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Nov
03

"A Volcano of Human Potential"

Dormant volcano with the words "A Volcano of Human Emotion"

Early in September, I listened to an episode of the podcast, Hidden Brain, titled, “Why You’re Smarter Than You Think,” and it really stuck with me. In this episode, a man named Scott Barey Kaufman, tells the story of his classroom experience from his youth. As a young student, he felt that he had so much more to offer in class but was being shut out by his teachers who overlooked and dismissed him as a student with a learning disability. In third grade he was made fun of by his peers for being held back. This led Scott to feeling like an outsider or a “freak” as he called himself in the interview.

As an 11-year-old, he was given an IQ test and put into a school for students with special needs. He later returned to public school in 6th grade as a student with an IEP who attended both general and special education classes. At twelve, he learned of the gifted and talented program. Feeling like this could actually be a place for him, he finally inquired into the program in high school. As a 17-year-old, he was told that his IQ (results from a former test as a 8-year-old) was below average, which did not make him eligible for any gifted and talented classes.

Feeling invisible though he knew he had potential, he continued to sit in his special education resource room as he neared the end of high school until one teacher changed the game. This teacher noticed that Kaufman was sitting in this room looking bored, and she decided to directly question him as to why he was there. 

It was at this moment that Kaufman felt seen and validated for the first time. He finally found someone that saw in him what he saw in himself all these years, and this is my reason for writing this blog. 

All it took in his case was for one teacher to see Kaufman for more than the student sitting in front of her; someone to question the norm. The result? A student that moved into more general ed classes, raised his grades from C’s and D’s to all A’s seemingly overnight, joined clubs and groups, and blossomed as a student who loved learning.

I got chills during this section of the podcast when the host, Shankar Vedantam, noted, “And it's almost like this one teacher, in this one moment, it was almost like a light bulb going off in your head, it sounds like.” 

Volcano erupting.

To which Kaufman replied, “It wasn't like a light bulb, it was like a volcano erupting, a volcano of human potential that had been dormant.”

This is a reminder that you can be the force that helps ignite human potential. By presuming competence and believing in a student’s ability to reach and/or exceed your expectations. By looking at students as more than their test scores. By getting to know your students, their interests, and passions. You may not get the acknowledgement for changing the game for a student in the moment, but how great would it feel to learn in five, ten, or fifteen years that you were the person that changed someone’s trajectory for the better; that it was you that made the difference.

If you know someone that has made a significant impact in the life of a student, nominate them for a PATINS Starfish Award

Reference:

Vedantam, S. (Host). (2022, June 13). Why You’re Smarter Than You Think [Audio podcast episode]. In Hidden Brain. Hidden Brain Media. https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/why-youre-smarter-than-you-think/ 

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Oct
20

Ode to Mrs. Bales

IMG_43822 Letter on notebook paper

One of my most influential teachers died this past summer. Mrs. Bales (Jane Bales Starner) taught English at Manchester high school when I attended in the early 80s. She also chaired the English Department and sponsored the school newspaper and yearbook. 

Mrs. Bales was ahead of her time with practices for universal design for learning (UDL). When I walked in for the first day of creative writing, and saw the chairs arranged in a circle, I knew I was not going to be bored in this class. Her level of engagement was high every single day, and she represented the content in a variety of ways to reach more students. One morning, she arranged for a student in a culinary class to fry an egg in our classroom so that we could use all of our senses to describe it. I connected it to what I was learning in biology class by comparing the egg to a spineless sea creature.

Writing on notebook paper.
I remember her having us bring in photos of ourselves as children and writing about that. We read each other’s work and tried to guess who authored the piece. I felt seen and valued, and hearing others’ stories made me feel connected to my classmates. I remember she had us do peer editing before that was widely practiced. I was a strong writer and she affirmed that. But she also paid enough attention to see that I was also a good teacher and told me so. She paired me with students who were struggling. Looking back, I think it was a big factor in my choice to enter education as a profession. 

I remember a project I did for English Literature class where I wrote a ballad, as a way to express what I had learned about this oral poetic tradition. It was about my sister’s recent breakup with her boyfriend. I brought in my guitar to sing it for the class. I was nervous, but my chorus was very simple so she joined in singing which led to everyone else joining in.  

She encouraged us to send entries to writing contests at the state and national levels. I won the Purdue poetry writing contest for high schoolers my senior year, and she drove me to Lafayette for the banquet where I got to hear John Irving read the novel he was writing at the time, A Prayer for Owen Meany. As an Indiana farm girl and first-generation-headed-to-college student, I shook the hand of the Purdue president and felt like I might belong there. 

Jane was on the eccentric side in the best way. Sometimes her lectures would lapse into a stream of consciousness. It kept our 17-year-old collective attention, though, even if we made fun of her in the hallway. She did not lecture often, though, using more active practices to keep us involved.

Challenging vague, boring writing, she kept high expectations for our work. One time she wrote the comment “good” after one of my journal entries, and I challenged her back calling her out on her vagueness. She was amused and took it to heart, and then wrote me back a couple of pages with very specific praise and criticism of my work. I imagine she went to bed late that night after going through a large stack of journals. 

Mrs. Bales did the hard, effective, gratifying work of well-designed instruction. Many teachers do this perhaps without ever labeling it “universal design for learning”. I know that she was active in state teaching organizations, so much of her skill was likely gained by attending professional development, and applying new ideas to her craft. Whatever it was called in 1982, I knew that she cared deeply for her students as individuals, and made the classroom a place for all to thrive.

PATINS is here to help you discover how you’ve been doing universal design all along! We’ll also help you network with other great teachers and find your next best teaching ideas. Check out our training calendar for opportunities to garner new ways to inspire your students. Mrs. Bales continues to inspire me. She showed up in my dreams a couple of nights ago vacuuming under my furniture. Here is a poem in her honor:

My High School English Teacher, Showing Up at 2 a.m.

Why are you here, 
in a dream
after 40 years,
lifting the end of my couch
with superhuman strength?

Vacuum whirring, 
Words stirring.

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Oct
13

Time Passages

I am starting my 25th year with the PATINS Project. My current role is the ICAM Technology Specialist. I provide support for students with a print disability that require digital content. However, that wasn’t always my role.

Prior to that I was the PATINS Central Site Coordinator when PATINS managed the state with 5 site staff members scattered around Indiana.

As a site coordinator, our roles were one of, to coin the phrase “A jack of all trades and master of none.” Our responsibilities were to be proficient in just about every aspect of assistive technology. Knowing device and software ins and outs so we could provide training just about as well as the vendors that distributed them.

Knowing the workings of hardware like switches, soldering battery interrupters, troubleshooting why the software wouldn’t load on a Windows 95 machine, and would it work after Y2K.

I didn’t and still don’t know Braille, but I printed off lots of Braille pages on an embosser hoping it came out right. Programming an AAC device and making sure the user file was saved correctly, had its pressures.

Setting up live satellite downlinks for an audience a couple times a month even though I was not into media broadcasting. However, later in my career I was the host of PATINS TV even though my teleprompting skills left much to be desired.

Managing my own Lending Library, ordering, and cataloging, nagging borrowers now and then that hadn’t returned items. Countless time repairing things that came back with a note stating, “I don’t know why this no longer works.”

Conducting or hosting trainings on just about every aspect of technology that aided students to strive for their potential.

I could go on and on because there is no end to a “Jack of all trades” as the means to the goal are constantly changing. It is now, and always will be, the challenge to meet the needs of those that benefit the most from it.


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