Will You Raise Your Hand?

There’s an exercise I like to do with new faculty and staff during orientation, which involves asking two simple questions: Will you raise your hand if you had a great experience when you were in school? Now will you raise your hand if you did not have a good school experience? Our personal histories—good and bad—shape the lens with which we view the world, and, as educators, it’s important to be aware of how our unique perspectives translate into our work in the classroom. For those who loved being in school, sharing that love of education with students who also love school is a win-win. It’s easy to do. But for Windward students, we have to remember that many of them have not had a good prior experience in school. Meeting them where they are is the first step in them feeling seen, feeling heard, and feeling valued, and that is where trust is born.  

Believe it or not, my experience in school was the latter; as a child, I often felt like my teachers never saw me for who I was or valued what I had to offer, and I was someone who excelled in spite of this lack of support. It wasn’t until late in my undergraduate program that I encountered a professor who I felt saw my strengths and potential, and who pushed me to do my best. When I eventually began working in a public school, the kids I gravitated toward—who I wanted to help feel connected—were those on the fringes or who didn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch, those who didn’t have a teacher in their corner and didn’t get the support they needed. The reason I went into education was to be there for those students, those who needed an advocate to help them thrive. 

At Windward, there is an intense focus on remediation of academic deficits through implementing a proven, research-based program that we know will have the highest outcome for impacting a child’s life. This academic side is critically important, and we do it well. What we don’t talk about enough is how kids feel when they’re with us. When we hear from alumni and families of our students, there is a common theme: After some time at Windward, students begin to understand that their actions—their efforts—create the progress. They feel supported and respected, and those are the ingredients that, along with a research-based instructional program, allow a child to raise their hand, to self-advocate, to feel that it’s all right to ask a question about something they don’t know. The power of that success and confidence that they feel, with this foundation of trust in their educators, is what enables them to really find their voice and feel their power later on. They become agents of change in their own lives.  

When Windward envisions a world where every child with a language-based learning disability is empowered to achieve unlimited success, we see the idea of empowerment as a partnership. We don’t give the power to our students; rather, we give them the tools to help them recognize their own power. Windward gives kids the gift of reading, but just as importantly, we give kids the gift of understanding themselves, of loving themselves and appreciating all they have to offer. Once a student has moved from a reactive space into a proactive space, they have transcended from surviving to thriving, and, with that mindset, anything is possible. 

Jamie Williamson
Head of School