For the past few weeks I have had a lot of fun watching one of my edu-heroes Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure as she has been posting on her various social media accounts the struggles she and her family have been having in naming their newly adopted pet dog. Many of us can relate to this as we may have struggled to select the perfect name to match all of our dog’s attributes-both those he currently displays and those we want him to acquire in the future. I own a malteese poodle (maltee-poo) I am not sure of the correct spelling for that, but you get the point. He is a small, puffball, who loves to yap at anyone or anything that walks past. When we acquired him we struggled to find a name that fit him just right, so we settled for Jack. My kids all call him Jack-Jack, thinking that somehow repeating his name makes him twice as cute. I could have called him Yapper, Furball, or Fleabag, but nobody else thought those names were fitting for a pet. “His name has to make him feel strong and cute.”- so Jack he is.
I ran into similar issues when naming each of my four children: Cameron, Reagan, Cayden, and Mason. My kids needed names that had value, were relevant, and hopefully enduring.
Names matter. Labels matter. Ask a woman who has been dating a man for five years if changing her identity to “fiance” makes a difference. Or ask a woman who is engaged if it matters to be identified as a “wife”. A label makes a difference.
This is true at home and at school. For some reason in our schools we have taken the path of least resistance and have decided to start naming things as they are, or more accurately, what we perceive, instead of what they can be. We have fallen for the trap of thinking we need to label kids, buildings, and communities thinking that somehow if we assign a label, a name, an identifier that limits, it will encourage and motivate.
In my school, a school labeled an F by the state of Florida, I have 25 % of my students labeled ESE. I have 91 % labeled poor. I have 100% identified as struggling. This is not what school is about.
School has one purpose. One. A school is not responsible for teaching content. Content is available at the library. School is not responsible for teaching morals and ethics. Morality is available at church and home. School is not responsible for teaching social skills and grace. Socialization is available at the mall and playground. Schools are responsible for creating hope. Our number one purpose is to broaden horizons, to open up doors, and inspire changed destinies. We may introduce some content to expand a child’s mind. We may teach norms and social skills to allow for collaborative experiences. We may socialize students to allow for shared learning. But our primary purpose is to allow every child to feel as though he or she can create and lead our world in the future.
At my school, my aim to is give my students an identity that is not rooted in their name or their circumstance. Each day on my video announcements I tell my students , “You are smart. You are kind. But most of all, you are loved. ” That is who they are. We live up to our reputations and my students, like your students, must believe they are worthy, capable, and valuable. Telling a student that he is a failure, creates failures. Telling a child he is a risk taker, creates the exact same experiences, but also allows for the learning that goes along with it. Telling a teacher that she is unsatisfactory creates sub par lesson planning. Telling a teacher she is developing allows for experimentation and growth.
Our names define us. Our labels are predictive. Think about the amount of time you spent crafting the perfect name for your own children. Have you spent the same amount of time determining how the students in your care every day will be identified? As teachers and parents we are in charge of the future. It is up to us to do all we can to shape it, develop it, and inspire it.
Don’t believe me? Ask any author how long it took them to decide on the title to their book. It took me ten edits before I was satisfied. As a result, It’s Like Riding a Bike has now been read in almost every state and has been shared or read by thousands. A name adds value…or takes it away. Labels matter. Do all you can to create a name that inspires. It matters. As an educator, my job is to find every opportunity I can to make a difference. This is one. Change your identity, change your purpose, and do the same with every child you teach.
Feel free to share this, comment on it, or read more of Dave’s work at http://www.schmittou.net.
You can also order his book directly at https://www.amazon.com/Like-Riding-Bike-David-Schmittou/dp/1480845124/.