I had a duck day in Boston a few weeks ago. I visited the Make Way for the Ducklings statues in Boston Common, took a ride in a Swan Boat, and did the Boston Duck Tour. Later, I met with some new friends and having chatted about our days I was told I was taking to Boston ‘like a duck to water’-pun intended. I am, but this got me thinking. We use this phrase to compliment or highlight when someone is excelling at something, is fitting in quickly, in short when something comes easy to them. Yet, we all know that for those ducks to float gracefully on water they are paddling frantically beneath the surface, where we can’t see. And I thought, are we ok with that? Are we ok with having our students paddle like crazy to meet the status quo, the norm as set by others? And why are we in such a rush to have them fit in? Should we not be striving for individuality, celebrating uniqueness, supporting and challenging our students to be their true selves and not some predetermined context?
I’ve been pondering this a few weeks now. I’m thinking about the energy it has taken me to assimilate in a new country, for example to have to repeat myself because my accent isn’t always understood, to build relationships at work and socially, to remember to bring my adapter with me so I can charge my devices in US sockets, to go with my Twirls. My experience is all positive (well maybe except for the no Twirls), but it was still exhausting in the first few weeks. I was all calm and collected on the surface but a bundle of nerves inside and so exhausted at the end of the day I couldn’t think. And that was with no-one asking me to be anything but myself.
Now bring that back to our schools and students. Our students come to us with a variety of skills, talents, and yes, needs. No two are the same. So, what do we do? We box them. We put a label on them – SEN, EAL, non-national, bright, good, bold – fit them into groupings and teach to that grouping. We try to bring them as close to that status quo as possible. And we wonder then why they are not engaging, why they are acting out. It’s because they are exhausted just from paddling to say afloat; to fit in, get their homework done, anxiously waiting to be called on to answer or be corrected for getting it wrong, or playing catch up because they don’t know the context of the current lesson or even social situation with their peers. Teaching to variability can reduce many of these barriers allowing students to slow down the paddling, not stop all together because we want to challenge them to achieve their potential, but enough so that they don’t have to expend all their energy just being present and instead use it to grow and learn in a way that shines a light on their brightness. It brings me back to our first #UDLchatIE when my friend Claire posted a picture of four ducks in a row, the first wearing a storm trooper helmet with the caption ‘We all think differently. So why should we learn the same way.’
Today, I invite you to take that thinking but go further with it. Put different helmets, mask, hats, colours on each duck. And take them out of that row! Because we didn’t become educators to create followers, we became educators to create the future artists, scientists, carers, coders, and change makers in a just and equitable society. Now there’s an aspiration to work for.
PS, if anyone has an image to represent this I’d love if you could share it.