We have a community of unobtrusive and content mourning doves in our backyard. They are generally quiet other than their low coos, very plain looking next to the vibrant male cardinal, and generally very unobtrusive. I’ve never thought about them too much, other than musing about their peaceful demeanour.
A classroom is much like a backyard, bird community. We have the colourful, loud students, the pushy ones who have to be first, and then a large group of relatively content, unobtrusive students. Some of these are the ones we have to watch out for sometimes. Especially girls can fade into the background, not having their needs met. Sometimes they progress slowly in school for years, their struggles unnoticed. They don’t get into behavioural issues, because they want to keep the peace. But it is a struggle for them if they have difficulty reading and spelling, and in the higher grades, more and more is expected of them and their performance, leading to more frustration and anxiety.
I observed a student like this. Watching her outside, she has a calm, pleasant demeanour. She relates well to the younger students, but there is always something holding her back amongst her peers. She avoids confrontational situations, and is very unobtrusive. A teacher’s energy is so often consumed by the antics of some of the other students, that this one goes unnoticed, much as the mourning dove.
One day there is a definite change in her. She has been identified with a learning disability, and no longer has to cover up her weaknesses. She feels relief, and is eager to work in therapy. Supporting her through this is critical, in the classroom, at home, and in the therapy station. Letting her know she has many strengths, such as her caring personality and giftedness in figure skating is critical. The classroom can focus on how the community is made up of many different types of learning styles, and each individual learns differently. As she builds on her strengths in the therapy station, we target her deficit areas and challenge her to build on those reading and writing skills, while celebrating her strengths. It is a joy seeing her eyes shine as she comes with her homework complete and recites the assigned blue book page!
One day there is also a change in one of the mourning doves. We watched her go to the feeder, and let in all the little birds, but not the irritatingly aggressive blue jay. She decided to stand up for herself instead of being unobtrusive, and surprised both herself and the rest of the bird community. Her strength is in her self-confidence and strong spirit.
Let’s nurture this strong spirit in our students. Let’s prepare them for a world where they are able to read, write, figure things out mathematically, and find their own path. The journey is not always easy, but with the tools needed it will be a journey of hope and success!