Talk to your child: At home, your child is under your supervision, at school, they’re needing to tackle a lot more and that aids their development. For this reason, it helps to get perspective on your child’s thoughts and fears about what may be happening at school; it could range from bullying to them not liking a teacher because “she’s mean”. Having that open space for dialogue is crucial for your child, and it allows the home environment to be a safe space for them to offload.
School is really not easy these days. Many students have been out of school for a long time because of the pandemic, and the continued disruptions and anxieties are still breaking the flow of normal learning. What can parents do to help their children thrive and excel in school, particularly during these challenging and anxiety-provoking times?
To address this, we started a new series called ‘5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School.” In this interview series, we are talking to teachers, principals, education experts, and successful parents to learn from their insights and experience.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure to interview Andréas RB Deolinda.
Andréas Ruth B. Deolinda is a poet, writer, and educator who works in the editorial team at Autism Parenting Magazine. She has served as an educational facilitator, running workshops in both special needs and mainstream education schools in South Africa.
Andréas also holds a double major BSc degree in Biochemistry and Psychology, and two BA Honors degrees in Psychology and Drama Therapy. She is working towards becoming a published author of children’s books, poetry, and fiction novels — projects she has in the pipeline.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us a bit about your “backstory”?
My journey as an educator is something I would describe as a “calling”. I don’t believe in chances, I believe if you ever feel that the start of your journey is unclear, regardless of the decision you make, you will always end up at the right place, at the right time, for the right reason. So, my backstory starts off as an aspiring biochemist who didn’t quite know if that was truly the career path she was meant for.
Naturally, I have always had a big heart for people and making an impact in the lives of others, so I figured I could do that through science. The irony is, I didn’t know my true path was being paved when I was given the choice of Physics or Psychology as an elective subject. Of course, I chose Psychology!
It was through psychology that I really felt like I belonged and everything about who I am, and what I care for made sense, especially the module of Child Psychology. That’s where the real magic happened! After graduating with a double major BSc degree in Biochemistry and Psychology, I went on to achieve a further BA Hons degree in Psychology and a BA Hons degree in Drama Therapy. I was drawn to Drama Therapy as it offered practical experience in the field and the opportunity to work directly with children.
During my studies, I began working as an educational facilitator through the medium of Applied Drama and Theatre. As an educational facilitator, you’re not just teaching lessons in a classroom, you’re also working on life skills to challenge narratives that hinder or slow down the potential of students in a classroom from a humanity perspective.
This experience provided me with the opportunity to understand the needs of children in society in the context of education; from lower-middle class schools to middle-upper class schools. I worked in both special education and mainstream schools and found some faced significant gaps in the provision of educational resources. I learned to understand the standard of education within these socio-economic levels and find a way to work with what I had.
I also had the opportunity to study how health professionals worked in an academic space and coordinated with one another to help students. Working in schools that would be considered “privileged” opened my eyes to the possibility of having similar programs in underprivileged communities.
I facilitated workshops that were targeted at identifying the challenges students experience such as bullying, gender identity, poverty, and domestic violence. By identifying these challenges, my team’s goal was to teach the children functional and adaptable life skills. Other workshops were focused on teaching children’s rights and uncovering interventions that inform the children of their rights despite their refugee status.
Overall, when I look back, if I was told that I would be involved in these spaces and the impact that resulted from them, I probably would’ve asked “how?” I’m grateful for the journey I have travelled and now, through my work at Autism Parenting Magazine, I hope to continue to make an impact on education and the lives of children.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was volunteering at a special needs school for the first time before I got my first job working as a special needs teacher at a different school.
I was working within a team but, on that day, I was the first to arrive. Upon my arrival, a teacher asked me to take her place while she went out to run errands. I had no experience teaching special needs students and I felt somewhat lost. At first, I thought I would only be supervising one little girl, but I quickly realized I would be working with three children — all of whom had additional needs.
I didn’t know how to help them, and how best to approach their lesson. At least they all had tasks, was my first thought. In a timeframe that felt like an eternity when in truth was an hour, I learned that one student had a learning development delay, the other was dyslexic, and the last was autistic with developmental and learning delay. Three children, and an educator with textbook knowledge and no idea how to best approach their lessons.
I should mention that up until this class, my encounter with all the children in the school was playing in fun activities to get to know them and have them get to know me. This did not help my case because the learners had already gotten to know me as the “fun teacher”!
From assisting one student in putting together three-letter words independently, to marking and assisting another child, to being assertive with a child whose language comprehension ability taught me the art of patience, the day was a real learning curve.
