Once the first snow flies, there is a hum of activity around the various bird feeders outside our windows. In November, a pair of cardinals arrived, beautiful in their bright scarlet coats against the freshly fallen snow. Blue jays, proud and chattering merrily, dominated the large feeder, sending the little birds scuttling away. Early one crisp morning, while walking through our fields, I heard the persistent call of the chickadee: “Chick-a-dee, chick-a-dee-dee.” I looked at the beautiful little greenish-grey bird with sparkling eyes and thought that she must be sending information to the neighborhood about the abundant food supply in our backyard. Or she might be telling me not to forget the chickadees, though they seem tiny and insignificant.
The chickadees make me think of those students with learning challenges, who also often feel unnoticed and insignificant. They are not voted in for student council, are sometimes excluded socially, and may have difficulty on the sports field. Facing each day is a challenge for these students, both socially and academically. Afraid to step outside because no one will want to play with them, or anxious because of an upcoming history test, they face many stressful occasions throughout the school day. Beyond academic struggles, the anxiety around being bullied, laughed at, or centered out is a reality. Lack of self-confidence makes learning even more challenging, and it can leave students with a feeling of hopelessness. How can educators break this pattern? How can we help to relieve anxiety, improve learning, and restore confidence in these students?