Be Seen (Kam's Story)

This story comes to us from Nikki Lutzke (Grade Four Knowledge Engineer, Parkview Elementary School)

We’ve all had those “barometer kids.” You know the ones...those who can totally turn your classroom from a heaven to a hell...based on their own internal workings.

Those kids’ reputations precede them. Every teacher knows who they are. And...when they make their way onto your class list, your brain begins to wrap around them because, well, you know you need a plan from day one.

Collaboration is key here, so you connect with every teacher this kid has had. What works? What doesn’t work? What are the triggers? What’s in place to help this kid succeed?

When Kam made his way onto my 4th-grade class list, I mentally made a list of all of the times that I interacted with him over the years. I remembered many times, seeing him in the hallways, watching his eyes light up when he’d see me with a new gadget...always asking questions about what I was working on...interacting with my students who were racing Spheros down the hallway...peeking his head into my classroom when my kids were building MeeperBots…

I saw him. I noticed his enthusiasm. I didn’t need to look through his files to know what sparked his interest. I already had the keys...I just needed to put Kam into the driver’s seat and allow him to be carried away by what already interested him.

One “trouble spot” emerged in the many conversations I had with staff. Kam struggled with coming into school each day. Bus rides were particularly stressful for Kam, as were transitions from classes.

With new COVID restrictions in our “in person” instruction, the building was opened earlier for students, increasing the amount of unstructured time for kids. I’m not a busy-work sort of teacher, so worksheets were never going to be part of the equation.  

I opted for a “soft start,” with students making choices as to how to ease into their school day. Choosing to quietly read, exploring a website or an app being used throughout the school day, writing a note to a friend or family member, engaging in a board game with a classmate or other quiet activities were all choices for students in my class.

But what about Kam? How was I going to be ready for Kam and his approach to this soft start?

On day one, I was ready for Kam. With a Piper Computer Kit in hand, I approached him and asked if he’d like to build a computer during our soft start. I shared with him that I felt as though he’d make a great “project manager” for this project, and that he could choose a small team of engineers to help him with this project.

I did have one requirement...Kam’s behavior had to be under control in order to work on the Piper.  

I’d love to say that Kam knuckled down and got to work straight away. However, it wasn’t that easy. After a week of daily check-ins with his case worker and myself, Kam understood how important his behavior was to the success of this project.

The first morning Kam was able to open the box was absolutely magical. He arrived early...he chose a team of two classmates...he opened the box...laid out the blueprints...and set to work.

Kam became a leader that morning. He also began to grow collaboration skills that many adults don’t possess. He delegated tasks. He monitored progress. He guided his team. He deferred at times and allowed others to do some pretty cool tasks, ones that I know he wanted to do himself...exhibiting generosity of spirit that left me breathless.

When the Piper was finally built, he took the trial run himself, and then set to the task of sharing the computer with other classmates, seeking equity for all students.

In my mind, this was a pretty big deal...but it was about to become bigger than that.

A new grant allowed our classroom to acquire 4 more Piper Computer Kits.  

The day the box arrived, Kam eyed the boxes. He knew what was coming.

Today, Kam is the Project Manager for the entire class, making his way around the classroom each morning, checking in with groups, asking what they need, and rolling up his sleeves to help and guide as only Kam can.

As Kam’s teacher, I can tell you that Kam and I have built a high level of trust, understanding, and acceptance. Sure, we still encounter some bumps in the road. But we do this together.

In the end, I challenge all educators to never underestimate the power of truly SEEING your students...of looking well beyond what others see...and helping students and staff to see what you see.