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Dare Greatly

Spring dared to peek out this week.  We are more than ready to embrace the hope of warm weather and shed our winter worries.  A similar dare hit our family too.  The blue paper my daughter handed me peeked up like the tulips in my yard.  I wondered if it would contain budding life or another cruel winter storm. The slip contained notice of a recognition breakfast for students who represented the best of the high school.  I looked up the confusion on my face matching hers.  She didn’t exactly have the best grades.  It seemed like good news, so why weren’t we happy to welcome this sign of hope.

Blame dyslexia and shame.  They are like the winter storm that never goes away and strikes out every time you dare to hope spring has finally arrived.  Shame it turns out is it not really connected to how good or bad we do, but how good or bad we think we are.  According to Brene Brown, an expert researcher in the field, shame is “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.”    It comes not only from single traumatic events but from subtle messages we get continuously.  Dyslexia carries with it plenty of both.

There are many times in my daughter’s life when a teacher pointed out her limitations.  I watched these moments sap the life out of her like a balloon losing air.  Many of the same messages were carelessly given by me too.  I’ve said grades don’t matter and then sighed heavily as I looked at the report card or chided her for relaxing or wasting time rather than studying.  Sometimes, my best intentions to parent end up fueling the shame she battles with every day.  On these days, shame eats at me too.

Shame shapes what we do, who we become and the choices we make.  It’s a very lethal enemy.  It needs three things to grow:  secrecy, silence and judgement.  The world of dyslexia comes with a heavy dose of all three.  It’s something students try to hide, teachers don’t talk about or understand, and provides plenty of opportunity for judgement.  Each assignment, assessment and project are an opportunity for dyslexia to rear its ugly head and grow horns of shame.

But this dragon can be slayed.  Shame can’t survive empathy.  When someone is struggling and we reach out and recognize their struggle, we give them the elixir to rob shame of its power.  It’s not an easy pill to swallow.  My daughter’s own self-perception made it difficult for her to receive the gift of empathy this teacher offered.  Perhaps it’s easier to cling to her low grade as proof of her worth over the word of her teacher.  After all, isn’t that what we say matters and what we value by our constant emphasis on tests and academic achievements.  Perhaps it’s hard to trust a teacher after so many have let her down.  Perhaps she’s afraid she can’t live up to the challenge.  Perhaps she feels it’s not deserved.  But it is deserved.

Yes, sometimes she kicks back and watches Netflix and avoids doing the hard work of studying.  She sometimes works inefficiently and has poor habits.  She can feel guilt about these choices, but it’s time to let the shame go. For a dyslexic, the road is always hard and long.  A difficult assignment for most students becomes an impossible assignment for them.  Reading that takes others 20 minutes, takes them 40.  There isn’t time to waste and yet, even when they put in the required effort, the rewards are few and far between.  Dyslexics need empathy for the energy and effort they expend, not shame.

One of the best students?  You bet.  Her teacher, Mr. Kedzie, took a bold step in reaching out to recognize her.  It wasn’t a participation award.  It was an honest assessment of effort over achievement.  It was a battle cry against shame and an invitation to dare greatly.  It was a battle we were both close to losing.  But with our slates wiped clean with empathy, we will dare greatly again.  Winter made a bold dare this month to slay us with its blanket of snow in April, but the tulips haven’t seemed to notice.  They dared greatly and peeped out welcoming the sun and melting our memories of winter.  We too can put winter away and continue to hope for better days as we wash away the sting of dyslexia and shame.  Thanks Mr. Kedzie for bringing a little life back into our home and challenging us to move in a new direction.  Thanks to you we can end our school year empty of shame, armed with empathy and ready to shout our battle cry, DARE GREATLY!

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