Thankfully, I got the hang of it and got the work done. It was the longest hour of my life, but it was truly the most rewarding.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I live by and believe in the quote: “Children are Human Beings Not Human Becomings”. As adults, it is so easy to undermine the abilities of a child by comparing their intellectual abilities to ours. This doesn’t just apply to life in general, the same can apply in the classroom. As a teacher, I believe it is important to learn with the child.
We should remember children are already complete human beings, but they have yet to experience the things adults have, and learn the lessons expected of us as adults. This quote recognizes that children have the innate capacity to learn and the only thing that’s truly lacking is our ability as educators to make use of that.
My message to educators is to understand that the ability for your students to make sense of your teaching material requires cooperative engagement i.e., work with the child from their level. In doing so, it allows you (as the educator) to identify key areas which your student(s) may be struggling in.
I come from the common public school education system, with the teacher in the front regurgitating a bunch of stuff to the class, and, at the end of the day, if you don’t understand you “go home and study”. It’s so easy to get lost in the superiority complex of being an adult, forgetting that, when those children come of age, how well you imparted knowledge unto them, topped with their innate intellectual abilities, is the seed that determines their success stories.
You are a successful leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I do not like to be swayed into believing something because someone else has said so or is seeking to influence my decision. I stand by what I believe, and I do not compromise myself for the sake of fitting in or seeking approval.
I believe this trait comes from the cultural expectation that is placed on many African people. You are often expected to be a certain way or to talk a certain way to be taken seriously. I have encountered instances whereby my intellect has been challenged because I don’t look the part.
In an interview with author Luvvie Ajayi Jones, Netflix’s Global Chief Marketing Officer, Bozoma Saint John, shared: “I have learned over time that it’s not just about the look…a lot of women within a certain space are told to look a certain way…trying to fit into and assimilate into a culture that is not mine. I had to focus on what was inside. We’re so distracted by trying to fit in superficially. How can you be expected to be excellent if you’re concentrated on all the external things?”
I am naturally warm-hearted and tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. When it comes to friendships or professional relationships, having a warm character trait has helped build solid and lasting connections.
I don’t have a story to add to this but there’s a saying: “Do unto others what you’d have done to you” so if there’s ever any advice, I give to anyone in the professional context or life, it’s to live by this quote.
3. Eager to learn
I love learning (maybe that’s why I haven’t stopped chasing degrees!) My eagerness to learn has opened so many doors like my current position with Autism Parenting Magazine. I have learned a lot about myself as a writer and researcher in this role.
I learn every day, whether I’m writing science-related articles for the autism niche or conducting interviews for the Autism Parenting Summit. I also had the opportunity to film a presentation on Drama Therapy. I have learned so much and I’m grateful for every opportunity.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I will soon be pursuing a Master’s degree in Narrative Psychology and I’m also working on a few exciting publishing opportunities. I can’t share anything yet but watch this space!
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority about how to help children succeed in school?
I strongly believe in the application of humanity. I approach education from the humanistic approach, and this has been inspired by the works of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. His work has made an impact in industries such as education, community development, community health, and several others.
The application of this approach in education sees students as engaged participants in the learning space, taking part in a “problem-posing” slant as opposed to being passive recipients. Knowledge should be actionable where both the student and educator are equally engaged: this humanizes the experience of the learner.
I absolutely love this teaching approach because I believe every child is different, therefore, learning should be catered for each child. Some children learn faster than others, some are stronger in some subjects than others, and so to maximize the learning of all children, as educators we have the responsibility to make learning child-centered.
I believe in the power of education to help shape the future of children, but the only way I believe we can achieve this is by meeting each child where they’re at. Allow the child to question thoughts and teachings, because it is through asking that we can form a gestalt, and once that puzzle is complete, you’ll be amazed by how much a child can achieve.
I believe I’m an authority in education because my goal is not to tell the parents what to do, but rather to provide insight from what I’ve observed to help parents understand the educational needs of their children so they can achieve success.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Can you help articulate the main challenges that students face today that make it difficult to succeed in school?
