Any teacher or parent can attest to the fact that every child has unique strengths and weaknesses, different personalities, needs and circumstances. And they have an advocate in Thomas Armstrong. For nearly 40 years (and 15 books later), Armstrong has been one of the foremost minds supporting the view that all children are unique, creative and able to learn. In particular, his books and teachings have “helped move the thinking of parents, teachers, administrators, and mental health practitioners from a ‘disabilities’ paradigm
to a ‘diversity’ or ‘differences’’ paradigm, especially with regard to how we help children with special needs achieve success in school and life,” he says.
Armstrong has especially been concerned with the labeling and stigmatization of children as “learning disabled,’’ ‘’ADHD,’’ “autistic,” or ‘’mentally retarded,’’ and has focused on
advocating for their strengths and abilities, rather than their deficits and disorders. “I’ve been interested in applying the insights of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, the autism movement’s neurodiversity concept, and the idea of the ‘natural genius’ that all children possess,” says Armstrong.
In addition to his books, which include, Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Achieve Success in School and Life; The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain, and Awakening Genius in the Classroom, Armstrong has written for Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, Parenting, and Mothering amongst many others magazines. He has appeared on “The Today Show,” “CBS This Morning,” “CNN,” the “BBC” and “The Voice of America.”
I am honored to feature Dr. Thomas Armstrong in today’s Daily Edventure.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
The United States educational community has an obsession with standardized testing, national accountability standards, and scientism (using quantitative measures to assess learning progress in research). This has obscured the true purpose of education, which is to nurture the love of learning in every child and adolescent.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
There are a wide range of specific strategies that I’ve shared in my 15 books (translated into 26 languages) that others can read about and implement in helping to create a more positive approach in helping kids with and without special needs. As an example, one of my books (The Myth of the ADD Child) presents 50 practical non-drug strategies for
helping kids labeled ADHD with their attention and behavior issues. Other books show how to create teaching strategies based upon a student’s greatest areas of strength.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I’ve done webinars, presented hundreds of workshops using Power Point software, shared my ideas via blogging, email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, ASCD Edge, and You Tube.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
Some of the advances made in technology have helped students who learn differently appropriate knowledge that otherwise might have been inaccessible to them (I am referring especially to technologies that are a part of the Universal Design for Learning framework).
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
A reduction in the value our culture places on competition, speed, quantitative measures, and ‘’accountability’’ in education.
Educators need to rediscover the fun, excitement, and playfulness of the learning process.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Understanding the qualities of those individuals who have engaged in the most innovation in our culture (people like Einstein, Picasso, Thomas Edison, Newton, Joyce, etc.). A study of their lives indicates that imagination, playfulness, creativity, humor, flexibility, joy, wonder, wisdom, inventiveness, and vitality formed a large part of their discovery process. These are the qualities that have given rise to most of the great discoveries of civilization, and as educators we should be seeking to draw these out in our students, rather than hammering the Common Core Standards into their brains.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Remember why you decided to become a teacher (it probably wasn’t to ‘’raise test scores’’). Stay in touch with your inner desire to instill a love of learning in your students.
Make sure that your own love of learning is still alive inside of you. Realize that authentic learning comes often spontaneously and unpredictably in the course of a school day (e.g., the teachable moment), and resist the pressure to stick to the text, teach to the test, and subscribe to the labels we give children when they don’t perform in the ways we expect them to.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
The Whole Child movement embodies the idea that education should be about developing a student’s emotional, cognitive, creative, physical, social, and spiritual capabilities. On the other hand, the Common Core Standards movement and the ‘’evidence-based’’ movement in education, are limiting the scope of education to a small set of artificial skills and strategies, and ignoring the vast range of learning opportunities available to students if we only provided these innovations in the classroom.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
Belief in one’s self. Too often education amounts to teaching children what they can’t do, what they’re not good at, what they’re still deficient in, and how they come up short.
In doing this, we drastically limit their potentials. By empowering every child to see him/herself as a positive learner and a fundamentally capable human being, we give them the most valuable tool they could ever have: an inner sense of wellbeing, which can serve as the core of all their efforts to make the world a better place in which to live.
About Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D.
- Birthplace: Fargo, North Dakota
- Current residence: Sonoma County, California
- Education: B.A. (University of Massachusetts), M.Ed (Lesley University), Ph.D. (California Institute of Integral Studies)
- Website I check every day: New York Times
- Person who inspires me most: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Favorite childhood memory: Going to a cottage on one of the Minnesota lakes in the summer
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Minneapolis/St. Paul (family Christmas)
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? I’m sure that it was a joke that my wife told, but I can’t remember what it was.
- Favorite book: Ulysses by James Joyce
- Favorite music: Mozart
- Your favorite quote or motto: “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.’’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his essay “Self Reliance.”