In my primary school teacher role, I have been asked by another teacher colleague if I would mind talking to the children in assembly about my hearing loss for a ‘Diversity Day’. We have already had one such day at the beginning of the year; the primary focus of that day was around where people come from as the school has much ethnic diversity. Exploring hearing loss is obviously a different branch of diversity and equally as important as a ‘disability’.
I don’t always think about myself as having a disability as such. It is certainly not something that I allow to stop me from doing what I want to do (it is generally other things like fear that facilitate thoughts about whether I should do something). Being asked to share my thoughts around this has forced me to stop and consider how my hearing loss affects me but also others around me. Because diversity, I have come to consider, does not just affect the person with the disability but those around them. Therefore, it is something that is important to talk about with children. Whilst you may not be directly affected yourself, you will certainly come across someone who is, as most people have a ‘thing’ that is something unique to them that may be something they have to work around. We therefore should be educating children to be tolerant when things in life may be different for them.
The children I teach are certainly aware of how to communicate with me in the classroom; I talk to them about the need to face me when they talk, project rather than mumble and not put their hand over their mouth when telling me what they want for lunch! These are not bad life skills to be learning; they are learning how to be mindful and tolerant for fear of getting the wrong lunch if nothing else!
My daughter, who is 6, has a hemiplegia. This is a mild form of cerebral palsy that has affected her right side, particularly the movement in her left hand. I have always considered the fact that she was born with a hemiplegia and therefore, she does not know any different. I myself had a brain tumour at the same age which has resulted in my hearing loss. For many years, I lived life unaware that my hearing had been affected; my parents had no idea. I think I developed ways to cope with it, without realising. Since being diagnosed, I have been told that my cognitive processing is extremely good meaning I can fill in gaps of words I don’t pick up, well. I became a teacher at 28, at which point I was still unaware. It was not until I was 30 that I found out and it came as quite a shock!
I have since wondered , if I had known that I was ‘a bit deaf’ before I had trained to be a teacher, whether that would have affected the choices I made at that time. I would like to think that it wouldn’t but I don’t know. It would have made me feel vulnerable and whether I would have wanted to ‘dodge’ that vulnerability, I don’t know. The reason I share this information is multi-faceted. Primarily, it is because I have been considering the element of Growth Mindset that is about embracing our vulnerabilities. Often, our reasons for doing or not doing things relates to our fear of not being able to do something and looking ‘silly’ or ‘stupid’. We don’t want our vulnerabilities to call our ability into question to the outside world. We feel our vulnerabilities weighing heavy on us most when we are out of our comfort zone which is, sometimes annoyingly, where we will find eventual growth. Growth is not easy.
Choosing to put ourselves out of our comfort zone can be hard but as adults, it is important that children see us doing this. My belief in education being the best route forward for progress in so many ways is also anchored in it’s ability to make us a more tolerant society with more understanding of each other. So, when asked if I would talk to children about my hearing loss and how it affects me, I did not hesitate in saying yes. It does make me feel exposed. It does make me feel vulnerable because it does put me out of my comfort-zone but it is important for the next generation to see how obstacles are not there to stop you but to encourage you to find a way; to embrace the skills you have got because of it, not think about what you can do despite it. I can have this conversation with youngsters because of my experience and I should embrace the fact I am able to do that rather than want to hide it. I am not ‘dis- abled’ rather I think of myself as enabled in a way that is different and that is what should be celebrated.
Having the conversation about diversity in this way is important also to discourage bullying type behaviours as there is more understanding and diversity is viewed positively rather than hidden away which then starts to edge into feelings of shame.
In moments like this, Esme sits in my mind. As a parent to a child with a ‘disability’, your natural instinct is to worry but worry will not help them. It can be hard but instead of letting her see the worry, we work on building the Growth Mindset skills in her every single day. I am positive that her resilience will be strong (and I already see that in her) because of the challenges she is forced to overcome every day. That is a super-power. I feel uncomfortable having even described her as ‘disabled’ because adding the prefix ‘dis’ onto a word means it is the opposite of the root word and I have never led Esme to believe that she isn’t able to do something she wants to do. We may need to help her find an alternative way but that’s all part of the ‘thinking-outside-the-box’ mentality we are developing in her.
My conclusion in all this is that we must all learn to get comfortable with our vulnerabilities because they can be a source of real power if harnessed in the right way. The way we talk about them and behave towards them (both to the outside world and with ourselves) projects how they are viewed. When in Fixed Mindset, the things that make us diverse can be regarded as negative things which can never be a good thing because things are as they are and can never be changed. When viewed in a Growth Mindset where change and progress are not only possible but expected, so much more is possible. It’s all about how you view it… and that’s about Mindset.