It’s More Important Than Ever to Think Flexibly

A parent of a high school student with learning differences calls upon educators to think flexibly in order to reach all students.

Whether we’re facing a snowstorm or a pandemic, our executive function is compromised when we are under stress. This is especially the case for flexible thinking and problem-solving. Lately, it seems like schools have reverted to doing what works for the majority of students first—then, if there’s time, considering the others. 

Educators must be so burnt out, feeling that the whole educational system is out of control. However, it is more important than ever to think flexibly and remember that many traditional practices excluded anyone outside the norm—anyone who thinks or learns differently.

Consider these four perspectives to counter traditional ideas that seem to be regaining popularity lately:

  1. Technology is good.

    Everyone is frustrated with online learning. However, there seems to be an anti-technology reaction that harkens back to a simpler time. Many students, especially those with learning differences, benefit from all kinds of technology. Before technology was available, many students would just give up or drop out. Technology will be used in the workplace in ways we may not even imagine, so today’s students need to learn to be comfortable with technology, even if we’re not. Please think flexibly about technology.

  2. Testing can be bad.

    As we worry about learning loss, there seems to be a reflex to test, test, test. Outdated testing methods are being hidden behind modern lingo such as “assessment”, “transparency”, “mastery”, “standards”. Traditional testing by any name is only one solution that may work for one type of student. Allow students to show what they know in different ways. Consider more recent trends toward test-optional, project-based learning, varied modalities, and other solutions. Please think flexibly about testing.

  3. Punishment is not usually motivational.

    Bad grades, failure, detention, warnings, demerit points, and more can be tempting, giving the illusion of motivating students to behave and learn. Today, we would never put a dunce cap on a kid or say “this student is stupid,” but demoralizing punishments can communicate the same message. Motivation is complicated and different types of students need different types of solutions. Please think flexibly about what motivates different students.

  4. Not all students can [fill in the blank with some sweeping generalization].

    ….write neatly, sit still, calm down, be on time, read quickly, etc. Learning is hindered for students on the margins when there is no room for exceptions, accommodations, understanding, and differentiation. Generalizations are presented as fairness or equity, but it’s just old-fashioned; we must understand that each student’s learning profile looks different. Please think flexibly before making assumptions about students and their capabilities.

  5. Choices engage students.

In today’s time-stressed classrooms, it feels like offering students a choice could lead to chaos. But many students don’t engage in or own their learning when they are not offered choices. While it’s not practical to have students choosing anything and everything, there may be some aspects of the curriculum that allow for some student choice. Please think flexibly about offering students some choices to help them feel more engaged and empowered to learn.

Educators, it is more important than ever to practice, model, and teach flexible thinking. Please call out old-fashioned practices so we can continue to move forward. Shovel the ramp first.

  • Parent of LD High School Student