My oldest son is on the autism spectrum. For the first several years of his life, he had no language. We communicated through signs, pictures, pointing, crying and codes. It was hard and there was a lot of guessing on my part. But as frustrating as it was for me, I am certain that it was torture for him. He had something to say - always - and no opportunity to say it.
This post, however, is not about my family's journey through the delights of autism. Whether or not we are verbal or non-verbal, we all have something to say. Sometimes our somethings are funny. Sometimes they communicate need. Often, we have something to say that lets other know what and how we are thinking. Having watched my boy struggle to say his somethings has taught me the value of voice. Whether our something is insightful, ridiculous, mundane or meaningful, we all must have the opportunity to say it.
Last night, I was at a parent meeting hosted by the school district that my younger son attends. It was very informative and shared with parents the importance of allowing our children to make mistakes and fail. The meeting was mostly leader directed, with a few opportunities for sharing and discussion. After the content and research were covered, the leader opened the floor up for questions. Nearly every hand went up because we all had something to say. I had hoped to be home by 8pm, but the discussion kept us there for much longer - so long, in fact, that I wondered why more sharing time had not been built into the agenda.
As educators, we know that value of providing students the opportunity to say something. While there are still students in many classrooms who lack the opportunity to speak and discuss their ideas, our basic models of education are moving in better directions to allow individuals to say something.
As a teacher and facilitator of adult learning, I know the risk of allowing people to say something. People make off-topic comments, they try to change the subject, they don't always take the opportunity to listen to other because they are too busy formulating their next comment - I get it. There are pitfalls to an open forum.
Even so, last night I was struck by the powerful need of parents to ask questions, make connections and share experiences. These are the ultimate goals for saying something: to connect with others and to have your voice be heard.
In my house, our lives changed for the better when we ALL could say something. Instead of pointing, crying or guessing, our voices were heard. No, we don't always say wise, kind or meaningful things. Sometimes we repeat ourselves or change the subject. But always we have the opportunity to say something and have it be heard.
Is it possible to give more people in the school community greater opportunities to share and be heard? Without question. The challenge is for us to relinquish our control and offer chances for others to speak, lead and be heard.