By DR. JEFFREY L. MITCHELL
What do you hold sacred about your children’s education?
Of course, it varies from parent to parent. But are there commonalities regarding what parents hold in highest regard?
Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, based on my experience as an educator and parent, I’ll explore what I believe are critical overarching features of a quality educational experience.
I’ll cut a large swath across the educational landscape, in the exploration of what I think are the essential features of a quality education. As a new school year dawns, my first article in this series will focus on care and connection.
Parents have to know their children are safe: physically and emotionally. In my experience, nothing moves parents out of a school faster than the fact (or even feeling) that their children are not safe.
The Duty of Care
Similar to first, do no harm in the Hippocratic Oath, The Duty of Care is the first obligation of educators. That is, there is a fundamental legal (and moral) obligation requiring adherence to a
standard of reasonable care.
Nothing good can happen in the educational setting without first adhering to the Duty of Care. By and large we are very fortunate in modern Western society. Educators and the education system in most all cases far surpass the requirements of the Duty of Care. But the odd horror story keeps us all on our toes and ever-watchful.
The fact that the standard, Duty of Care, is generally met in America’s schools, should not, however, lead to our contentment. It is one thing to adhere to a Duty of Care, it is something more to go beyond this basic moral and legal obligation and for schools and educators to develop deep and meaningful connections with students and families.
Even when the Duty of Care is satisfied, many students are still not the best versions of themselves. Often due to students’ unique cognitive and/or social-emotional attributes, a basic Duty of Care is simply not enough. Bright students can learn differently and their unique needs are often not fully met. Being successful at school has a tremendous bearing on children’s well-being. School is their life’s work. School really ought to be a place where every child, from the least to the most vulnerable, thrives.
At Currey Ingram, our students almost always come to us academically and social-emotionally
vulnerable, and for 50 years we have known that we must surpass the Duty of Care to even have a chance to be successful. Below are some ways we try to do so.
Having the optimal number of students in a classroom, along with training and supporting passionate educators, sets the stage for academic success and meaningfully deep connections.
For example, we tailor a reading intervention strategy for all students, up to and including otherwise-bright students with significant language impairments. We take pride in a very individualized and personalized approach with all students. A comprehensive and evolving Individualized Learning Plan (ILP) follows all students through their tenure at Currey Ingram. The ILP might point to the student requiring speech language or occupational therapy services that we are able to provide on site, in a fully integrated manner.
I like to say we understand each and every student’s brain. For example, based on ongoing psychoeducational testing and constant feedback from the classroom, we know how working memory challenges can impact all learners and can have a particularly negative impact on students with ADHD.
Connecting to students’ academic needs is not enough. Social and emotional factors are powerful facilitators or inhibitors of academic progress. At Currey Ingram, we focus our program on both the academic and social-emotional needs of our students.
Truly appreciating and understanding students’ learning needs leads to understanding the entire
person. We know, for example, there are behaviors common to learning differences such as ADHD, working memory deficits or school-based anxiety. When the root causes of these behaviors are not understood, they are often misinterpreted as willful misbehavior. When the root cause of the behavior is understood, proper intervention occurs and disruptive behaviors subside and students flourish.
When students discover that they can actually perform in the classroom and they feel safe, amazing things happen. Confidence and perseverance grows with tasks that previously had negative outcomes. They start to try things both the students and their parents never, ever thought possible. As an educator these are my most satisfying moments.
As evidence of what connection means to some of our Currey Ingram students, watch this video
from our 2018 Graduation.*
I hope you and your children have a great school year and I look forward to connecting with you next month.
*Note: All currey Ingram Academy graduates speak at graduation.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is head of school at Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, Tennessee.