Working with our special education students always brings a particular joy to me. Their energy and spirit are so pure and they really are excited to be in my classroom with their peers. But at a recent meeting, we were discussing how to make modifications for these students and someone said something that really struck me. “Assume that the students CAN do what you want them to do. If they can’t, THEN do the modification”. This idea of presuming that the student is competent enough to do the assignment or activity themselves is a total mind shift, isn’t it? When working with differentiation and inclusion, we have a tendency to presume that the students can’t do the activity (thus, the reason we are differentiating/including), and therefore will need assistance. Instead, if we shift our mindset to the idea that these students can do what we expect and if they struggle, then providing support, we are giving those students the opportunity to be independent thinkers and learners. What a wonderful chance that some students never receive!
In Kathie Snow’s Article Presume Competence she states:
Within the presumed-incompetent-mentality are safety issues and the “get ready” paradigm. If a person isn’t considered ready for[fill-in-the-blank], he could be harmed. But think back to when you left your family’s home: were you ready? Were you competent to go out on your own? You most likely believed you were, but what about your parents? They were probably fearful for you, scared you’d fall flat on your face, get in trouble, and more. And maybe you did take two steps forward and one step back—and you also learned from your mistakes, found the help you needed from others, picked yourself up, and made it—one way or another! In the process, did you always listen to the wisdom of your parents or others? Probably not—you learned through experience, becoming more and more competent along the way!
Why wouldn’t we provide our students of ALL levels the same opportunities to learn from their mistakes, to gather up their independence and to force themselves to take chances? By assuming that all students can learn and can participate, we are truly accepting and encouraging them as they are. Which is simply getting them ready for the larger world around them. Since school is a miniature version of the world at large, we are actually teaching our students (and I’d venture ourselves) that people of all abilities can and should be given the same opportunities to prove themselves every day. So today, I hope you presume the competence of your students, your parents and yourselves. Because we could all stand to look at the glass half full more often.
Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.