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Beyond Tolerating Differences

We can learn a great deal about appreciation for differences from the business world. Maria Bartiromo, described Jack Welch’s view of leadership as that of being the conductor of an orchestra. All of the instruments are different. “The leader’s job is to touch every one of those people so they know they’re free to think and do things better.” Are our students free to think and do things better? How would our students react to knowing that they are all unique, and that their differences are not just tolerated, but that their differences, perspectives, and diverse experiences actually add to the small-group and classroom learning experiences? What would our classrooms look like if we truly believed that of our students? This type of mentality has the potential to change our classrooms.

We witnessed this appreciation for student differences during the interactions in Keely Potter and Meghan Babcock’s class. During one particular Quick-Draw activity, reading specialist Potter was walking around the room, periodically pausing to comment on students’ illustrations. She stopped to reflect on one student’s Quick-Draw. After the student explained her use of symbolism in the drawing, Potter probed. “Do other teachers know that you’re this deep?” The student responded, “No, I don’t think so.” We talked to Potter afterward regarding the conversation, and her response was as notable as it was depressing:

"She hasn’t had the opportunities to show what she knows. She doesn’t get to show what she knows verbally or in writing. She never shares in class. Never. Ever. I’ve witnessed that firsthand. It’s easy to miss all that she has. She is a perfect example of a kid who is going to be completely overlooked without the use of TPTs. She’s got this creative, abstract way of thinking, but no one will ever know that because of her silence."

Let’s make a commitment to ourselves and to our students that we will not be the type of teacher who never knows how deep our students’ thinking can be. Let’s instead use multiple ways of giving students opportunities to demonstrate the depths of their cognitive abilities. The use of Total Participation Techniques (TPTs) can help promote a classroom environment where diverse voices and perspectives are heard and appreciated. They can help you know your students better, and help them know each other better.

This post was originally published in ASCDEDge. To learn more, pick up a copy of our new book, Total Participation Techniques: Making every student an active learner, from ASCD.

Check out the ASCD Webinar on Total Participation Techniques for examples of TPTs and ideas & photos showing how to adapt some of the TPTs for younger learners.

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