Mary Ruth Coleman

MARY RUTH COLEMAN

I’m Mary Ruth Coleman. I’m at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I have a joint appointment with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center and the School of Education.

When I think about who are gifted and talented children, I think for me the most important thing to focus on is the needs of the students. I don’t think that gifted and talented children are one group, I think they’re individuals who share a common need for a differentiated educational experience. Within that group, I think we’ll find a range of domains, specific strengths combined with a range of needs. So I think for me perhaps the—the part of gifted and talented that gets forgotten or left out most frequently are our gifted and talented children who come with disabilities, our gifted and talented children from economically disadvantaged families, and often times those from um cultural diverse and linguistically diverse backgrounds. So for me gifted and talented children are a range of children who share a need for advanced differentiated educational experiences in one or more domains.

I think when we um look at how to operationalize who the gifted and talented are—so we might have like a theoretical mindset or a definition, but then when we look at how to operationalize that in a classroom, we look at a variety of things that indicate a need for differentiation. We can look at aptitude. An aptitude if it’s high can indicate that there’s a facility for learning that would mean that these children um might need uh a faster pace, a more complex um learning environment. We can look at achievement and that would be the overall um grouping of skills and knowledges that a child has acquired during their learning experiences. We can also look at performance. And when we look at performance, we look at work samples; we look at um demonstrated abilities almost more from the point of view of how we do in the arts, when we do an adjudicated portfolio where someone actually shows what they’re capable of. We also, I think, have to pay attention to specific behaviors that indicate needs. Those behaviors though have to be watched over time and I think they also need to be documented with more then just a quick kind of checklist done at one point in time. And I think one of the things when we think about behavior as—as an indicator of need, we have to remember that not all the behaviors that indicate a need are going to be teacher-pleasing behaviors. So we’re going to have some kids that are actually the—the distracter or the class clown or they’re bored or they’re shut down and they’re not performing. And sometimes those behaviors that we consider to be negative behaviors within a classroom setting are actually the very behaviors that are indicating the need. We use two other indicators and these might be considered more soft indicators. One of those indicators is interest and we have seen many children who develop an intense or passionate interest in an area and because of that intense interest they have an educational need. We also have motivation listed as one of the indicators and that one I say is a soft indicator because when you see it and you see intense motivation that can actually carry a child or a student beyond some of the other indicators. But the problem is if you don’t see motivation you cannot assume that the other indicators aren’t present. We have any number of very bright, gifted individuals for whom um a lack of motivation is an obstacle to their reaching their potential. So those would be the areas that we would look at. We would look at aptitude, we would look at achievement, we would look at performance, specific behaviors, both positive and negative, interest, and motivation would be the indicators of giftedness.

One of the things that happen is that um we tend to set up our identification protocols in school systems so that we have a kind of—a one shot window for identification. Typically it’s at the end of 2nd grade or the end of 3rd grade. And uh students that are developmentally ready to be recognized at that time get recognized um and then that window closes. And frequently in school systems very little is done to recognize and identify gifted students who were missed. At the middle grades when we look at identifying um gifted and talented students, one of the major things that we see is for some reason these students didn’t make it in the initial pool. So frequently the kids that are recognized at the middle grades as first time—as first time, have um a language-related learning disability, uh perhaps have had emotional or behavior issues that have gotten in the way of earlier teachers recognizing their needs. They may be culturally or linguistically diverse kids who um—we were concentrating so hard in the early grades on catching them up and—and making sure that they fit in that we just missed their area of strength. Sometimes at the middle grades what we’ll find is that there’s been a youngster who’s been actually um cloaked at the earlier grades. They’ve been under achieving at the earlier grades. They haven’t um either developmentally or intellectually caught fire and they’ll connect with a teacher at the middle grades. They’ll connect with a teacher in a domain area of strength and it’s almost like they come alive and it’s the first time that you see this. It’s the first time that a teacher recognizes that particular brand of humor, that particular insight, that level of creativity. Or it may be the first time that the student has actually connected with a content domain that they become fascinated by. So identification at the middle grades is often a little trickier because many of the students that were missed earlier are the ones that will come to the forefront in the middle grades. I—I think what it means is that teachers at the middle grades levels have a—a special responsibility to be looking for the um outstanding abilities, to be looking for the potential within their students, and to remember at all times that they also are talent scouts and that they cannot just sit back and say, “Well, if a child was going to be identified, they would have been identified earlier so I’m off the hook within that.”

