Over 45 years ago, as a new special education teacher for middle school students, I began developing the principles that have led to the creation of the Taking Charge® programs we use today. Rather than trying to change my students’ behaviors, I recognized that my students needed to be able to advocate for themselves and navigate their world no matter how many challenges they faced, from struggles with their own learning problems to struggles within their families. Thus, the fundamental purpose of Taking Charge® is to empower learners of all ages and all abilities take charge of their own learning and lives.
Taking Charge® holds that our ungrounded Public and Private Self-Narratives, the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves, others and our world, can trap us in a Vicious Circle of hopelessness and despair. By engaging in Dialogues for Action, the Linguistic Coach and learner can work in partnership to “walk the talk”. That is, use words and take actions with each other and with other people that open rather than close possibilities for learning and future effective, coordinated action. By working in partnership, we can turn learning breakdowns into learning opportunities.
When twelve-year old Arturo got mad, he would yell at or push someone to get his way, and then run out of the classroom without permission. One time, I found him on the porch, overlooking the preschool playground, looking angry and miserable with a big scowl on his face. Clearly, Arturo had experienced a learning breakdown that “threw” him back into his Vicious Circle. I asked Arturo, “Are you all right?” but Arturo refused to speak. As Arturo and I stood on the porch, I noticed that Arturo was watching two preschoolers who were both pulling on the same toy. Soon one preschooler began to push the other one who began crying and pushing back. Finally, hearing both children crying, the preschool teacher came over to investigate. I asked Arturo, “Did you notice that neither one of those preschoolers used words to say what they wanted?” Arturo didn’t answer. I then continued, “You know, when children are young, people don’t expect them to use words, and pushing to get what they want is considered fairly normal. However, as children get older, people expect them to use words when they want something or are angry about something. In fact, when older children push, it becomes very serious because they can really hurt someone. I bet people have those same expectations of you.” By this time, Arturo’s face had begun to soften, his posture relaxed, and the scowl was leaving his face. “The funny thing is,” I continued, “when we get angry, that’s the hardest time to use words. I bet you get disappointed in yourself and that’s why you leave the room without permission.” Arturo looked up at me and nodded. “Do you want to figure out a way to say what you want to say without getting mad?” I asked. “Yeah.” said Arturo, “I do.”
I began my linguistic “dance” with Arturo with an “Inquiry”, (“Are you all right?) rather than an accusation that focused on the fact that Arturo may have yelled at or pushed someone and had left his classroom without permission. In this way, I created a context of care and concern, setting the stage for establishing mutual trust and mutual respect leading to coordinated action. When the preschoolers started pushing and pulling to get their way, I used the opportunity that was presented to me to engage Arturo as another observer, “Did you notice that….” And I identified and acknowledged one of Arturo’s concerns, “I bet you get disappointed in yourself…” Thereby allowing Arturo to step outside the Vicious Circle he had found himself in and see himself as a learner, an observer, once again. Through my tone of voice, body language, and the words I used, I clearly demonstrated to Arturo that he was whole, able, and complete just as he was and just as he was not. By working in partnership as observers, Arturo and I turned a learning breakdown into a learning opportunity for both of us. Wonder what some of the Taking Charge® terminology means? Ask me. Have you had the experience of using words to turn a learning breakdown into a learning opportunity? Tell me about it!