Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Principal's Award

My little friend, Todd, has autism. He’s overcome many autism-related challenges, but following directions and doing what an adult tells him to do are still very hard. And since school life consists chiefly of those two things, school has been a tough place for Todd.

From Kindergarten to Grade Four, Todd fought school every single day. He fought getting ready, getting into the van to ride to school, getting out of the van, and walking into class.

And every morning, as his parents got him into class and drove away to work, they wondered if they’d get another phone call from the school, telling them their son’s behaviour was once again out of control, and they had to come and pick him up now.
Teachers and support staff worked hard to help Todd, but it got worse, never better.

A year ago, when Todd finished elementary school, his parents feared middle school would be an even greater disaster.
As the school year began, their fears seemed justified. Todd resumed his daily going-to-school battles with intensity.

But his parents noticed that this school did things a little differently.
First of all, they narrowed their objectives for Todd to one – that he would enjoy school.

They also asked for, and listened to, Todd’s parents’ perspective on his challenges.
His parents noticed that this school treated kids with special needs like part of the student body, rather than an addition to it.

Over time, they saw the school staff try out lots of different strategies to help Todd, but if an idea didn’t work, they’d try something different. They didn’t give up.
They were grateful for the school’s approach – and amazed when Todd began to respond differently.

His going-to-school battles became less frequent and less intense. They received fewer calls from the school, telling them to pick him up early. Remarkably, Todd began to tell happy stories about school.
His parents and teachers had achieved their impossible goal. Todd liked school!

Fast forward eight months. In May, Todd’s parents were thrilled when his teacher gave Todd the monthly Grade 5 classroom award. She told how Todd would get up in class and dance, encouraging his classmates to dance with him. She spoke of the joy Todd gave to her and his classmates and expressed her gratitude that he was in her class.
Todd – giving joy to his classmates? Todd – a delight to his teacher? It seemed too good to be true.

Then, in June, at a school-wide award ceremony, Todd received an even greater honor -- The Principal’s Award – for making the greatest improvement in school.
It was like the fulfillment of a dream – a dream they hadn’t dared to imagine.

When I asked Todd what he’d done to earn the Principal’s Award, he said, “I had to wait in line.” His tone emphasized that this is hard work! When I pressed him for more, he said only, “I think we’re good.”
In a strange way, it seems appropriate that Todd has no real idea why he won the Principal’s Award. I believe he’s not the one who did most of the work.

The school staff who honoured Todd with the award should have been the ones to receive it. He only reaped the benefits of their commitment and determination, while they gave him the credit.
Since the beginning of time, that's what teachers have been doing.

Thank you, teachers! 

-- Reenie

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