When we look at um over all development of children and we then look at students who are at the middle grade level, the developmental discrepancies both across the students and within the very same student are possibly the widest within the middle grades and what I sometimes think about is—is if you just look at them physically as learners and you walk into a middle grades um school, you’ll see uh individuals who look like they should maybe be 2nd graders sitting right beside a student who you think, “Oh, they must be the student teacher,” in the very same setting. And I use that physical um discrepancy or physical difference as a barometer to say if that’s the range of physical difference, you’re going to have the same range of cognitive, the same range of social, the same range of emotional, and I believe the same range of spiritual readiness or development within um that individual population. So given that and given that not only are middle school, middle grades students one from the other different, they also tend to have um developmental differences just within themselves. So they may be cognitively here and socially here. They may be um ready for something in a—a math setting and not ready for something in a language-related setting. I think teaching middle-grade students is one of the most complex tasks that we can undertake and because of that I think um the teaming approach with middle grades is imperative. No one teacher is going to be able to address all of those varied needs. The stronger the team is, the uh more collaborative the team is, and the better preparation they’ve had to address differences among children and within children, the better prepared they’ll be to meet those needs. Um, when we think about really bright kids within that setting, one of the things that happens is if the school does not recognize and support needs in the cognitive domain as being legitimate and as being wonderful, if it doesn’t celebrate the strengths of children, what we find is at the middle grades, children will begin to shut down. So they will begin to camouflage, they will begin to cloak. We see this with uh very bright girls. We see this often with our Latino children uh particularly our girls who may decide at this age that it is not wise to pursue an academic or intellectual path. We see this very frequently with African-American boys. But we see this in general with kids at the middle grades who desperately want to fit in and belong. And if the school culture doesn’t support fitting in and belonging with celebrating, celebrating the various gifts and talents—not only the cognitive, but including the cognitive, then we will see many of our students begin to camouflage or cloak their abilities just at a time when these abilities start to blossom if they’re nurtured. So I think teaching at the middle grades um becomes a uh—almost a gardening of continuing to cultivate, continuing to celebrate the gifts and talents as they emerge, as they appear in a wide range of children with a wide range of domains because it is a time period where children are really forming their young adult behaviors and their young adult perceptions. And if they lose the piece of them that are their strongest areas of gifts, then as they form those perceptions as themselves as young adults, that won’t be factored in as it should be.

Actually when I think about um programs, I think that we are in a—a—a time of—of great change in the field of gifted education and I think this change is dramatically influencing and will radically change the way we think about both identification and service for meeting the needs of um gifted and talented students. I think we need to push this further and I think we need to um be very proactive in moving in the directions that I will speak about. The first think that I think is imperative and I think we’re moving there but we need to—to move there faster and harder is that we can no longer talk about ‘the program’ for gifted. So the notion that we have one option that will meet the range of needs of children who are gifted and talented is ludicrous. I think that we are moving to an array of service options and that that array of service options must take into account the cultivation of abilities and talents and must take into account the response to already recognized abilities and talents at the highest end of that continuum. Right now I think uh most of our school systems deliver a ‘one size fits all’ educational model for working with um children who are gifted and talented. And what that means is that we are assuming that just because a child has been labeled gifted and talented, they have the same need. Well, anyone who’s worked with any group of children knows that the range of needs is much greater and broader than that. So I believe that we are seeing um a movement toward services for gifted children—gifted and talented children that I think start with Don Trefinger’s language, “All students need and deserve a challenging enriched curriculum.” Many students have needs that go beyond a good, solid, challenging curriculum. Some students’ needs are so intense that we must do what I would call pre-meditated planning for them. We can’t just wait and respond as the need emerges. We know that that need is going to be sustainable over time and that we’re going to have to think about this year, next year, the year after. And a few students have such radical needs that we almost have to individually plan for them. They will not even be well served or have a goodness of fit in our traditional services for gifted students. So when I think about services, I—I really like the way Don Trefinger lays it out with all, many, some and few, indicating the level of need for services. I think we have to offer balanced services. Services that address the academic and cognitive needs. Services that address the um need for interest in talent development. Services that are supported by um solid counseling and um needs for students who may have varied profiles, who may have a learning disability, or may have other things going on. I also think that more and more we are seeing and have to push for services that are integrated into the fabric of the school. No longer can we have um services or programs for gifted and talented that sit out here just in isolation and are seen as a fix for general education that isn’t doing the job. That just doesn’t work. Services for gifted and talented can’t be a fix for general education that isn’t rich, rewarding, challenging, and meaningful. So we’re seeing more teamwork. We’re seeing gifted and talented services becoming part of the fabric of the school, we’re seeing more curriculum focus within our services, and I believe that we are moving toward a model—and I hope we move there quickly—where our identification practices are simply a vehicle to match students with appropriate services. There is no purpose for identifying a student as anything unless we plan to modify their educational experiences so it’s a better fit. And if we use the information that we used for identification appropriately, it will guide us to that fit with services that will provide, I think, an optimal educational experience for our students. I’m passionate about this stuff. (interruption) We’ve got to get there faster.

