It’s back to school week in my neighborhood, which means later meals and parents waiting in our living room.
My wife Risa will be practicing her profession in our home. She is an Educational Therapist, helping kids develop optimal learning skills and self-sufficiency in their educational careers.
Risa has been developing her own skills in this profession for over 40 years, though she looks no older than 40 to me. Because she teaches outside of the school systems she has the freedom to develop her own unique teaching techniques and style.
She likes to play educational board games with her students like Pass the Pigs and Chocolate Fix. With the games she engages even the angriest and most recalcitrant students to think spatially and strategically. A puzzle game called Rush Hour teaches kids to plan ahead, pause to think and explain what they’ve learned.
The games used by Risa also help her students develop learning stamina and persistence. Surviving and developing as a learner is so hard for a lot of kids. Risa used to say that she was in “the make school easier business,” but she no longer uses that phrase. Her life’s work has now evolved into a more holistic approach. There are a myriad of factors in a student’s environment that affect whether he or she will succeed.
She tells parents at the beginning of a new school year that her objectives include the following:
• Developing a positive mindset about one’s capacity for learning.
• Learning to become mentally engaged in all kinds of tasks.
• Developing persistence even when a task is perceived as difficult.
• Finding joy in learning.
• Learning to set personal academic goals and monitor progress.
• Learning the power of pausing to reflect and to plan ahead.
• Learning to monitor thinking and work production while in the process of doing the task.
• Learning a variety of strategies and which to choose for a specific task.
• Gaining a sense of empowerment by beaming more aware of strengths, needs and emerging skills.
• Learning how to transfer a positive mindset and specific executive functioning skills to skill tasks, employment and life skills.
Through the years I’ve seen kids with wicked Learning Disabilities (LD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD) tame the devil of disorganization and frazzledness to become stars in school, get into the Marine Corps, go to college or occasionally end up with a Doctorate. Not long ago, when I was at a doctor’s appointment at the University of Chicago with a specialist in neuro-ophthalmology, I was shocked to run into a former student of Risa’s who was on rotation at the U of C Medical School.
When Risa first saw him he was on the verge of being kicked out of high school because he was hopelessly disorganized. Underneath his chaos of lost notebooks was a brilliant kid. Risa and “Hal” worked very hard together for a year and half to help him develop the strategies he needed to access his amazing brain and allow him to demonstrate it to his teachers and himself.
Not every kid with learning or behavior problems flourishes like “Hal.” Some kids can’t pull it together and parents can sometimes sabotage the program, but Risa continues to see each new school year as a huge opportunity to make a difference in her students’ lives.
I learn about her students indirectly, through dinner conversation or by observing them concentrating on a jigsaw puzzle in our living room.
For so many kids, school is a torture. Risa makes a difference for a handful of fortunate ones every year.
Question: Are you happy with the education your kids have received?