When my three children were learning to walk, each in their own ways and by their own timelines, they delighted in that adorable “hold both hands of a grownup while walking” thing we all do with our toddlers. But eventually, when they were ready, they learned to walk on their own. They needed to learn to walk on their own (even though one of them happily would have stayed on my hip for years). One needed the physical exertion that walking, running, and early sports exploration gave him. One thrived on the social connections found when he could walk over to anyone he wanted. One mostly used his walking independence to seek out hugs and dance partners.
None of them took their early steps completely of their own volition. They may not have realized they needed to learn to walk independently or may not have believed they were ready. As a mom, I knew they were ready. We found push toys to build their confidence. I and other trusted adults (or idolized big brothers) crouched just out of reach, believing they were up to the challenge, beckoning with smiles and encouraging words and tones, ready with big hugs on the other end, always cheering their accomplishments.
The same is true for our students. We need to figure out where they are at, what they need, and what challenges they may be ready for while providing encouragement for their accomplishments.
Especially in these “unprecedented times,” I need to remind myself not only to consider what I think someone needs, but also to factor in their point of view and perception of their own needs and readiness. Even if something worked for most students or families or district budgets in the past, everything is different now. I am trying to do more asking, listening, and empathizing before I challenge.
During the 2020-2021 school year, I worked a virtual teaching position from home with our fully virtual students and missed out on the hybrid experience of the rest of the school. My first week back teaching middle school Health Ed in-person in September 2021, I gave my 8th graders directions for an opening day icebreaker that had been a favorite with hundreds of former students. They followed the directions to get into small groups, but, did not introduce themselves or get started on the activity. Every member of every group stared off into space or at the floor. I reviewed the simple directions, but the silence continued. It took a lot of asking, encouraging, and listening to figure out that they were not comfortable speaking with people
they didn’t know well – even if the conversation was as low-stakes as introducing themselves. They had only been with their small cohorts or on Zoom for the previous year and this did not feel comfortable to them. My mind was blown. So were my plans.
It didn’t matter how awesome my activity was or how many former students had loved it. These students were not ready for it. They needed the communication skills of introducing themselves – so I was not willing to abandon it entirely – but they could not/ would not do it themselves at that moment. I had to figure out how to scaffold the activity to build the comfort, confidence, and communication skills they needed for that class and for life. I had to meet them (almost) where they were at.
Similarly, I believe it is my responsibility as a health educator to challenge myself and my administrators, community members, and elected officials, to find what we are almost ready for or how we can improve. Can I encourage someone to increase health education time and/or staffing; to educate stakeholders on what quality health education is and can be; or to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion practices?
Figuring out where the “almost” is can be crucial. If I push too hard, and the position or program is cut, my students and community get nothing. So how far can I push without pushing too far? Where are they at and how can I meet them (almost) there?
I will keep assessing and challenging. I will encourage my students and other stakeholders to build the comfort, confidence, and skills to walk, connect, and dance their way through life. And I will stand ready to cheer their successes.
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