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  • Writer's pictureJennifer De Lapp

How to Change the Narrative

Updated: May 21, 2021

How to recognize and change the narrative when our fear, exhaustion, and stress are talking:

The familiar narrative:

• I don’t want this kind of kid in my class! They’re just troublemakers!

• They don’t want to learn! They don’t care about school! They have a right to fail!

• I can’t help them! I don’t have the training, education, or experience!

• It’s not my job: I don’t have the time or energy, and my job is to teach

academics, not save lives!

We change the narrative by changing our beliefs, assumptions, and perspective. We do that by increasing our knowledge and awareness, allowing us to understand all the needs of our students. Although we have the best intentions, our assumptions, often based on limited and biased information, can limit our efficacy.

We change our impact by adopting effective strategies that address those needs, which our students and their families can help us identify. Listening and learning from our students and families and staying aware of the ongoing research available in the disciplines related to our work, are the best strategies for changing our own narrative and increasing our efficacy.

Lobbying for districts to provide appropriate professional development and support to encourage changes in the approach to students who have been historically marginalized is worthwhile. Developing an awareness of the realities faced by these groups of students and the current limits of our public education system empowers us to be more effective. We are working within a system we have the ability to improve as far as how it serves the diverse population of students it was not designed to serve.

Many administrators are under the same pressure to find effective ways to “close the achievement gap,” and increase the graduation rates for groups of students that have been historically “overlooked” and “dismissed,” including those with disabilities, those from “socioeconomically disadvantaged” backgrounds, those who are no longer living at home with a parent, those whose primary familial language may not be English, or those from racial or cultural backgrounds that are not the same as the upper-middle class, white, English-speaking population for whom the public education system was designed.

We may hesitate to acknowledge the fact, but we are on the front lines in providing interventions for children and adolescents who face challenges about which we may understand very little. Our ability to reach past our own experiences and attempt to understand the needs that affect students’ ability to get the education to which everyone is entitled will make us better teachers. Our insistence in acquiring the knowledge about effective educational practices for every student will be the building blocks for a truly equitable and inclusive educational system.

Legislation and litigation will remain slow and cumbersome and continue to provide a minimum standard. In this case, the teachers are the ones who can provide the true impetus for change, especially because they are faced with the glaring need every day, all day. We have the power to change the narrative. We have the power to change lives. We can empower ourselves with awareness, knowledge, and practices that address the reality of all students’ needs. If not now, when? If not us, then who?

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