It's last block on Friday, kids are rambunctious but they're making progress. A student walks out of the classroom. I happen to be standing next to her group and another group member says, "You treat her differently, if someone else had walked out you would have reacted." A year ago I would have gotten defensive in response to this accusation. Yesterday I recognized that it wasn't an accusation, but a statement of truth. I told the student, "She has a pass that says she's allowed to leave the classroom when she needs to." while I kept an eye on the door and an ear toward the hall. The other group member pipes up, "Yeah, she does." I hear the student in the hall chatting with a friend and notice she took her backpack with her. As I walk away I say (mostly to myself), "But she doesn't have a pass to give something to her friend..." I look out in the hall to see smiling students, no emotional distress happening here, and call her back inside.
I don't love when counselors give students laminated passes to take a break from class whenever they need to, but this student is generally very responsible about it, only taking breaks when she really needs them. (I know, I just told you a story about her leaving the room to see her friend, but she would never argue with me that it's okay because she has a pass.) She's also rather open about her emotions, the students in her group have seen her mad and upset and hyper, they're aware that she has some issues she's dealing with (and they both have their own set of issues they process in their own ways). There's a tough balancing act between protecting a student's privacy and educating students on differences. This year I've leaned more toward awareness. Some of the students in each of my geometry classes have an extra block of math, when a student asked why I shared that they have a harder time learning math and need the extra support. The students are all aware that the class is co-taught with a special ed teacher so they recognize that some of the class has learning differences. When I make an announcement about some students getting an extra reference sheet on the state test they don't hesitate to ask "Will I get one?" I think having a classroom where students realize that different people are different is important.
The best definition I've come up with for differentiation is "everyone gets what they need" and I think that's the definition of fair too.
If you haven't read about the bandaid lesson for teaching kids the meaning of fair, you should check it out. I'm lucky enough to not have kids whining about things not being fair, but I almost hope I have whiny freshman next year so I can do this activity. Almost but not really, please don't let my students be whiny next year!