-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.
What can we do to be ready to offer all learners—no exceptions—the best our system can offer? Answering this question effectively is complicated, because:
- Much of what learners need is the same.
- A great amount of what learners need is unique.
- Few school teams have access to the same level of resources.
Much of what learners need is the same.
Effective schools have a written curriculum that outlines clear outcomes for social, emotional, and academic achievement for students. A curriculum is a promise we make to our students and their families, putting in writing what we commit to helping each student master and by when. While students in typical classrooms have a wide range of social, emotional, and academic skills, a strong, inclusive, written curriculum what we believe is essential for our students to be successful learners and good human beings.
Similarly, all learners need schools that are safe, warm, and nurturing. In 2019, I conducted a focus group at a local middle school. Students talked to me about the classes in which they were most successful, and every student explained that the reason they were successful was because they knew their teachers cared about them. How did students know that teachers cared for them? “Because she tells me she cares about me. A lot.”
A great amount of what learners need is unique.
While all students need safe, warm, and nurturing schools with a strong and inclusive written curriculum, a great amount of what each learner needs is unique. The Arizona Risk Survey revealed that over the past three years, nearly 20% of 10th and 12th grade students report having used marijuana in the last 30 days, and at least 20% of all students surveyed report feeling unsafe at school. While these statistics are sobering, the good news is that 80% of 10th and 12th grade students have not used marijuana in the last 30 days and up to 80% of students report that they are safe at school.
In my work with schools, I often notice that the scale of solutions often doesn’t match the size of the problem. Sometimes, schools implement school-wide solutions for issues that are only happening in one grade or a few classrooms. Other times, schools build solutions that are much smaller than the size of the individual student’s social, emotional, or academic need. Schools can better meet the unique needs of each learner by getting better at identifying and explaining precisely how groups and individual students might experience school and approach learning differently.
Few school teams have access to the same level of resources.
My daughter attends an elementary school that offers physical education, fine arts, and special programming for gifted students. Other elementary schools in the same district do not. Differences in available staff, supplies, expertise, and most of all, time affect what any given school team is able to provide for students.
Because schools have access to different levels of resources, solutions that come from the school team are more likely to fit the context of the school. Training school teams to define problems using their own data and to develop their own solutions makes sense, because the school team is best able to organize resources effective to accelerate the social, emotional, and academic achievement of their learners.
Knowing our students well means understanding what they have in common and what makes them unique as learners. Identifying problems and developing solutions is easier when plans take into account the unique level of resources available to them.