Warren on Back to School: Better Needs Evaluation, The Role of Struggle

If you asked my parents, they would have told you that the K-12 education system failed me. My Dad was a huge fan of public education, he was president of the local PTA and started his career as a high school teacher in Canada. As active as my family was with the education system of that time, one of my learning needs still somehow slipped through the cracks. During my first year of my first university degree, I got 3 Fs in the opening term. It turns out I could not write and after some testing, we figured out that I was dyslexic.

All through my public school education, they knew I had issues progressing with language skills, but never pushed further to figure out what the root cause of it was. School was hard for me and only got ‘OK’ grades earned through lots of blood, sweat and more sweat (and often it was the supportive blood and sweat of my parents rather than mine).

Dad was convinced that if we had my dyslexia evaluation earlier, I could have figured out better methods to work with this challenge and my K-12 years would have been less painful.

Two questions and reflections came out of this experience for me when I think back.

1. Are we consistently and thoroughly evaluating all kids for individual learning styles, aptitudes and challenges that inhibit learning like dyslexia?

When I was a teacher in Northern Canada, I would have loved to have received this information about my students early in a new school year rather than figuring out what they needed along the way. Teachers are at best missing information or at worst left in the dark about students rather than knowing exactly how to customize learning for each one of them. They need more support to fully understand individual learning needs. I posit this this could be more important than academic testing in the younger grades.  Maybe this is happening somewhere as a standard practice and I don’t know it, but what I see today is that this sort of robust evaluation only routinely happens as a response to an obvious concern. All students need full evaluations and IEPs.

2. Maybe that struggle was a good thing and part of why I have been able to navigate between so many interesting career opportunities during my life?

My struggles were related to an undiagnosed learning challenge that might have been avoided, but I’ve come to believe that struggle is not a bad thing for learners. If school is challenging for a student, he or she can build the work ethic and thick skin that is required for future success. Paul Tough talks about the importance of character in his book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. It busts some myths that suggest academic performance equals success later in life. I highly recommend it.

Keep telling yourself that struggle is a good thing.

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Warren Barkley
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About Warren Barkley

Warren Barkley is SMART's Chief Technology Officer. He brings over 19 years of technology experience and leadership. Over the last two years at SMART he has built a world class technology team, created a new product category with SMART kapp, and award winning education SAAS SMART amp. Prior to his current role, he served as General Manager in the Microsoft Lync/Skype division. Barkley held several key positions in Microsoft over his tenure and was instrumental in the development of Microsoft Lync as the communication and collaboration software of choice for Fortune 500 companies. At Microsoft he also played a central role in establishing WiFi as a worldwide standard. Barkley holds over 60 worldwide patents in networking, wireless and communications. Barkley has degrees from University of British Columbia and University of Victoria. Before his technology career Barkley was a teacher and musician.

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