalls and how to combat them.

  1. Students whose family culture is outside the “cultural norms” may need extra consideration to feel safe and included in the classroom space. For example, some children may come from a home culture where quiet respect is highly valued. They may not feel comfortable speaking out in class, especially at first. If you have a child in your class who, for whatever reason, is reserved, find ways to include them in small group dynamics that may feel more comfortable to start out with. After awhile, their comfort level may grow.
  2. Watch for students with asynchronous development, meaning the are advanced in some ways but delayed in others. If a student is reading high above grade level, but struggles to turn in work, make sure that student’s strengths are being addressed and praised. Although, it is critical to address and scaffold support for the child’s difficulties, children who are not placed in learning situations according to their true ability may demonstrate maladaptive behaviors. It is our responsibility as teaching practitioners to make sure we can see behind executive functioning challenges such as turning work in and understand the child’s true ability level.
  3. For language learners, it is essential that an appropriate learning environment is provided to ensure their level of comfort. Students who are acquiring English as a second language often benefit from small group work, where they feel safer to make a language mistake and can participate in what is known as peripheral participation, where they are free to observe other student’s or the teacher who has language mastery.
  4. Allow a student who may be struggling academically to showcase another talent or strength. Children are incredibly adept at understanding unspoken dialogue and doing this communicates that the child’s other skills are also valued as part of the school community.
  5. Most importantly advocate for diversity in gifted education. Advocate for students who are twice exceptional, who may not be able to “make the grade” but could far surpass the straight A students in an IQ test. These children are a precious resource and we absolutely cannot let them fall through the cracks!

When you teach, you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be!

For more ideas, please contact me at deanna@deannawestedt.com I am available to speak to school staff for professional development opportunities in the area of providing equity in the classroom.

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How to Recognize the Deficit Model and What to Do About It

In previous posts, I’ve talked about how students enter the classroom space with unique multi-cultural fingerprints that influence the way they think and learn. In fact, every single person is composed of many different categories that overlap in a unique way to shape their perspectives and viewpoint. Understanding the way this plays out in a classroom and how to create a classroom culture that honors this cultural wealth is a passion of mine.

Within this concept of understanding each unique cultural identity of each child, there is some fundamental ideas that need to be unpacked. The first is the idea of culture. The term culture is most often used synonymously with traditions, often traced back to race and/or ethinicity. And this is a tremendous part of culture, but it is so much more. We must recognize that our age, gender, and life experiences all swirl together to form our lens . In research, we call this positionality and it is incredible important. One of the first steps in a research journey is to identify one’s own positionality that may influence the way the researcher approaches the topic. But this concept also applies to our classroom, and it is imperative that we understand this deeply in order to best serve our children.

Unfortunately, there are some identities a child may have that contribute to what is known as a deficit model. What is a deficit model? A deficit model is usually based on constructs (unspoken contrived ideas) of our society that focuses on what is “normal” for that society. Any identity that strays outside of that norm is perceived (incorrectly) as a deficit. Thus the deficit model, of which there are two types:

1.Where an emphasis is placed on a child’s challenges rather than their strengths. We do this all the time when we make sure that students who are struggling get extra support, but do not take time to focus on strengths of that same child.

2. Where part of a child’s identity is perceived in a way that prevents them from accessing certain aspects of educational opportunity. Research indicates that boys are much more likely to receive a designation of “Special Ed.” That increases substantially if the boy is black. Additionally, there is a huge lack of representation of our minority communities in the Gifted and Talented Programs, often because they may access the curriculum differently or be “perceived” differently. As these students make their way through our educational halls, they often encounter discouragement from taking advanced placement courses. Unacceptable.

Join me tomorrow, where I will discuss ways you can make a impact in your own classroom and school. And if you are interested in a presentation at your educational institution, please contact me at deanna@deannawestedt.com. I am passionate about depth of knowledge equity for our children!

When you teach, you touch the future and that’s a pretty amazing place to be!