Do you remember the old story of the little girl tossing washed up starfish from a beach back into the ocean? The one where a storm had beached thousands of them, and a small group of adults laughed at the futility of the little girl’s efforts?
Well, I believe I’m not the only who has felt similarly overwhelmed in my teaching efforts. No, my students aren't helpless, and no, I’m not alone in the mission, yet still sometimes I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the task before me. So many students. So many troubles. How am I supposed to save them? Well, perhaps the answer is in this old parable.
It pained me to see students like Sara in this state. So, I decided to take action in her favor. It was clear the traditional methods weren’t going to work with Sarah; she’d get lost in the natural flow of class. So, I set out to differentiate and individualize my approach according to her needs. I started with some much needed positive encouragement. I wrote her a couple friendly notes. I discovered she was into doing her nails, so we bonded on that hobby. I welcomed her with smiles, high fives, and plenty of compliments.
Then, I set out to personalize the assignments to her skill level so as to enable her success. With this, and continued encouragement, she began to slowly perk up. She began to try a little harder and learn a little more. Eventually, she had progressed enough that I challenged her to participate in a small presentation in front of the class… a mortifying prospect for this deathly shy little starfish. She was sure she’d either freeze or pass out, both seeming equally possible.
I did give her an out of presenting just to me at recess, but asked her to consider doing it for everyone, knowing the time was ripe for a large leap forward in her growth. Eventually, the day came for her presentation. Before I presented her name to the class, I gave her an inquiring took, to which she responded with a sheepish, affirmative nod. My heart leapt within as I announced her name and her peers roared in approval.
Despite being short and rather clumsy, in my eyes Sara’s presentation was nothing short of flawless. She’d done it! Her growth from that broken girl to this star on stage was nothing short of spectacular.
“Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach full of starfish. You can’t even begin to make a difference!” Looking back down to the sand, she picked up another starfish and tossed it back to the ocean.
“Well, I made a difference for that one.”