One of my favourite quotes in education is from Ross Greene, “Kids do well if they can”. I’ve shared this video many times and have reached the point where I don’t remember who I have and have not shared it with. (I’ve probably shared it on this blog before.)

Kids Do Well if They Can Ross Greene #1 – YouTube

I want to add just a few thoughts on this idea, on 3 different levels:

Students

It is the start of year four at Inquiry Hub, and I feel that we have really hit a groove. Although we are still in Perpetual Beta, and trying new things every year, it seems that we are taking 3 steps forward for every step back, rather than the other way around. Still, we run a school that is highly self-directed and that means that some students are not where we want, or think that they might be, a week into the year.

Here is a perfect example: We showed students how to put themselves into their online courses with a self enrolment key on Wednesday. After school, I got a phone call from a parent saying that his child, new to the school, could not access any of his courses. It was an oversight that his account wasn’t approved, and he went the entire day without access to his courses. I can think of many opportunities during the day where this could have been resolved, and it would be easy to blame the kid… but I know many adults, much less kids, that wouldn’t want themselves singled out when they seem to be the only one having trouble. Kids do well if they can.

We are not a school filled only with naturally self-motivated and self-directed learners, they are each on a continuum and at different points in their learning journeys. If we believe that they ‘don’t wanna’ rather than focussing on helping them see that they ‘can’, our constructs are limiting them as much as their own.

Adults

There sometimes seems to be a culture of frustration and blame when educators struggle with new things, be they technologies, new practices, or dynamics with students… When what we really need is collaboration, learning opportunities and coaching. I’ve met thousands of teachers in my 17 years as an educator and I truly believe that 99+% of them have been doing the best they could with the skills, training and circumstances they were given or faced with. That doesn’t mean that some haven’t struggled, and it doesn’t mean that some good teachers couldn’t be great. It means that they all want to do their best, and are trying to do so if and when they can. I don’t know any educators that wake up and say, “Today is going to be a mediocre day.” We are in a profession that demands more.

The more that I learn, the more that I recognize how much we gain from collaboration and mentorship, and we will drastically improve our co-learning models if we start with a simple premise: Adults do well if they can.

Me

Last school year was one of the toughest years of my life. I suffered all the symptoms of chronic fatigue from mid November through May, and am only now feeling fully recovered. For those of you that don’t know much about chronic fatigue, it isn’t a diagnosis as much as it is characteristics and symptoms that describe a category of ailments, with fatigue being at the forefront.

I won’t go into details, the litany of tests, and remedies I tried from holistic to intrusive. Instead, I’ll give a quick summery… In mid November I spent a Sunday in bed feeling like a flu was coming on, and I spent the next seven months feeling constantly tired. I could barely make it through a school day then I’d be on the couch until dinner, and sometimes wouldn’t make it to dinner before my family was off to bed. Weekends were equally exhausting.

In mid May I learned that the (likely) cause of this was that either I was hit by a virus that attacked my immune system and depleted my Vitamin D levels or that my Vitamin D levels were already low, making me susceptible to this virus. From mid May to early July, supplements brought my Vitamin D levels from less than 1/4 of what they should be to over 50%, and these levels should be even higher when I take another blood test next week. It seems these low levels literally sucked the life out of me, and Vitamin D is my own personal happy pill! 🙂

– – – – –

One of the hardest challenges this experience put me through was that I know what I’m capable of doing (when healthy), and I was simply incapable of doing this for months. I would start a task and jump to another task forgetting that I had not completed the first. I fell behind in email, or would read an email and not get back to it to respond. I would have a conversation and literally forget what the follow up was minutes later. I was doing the best I could, but it was so far from what I was normally capable of. This gave me a new respect for two things, one being how important our health is, the other being that people do well if they can.

With respect to my health, I feel blessed right now. As hard as the past year has been, I got a second chance… I know others that go through what I did and don’t get a chance to fully recover, but at my age I really feel that I need to take better care of myself and ‘use it or lose it’.

With respect to “people do well if they can”: How many students that we ask to focus or pay attention are simply in a state where they can’t do what we ask? Do we understand the challenges students may face due to anxiety, frustration, or an addiction? Do we know what ‘baggage’ they might be bringing from home? Do we know if they are trying their best when we ask them to ‘try harder’? Are we helping them in our attempts to get them on track or focused or are we actually taxing them with things they would like to do, but can’t.

People do well if they can. If we are to support others ‘doing better’, then we need to figure out what’s in their way, rather than letting our expectations become a greater obstacle for them. If we believe that “If they can… then they would”, that creates a much healthier construct than, “They would if they wanted to”. The idea that ‘they would, if they could‘ allows us to co-construct a path that I think is healthier and more productive for everyone.

2 comments on “If They Can

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I know how hard it is to know you can do better but not be able to because of your health – for me it was mental health issues that I was too afraid to discuss. It took a toll on me and my family and it’s taken a long time to recover. “If they can” – we do not know what our students or the other people in our building are dealing with but if we are able to build trusting relationships with them, it allows us to work together to get better each day. Take care!

    1. Thanks for sharing Kelly,
      That’s such an important point about not knowing what others are dealing with. I remember a parent requesting a meeting with me and my teaching partner at a Middle School (Grade 8 kid). My teaching partner and I connected before the meeting and we asked each other if there were any issues in our respective classes with this kid, and we both thought he was doing great. His mom came in and was very defensive and asking how he was doing, and what we thought of him in class. We gave (well deserved) positive feedback and she started to cry. It turns out that he was going home and getting violent. We realized as we spoke that he was having a hard time every day, but he did everything he could to ‘hold it together’ while at school, but then he would get home and explode. This kid did his best at school, but it was at a horrible price.

      For me, deep down inside, I knew this was a physical issue and not a mental health one, but it started to wear on my faculties and it was probably harder on my family than for my coworkers. Like the boy above, I could make it through a work day, but then I was done. I didn’t get violent, instead I got unplugged. I was in a walking coma after work and not really present. ‘Coming back’ from this, I have really enjoyed my family time and now that we are back to work after the summer, I’m excited to start the school year. I feel I have a new lease on life and I’m going to appreciate it more (I already have).

      I’m glad to hear that you have had time to recover and I hope your journey is one that leads you to wonderful new adventures.
      All the best to you and your family Kelly!

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