Um, when we think about uh standards in particular for the field of gifted education, there has been a um wide-ranging debate on whether or not good teachers or expert teachers would by default, be able to meet the needs of a range of students in their classroom. And if you’re a good teacher or an expert teacher, of course you could meet the needs of gifted and talented children within your classroom. I—I think that—that is really assuming far too much. I think that um when we look at the needs of children—and I come to this from a special education background and a general education background, not just as a person who’s worked in the field of gifted education. One of the sets of research that I’ve been engaged in with the Council for Exceptional Children has been looking at the range and intensity of needs of students in typical schools around the country. And what we have found is that over the last decade, and the trend is continuing, the range and intensity of needs of our students has increased. When I say the range of needs, I’m talking about uh needs that cover the waterfront, academic and cognitive needs, yes, but also social and emotional needs, needs for additional affective development. Needs for basic kinds of things like learning appropriate behaviors within a school setting, what is and is not acceptable. When we look at the range of needs increasing, that’s one thing. But we also are seeing the intensity of those needs increase. So in a typical classroom a teacher who is trained as a generalist is facing needs that are growing in intensity. She or he is not equipped to address all of those needs any better then a family physician is equipped to address the range and intensity of medical needs that will present. The family physician’s job is to recognize the need and recognize that perhaps the intensity of this child’s needs requires a neurologist. The neurologist is equipped to recognize that the intensity of the need requires a neurosurgeon. In any profession we have a variety of generalists and specialists who have teamed to provide optimal care. Within a setting of education, it is not appropriate to assume that a good teacher will be able to meet all the needs. It is appropriate to assume that a good teacher will be able to recognize the needs and that a good teacher will be able to team with specialists to ensure those needs are met. But it means that we have to provide a range of specialists who also can team and work with a generalist. Having said that, I’ve been very active with the um direction of the knowledge and skills committee that works with ENTAC. And ENTAC is our major accreditation um body that works with higher education, schools of education, to make sure that we are preparing teachers to meet the variety of needs. Now, I don’t know what ENTAC stands for so I’m giving you an acronym. (interruption) It’s ENTAC so we’re going to come back and fill in with ENAC in the line or something. (interruption) So when we look at the ENAC standards for gifted education and for preparing individuals to um become specialists in gifted education, we are working very hard with a um committee that works with the National Association for Gifted Children and the Association for Gifted Children which is a division for Council for Exceptional Children. And this joint committee has uh worked very hard to establish the knowledge and the skills necessary to be that professional who is the professional in the school setting. We are also aligning these knowledge and skills standards with the ENTAC standards. The ENTAC standards is a very performance-driven standards model that says its not enough as higher education um entities to show on a syllabus that we actually address this. The ENTAC standards require performance competencies. So we are now in the process of taking the knowledge and skills components and moving them into performance-based components with the performance-based components reflecting the ENTAC principles for um outstanding performance. I believe that ultimately we will need to further align with the National Board for Professional Teaching and create a um National Board certification in the domain of gifted and talented similar to the ones that we have in the domains for working with children with disabilities. So I think our standards movement for the profession is a—a long-term process of moving from knowledge and skills to performance and demonstrated competencies, to a level of expertise that would be board-certified national, professional teaching standards within gifted education. And I believe our professional organizations have a primary responsibility for guiding that process. And I’m looking forward to continue and to work with that within the committee that I chair and further within the domains that we’re looking at now. (interruption) I don’t know if I am, Sally, It’s so much work. It’s been two years of just incredible work but it’s—we’re moving.

