This year, teachers and parents around the world were touched by the beautiful writing of Amy Murray in “Dear Parent: About THAT Kid…” http://missnightmutters.com/2014/11/dear-parent-about-that-kid.html.
In this blog post, she painted us a portrait of THAT child, you know, the one on the peripheral of the classroom community. The one whose differences set him apart from the other children and strike fear in the hearts of other parents. The one that might have taught your child the F word, sent your child home with another scratch, or taken up so much of the teacher’s time that your well-behaved child hasn’t gotten any care or attention all year. She reminded us of the incredible work of inclusive educators who know that every child who walks through their door is THEIR child, and will spend every free moment making difficult choices about how to divide time and resources, protect the privacy of families, and advocate and care for the children and families who need them most. Murray also shed some light on the experience of parenting THAT child, and the painful realities of exclusion.
As an inclusive educator, I had a deeply personal connection to Murray’s words. Advocating for the meaningful inclusion of THAT child is my life’s work, and I was so touched by the way Murray shared an inside look to an inclusive educator’s heart and mind. Recently, I have been thinking a lot about a next step we might be able to share. Now that so many parents around the world have been touched by these words – what can they do? How can they support inclusive educators, and be a friend and advocate to THAT child, THAT family?
Here are some things that teachers do every day, and you can try too:
- Find and celebrate strength. Every child on this earth has one thing they can do with more brilliance than anyone else. Look closely, compassionately, at a child on the peripheral to find that thing, and then celebrate it every day. Perhaps her smile can warm your heart like no other. Perhaps he can tell a joke that will make you laugh like you’ve never laughed before. Perhaps she can create art that touches your soul, or build with the sophistication of the most celebrated architect. Perhaps he can dance, sing, act, play a sport, or think about problems in a way we never imagined possible. Celebrate it, authentically, and teach your child to do the same.
- Use the speeding car analogy. Every time I see a speeding car, I whisper to myself, “I hope they get to the hospital in time!” By giving someone the benefit of the doubt, I take away the opportunity for unjust judgment of that person’s character. It is not up to us to assume whether or not a child or family is in great need and deserves to be treated with kindness and inclusion rather than judgment and exclusion. We are all fighting our own great fights and deserve your benefit of the doubt. If a child does something that alarms you or your child, give this a try. Use that child’s strengths to frame the incident with respect, and even a little humor.
- Remember that an inclusive education will give your child the most important skills they will need for success in their futures. Sure, there is a chance your child could pick up a bad word they didn’t know before, or maybe even play around with a new behavior for a short while. But children that learn to be inclusive will also learn empathy, resilience, communication. They will learn to celebrate difference, treat all people with respect and dignity, overcome adversity, and love unconditionally. Surely these are the things that will help your child reach their fullest potential in their academic experiences, careers, and relationships.
- Finally, and most importantly, be a leader yourself. When you notice a child or family on the peripheral, make it your responsibility to set the example for your child. Email. Wave to them at pick-up time and share your phone number. Set up play dates. If you witness gossip and exclusion of a child or family, stand up and defend them with confidence and grace. Your compassion will radiate, and your actions will send a powerful and unforgettable message to your child and community.