By Rachel Betzen, M.S., CCC/SLP Reflection written for weekly staff meeting and “rounds” Based on Kid President’s “Pep Talk”
It’s time for a pep talk. Sometimes we all need a little motivation. Sometimes we all need to rally our cheerleaders, huddle up with our team, make a game plan, lay out our moves, and just go for it. Fall brings lots of changes and is a time of transition. This change in seasons with the beautiful falling leaves brings other changes and challenges that happen internally.
Kids that struggle in school are finding out that it’s not getting any easier, and many of them feel like they are getting further behind. Kids that struggle socially have their potential peers getting busier with sports, clubs, homework, and other demands on their time. Parents that struggle to support these kids are becoming more stressed out about unfinished homework, challenging school projects, and worries over whether their child will be able to make it this year. Fall can be a stressful time for kids that struggle.
In times of great need, there will be those who step up to the challenge, to see what they are really made of and really capable of. We can’t expect these to be our children, not yet. However, I believe that it is tremendously powerful for our kids to understand that they have the potential to become that kind of person. They have the potential to become an inspiration for other kids who have the same challenges. They won’t see it yet, and they may not even believe us, but we have to help them step back and look at the big picture. They have the potential to be the one who will someday give this pep talk to others. They can be a hero, a leader, a friend.
In order for our kids to achieve this, they have to work through their challenges. Kids with speech-language delays and learning differences have more than their fair share of challenges, that is for sure. The increasing demands and expectations of schoolwork can easily overwhelm them, and they can get stuck in this feeling of overwhelm. This is when they need a pep talk. This is when they need to rally their cheerleaders and gather their team support. This is when they need to realize that this isn’t about a game or a competition, we really are all in this together, or at least we should be. We can be amazing cheerleaders and inspire our children and their parents to be on the same team and rally for the same goal. We all need a pep talk sometimes. The most powerful pep talks of all, are the ones that inspire our kids to become an inspiration themselves.
At one time or another the children that we work with will inevitably veer off course from the direct activity they are doing, to ask a related (or unrelated) question, or to tell us about something they are reminded of. I personally get a little excited when this happens, though I realize that this is probably not the initial reaction of most clinicians. There are some “rabbit trails” that we can use to further engage the student, and reignite their love of learning. Other kinds of “rabbit trails” disengage the child from therapy tasks, and it is more effective to redirect them back to their work.
Determining which kind of rabbit trail the child is leading us down will help determine whether we go along for the ride- vs. redirecting. If the child is asking a relevant or related question, it’s ok to stop and talk about that. I like being near a computer, so I can search for images related to the topic. Sometimes we need to give more background info and the computer is a good tool to use. We have two laptops that are available, and taking them into the therapy office to your PC is ok too.
Sometimes with tangentially related rabbit trails, I take advantage of them as a “compare and contrast” learning opportunity. If the child can explain how the topic is related and how it differs from the information we are using with them, that deepens their understanding. If this is too distracting or taking too much time, it’s also ok to tell the child how their question is similar and different to their topic, and then re-direct back to their work.
For redirections, I often tell kids to put their distraction “in the back of their attention”, and they respond “put this in the front”. A quick reminder to “put it in the back” is sometimes all they need to re-focus. One of our highly distracted students is beginning to remind himself “ok, I’ll put that in the back and my work in the front”!
The Socratic learning process encourages students to discover the right answer or a deeper understanding through us asking the right questions. Using this method is bound to lead us through multiple rabbit trails. When a student is doing a “stinking thinking rabbit trail” we need to stop whatever we are doing and redirect them back to the positive. The socratic method is a powerful tool as students learn to see their “mistakes” as a way to focus more on where they need additional learning. This helps us lessen their emotional response to “failure” and empowers them to become more independent learners.
Supported as a student and teacher, able to learn and able to teach
Unique, a collaboration of culture, community and individual talents, strengths, and interests
Connected in overlapping circles of family and communities
Empowered to Plan and Write the next Chapter of their lives
The School Archive Project was founded by Bill Betzen (my father in law)at Quintanilla Middle School in 2005 as a dropout prevention plan, and has grown significantly to include more students in both junior high and high school throughout the Dallas area. The foundation for this growth sprouted from a simple, yet powerful truth: “A real focus on the future helps students understand why they should stay in school”. Beyond this, future-focused children are more likely to develop skills which will serve them well throughout their lives, in spite of major obstacles such as poverty. Planting seeds builds the patience and foresight required to plan for their futures.
What is this program “tapping into” for these children, and how can we take these lessons and apply them as part of “whole child intervention speech-language therapy”? When longer-term thinking becomes connected to shorter-term behaviors, our students become aware of how their behavior affects their future development of skills needed to meet long term goals. They can more clearly delineate how their day-to-day work brings them closer to, or farther away from, the path they want, and the future that they and their families wish for them.
Beyond the affirmations of value given from their families and teachers, these students are building Executive Functionskills important for higher level education and personal development. Goal directed persistence is both a product of, and an outcome of, grit. This encourages a lot of Planning and Prioritization of what is really needed to get the job done. Students have to contend with Emotional Control when things get tough, and develop enough self-awareness for Response Inhibition when things really get out of control. Revisiting progress often will help children begin to self-evaluate and build their Metacognition skills as they learn to check-in with all the little steps along the way.
When children plant the seeds we give them permission to both flourish and fail. It’s not all about grades when failure is an accepted part of the learning process, within and beyond school. The main risks of failure at school are with Timing and Dosage- as kids have to be able to work through the process quickly enough to keep up with their grades, and overdoses of failure really put kids at risk for getting far behind and getting into trouble.
Planting seeds is both personal and for the greater good. It requires planning and laying out our intentions, but also encourages experimentation, collaboration, and building on hopes and dreams, for today and tomorrow. When children plant the seeds, they are empowered to create their own destiny, as they Plan and Write the next Chapter of their lives.