Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

June 8, 2012

Oscillating Sprinklers and Invisible Students

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 6:55 pm
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                My lawn is a watering challenge.  Long and rectangular, with small side patches, our stationary sprinkler never hits all the hard to reach areas.  We tried a whirlybird which threw water in a lazy circle, but still we had thirsty and brown grass.  Finally we switched to an oscillating model, the type of sprinkler that has a bowed arm covered with spouts that moves back and forth, arching multiple water streams across the lawn.

I thought about sprinklers and students this week, while leading a workshop on positive behavior support.  To demonstrate the benefits and drawbacks of behavior coupon systems, I began distributing coupons to adult participants (teachers) when they paid attention, answered questions, and generally participated appropriately.  The room was long and narrow, and as we discussed the challenges of effectively noticing, connecting with, and congratulating those students in the far corners, one educator chimed in with her imitation of a third grade student. “I have been sitting here and paying attention the whole time, just like I always do. . . and you haven’t even noticed me”.  Like my oscillating sprinkler, so capable of nourishing thousands of blades of grass but still missing some, my positive behavior support was failing to reach everyone equally.

Usually, when I am called to consult in a classroom, or with a teacher, it is to address the proverbial squeaky wheels, the students who are clearly struggling or disrupting the process.  These students command and often receive a great deal of attention.  They are discussed in the faculty room informally, and in formal meetings.  Resources within and beyond the school are commandeered to help determine what will be most helpful.  Of course, such attention is both warranted and necessary to help these students succeed.  I found myself wondering, as I watered my lawn, and reflected on the ignored workshop participant, how important it is for us to nourish and nurture all our students, even those who seem to be, without any help from us, growing like weeds.

Much like flowers, children thirsting for care may not be particularly noisy.  I have learned that my flowers may gently droop on a hot day, but with a bit of water and TLC, they perk right up.   I also know that if I am not careful and ignore the needs of my garden beauties, they  can become in a relatively short time,  hopeless.  They dry and die and no amount of water, nutrients or love will revitalize them.  The only way for me to avoid losing them is to make sure I do a regular circuit of the property, taking stock of which plants need a trim, where the weeds are taking over, and whether extra watering is in order.

Adults, both parents and teachers who nurture children, have to be careful to oscillate, to move between those noisy, needy, demanding children and those who seem self-rooted and successful.   We need to remind ourselves that every child needs, wants and benefits from caring connections with adults.  We need not to trust that our sprinkling of resources is reaching everyone.  We need to look in the hidden corners, behind the obstacles, and in the quiet shadows, and expand our nurturing range. 

We have so many metaphors that support our notion that we don’t need to intervene if a child seems to be doing okay.  No news is good news.  Don’t rock the boat.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Pardoning the metaphor, our children cannot grow without gardeners who tend to their needs.  Even a self-sufficient cactus requires some attention.  If we want to be certain every child in our teaching garden grows healthy and strong, we need to keep our eyes on how they are doing, to know what they need, and to be ready to nourish them all.


1 Comment »

  1. The challenge of only noticing those who misbehave… Thanks for addressing this key issue that we, as teachers, must be more vigilant about! We send a dangerous message when we seem to give more attention to those who act out than those who are behaving day after day.

    Comment by Etti Siegel — June 8, 2012 @ 9:22 pm |Reply

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