Top 1o Things I Appreciate about Reid's New School
10. their intentional "Empathy, Invitation, Plan" approach
9. a preponderance of male staff (which is a subtle but critical component to Reid's adolescence and my husband's engagement)
8. allowance for some naturally occurring elbowing and shoulder tapping (who wants to raise a robot)
7. the "practice makes permanent" (not perfect) ideal
6. true partnership with parents
5. daily interaction with the local community (this is valuable even when it, especially when it breaks down)
4. a careful, positive use of the power of words to affect behavior
3. the cohesive team approach of the staff and students
2. a palpable acceptance kids can feel (which fundamentally enables them to trust teachers enough to be vulnerable and learn)
1. the occasional photo text they send that's worth a thousand words (see left)
Last June when it became obvious we had to find a new placement for Reid, we revisited a place I had loved 3 years prior. Pioneer Day School has only improved since then and retained it's intentionally small size.
The teddy bear of a director sat catty corner from me at a conference table explaining the founding principles of his school. Resisting the urge to hug this man, I leaned back--likely scooched my chair away--so as not to block my husband from catching the full drift of truth he was speaking. I wanted them to relate man-to-man. As Mr. Banks said in Mary Poppins, "Enough of this slipshod, sugary, female way of thinking."
Hearing about empathy, social thinking, music instruction, and kinesthetic learning from a beefy man who's educated dozens of challenging boys is very different than hearing your wife say, "let's wait til he's calm to finish the homework." Jim Leiner described how he trains his teachers to first give empathy (ie. "I know this must be hard for you Billy, math was always difficult for me too"); then offer an invitation ("If you'd like I can show you something I learned that helps); and make a plan ("How 'bout if we do 5 problems today and save the rest for tomorrow?")
In one sitting, what my husband used to perceive as "coddling" became logical, within reason, even wise. We listened (well actually, I nodded like a bobble-headed dashboard ornament) then toured the school. This move would represent a return to our original follow-your-gut instinct on what was best for Reid. By moving him, we would abandon the "research-based," straight behavior mod program for something far more holistic. It was a battle between the head and the heart for both of us.
As we got out to the curb in front of the building, I refrained from jumping for joy. I don't like to stack the deck or be subjective. (ha!) My new intention these days is to submit to my husband's wisdom.
Our other set of eyes was a dear friend Kate, who has credentials up the wazoo from evaluating classrooms around the world for a living. Even at first glance observing the classrooms of Pioneer, Kate noticed countless examples of student work and real curriculum which indicated a place of learning. This was a vivid contrast to the starkness of the previous place where the curriculum really was behavior.
Was it just me? Or was this gonna be unanimous? After giving her professional opinion, Kate asked the obvious, what did I think? As I stifled my enthusiasm still wanting Jim to arrive at his own clarity, she ribbed me with the now infamous line, "He had you at empathy!" She knows me too well.
Confirmation came after the 30-day placement meeting where the aide, director and teacher reported how Reid had taken to this place like a fish to water. The most pleasant surprise was that he had done a page of division problems after being shown and invited to practice. (Another distinction since the previous placement had removed him from the diploma track and all but tabled academics in favor of teaching compliance.)
As we left that meeting my husband elbowed me in the ribs, "ok now I wanna hug the guy!" (I resisted the irony of yapping back, "hands at your side; personal space.")