As I reflect back on professional experiences as both a social worker and learning specialist and personal memories of parenthood, I find myself coming back again and again to the words of a former boss and mentor that have rung true to me over the years. Long time and beloved Former Director of Academic Support at Park School, Peggy Blumenreich, used to remind both staff and families of the importance of taking “the long view” when working with struggling students. This reassuring view suggested that although school might not be going smoothly for students at a particular period, given the benefit of time and the right interventions and supports, students would make progress, and in most cases, things would work out in the the long run. In an era of quick fixes, both families and staff alike often hoped to turn problematic situations around in the short term, and when that did not happen, worry escalated. Peggy was often the voice of reason who reminded everyone to be patient and give students time to make use of supports and and let them grow and develop on their own timeline.
I am reminded of a young student, Peter, who was referred for academic support several years ago because he was not developing early reading and math skills and was often appearing lost and overwhelmed in class. When I began working with this child individually several times a week, he was freed up to work with me at a slower pace and to focus on the areas where he needed extra help. Once he had access to individual support, his demeanor improved, and he began to exhibit greater reading and math readiness. He even began asking for homework (which I indulged him with in small amounts). One day Peter and I were in the middle of working on a reading exercise when I remembered that he was missing classroom snack time, and I interrupted our activity to offer him a snack. While most of my students would have seized upon this diversion, Peter, looked at me with sparkling, bright eyes and said “I am too busy learning.”
While students such as Peter often continue to struggle in school and remain behind in important benchmarks, even with support, maintaining “the long view” as they grow and develop becomes crucial. The goal becomes helping students find or maintain joy in learning in the meantime because there will undoubtedly be moments of continued difficulty along the way. In Peter’s case, his parents were able to let go of some of their initial anxiety because there was a noticeable change in their son’s attitude and classroom behavior, and as a result, they became less focused on finding an immediate solution to his difficulties and more open to the idea of accepting appropriate interventions and letting things play out over time.
Fourteen years ago, my husband and I combined a blended family of three pre-teens entering and approaching their middle school years, each of whom had lost a parent in their early childhood years. All are now in their mid-twenties and have emerged as happy, well-functioning adults. Suffice it to say, that as my husband and I navigated our children through their teen years, there were many times that it was hard to hold onto “the long view.” I realize at the other end, now, more than ever, that Peggy’s words have value and that when you take the long view, and chug along patiently, accepting help at the appropriate times, things usually have a way of working out.