The Dragonfly Forest

They have been given names such as devil’s darning needle, ear sewer, horse stinger, skeeter hawk, and the snake’s servant. Actually, Dragonflies are beneficial, peaceful, and stunning. You are a Dragonfly if you are: ADD/ADHD, dyslexic, dysgraphic, Asperger’s, NLVD, autistic…

Friday, July 12, 2013

How to have a positive school to build self-esteem of all students

I do not always share my personal stories with you for a couple of reasons: one I am trained as a counselor/therapist and have been conditioned to stay focused on the client; and two, my story isn’t just about me but it is also the story of my family members and not completely mine to share.  With that said here’s a story I think is worth sharing:

As many of you know I have a private practice diagnosing all types of learning disabilities and providing coaching/counseling services.  I am also dyslexic, dysgraphic, and have ADD – a Dragonfly.  I knew that I didn’t fit in from the time I was in 1st grade.  I spent years hiding the fact that I couldn’t read, spell, or write like my peers.  I learned how to use my strengths in order to fit in via a variety of other ways but was hyper-aware of all others who didn’t fit in and became in “inclusionist.”  I made a life out of finding other Dragonflies and helping them set and achieve goals. I have always been the one who goes to the person standing alone, invites people to sit with me who are searching for a seat, and include others in conversations if they are standing near me (I also have a number of deaf friends so I'm use to making sure everyone is on the same page in a conversation).  In other words, I seek out others to make sure they are included.  This is just a part of my nature and always will be.  I have a hard time with people who are excluders, people who ignore others, are out for themselves at all cost, and are bullies.   I also wanted to be the best mom to my children, knowing they too would be Dragonflies (I married a Dragonfly so it was inevitable).  

Here’s the story:
My oldest son has a new girl “friend” and for some reason I asked him if this new “friend” knows that he is dyslexic and dysgraphic?  He harshly stated, “NO WAY.”  I was surprised by his reaction and asked how he feels about being dyslexic and dysgraphic.  He shared with me that he is SO embarrassed and ashamed that he doesn’t want anyone to ever know.  I thought “wow this is my kid… really?”  He admitted that he would rather be considered “lazy” than dyslexic and dysgraphic.  I cried.  This is not what I wanted for my child; insecurity and shame.

I went to my other two children and asked them how they feel about being dyslexic and dysgraphic (and one is also ADD).  My middle son and my daughter both told me that they are comfortable and confident with who they are and are not ashamed.  They both reported they wish their brain was like other kids because sometimes learning new things was challenging.  My middle son told me that he only wishes he could have an English teacher accept him for who he is someday.  This son is actually a very creative and gifted writer but always ends up with English teachers who focus on his errors instead of his talent (one of his goals is to become a published author like Avi, Henry Winkler, or John Irving – and I know he will someday).

So how did only two of my three children become comfortable and confident with being dyslexic and dysgraphic despite me raising them in a supportive and accepting home? 

Here’s how:

When my oldest son entered kindergarten I believed in the education system.  I am from a family of educators and thought the only things that needed changed were some teaching methods and curriculums.  Over time I learned I was wrong, dead wrong!  The whole system needed changing but I didn’t really discover this until my oldest was in 3rd grade (he’s now going into his junior year).  From that year on I was on a mission to change the whole education system from a competitive shaming environment that excluded children who didn’t fit into a system that includes all children, appreciates diversity, fosters empathy, and all students are educated individually and appropriately.
This no longer was just about assuring that an Orton-Gillingham approach of reading was available to all students, it was about changing the culture and climate of schools!  Let me tell you that this battle is even harder than just adding a new methods and approaches to the curriculum.  For example, the school district that my children attend now requires every intervention teacher to be trained in the OG based reading program, Wilson; but many of the schools still have a strong “us versus them” competitive academic environment.  I'm on a mission to help improve schools cultures and climates so they are a positive place for all students. I have worked on these changes in a non-aggressive, supportive, collaborative approach and by working directly with administrators in districts and having free workshops for parents, teachers, and administrators. 

As a result of my lessons learned from the experiences with my oldest child, my younger children had a much better experience in school (not great but better).  I no longer just focus on getting appropriate services for my younger two children I also focus on influencing the perceptions of the teachers and administrators so the culture and climate of the schools can change.  So instead of having 4 years of shaming and academic competition like my oldest received the younger two had more experiences where their strengths were praised (although I could tell you some stories where some teachers/administrators refused to comply and were/are as stubborn as toddlers – it’s still a work in progress).  

Here are some things I have learned:  How to change the culture & climate of a school

Finally, here are some great videos that really drive home this point by Richard Lavoie: