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 Kaden in this state. So, I decided to take action in his favor. It was clear the traditional methods weren’t going to work with Kaden; he’d get lost in the natural flow of class. So, I set out to differentiate and individualize my approach according to his needs. I started with some much needed positive encouragement. I wrote him a couple friendly notes. I discovered he was into basketball, and so am I. So we talked about the Utah Jazz, and I even went a played some ball with him during lunch break. And with time, I welcomed him with smiles, high fives, and plenty of compliments.
Then, I set out to personalize the assignments to his skill level so as to enable his success. With this, and continued encouragement, he began to slowly perk up. He began to try a little harder and learn a little more. Eventually, he had progressed enough that I challenged him to participate in a small presentation in front of the class… a mortifying prospect for this deathly shy little starfish. He was sure he’d either freeze or pass out, both seeming equally possible.
I did give him an out of presenting just to me after school, but asked him to consider doing it for everyone, knowing the time was ripe for a large leap forward in his growth. Eventually, the day came for his presentation. Before I presented his name to the class, I gave him an inquiring took, to which he responded with a sheepish, affirmative nod. My heart leapt within as I announced his name and his peers roared in approval.
Despite being short and rather clumsy, in my eyes Kaden’s presentation was nothing short of flawless. He’d done it! His growth from that broken young man to this star on stage was nothing short of spectacular. Soon thereafter, his grades improved to A’s and B’s. We still keep in touch as he continues to thrive in high school.
“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.”
Nathan Cureton is a passionate educator,
author, and leader, sought after to speak at schools, conferences, and universities.