Recently I committed to addressing a group of educators. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was torn between turning it down and going ahead with it. On the one hand going ahead with it made me vulnerable to the possibility of failure. On the other hand I felt compelled to advocate for atypical students and the challenges they face in a neuro-typical classroom.
Compelled to move ahead
I chose to share some of my observations of students I had taught during my 25 years as a classroom teacher. I recognized students over the years for whom I had made accommodations due to the way they presented themselves. While I recognized some of their behaviours as their attempt to cope, I had no idea to what extent their behaviours masked or gave indications of their struggles.
In my learning to live with ABI (acquired brain injury) and therefore experiencing life as a neurologically atypical person, it has prompted me to think back on some of the undiagnosed, neurologically atypical students in my past.
Tempted to back out
At the risk of failure, I was reluctant to move ahead with sharing my observations. First of all, an hour and a half presentation was beyond my limits to remain cognitively engaged.
I had questions about my ability:
- what if I experience sensory overload?
- what if the delivery is incoherent?
- how well will I be able to follow my notes?
I had other reservations related to the limitations that I experience with ABI. I’m often searching for the right noun, while verbs don’t elude me. I easily lose my train of thought. Stray thoughts send me out on tangents not directly related to the topic.
Planning, planning and some more planning
In working with my OT (occupational therapist) I was reminded to structure the presentation to match my limitations. In addition to that it was important to have a plan B. What if I couldn’t finish the presentation? Design the presentation in a way to minimize my own sensory loading.
I failed to minimize my sensory loading in part by not limiting the size of the group. But the larger group might have doubled my resolve and increased my focus.
The most important part of the planning was to partner with a co-presenter. By brainstorming, identifying the key points, recognizing what information and experiences were relevant, and settling on a comfortable structure and flow, hopefully the central theme would come through clearly. And most importantly, that attendees would benefit.
The next day an educator stopped by to see me. She told me that attending my workshop is what got her through the two day convention. Having shared my limitations as part of my presentation gave her the emotional space to give herself permission to acknowledge her limitations. That allowed her to modify her participation and choice of activities without being apologetic about focusing on her own needs.
I was reminded last summer that as a leader, when you share your own limitations or vulnerabilities, you give others permission to begin to push their own mask aside.
For me, the desire to advocate for struggling students made me push my own misgivings aside and focus on a need in others. That convinced me to push ahead. By acknowledging my limitations I maintain my integrity as an educator, yet connect with others on a personal level.