This spooky Halloween evening, while 10 important things I contemplated blogging about campaigned vividly through my over-flowing mind, I finally retreated from the front porch to my desk. The porch was subject to the breeze of the surrendering days of Fall, where I’d been passing out sweet treats to little monsters and giant gremlins who dared make the trek up my mountain of steps through the faux webs, past Frank the heavyweight arachnid, toward the bag of magical sugar in my grasp. The clock had just struck 9pm, treating had ended, and I needed to get to work!
With SO many recent questions and important discussions, ranging from state testing accommodations, to the PATINS State Conference THIS WEEK, to ESSA and the Nov. 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, I had a multitude of topics from which to base my writing on! Right about the time I was certain my stampeding blog-related thoughts would trample everything else in my mind, leaving me unable to lasso a single one and reign it in, I caught a glimpse of one last little pig-tailed-skeleton girl standing on my porch… just standing...waiting. She looked as if she were frozen in confusion about whether to knock on the door or to turn back around to her mother and admit defeat. Confusingly, I had left my porch light on and it was now 9:15pm. Recognizing that look on her painted face, I bounded vigorously for the door before she could turn around to her mom and just as my hand hit the door handle, the skeleton-paint nearly vanished from her face and all that remained was a smile that looked as if an amiable dragon had just swooped down and carried her from harm’s way upon his mighty back. Delighted, she reached into my candied cauldron and politely took just one packet of sugary delicacy. At that very moment, I heard her mother speak, which startled me! I hadn’t even noticed her standing there during all of my “dragon-swooping” toward the door handle! Phew, It’s a good thing she didn’t take offense to all the reptilian swooping parts of this story! In fact, what she said, hit me like a harpoon right in the chest and instantly I knew what I’d be writing about this evening.
She spoke, “Oh, thank goodness someone's porch light is still on! I had to work late tonight and her grandmother wasn’t going to take her trick-or-treating. I was so afraid she wouldn’t get to go out for any candy at all tonight.”
Thank goodness indeed, for that porch beacon like a lighthouse on the dark street for a lone pig-tailed skeleton, and thank goodness I’d left the front door open enough to see those little bones on my porch. Immediately, I extended my dragon paw into that same candied cauldron and pulled out a pile of bounty, piling it into her small, but strong and eager, skeleton hands.
Some, could perhaps, reduce this to unhealthy confectionary on a weird Autumn night that really doesn’t affect anything important. However, what I saw on that little pretend-skeleton’s face and heard in her mother’s voice was something quite different. Here was a student, whom you might have in class tomorrow, who was waiting at her grandmother’s home, all dressed up with nowhere to go, waiting on her mother who was working late to put real food on her table and fun paint on her face. One person, whom she didn't even know, leaving their porch light on for an extra 10 or 15 minutes WAS the difference between this child having a disappointing evening and one that just MIGHT give her something fun and positive to write about tomorrow as she uses word-prediction to collect her thoughts into a meaningful response to your assignment in your morning class. ...and even if she forgets the candy entirely and ends up writing about the ridiculous old guy who thought he was a dragon, clumsily stumbling toward the door, she's still smiling and writing.
Others could say that "rules are rules" and that structure and guidelines are important. …and I will agree to a very large extent. However, sometimes it’s possible to be the amiable dragon for a student, a parent, or a colleague, and it costs us truly nothing more than maybe an additional 10-15 minutes with the light on, or another sentence in an email to ensure it’s encouraging rather than discouraging, one more phone call, email, or one more google search with a slightly different keyword before we toss in the towel on finding a potential solution for someone facing a difficult barrier. Sometimes people just need ONE other person to leave that light on for an extra 10 minutes. …for someone to care as much as they do, even if just for a small moment.
As educators, we find ourselves every single day, in a position to be that difference. While rules and structure are important for a mass of reasons, I’ve found that greatness usually happens when we step outside of comfort, normality, and guidelines, within reason, of course. For instance, we sometimes feel hesitant to try something different, even though we KNOW that what we’re doing currently isn’t working. We still become fearful that whatever we might try could end up worse than what’s not working at the moment OR we simply just do not know how to begin implementing that new strategy or device that we THINK MIGHT possibly work better, and so we let that fear keep us from moving. We stay still. We turn the light off early.
The PATINS Staff is here to support your effort. I hope to see so many of you this week at the 2016 PATINS State Conference, where we will have near-record attendance AND an absolute record number of general education teachers, which makes me so happy! After all, ALL students are ALL of our responsibility ALL of the time in ALL settings. If you are coming to the conference, please come say hello and be brave …tell us what keeps you from doing something differently next week with your students and let us be YOUR support.
For A LOT of educators, substance such as Assistive Technology, Accessible Educational Materials, or Universal Design for Learning in a Twitter Chat, can seem more scary than a pig-tailed little skeleton girl on the porch! Regrettably, we aren't always able to see that what’s genuinely frightening is NOT melting away that skeleton paint with a child's smile that just cannot be contained behind paint, brought about by simply trying a new, different, untamed, unexampled bounding toward the door before your student can turn around and look toward the ground in disappointment. Be that amiable dragon. Be brave. Leave your light on a bit longer and keep your peripheral vision on the door.