I spent a few hours yesterday in a promotion ceremony for Madeleine's fifth grade class. With a dedicated staff, kind administration and diverse group of engaged and enthusiastic kids, Madeleine's school experience in this little third, fourth and fifth grade neighborhood school has been something to remember.
What touched me the most yesterday, however, was the awarding of promotion certificates. Madeleine's teacher, Ms. Lane, took her time to acknowledge each one of her twenty-seven students by calling each one forward by name and saying a few words of appreciation about each child. This kind of situation always makes me nervous in schools, because most of the time you end up learning more about the teacher than you do the child. Case in point: Madeleine's first grade teacher used this opportunity to give one last scolding to the kids who were clearly on her nerves. Ouch.
Madeleine's teacher, however, took a very novel approach. Instead of pointing to each child's obvious strength (which would have sent eyes rolling as the kids registered the reality of that child's unspoken weakness), she highlighted something about each child that might appear on the surface to be a problem.
The troublesome questioner was acknowledged as a divergent thinker that sometimes pushed the class in directions no one wanted to go, but whose intensity often yielded more profitable conversations.
The kid with the penchant for gore and fantasy was celebrated as someone who knew how to appropriately walk the line and develop an active imagination in an appropriate venue--creative writing.
The child who was struggling with mastery of basic skills was heralded as someone who was mastering the art of practice, an invaluable skill for future success--no matter what the endeavor.
What struck me most about this exercise was the way Ms. Lane was able to respectfully acknowledge what was sometimes unwelcome or difficult without excusing or candy coating the truth, and then take that same quality and recognize the hidden gift--the treasure that in the long run benefited the child but also the entire group.
The proof that she mastered this task was in the response of the children--there was a collective ease and comfort in the room as each true observation was shared. The kids concurred with laughter and knowing nods--she got it just right.
I wonder if this isn't primarily our challenge as parents--to see the merit hiding in our children's weaknesses. To find a way to acknowledge that the areas where they can't manage to fit in or conform or even excel, just might be the very arenas where their finest achievements will grow. What do you think?
I don't have the answers on this one, but I'm very thankful for Ms. Lane and this final way she unknowingly challenged me as a parent to reconsider my perspective and grow.