In January of 2022 I wrote a blog post about my identity crisis as an educator and teacher-author.
I wrote about how I needed to go back to all the lessons and units I’ve ever written and look at them from an equity lens. I went on a quest to read all the social justice and equity books I could get my hands on.
I’ve done a lot of work in this area and even wrote a six-part series about rethinking common workshop practices with an equity lens. Today, I’m still steeped in this process and I also realize I’ll never be done. I now understand this is a lifelong journey.
I Was Holding Something Back
There’s something I didn’t mention in that podcast episode a year ago, something that was happening while I was having this paradigm shift about social justice in schools and the way we teach reading and writing.
I was grappling with something happening in my family that I didn’t yet feel comfortable sharing publicly yet. At this moment, I still feel scared and unsure about sharing details of what has happened publicly. But, even though I’m scared, I’ve decided to speak up because the more people who do, the more likely change can happen in individual classrooms and in schools.
What change? Well, allow me to explain…
When my daughter started kindergarten, we began to realize how unique, special, and different she was from most of the other kids her age. I was, and still am, proud of her differences and uniqueness. I am so proud of how spirited, strong-willed, curious, bright, and creative she is.
During pre-school, she struggled to follow directions and her teachers said she needed to work on her social skills. I thought these problems might be related to her being an only child and I felt guilty that she wasn’t getting enough social interaction. I also felt that maybe she was bored in preschool and needed a more challenging environment. We held out hope that things would change once she started kindergarten.
More of the Same in Kindergarten
However, when she started public school things began to fall apart, she was fiercely independent and questioned everything teachers asked of her. She pushed the limits of everything and everyone. Sometimes it was exhausting but other times I thought it was pretty awesome because she was so unlike how I was as a kid.
As a child, I was consumed with the urge to please everyone and be “good”. There are so many problems that come with being a people pleaser, being super sensitive, and overly concerned with what others think.
I realized my spirited little girl wasn’t going to have the same struggles I did with these issues. Even so, every day there was a new “incident” that we needed to meet with her teacher or after-school program director about.
I wondered what we were doing wrong as parents. I wondered if we were “spoiling” her, letting her get away with too much. Or maybe it was because we weren’t spending enough time with her. I was running a business and working full-time as a teacher. Most of the time I felt immense guilt and felt like a pushover as a parent, at other times I vacillated toward blaming the school and her teachers. When her teachers questioned what was going on at home I felt like a terrible parent again.
I read all the parenting advice books I could download with my credits on Audible. Your Child’s a Brat and It’s Your Fault, 1-2-3 Magic, The Conscious Parent, and many more.
Whose fault was this?
The World Turned Upside Down
These challenges were all coming to a head in 2019. The day schools closed because of COVID, I was taking the day off to look for a new after-school program for my sweet and oh-so-independent little girl.
I wanted to find a school that would cherish her, that would see all the gifts she brought to a classroom, and stop focusing so much on her deficits. I’ve since learned it is a very hard thing to find a school that has the bandwidth to adapt and do things differently to support neurodiverse children. Classrooms and teachers are stressed to the max, and supporting children who think and learn differently is challenging with 30+ students.
The pandemic was an incredibly trying time for everyone but in many ways, it was a gift for our family. It was an opportunity to stay home and really hone in on acquiring knowledge and support for our daughter and most importantly, get away from the blame game. This was no ones fault.
Questioning Everything I Thought I Knew
Like many people during the pandemic, I began reflecting on my priorities in life. But, I was also started questioning everything I thought I knew about teaching, parenting, kids, and their behavior.
I’ve been a teacher for 14 years, a teacher-author for 10 years, and the mother of a bright and quirky daughter for 8 years. It’s been an incredible journey and I’ve learned so much.
Before my daughter was born I discovered the workshop model to teach reading and writing. As you know, I fell in love with this method of teaching because it was so engaging for students, and it allowed for choice and autonomy. The workshop method seemed like the answer to all my student motivation and engagement problems. This method of teaching allowed what we did in the classroom to feel relevant and real world.
I still see the many benefits of choosing the workshop method as a system for running a classroom because of its engaging nature and the simplicity it can bring to planning mini-lessons and conferencing with students to meet them where they are.
However, I also see how the workshop method can perpetuate inequities if we aren’t careful. Some students need much more direct instruction and guidance than the workshop method allows for. There are certain students in our classrooms that need more conferencing time than others. In addition, writing is not the only way to communicate ideas. Twice-exceptional students who have dysgraphia, autism, or ADHD could benefit from teachers utilizing unique methods of communicating by building, creating, or speaking aloud.
Because of my daughter, I have learned about the neurodiversity movement and read a huge number of books. I learned about twice-exceptionality, autism, giftedness, dysgraphia, dyslexia, anxiety, depression, PDA (pathological demand avoidance), and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). I became angry about these terms being used to diagnose children because they included words like pathological, deficit, and disorder. The more I learned the more I started to shift my thinking about these diagnoses. PDA became persistent demand for autonomy. ADHD became attention divergent hyperactive giftedness.
I also discovered the concept of intersectionality. I realized that the social justice movement happening right now needs to include all groups of historically marginalized people. Striving for equity in our schools must encompass all marginalized groups, it can’t just focus on race. Yes, systemic racism is a major issue that needs to be prioritized in this country and around the world. But, the same kinds of stigma and biases that are perpetuated because of race also impact children and adults who are neurodivergent.
I’ve learned so much because of the excellent investigative journalism work done by writers like Natalie Wexler (author of The Knowledge Gap) and Emily Hanford (reporter behind The Story We Were Sold podcast). Yes, the workshop method has many wonderful elements that I will always value including allowing for a consistent structure that makes planning easy, student choice, and fostering classroom community.
But, I want to empower teachers and students by not only sharing my knowledge about the workshop method but by spreading awareness about equity, neurodiversity, and mindfulness practices too.
A New Direction for My Podcast and Website
With all of these changes in my perspective and life, it’s time for my blog and podcast to evolve with these new understandings. The original goal of my website and podcast was to help teachers implement the workshop method so that students were engaged and even empowered to share their experiences, knowledge, and opinions through writing.
But, my past students and my daughter have taught me some important lessons, and guess what? I listened and I’m still listening to children. Our students and children can teach adults more than we realize if we just take the time to listen.
I listened to my daughter and we’ve recently joined the homeschool world and I believe, for now, this is the best educational placement for my daughter. My daughter absolutely loves the freedom and so do I. The sad reality is the choice to homeschool is a privilege that not all families have.
Sending students to public or publicly funded charter schools are sometimes the only option parents of neurodiverse children have. Because, of this change needs to happen in our educational system. Intersectional social justice work needs to be done for all marginalized groups.
So, to end this episode and blog post I’d like to share the new name of this podcast: Empower Students Now: a Podcast about Equity, Neurodiversity, Mindfulness, and Student Engagement!
Welcome to the Empower Students Now Podcast a podcast about equity, neurodiversity, mindfulness, and student engagement. There’s a lot that needs to change in our education system, the good news, is teachers have the power to make these changes now. When teachers begin to make small shifts, students are empowered to speak up and join the movement for change too. I’m your host and guide, Amanda Werner, a passionate teacher-author, and mother who cares deeply about helping children and adults speak up for schools where differences are admired, where we can slow down and breathe, and notice the others in the room and all the gifts they have to offer. Let’s get started!