By Robert Brooks, Ph.D.
Research about resilience highlights the significant influence of even one adult to help children with learning and attention problems become increasingly hopeful and successful. The late Julius Segal called that one person a "charismatic adult," noting this was an adult with whom children "identify and from whom they gather strength." Segal observed, "And in a surprising number of cases that person turns out to be a teacher." Not surprisingly, teachers and schools play a major role in determining a child's sense of self-worth and dignity.
How can teachers serve as charismatic adults? Certainly they must use particular interventions to bolster the self-esteem and resilience of students. However, if strategies are to be effective, the teachers using them must possess a positive mindset, or set of assumptions, about themselves and their students. Some of the main features of this mindset are:
If one accepts the tenets of this mindset, then it is easier for educators to rely upon attribution theory for offering guideposts for bolstering self-esteem and hope. This theory directs us to find ways for youngsters with learning problems to feel an increasing sense of ownership, control, and responsibility for their successes and to view mistakes as experiences from which to learn rather than feel defeated. What follows are several key strategies with examples of how teachers might accomplish this task. Each educator should use these strategies in a way that most successfully meets the particular needs of each student.
Understanding Our Students' Learning Problems and De-Mystifying These Problems for Them
A first step in helping children with learning difficulties is for teachers and parents to appreciate the nature of these problems, help children understand their unique learning strengths and weaknesses, and make appropriate accommodations in their school programs. When I conduct psychological/educational evaluations, I seek to enlist the children, as well as their parents and teachers, as active "partners" in the evaluation. I ask these youngsters what they see as their learning strengths and weaknesses. I am often very impressed with their ability to articulate their learning profile. I describe the evaluation as an attempt to understand more clearly their strengths and weaknesses so together we can figure out the best ways for them to learn.
When I complete an evaluation, I sit down with the youngster to review my findings, emphasizing both his islands of competence and his areas of difficulty and what we might do to strengthen the latter. Typically, I write a special report for each child, thanking him for working with me and detailing, in language he can understand, the main findings of the evaluation and the interventions I believe would help him. I should note that the interventions follow from the discussions I have with parents and teachers.
My close friend Dr. Mel Levine, through his writings and lectures, has skillfully demonstrated the importance of de-mystifying for children their learning strengths and problems. The more articulate students are about their learning style, the better equipped they will be to become self-advocates for what they need to succeed in the school environment.
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