Building Toolboxes for Success in a Diverse World
By Kristy King, director of the Learning Resource Center
The director of the Learning Resource Center shares how students explore various strategies and techniques to find what helps their brains learn best.
“I can dream even when the lights are out. All circuits on! Fireworks! I light up! I’m all ears, eyes, heart and mind!” Peter H. Reynolds’ words ring loudly when I read Happy Dreamer with LJCDS students. This beautifully written story reminds students and adults alike that the world is full of endless possibilities and that their unique characteristics are something to be celebrated.
Honoring the chaotic, floating, wild, civic, ocean-happy, alone-happy, and dizzy-happy dreamers, just to name a few, opens the door to the future magic that community members are poised to share. Capturing that energy and hope allows students to recognize that their individual dreams are what inspire and contribute to an exceptional community and world.
Oftentimes students feel isolated when they realize their brains work differently than the person sitting next to them. This could be that their peers appear to be stronger readers or mathematicians or that their friendships are not the same. As students continue to develop academically and socially, they may need a variety of accommodations to help them demonstrate their vast understanding and knowledge. These accommodations could be extended time on tests, using a computer to type essays rather than writing them by hand, or asking clarifying questions. What might be perceived as a difference or something that doesn’t make them the same as others is, in actuality, a gift to create the fireworks highlighted by Reynolds.
We frequently talk about students building “toolboxes” to help them find their individual successes and leverage their unique qualities. A toolbox for both students and adults could include tactics like using a planner, graph paper, a calculator, mindfulness activities, fidgets, audiobooks, grocery lists, post-it reminders and even lists of passwords. As humans, our toolboxes grow more extensive, sometimes needing to be cleaned out and refilled with the most impactful strategies. In the Learning Resource Center, we work with students to fill their toolboxes in a meaningful way that highlights their strengths and supports their areas of challenge. Helping students develop the metacognitive skills to understand how their brains work allows them to fill their own toolboxes independently.
Students with neurodiverse learning profiles may fear being labeled as they create their toolboxes. However, part of the process is helping them understand that neurodiversity does not define us; it only makes us more in tune with understanding how to learn best and navigate the world. These differences are to be celebrated as they contribute to diverse and meaningful human connections. Striving to fit a mold or to be “perfect” would only limit the endless possibilities of dreams. The hope is that all students understand that progress over perfection ultimately creates independence and success.
Maybe we all need to celebrate our little differences and the strategies we use that help us show up for ourselves, friends, family and community in the best way possible. The tools we give ourselves allow us to pursue the dreams that light up our eyes, ears, hearts and minds. As Reynolds reminds us, the most important question is, “What kind of dreamer are you?”