One of the first things I learned as a special educator was that everything… EVERYTHING… must be broken down into small, concrete, achievable steps for students who struggle with learning. This is something I began learning how to do for students while I was a teacher in training in the 1970s. I have taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels. I spent five years as a vice principal. I have taught children labeled emotionally disturbed, learning disabled and those with AD/HD. As a result, breaking tasks into small, concrete, achievable steps is nearly second nature to me; sometimes, I do not even realize I am doing this. As an AD/HD Coach, I have learned to break every one of my clients’ goals into small, concrete, achievable steps. Working together, my clients and I have broken down writing screenplays, building businesses, moving residences, planning trips, creating a social work program, organizing living spaces, various and assorted job searches and, of course, completing any and all tasks related to public school, college and graduate school success. I thoroughly enjoy the creative process as clients and I work together to figure out the specific steps necessary for each project or goal they establish, how to face the particular and inevitable obstacles that arise, and identify and create the conditions for each client’s success.
During the past school year I had an opportunity to work with Gordon, a student transitioning from the small, creative private school he had attended since preschool, to a large, traditional public middle school. He was moving schools at the beginning of seventh grade. Gordon’s parents were particularly worried about three things: his transition socially, his ability to do the academic, expository writing required since he had only worked on writing creatively in the private school, and Gordon’s ability to keep up with the far greater workload he was about to encounter. Gordon does not have AD/HD. But, knowing that, as an AD/HD Coach I often work with issues of organization and time management, and also knowing of my background as an English teacher at the school their son was about to attend, Gordon’s parents asked me to coach Gordon through his seventh grade transitional year.
It was extremely interesting for me to work with a student who did not require breaking things down in order to learn. Gordon picked things up easily. I have heard Russell Barkley say, “AD/HD is not a disorder of knowing, but a disorder of doing.” Whereas all of my clients who are students are very intelligent, able to take in information and learn readily, they each struggle with putting this knowledge into the forms required of them by their teachers. This was not the case with Gordon. Since we did not have to spend time breaking assignments into their component parts, listing these steps and checking them off as we proceeded, Gordon and I had much more time to learn many more things and aspects of things and to use what we learned in creative ways. We easily moved from acquiring knowledge and skill to synthesizing and evaluating information and ideas. Learning was not only interesting for Gordon –as it is for many of the students I work with—it was fun and easy for Gordon to learn, and to creatively express what he was learning throughout the process. Observing Gordon learn this school year gave me even more appreciation and compassion for the time, energy and effort, the sheer work of learning that is required for students with attention and learning differences. It is always my pleasure to coach students at all grade levels. I am always happy to help them learn “how they learn” and to teach them how to break things into small, concrete achievable steps. I also feel it is important to continually appreciate what we are asking of them every step of the way.