The Council for Exceptional Children is our largest um professional organization and parent advocacy organization that addresses children with exceptionalities. Within the council for exceptional children, gifted children are one of our areas of exceptionalities that we address, along with children with a wide-range of disabilities. For me the Council for Exceptional Children is a good home in terms of the division for um gifted and talented children, the association for gifted. It’s a good home because I have a particular interest in gifted and talented children who have an overlay of disabilities as well. So our gifted and talented children who have attention deficits, who have learning problems, who may be sensory um impaired, who may have mobility uh difficulties and other areas. I also think that is a wonderful um vehicle for addressing general policy issues, legislative issues at the national level. Council for Exceptional Children has a long history of working with our uh national and Federal legislation for children with disabilities. And so as we pursue national and Federal legislation for children who are gifted and talented, this becomes a advocacy and a primary voice for talking about the needs of children with exceptionalities, including children whose exceptionalities lie in the um domain strengths within gifted and talented. So I think that um the Association for Gifted being housed within the Council for Exceptional Children is a real strength as a part of our professional and parental advocacy and organizational strength. I have served as the president for the Association for Gifted. I have uh worked within the Council for Exceptional Children on many levels both within the knowledge and skills component looking at what it takes to prepare our teachers to work with children with exceptionalities. I have worked with um our studies that look at our school set up to address the kinds of exceptionalities that we are faced with now within a school setting. And I believe that—that one of the strongest things that we can do as a profession is partner our work across organizations. So I’ve also been very active in the National Association for Gifted Children. Have served on the board for six years. Have been very active in the division structure of this organization for gifted children and been very active in the committee structure. And I think our strength as a field comes from speaking with a voice that benefits the students, teachers, and parents for whom we work.

