This is a phrase that comes up quite often in school meetings where important decisions are being made. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the scenario, let me give you a quick snapshot. There is a group of adults, usually sitting around a table, faced with a tricky situation. One example of this would be how, where, and exactly when to administer state testing. There isn’t really a perfect answer to this situation but it must be decided. Many options are tossed around. Eventually, someone says something to the effect of: well, it seems that option B is really what’s best for kids because (fill in the blank with any rationale you want here). Once that phrase, “what’s best for kids”, enters the room, it’s pretty hard to make a change. After all, who wants to argue with what is best for kids? Satisfied, everyone agrees on option B and then the group moves on.
Now, this process is not inherently bad. The conclusion that is reached very likely could be what is best for many of the students. But this loaded phrase, “what’s best for kids”, is starting to pop up all over the place and when I hear it, it gives me pause.
As a 23 year special education teacher, I am hyper aware that my differently-abled students do not fit the typical mold. However, in my latest role in instructional technology, where I get the opportunity to see a wide variety of classes. I am becoming cognizant of the fact that there isn’t actually any mold at all. All children, teenagers, learners, educators, brains, etc. are dramatically different.
When “what’s best for kids” is used, how are we defining “best” and exactly which “kids” are we referring to? I believe that it does help us as educators to categorize students. I can’t think of any other logical reason why we would do it. Our brains need to make some sense of the diversity that we see in our classrooms. I don’t think educators mean any harm when we try to figure out who belongs where and what types of kids are showing up in our care each day. I do think that we have a group of students in mind and when we think of what is best for them we are conjuring up the path of least resistance for them.
I also believe that we do all of our students a huge disservice when we allow this to happen. Yes, it makes it easier on us adults, but as I often tell my husband, this is not about us. (Actually, I tell him “it’s not about you!”)
For those of you who find yourselves in these meetings and conversations, here are some alternative statements and questions to “What’s Best For Kids”.
- What student voices are missing here? Yes, students can give their opinions. It doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal, just think about who you are not thinking about and reach out to them in the most appropriate way you can. Or, reach out to their teachers or their parents. You can do some research without misleading everyone into thinking it’s up to them.
- What does this look like in the short term and the long term? Often, we’re looking for the immediate solution and the quick fix in the moment. I get it, we have a million fires to put out and can’t process all day long. If you take one moment to ask about what this looks like in the long game, it might give you a new perspective on how best to put out the fire in front of you at that point in time.
- We need to clarify the “why”. Let’s be more specific in our communication than- this is in the best interest of our students. Staff, students, and parents deserve a little more. Of course not everyone is going to be in agreement with every decision, but at least they will know where you are coming from. Building those strong relationships and trust will lead to understanding and respect.
- Our lens for what is best here is… If you are going to talk about what is best, make sure everyone is on the same page in understanding what that means. Depending on the situation at hand, you may need to look through a new lens in order to make an informed decision.