Watching the time go and feeling belief grow
It’s a new year, a new decade, and possibilities stretch out before us. As we work with our students, our own children, and each other, there are a few things I want us to keep in mind now that 2020 has begun. We subconsciously and consciously place limits on those around us. We do. Daily. Those limits are based on our own experiences, biases, and preconceived notions, and though they may be valid at times, they’re not always. I know that we don’t always realize we are doing it, but we are. We preach growth mindset to students and colleagues, but we frequently think we know what the future holds for others. Girls should grow up to be this. Boys grow up to be that. I want us to intentionally stop. A student can graduate from high school and make a living playing the banjo. A student can create fabric patterns and sell them to the world via website marketplaces. Any of us can publish a book, retire early to backpack all over Europe, or play for the Harlem Globetrotters (my son’s first stated career goal). How do we know the full potential of those around us if we continue to plant the seeds of doubt, can’t, and impossible?
Rise above the obstacles
When my son, Ryan, was 3 months old, he would occasionally say “Hi” and “Hey” instead of the usual baby sounds. It was very startling, and the first time he did it I was all alone. I was holding him, and I said (yes, in the baby voice we tend to adopt when talking to infants) “Hey, there, Ryan.” Ryan looked me dead in the eye and replied, “Hey.” Nobody heard it, so I assumed that I didn’t really hear what I thought I did. It wasn’t possible. It was gas. Had that been the only time he did it, I would have forgotten it as a coincidence or my own misinterpretation of what I had heard, but he said it more than the one time. Others heard it too. I began to realize that what I thought of as possible did not really apply to my son, nor should I tell him as he continued to grow and develop. Placing limits on others though, is a hard thing to stop doing.
People beseech me but they’ll never teach me
When Ryan was 18 months old, he decided that he wanted to learn how to jump with both feet off of the ground. During a church dinner, in front of most of our small church, Ryan practiced. He had quickly eaten his food, and instead of going into the nursery to play with toys, he practiced jumping. For several minutes, he was going in circles, jerking upward, one foot raising off of the floor with the momentum of his upward movement, but the other foot remained planted, pivoting around. I was only half paying attention, and really, I didn’t know anything significant was about to happen. Twenty or thirty minutes of jumping practice suddenly resulted in a breakthrough. Ryan had both feet off of the ground. His triumphant squeal alerted the rest of the congregation, and we all applauded dutifully. That week he had a well baby check up with his pediatrician. When she asked me how things were going developmentally, I told her that he could jump now, with both feet off of the ground. She looked at me.
“Laura, he can’t. That’s not something kids can do until around 24 months.” Hmmm.
I replied, “Well, he can.”
For once, Ryan performed on demand. I asked him to show Dr. Campbell that he could jump. He bounced off of the exam table, and proceeded to jump like he had been doing it forever. His doctor was stunned, but she couldn’t deny what she was seeing. I explained how he practiced, and she just shook her head. I realized that maybe he was accomplishing great things because nobody told him he couldn’t. He just knew what he wanted to do, was given the freedom to try, and then was congratulated when he succeeded.
Things that I already know (I know)
That’s not a tough formula for us to give everyone else in our lives. Instead of placing students in flower pots, let’s give them the freedom to choose where they are planted. Instead of discouraging their dreams, let’s encourage them to try. In my classroom, we like to celebrate gains and improvements along the way, not just perfect test scores. It’s not for any of us to say what others can achieve and what they can’t achieve in this life. I saw a sign recently in a condo my family rented for New Year’s which said, “ENJOY LIFE this is not a rehearsal” and that brought me back to how we limit each other and ourselves. We make judgements on the abilities of others based on our own experiences, but humans do things every day that go against the possible.
So as 2020 kicks off a new decade, let’s allow others to have their dreams, support their efforts to achieve them, and then celebrate with them along the way. Let’s keep our doubts and negativity to ourselves. Remove those limits. I want to create a space where others can just bloom. Join me.
Headings are partial lyrics from the song Believer by Ozzy Osbourne.