Lessons on differences led to the most impactful conversations

Amanda Alderfer

One of the most impactful class discussions happened 17 years into my teaching profession after completing a mooZoom module on “Differences.” Students were reminded that some of us learn differently than others and that it can be challenging to know what to say or do to make peers feel accepted for their differences. This was something my class at the time was surely struggling with. 

I was teaching a class of 25 students with varying abilities. Some struggled to be socially accepted, while others had obvious physical challenges. This particular mooZoom module was on my radar a couple of weeks into school. 

After spending some time learning about how it can feel for a child who learns differently than his or her peers, recognizing that there are strengths in varying abilities, and defining what empathy means, a hand went up in the middle of our morning meeting. A student with an obvious stutter raised her hand. She brazenly shared with the class what a stutter. She explained how it made her feel when other students made fun of her for the way she spoke or said things like, “Just say it already!” 

Through conversation, this child referenced a few things she had watched in the moozoom videos related to this topic. This opened up further conversation between peers. A second student, a quiet student who kept to himself, chimed in. He shared that he also had a stutter and that he felt it was a little more challenging for him to deal with.  He added that it was the reason he didn’t raise his hand to read or speak in class. I watched as the class rallied around these two students, asking them how they could help them work through uncomfortable moments. My two students shared strategies they’d learned with our school’s Occupational Therapist. What was once something they both tried hard to keep to themselves and call as little attention to as possible, turned into a learning moment that could have never happened without the support of this particular mooZoom module. 

Any teacher knows finding time for anything “additional” in class can be nearly impossible. But this was a moment I was going to allow as long as it needed to happen. Other students with other challenges chimed in. I watched as continued learning carried on in the most meaningful way. I knew the dynamic of my classroom was about to change in the best way. And it did. 

The lessons students learned through this experience were invaluable and were ones that will positively impact them for a lifetime. The students who struggled with obvious challenges learned a sense of empowerment and strength. Peers learned how to appropriately and compassionately gain information about varying abilities so they could be more tolerant and understanding. This conversation will not only stick with me for the next 17 years but will be an experience that reminds me why embedded Social-Emotional Learning is so important in classroom curriculum.

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