Imagine a classroom blustering with energy. All hands up in the air. Why are they excited? It's reading time! The enthusiasm of an engaged, confident reader is infectious. They cannot wait to travel through books, to make discoveries, and to unlock mysteries. Yes, the enthusiastic reader is like finding a pot of gold...
Unfortunately, many classrooms in Oakland do not look like this yet. In OUSD, nearly two-thirds of third graders are reading below grade level. For our African American and Latino students, that number is even lower with 30% of African American third graders proficient in reading and only 25% for Latinos. These numbers hit even harder when you realize that politicians use third grade reading proficiency as an indicator of the likelihood of graduating from high school and even being incarcerated. The school to prison pipeline is REAL. These numbers tell us that our classrooms in Oakland are not yet brimming with the enthusiastic, confident readers we hope for.
But how do we get there? I believe that if we input compassion to our students, our output will be results! You see, there is a interconnectedness between social and emotional learning and academic success. While it is often overlooked in educational reform, social and emotional learning actually works in tandem with literacy and academics. Those who help facilitate this social and emotional learning are what I call a child's "Compassion Team"; they are the teachers, administrators, parents, community leaders and other adult figures in a child's life. These are the people who must show compassion to children in order to encourage them to take on a challenge like reading. Compassion comes in many forms. Compassion is creating safe spaces for the children to share vulnerabilities, as well as explore. Compassion is taking time to build trust and a culture of support. Compassion is motivation and encouragement that they can do what they set their minds to and that no one is judging.
The compassion that these figures instill in children has a tremendous effect on their academic progress. This impact translates into components of emotional intelligence like confidence, self-actualization, and losing the fear to take risks. This is especially important in reading because struggling readers will create distractions - act out, talk to their neighbors, get ghost, withdraw, or even cry - in order not to be in the uncomfortable position of reading. They want to avoid it at all costs. We don't want to rob any child of the euphoria, the inquisitive nature that comes with a confident reader.
Let me tell you the story of two brothers. They were only four years apart, but that small amount of time made all the difference in the world. The older brother was exactly what you want an avid reader to be - enthusiastic, engaged, excited. He excelled at reading both in school and out and was the kind of kid who would stay up all night to finish an entire Harry Potter book in one sitting. The younger brother, however, took a different path. He absolutely abhorred reading. In school, when called upon to do any activity that involved reading, he would just withdraw. Unfortunately, when you attend a school in OUSD or any inner city, the students that often command most of the teacher's attention are the ones with the most behavior issues. For students like this younger brother who tried desperately to hide from his fear of reading and shy away from others, they are likely unnoticed by teachers and peers and thus fall further and further behind. At a parent conference, his teacher told his mother that this child was "invisible" in class, sometimes she forgot he was there.
The mother was horrified but also perplexed on how this happened given her older son's success - these two boys had the same blood running through them but how could they be so different? The answer was their environment. Shortly after the younger son was born, his parents got divorced and his mother just started a highly demanding and time-consuming job. The compassion in the form of motivation, encouragement, time, and a safe environment to grow and explore that was given to the older son was unfortunately lost on the younger one and as a result, he shied away from the challenge of reading. Once the mother realized that missing piece - the compassion - she devoted her time and energy to ensure this young boy knew he had the love and support he needed in order to take risks and succeed. It took a long time, change doesn't happen overnight after all, but the younger son eventually went on to discover his love and confidence for reading and even graduate magna cum laude from college. His family - especially his mother - could not be prouder. How do I know this? Because those two brothers are my sons.
Our children should be enthusiastic readers. And as members of their "Compassion Team," it is our responsibility to show them compassion in many forms so they can grow and nurture their confidence and love for reading. Oakland students deserve to find their pot of gold through reading. Remember, Input genuine compassion and we can move mountains - they are called results!