The biggest problem with the education system is that it’s fast-paced, strict, and meticulous in its ways and fails to recognize that every child’s learning abilities are different
Education is not a one-size-fits-all model, or at least it shouldn’t be. I remember being in English class as a child and the teacher devised a system where all the top achievers were sat at the front of the class, with the rest behind them. Every time she taught a lesson, she acted as though the children at the front were the only students in the class. I was seated in the middle section and developed such disgust for the subject. I hated attending class and subsequently despised school that year. I am a visual learner and if I can’t form a picture of what is being taught, I won’t understand it. I remember asking for visual cues or for the teacher to explain step-by-step, but the response was there was not enough time or there was too much to cover in that lesson to slow down. This experience made me question whether I was a slow worker or, because I am bilingual, that I didn’t understand the language. The irony was that I excelled in writing essays and case study tasks, but this wasn’t recognized because I didn’t sit in the front row.
As an educator, I’ve found the education system still doesn’t cater to the needs of every child. Once we’re able to make education child-centered as opposed to solution-driven, the learning process will become more feasible, and we will start to uncover the strengths of each individual.
Understandably, in a classroom of 20–30 students, it can be difficult to navigate this approach, but every educator should know which student struggles most and be thinking about ways to offer them extra support or alternative learning strategies.
Can you suggest a few reforms that you think schools should make to help students to thrive and excel?
Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre is a remarkable strategy that involves spect-actors — those who take part in an improvised drama to devise an alternative to a situation in which a character is oppressed. A joker acts as a neutral facilitator who enables the communication between the spect-actors and the audience through questioning and discussion. The audience are active members of the play and can enter the action to change a situation or devise solutions where a character is being oppressed
The goal of Boal’s approach is to initiate active dialogue and communication towards an oppressive situation, giving the audience members the power to challenge the system and destabilize a mindset of oppression. When applied to education, Boal’s Theatre of Education erases all forms of hierarchy, and allows for equality in shared thoughts and discussions, with the aim of making learning inclusive to arrive at a unified solution. When the teacher becomes a team player, I believe children will benefit more from their learning experience than what we presently observe.
Here is our primary question. Can you please share your “5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Celebrate your child’s wins
As parents, it’s easy to get lost in the expectations we set for our children. It’s natural to only want the best for your child, especially in an economy that equates success to a value system. However, it’s important to motivate your child by highlighting their successes. They may not be meeting your expectations, but those small wins account for something and, with the right support system, you’d be amazed at what they can achieve.
2. Keep up with your child’s progress
I understand that, as a parent, you’re constantly needed, from juggling household responsibilities to taking care of your family’s well-being — it is a lot to handle, but every small step in the right direction accounts for the type of success your child will achieve. For that to happen, you need to be involved! Check your child’s progress report, evaluate where they may be struggling, and be consistent. Don’t wait for the ball to drop!
3. Talk to your child
At home, your child is under your supervision, at school, they’re needing to tackle a lot more and that aids their development. For this reason, it helps to get perspective on your child’s thoughts and fears about what may be happening at school; it could range from bullying to them not liking a teacher because “she’s mean”. Having that open space for dialogue is crucial for your child, and it allows the home environment to be a safe space for them to offload.
4. Work with your child’s teacher
Parents are the best advocates for their children, so I would suggest working alongside your child’s teacher to assist your child’s learning. Two heads are always better than one: an educator may have insight on the best approach to teach your child or the best suggestion to help your child excel, but a parent always knows certain areas that may be useful in the classroom, too.
5. Harness your child’s strengths outside of school
Because I’m creative, being exposed to books, art, poetry, etc. at home was my outlet to process my frustrations at school but, more importantly, through this, I found a way to use my creative skills to make learning school subjects easier. Allowing your child to participate in extracurricular benefits can offer a range of benefits. For example, for children with special needs, using their interests in education is very important because they will in turn become more responsive to learning.
As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?
To attract top talent, we need to start training potential educators to recognize children aren’t just there to take in what we know. Teachers need to do better at making learning functional so that learners are given the opportunity to apply what they know and build on from there.
Prospective teachers need to be taught to understand that every child has different needs and approaches that work for one child won’t for another. It’s important for educators to be flexible in their thinking and their ability to communicate a lesson to the students.
Many times, the education system highlights the “cream of the crop”, but we forget that every child is the best version of the entire system. There shouldn’t be any distinction based on grades or intellectual ability. Be mindful of what message you impart; build them, don’t break them.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Just one person? I would love to meet with #OprahWinfrey, and to have a spontaneous meeting with #TylerPerry! Both these individuals have inspired me in so many ways through their stories, their drive, and their dedication to creating resources as well as opportunities for so many people.
I aspire to make a positive impact on the world and their journeys are a testament to what one can achieve.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can read my educational writing at Autism Parenting Magazine.
Join me as I strive to pursue my dreams. Love, Care, Give.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!