Years ago, primary medical care may have come from a local physician, one who often served as a “country doctor” within his or her own practice. The perspective was often “whole person”, holistic-oriented for the doctor would ask questions about one’s larger circle of lifestyle influences [social, emotional, physical, spiritual, financial ….] rather than addressing symptoms alone. In contrast, today, my health care provider currently markets itself as a “wellness” support system but when it comes down to the actual orientation between patient and physician, it’s frequently all about symptoms and pharmacological solutions: Appointments are often delegated to a mere 15-30 minute session and resolved through a prescription. Same for the current pandemic response approach, as well as any other condition experienced through the human body; we are constantly presented with pills, drugs, and vaccine solutions addressing symptoms rather than causes.

However, on the sidelines of our healthcare system are an emerging number of alternative – outliner medical approaches and support systems. In fact, during 2021, over 21 billion dollars was spent on non-traditional practices compared to 11.9 billion dollars in 2011. As consumers, we are looking toward alternative healthcare more and more each year. And for many of us, we find that the scope and perspective of the mainstream medical system falls short when addressing our health care / wellness needs alone. Can you relate to this? Does your health care practice include alternative – whole-body approaches such as acupuncture, chiropractor, massage therapy, yoga, functional medicine or naturopathy in contrast to what was once offered years ago?

Where am I going with this? From a medical perspective, many of us are looking at our bodies differently than we did ten, twenty, or thirty years ago; often taking on a more holistic perspective. And for some of us, we may believe that in many conditions, our bodies are designed to heal itself due to an internal frequency or energetic system. What a radical approach?

As we look forward from an educational lens, I am advocating for a more holistic approach to learning and human development. For the last thirty years, schools have focused on common core curriculum / standards, publishing house texts, and test scores, with marginal results. I believe we are overdue for a change: At the core of my beliefs is the understanding that we come into this world with a set of gifts, talents, attributes, and intentionally designed abilities to contribute toward the larger mosaic of life. And in this framework, I absolutely believe within my heart and soul that each child presents the potential as a gift waiting to emerge or flourish. As a result, the educational model I support serves as an alternative to contemporary formats presented in most schools. For a focus on standardization and test results fails to address the extraordinary nature of human potential moving through every classroom:

“Many students are taking a hodgepodge of random classes that ill prepares them for a life after graduation …” [Education Trust. 2017].

Furthermore, I believe many of us can agree that the human condition is often influenced by innate abilities and gifts; way beyond those that are addressed through a common core instruction or assessed through standardized testing. For example, as educators, when we determine one of our students is a “baby Mozart” or a “future Bill Gates” due to their extraordinary skills and the promise demonstrated at a young age, we often give these children a pass when it comes to traditional learning. Sometimes, we place these students in “gifted programs” or we create alternative opportunities for them to flourish.

So I ask the following question: What if we looked at every child from an alternative – outliner lens; looking for the emerging talents and attributes and building a program from there? In contrast to seeing every child from the lens of meeting standards and test scores. Doesn’t every child deserve the same set of intentions of promise moving forward?

From my experiences of over 40 years as an educator, including a wide range of perspectives [teacher, principal, gifted coordinator, education advocate, special education director, and behavior specialist], the traditional model of schooling highlights a preconceived notion of “success”, guided by a laborious set of “standards”, with specific outcomes highlighting college or post-secondary learning. It’s as if each child, except the few who are singled out as “extraordinary”, are placed on a treadmill toward a preconceived path of career, success, and life-long learning. And in this process, students who do not align with the treadmill, often fall off through special education, delayed graduation, or dropping-out. Imagine how this impacts self-esteem and one’s future development.

I will be specific …

What if we looked at each Kindergarten student from the lens of emerging intrinsic abilities, innate talents, potentiality, and carried this vision forward throughout the educational process? And what if we designed the educational process based upon these strengths?

In doing so, our focus takes on an energetic expression of potential, “positivity”, and promise rather than a half-empty lens of falling short, not meeting standard, or worse, disability. Yes, I know that there are deeper considerations which need to be explored in this approach. However, I do believe that our intentions create a significant impact on learning. So why not consider one’s strengths, the most extraordinary, and build upon promise rather than the polar opposite by focusing on “meeting standard” alone?

Here’s another perspective, numerous studies related to future employment highlight a similar prognosis: “World Economic Forum findings show that nearly two-thirds of children now starting school will work in jobs that have not even been invented yet.” What this tells me is that our students need to establish a foundation; one grounded in their natural talents, interests, fundamental skills, in addition to critical life skills for life’s challenges: A career perspective will likely require a deep sense of purpose, flexibility, and the ability to persevere through challenges.

As an education advocate, I have walked the special needs path with thousands of parents; many with children who express Autism or ADD/ADHD in their profiles. And one of the most compelling “truths” on this path is as follows:

When we explore successful intervention, building upon each student’s interest, or create lessons based upon meaningful connections, we observe greater strides and progress. Simply, when we create learning opportunities based upon “what already works / connects”, highlighting the energetic alchemy of a positive connection, we often see significant results.

Can we do something NOW or do we need to wait for the public system to change? From my perspective, we MUST immediately make changes or we will lose many more students on the traditional school path than we have ever seen. Why continue to promote and implement a system which continually meets fewer needs every year? Sure, there are a number of “must dos” that the public school system is asking each teacher to do. However, we can create an alternative perspective by being an outliner within the system ourselves by:

  1. Seeing our students from the lens of “potential”; emphasizing strengths, interests, and meaning in our educational planning process from day one.
  2. Feeling the deep sense of “promise” and celebrate through gratitude / appreciation every micro-step of success demonstrated by every student.
  3. Exploring, developing, and implementing “Universal Design”* within our classrooms as we create lessons, related activities, and assessments based upon each students’ interest, meaning, and strengths.
  4. Seeing ourselves from the same lens of #1 and #2** for the true essence of this work evolves from our selves first. For the energetic expression, often projected through the emotional tone we bring to the classroom, impacts our students’ progress. This expression may be described through an authentic sense of calm, understanding, appreciation, and gratitude, which can lead to social resonance throughout the classroom.

Yes, educational reform takes time. And within the context of COVID, everyone is called upon to re-think how we move forward toward a new normal. But in this process, everything will be examined; educational systems are not impervious to the changes unfolding. So in the meantime, I am advocating for educators to take lessons from the medical community: Do you see yourself supporting contemporary approaches highlighting corporate agendas and standardization, or do you see yourself as an outliner,; supporting alternative methods or belief systems in alignment with our students’ needs?

Be an outliner, take the road less traveled. You are not alone.

*See Universal Design and the work of Katie Novak for an alternative set of professional development [https://www.novakeducation.com/]

**A future program called SELFIRST, will be coming soon; look for it!