School Is Not Optional

Dr. Austine Etcheverry Uncategorized

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Working with students who have developed aggression patterns is one of the most rewarding decisions I have ever made in my career. Not only have I learned about who I am as a person, but I have the opportunity to watch students and staff work through traumatic events and come back the next day to do it again. In contrast, there are certain things we cannot control and battles that we have lost with students. The tenacity that students demonstrate in the face of adversarial situations is genuinely incredible and something that should be celebrated. It provides unique opportunities where we as adults have to define and hold the line on what matters.

One of the most significant trials we face every day is consistency. I don’t know if you have experienced this, but students with an emotional exceptionality have incredible tenacity. They are dedicated beyond anything I have ever experienced to find a way around the boundary you have set in place. Recently, we have faced the situation where our students think school is optional.

Are you facing this as a school with the pandemic? Or even before? We have had a student or two who have struggled to come to school through the years, but it seems this year it is worse than ever. I don’t think we have an answer yet, but we are working towards finding the right motivation for each student.

I tell them, school is not optional, and we need them here, but this has been difficult. What do we do next when a student doesn’t want to come. How do we fight when their feet are as if stuck in mud? Their argument is they do not need school because it can be provided online, through video’s or during other times when they can access it on their time?  The problem is that, to some extent, this is true. We can access learning using these different modalities, but we all know that a tool is not the right tool for everyone. Some students can learn online; others simply cannot. While they dig in their heals, and their arguments continue to rain down on us, I spend time evaluating different strategies to engage learners online, in–person, and learn new techniques to keep students moving forward.

One of those strategies I recently learned about was on the 3 Ps in a Pod podcast, “The Role of Struggles with John SanGiovanni.” Have you listened to this? It’s amazing. He talks about the importance of taking time to solve a math problem and make mistakes while you do it. We can support students in coming to school when we anticipate the issues that might be in their way and develop plans that mitigate them. We also know that productive struggle is essential.

Our productive struggle is the student’s inability to come to school, so before we jump in and over scaffold for the student with giving them reasons, positives, or others, maybe we need to sit back and listen. Listen to what is going on with the student, listen to what they are trying to communicate to us, and listen for the real reason they don’t want to be at school, because we know when we sit back and listen, we can gather critical information to help students. While this may not fix the issue 100%, it gives us a place to start.

What are you doing to ensure students attend either online or in-person school? Do you have a strategy you use to ensure you sit back and listen?


I started my educational career as a 1:1 paraprofessional for a student who was blind and had a cognitive impairment. After this amazing opportunity, I decided teaching was my passion. In 2007 I became a certified special education teacher and taught 5th – 8th grade resource. Throughout my career in education, I have held various leadership roles such as a technology coach, an exceptional needs coach and an IEP coordinator. Three years ago, I decided to begin pursuing my National Board Certification and was fortunate enough to achieve in December 2018. I currently have the privilege of being the principal in the Avondale Elementary School District at a school for students with an emotional disability. I have my own social media company where I write and create dental blogs. I have also had the honor of publishing articles in a dental magazine as well as published a young adult science fiction series. In December 2018, I became a certified yoga instructor and recently completed my Doctorate in Education Leadership and Administration from Aspen University.

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