When a teacher operates in a differentiated classroom and when she or he intentionally teaches with differentiation in mind—differentiation means that we will be addressing the needs of our students and the needs of our students present in different ways. So what this means is that within that classroom, students will occasionally be all together doing a similar kind of an activity and be either receiving information or engaging in whole group enrichment or a variety kinds of—of whole group instruction. But much more of our time in a differentiated classroom is spent with students doing different kinds of things, a small group of students working on a computer on um an algebra program, going forward with that. Another group of students working with the teacher on going over some um information on math and measurement that they’re learning and other students working on guided practice in their seats who are doing some other things. So in a differentiated classroom, you’re likely to see a variety of activities simultaneously with students engaged in different things at the same time. When students are engaged in different things at the same time, at the middle grade in particular—although I’ve also encountered this with younger students—frequently they will play the four-letter ‘F’ word. And the four-letter ‘F’ word is ‘FAIR.’ And it doesn’t matter whose doing what. They will look at the other students and say, “But it’s not FAIR, they’re doing this.” And those students may look and say, “”But it’s not FAIR, they’re doing that.” One teacher that I’ve worked with has a brilliant way of handling the four-letter ‘F’ word, the ‘FAIR’ word. What she does—and she’s a 6th grade teacher so she actually sets this up for the students for the rest of their middle grades um uh opportunities, but I’ve also seen it done with younger students—what she has done is she has taken index cards and on the index card she writes a set of symptoms. They are medical symptoms. For example, you know, a radiating pain in your left arm, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath. She gives the symptom cards out the first day of school and she tells the students that it’s there job to figure out what they have and to figure out what would be an appropriate protocol for them. “What should we do for them to address their needs?” Of course, with that one the symptoms is I’m—I’m having a heart attack. But the symptoms range. She tells them they can do an Internet search, they can interview someone, they can look it up in the library, whatever they want to do to find out what they have and what they need. When they come back, the day that they are required to share their symptoms, identify their need, and outline their protocol “How do we address that need?” She tells them “we—we don’t have much time for this, I told you we’d do this today, we’re going to do this today but we really need to go fairly quickly because I haven’t, you know, set aside enough time and I’d like to get through this today. So what I’d like you to do is just stand, read us your symptoms, tell us what you have, but I’ll be the physician, I’ll tell you what we’re going to do about it. And we’re just going to need to go fairly quickly.” So the first student stands up and says, “Well, my symptoms are I have a pain radiating down my left arm, I have tightness in the chest, I feel a short of breath. I’m having a heart attack and what I need…”—I’m being the physician today, “Take two aspirin, go to bed, call me in a week. Now please sit down. Take two aspirin. If you don’t feel better call me in a week.” Well this student sits down puzzled by this. Teacher rushes to the next student and says, “OK, what’s happening for you?” The next student says, “Well, I fell off of a ladder. Um, my arm is swelling, there are bruises, I don’t see any bone coming through but it’s swelling. It’s very painful. Um, they’re big bruises and I think I fractured my arm.” And, of course, the students at that point usually know the exact bone or whatever they’re talking about. And the teacher says, “Yes, that’s exactly right. Take two aspirin. Call me in a week if you don’t feel better.” The child sits down puzzled. It doesn’t take too many students before you hear the muttering, “That’s ridiculous. This is a malpractice suit. No doctor would do that. That’s not the way you practice medicine.” At that point she stops and she says, “What’s the matter? You don’t seem to be happy about this?” Someone in the class frequently says, “Well, that’s ridiculous! If I take two aspirin and I go to bed and I call you in a week—my arms broken. That doesn’t help me at all. I need an x-ray, after the x-ray I need you to set the bone. Then I need…” And the teacher says, “Well, I’m not doing it that way. I’m trying really hard to be fair. I’m trying to make sure that each of you receives the same treatment, that you all get the very same thing because I really don’t want to be accused of not being fair. And the students say, “Well, that’s ridiculous, we don’t need the same thing.” She guides them in a discussion about what fair means and she tells them that in her classroom fair means, “I will work equally hard to meet each of your needs. I will work just as hard to meet your needs, as I will to meet your needs, as I will to meet your needs.” And then she carries that further and she says, “But you all have different needs and at different times you will have different needs. So that this means that you will often be doing different kinds of things. In our classroom I will be doing some diagnostic testing to see what your needs are. I’m not going to x-ray you, I’m not going to do an MRI, but I will be doing some diagnostic testing. I will be doing some pre-assessments to see what your needs are. I will be doing some activities to look and see--Do you need more time with something? Have you already caught on to something and you need less time with something? Even though my diagnostic testing and assessment may not capture everything, so it is your responsibility to communicate with me what your needs are. In addition to the diagnostic testing that I’ll be doing to see what I can figure out what you need, you’re going to have to tell me—you’re going to have to tell me when you need more time and more help. You’re going to have to tell me when you’ve already got it and you’re ready to go on. You’re going to have to help me identify your needs and address them. But in this class, those conversations that you have with me are about your needs and my meeting your needs. I don’t want to have a conversation with you about what you think someone else needs. Don’t come up to me and tell me that you think so and so should have such and such. Talk with me about your needs.” She says that her students get it immediately and that during the course of the year when they come up and say, “Um, Miss Cullman, I—I just think it’s not fair and I think so and so is getting to do such and such and I…” She says—she looks at them and says, “Take two aspirin,” and that cuts through it. Her students understood this but in some cases their parents didn’t get it. So what she did is she on parent night, invited the students to run the same simulation with their parents and explain why differentiation was happening in the classroom, what it looked like, and the way ‘FAIR’ was viewed within that classroom. It is a fabulous way to help children understand and to operationalize the notion that when we are teaching our job is to identify and recognize the need and to provide a differentiated, if need be, opportunity for learning. And it works. (interruption) Isn’t that cool. She thought of this. I’ve watched her run this and I’ve run this with other kids and they get it. They get it. And she said that after the kids ran it with the parents, she didn’t have one more conference with the parents—one more parent saying, “I don’t understand why my child is having to do x or y.” I don’t know if we have time, but there’s one other thing about um rigor and I think because we’re talking about the middle grades, rigor is—is an incredibly important aspect of teaching and learning. Do we have time?

