Places People Belong

I reconnected with an instructor from college and found out what she’s been up to. I told her that she was one of the first to expose me to Constructivism, the learning framework I feel most closely represents the truth about how children learn.

She’s currently working as a teacher in a hospital for students who are not allowed in the traditional public school setting for a variety of reasons. I told her I wanted to visit her classroom and see her work.

It was just like I expected. It’s not very often you hear someone speak so highly of kids. It’s less often that you hear someone speak so highly of kids and their actions back it up.

What would you expect to see in a classroom full of adolescent girls who’ve been pushed out of the system? Restraints? Yelling? Constant drama?

How about laughter, relaxation, engagement, and thoughtful conversation?

The second one is the correct answer in this particular environment. But why? Why would this environment be so different? Why would these girls, who have not been able to adapt to a normal environment, become so normal?

This is just my snapshot evaluation but it’s all I’ve got.


These girls seemed to act like they belonged there, even if they didn’t particularly want to be there. I’m not talking about deserving this place either. They felt like they were part of a community instead of just looking in on one.


The instructor provided individualized attention and patience. This helps people to feel valuable. Not only were they valued as individuals but so were their pursuits. The girls were not looking for constant validation because the already felt generally validated.


While several of the students were working on assessments to recover high school credit they were also allowed to pursue their curiosity and practice articulating it to their peers. They asked questions, engaged in conversation, and sought out other opinions. The ability and willingness to explore is a skill that gets trained out of children far too often and it’s being encouraged here.


The students understand the place they’re in and the lack of freedom they have compared to many people in the outside world. But, in this class, they are afforded freedoms they do not have in other places in the building.

We must remember that all these factors are individually subjective and wholly measured by the students. I am not able to simply tell students, “I’ve given you freedom. You should be acting accordingly.” They must feel like they are appropriately free, appropriately included, valued, and inspired. Only then will you begin to see students flourish into authentic, motivated, and compassionate people.

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