In January, I experienced a medical crisis that caused me to reestablish all of my personal and professional goals for 2015. I have been working toward my goal of recovery and adjusting to my “new” normal ever since. Recently, I was given permission to return to my teaching position in order to teach one course this summer. I am both excited and anxious about it. So far, it is progressing nicely, but week one is always an easy week, because you are getting the course established and going. 🙂
Beyond my anxiety around not being able to fully walk due to my acquisition of foot drop, I knew I would be challenged to have enough energy to fully return to work. I’ve been told ever since I “woke up” on January 7th that I would be tired and would need a lot of rest. And, yes, early on this was true, I did need rest. Yet, my need for rest has evolved as I’ve progressed in my recovery (at first I was tired from coming back to life, and now I get tired from using more higher order cognitive skills).
Recently, I was describing the unique way in which I found myself tired– “I can feel my brain and it is tired”, and a friend told me that it sounded to her as though I was describing Spoon theory. A few days later, Spoon theory was shared on the Stroke Talk for Facebook group that I am a member of, so I decided to spend more time with it. Prior to my January experience, and the conversation with my friend, Spoon theory was not a theory I’d come to know. It isn’t found in any student development book that I know of, nor have I come across it in any counseling theory texts. I found it to be accessible, easy to understand, and quite important to our field when considering a host of invisible disabilities. (I will assert that I believe we quite often complicate how to bring theory into practice by not using accessible examples for all—perhaps we need to use more dining utensils 😉 ).
Furthermore, I teach the Student Development Theory 1 course at Western Illinois University and during class we spend time exploring how development occurs. We do this because I believe it is powerful to know how development occurs if one is going to promote development amongst students, not just what the identity or characteristic that is developing. It is challenging to explore development theory this way because it is almost always easier to identify “what” the theory is developing rather than clearly articulating “how” it is being developed. As we do such exploration as a class, we begin to realize the power dynamic present when one determines a developmental place:
Does one place another in a specific spot in their development?
Does one allow another to share where they are at in their development for themselves?
These are important questions. They are the difference between prescribing developmental interventions, as if we ourselves are fully developed, and creating developmental interventions, with the assistance of others, because we acknowledge that none of us are fully developed.
I’m not necessarily advocating for Spoon theory to be included in student development theory courses, although I do secretly think it would be a good idea. I am asking us to consider what it would look like if, instead of focusing so much on “what” is being developed, and the end result of that developmental process, we start the conversation about bringing theory into practice by focusing on “how” development is occurring.
For example, Spoon theory asserts that if my foot drop heals (which I am really hoping that it does) and I am left with a non-visible neurological disorder due to my January experience, I will only be given a limited number of spoons for the day that I can use to accomplish my tasks. It also claims that each of my tasks will use up a spoon, which might result in me only having one spoon left for the day come 6 p.m., but more work to do. In other words, instead of focusing only on what my decreased energy is at various places on my road to recovery, Spoon theory also helps others understand how it is that I’ve come to have decreased energy. And, personally, I’ve found that understanding both how I’ve come to have decreased energy, and what decreased energy is like for me, allows others to better understand my experience and support me as I continue to develop toward my goal of full recovery. If this is how I’m left feeling about the inclusion of attending to how, and not just the what, in the process of development, imagine how our students might feel if we were to do the same as we put theory into practice as student affairs professionals. It certainly seems to me as though it would create a more inclusive environment for our students.