One of the things that has happened as middle grades education has evolved is that for um many of our students and in many of our schools, the focus has been so much on the affective development of middle grades learners that we have actually lost the intense academic and rigorous engaging level of learning that is so needed at the middle grades. I think that what has happened is when we don’t provide appropriately challenging and rigorous learning opportunities that push and guide and pull our students into the highest levels of thinking we actually undermine them. I think the other thing that has happened for many very bright students in our schools is that we have allowed them to go through school on cruise control. It is as though they are just sort of skating. I mean they just skate over the surface. And because they’ve been on cruise control, they haven’t developed the ability to reach in, dig deeply, think beyond the surface of the material they’re working with. They also haven’t been given the opportunity to work their edges. If most of the learning that they’ve engaged in comes very easily and very readily, they do not know how to grapple with learning that is more difficult when they have to study, when they have to dig for the right answer—and when there may not be one right answer, when there may be multiple perspectives that they have to engage in a complex way to figure out the best solution or the best scenario. So when our students have gone through their educational experience on cruise control and many of them find the middle grades an absolute cruise control—they’re not asked to think deeply, they’re not asked to think rigorously—I believe that we actually have handicapped them. The—Harold Stevenson did some wonderful research out of the University of Chicago. He took families in Taiwan, Korea, and Japan and he did in depth interviews with this—these families. He matched these families with American families. He matched them on economic demographics, he matched them on where they lived—in a rural, an urban, a suburban kind of setting—he matched them on family dynamics—how many children—education level, all of the possible matches that he could match on. He found families in um the Asian countries and families in America. He asked one question—he asked many questions, but the one question that pertains to this notion that he asked was, “What does it take to be successful in school?” The Asian families almost with single voice said, “In order to be successful in school, you must work hard.” The American families almost to a voice said, “In order to be successful in school you must be smart.” Now what we have here is a cultural dynamic that undermines the notion of working hard when we learn and when we engage in meaningful activities. And I actually have um called this a “Tom Sawyer Syndrome.” And I think it permeates our culture. We equate smart with easy and lack of effort and if we don’t believe that just look at the way kids talk about learning and the way we look at it. If you’re given an essay to write in an English class, a language arts class, smart kids can write the essay the night before and make an ‘A.’ Really smart kids can dash that little guy off in the morning on their way to school. But if you’re brilliant, you can right that essay in math class and get an ‘A.’ Now what have we trained our students to believe? We’ve trained them to believe that if I have to put forth an effort, I’m not as smart. I’m not as smart. The real meaningful, powerful things we engage in in life take concerted effort over time to master, to learn, to grapple with. When we don’t give our students the opportunity to develop these authentic—authentic senses of pride and accomplishment, we undermine them. We undermine them for life. And I think it is a travesty because somewhere along their lifespan we hope they will meet something that is powerful enough that it will both require and deserve their concerted effort. And if we haven’t prepared them for that, they may not be ready to meet that challenge.

If I could change one thing about the way we do school that I think would better address the needs of our students, it would be that every child feels connected and valued. That their needs are attended to. I—I think that when we talk about the basic human need—our basic human need, I believe, is to belong, to be connected, to feel a part of something. The ways in which we enfold our students into a school culture or a school environment, must address that need. The more different a child’s home setting, neighborhood setting, cultural linguistic setting is from the school environment, the more attentive we must be to fold those students and children and individuals in, in a way that attends to their feeling valued. I also think that when we feel valued, it is because someone has recognized and honored our needs and someone has attended to us and to our needs. The analogy that I use when I think about what happens in a typical school actually comes from my mother who was a teacher for many years and much of what I’ve learned about teaching comes from her and spending time in her classroom. She—in addition to teaching in—in school settings, she also taught swimming. And every summer we were in swimming programs. My siblings and I learned how to swim before we learned how to walk and my mother would put us on the side of the pool and she would let us hang on to the side of the swimming pool and then she would get in front of us and she would say, “Swim to me. Swim to me.” And as we would swim to her, she would back up in the swimming pool. “Swim to me. Swim to me.” And continue to back up. What she’s modeling with that kind of instruction is what Vagodski calls the “Zone of Proximal Development.” That we feel safe, secure, and attended to and there’s a trusting, encouraging relationship established. That is the zone of proximal development. Far enough in front of a child so we challenge and stretch them, close enough so they know we are there to provide safety for them and security, and done within an environment that establishes trust and in—establishes encouragement. If we think about our classrooms as a swimming pool and we think about a typical curriculum as structured for the middle of that pool and if we as a teacher jump into the middle of the swimming pool and say, “Swim to me, I’m here. I teach 4th grade. I teach 6th grade. I teach 7th grade. I teach 8th grade. Swim to me, I’m here.” How do our students who are still down at this end of the pool feel? They feel frustrated. They feel as though “You’re in over my head. I’m not going to swim to you. I—I—you’re in—I know—I know that if I try to swim to you I’m going to get in over my head and I’m not going to be able to do it. I’m not swimming to you.” And eventually, particularly at the middle grade, “Not only am I not going to swim to you because you have no idea what you’re asking me to do and I can’t do it, I’m going to get out of the pool. I’m going to stop swimming because I can’t swim to you and I know for years I can’t do it. I’m getting out of the pool.” But the irony of that is the teacher in the middle of the pool saying, “Swim to me,” some of his or her students have to swim backwards. What are we setting up educationally with that model? “Swim to me,” and you’re expected to swim backwards. So I think that part of belonging and feeling as though you’ve been attended to is a teacher who knows where you are in that swimming pool and goes to you and says, “Swim to me. Yes, good job.” And if need be, collaborates and works with other teachers who may be in a different pool.