Saturday, 6 October 2012

Just when you think you have made it...

Just when you think your school has made great gains with respect to inclusion...  Just when you think staff are at the point where they understand the inclusion of students with special needs in their classes...  Just when you sit back and enjoy the changing landscape... Crash!!!
It all comes smashing down while you sit in a staff meeting to look at your school plan, your accountability results, your PAT (provincial achievement tests) results, and your HLAT (highest level of achievement tests). 

It was painfully clear that we are not there yet!  When we saw some results that we were not happy about in the area of parent involvement, there were a lot of excuses flying around!  It was clearly not our fault that parents felt they were not included in decisions about their child's education. In fact, it was likely mostly the principal's problem because final decisions about class organization and inclusion fell to the principal. Or it was the government and the school board that were to blame because there isn't enough money making combined classes and inclusion even necessary. Okay, I should have seen the big red flag waving in my face but no. . .  I kept going. . .
Next, we moved to a survey result about the quality of education in our school. Satisfaction in this area had dropped about 20%. and was indicated as an issue to address.  Pretty significant. 

Staff started to say the parents probably didn't understand the question. They were satisfied with that thought.  However, further investigation of the survey question showed it was actually teachers' responses that brought the score down. WELL, the floodgates opened.  Extreme frustration burst to the surface and was evident with the facts that the landscape of our classrooms were indeed changing dramatically and causing significant discomfort. 
What floored me were comments from veteran teachers like, " because we have included students, our bright children and others are being held back," or " because I have these kids in my class, I can't do a good job of teaching.I can only be mediocre." 
These comments knocked me on my butt.  My son was one of "those kids" and I could feel my blood boil. As a principal, I know we have to be so professional, but sometimes I think teachers need to see the human side. I did tell them that these comments made me very sad as I have been that parent who was not welcome. I have been the parent of a student who struggled with the curriculum.  I have been the parent of a student who's teacher worked to create a fantastically successful learning environment and teachers who said they just wanted him out of the classroom.  I reminded them of our charter of rights and freedoms that indicates a right to education regardless of disability.  The response was the kind of "okay but not in my back yard" type.  
Although we have discussed, read, learned, viewed, there is still the overarching view that students with challenges impede the education of others.  When someone stated they didn't feel supported, I was hurt.  I was assured right after that I support the teachers, but the government does not.  How am I, as an administrator, supposed to bridge this gap?  What steps to take next?  I know I am passionate about including students in the regular classroom but what more can I do?  Except continue what I do: share information, support through IPP writing and following through, offering professional development, sharing my passion. . . 
Is it possible these teachers are tired, worn out, ready to do something else?  Is it because they were trained to stand and deliver, hand out worksheets, mark and return the worksheets, expect ultimate compliance and turn out children ready to work in the "factory?"  Compliant and doing whatever the boss tells them? Well, teachers, we are not in Kansas anymore. . .  big news. . . students (both typically developing and different abilities) need to be equipped to enter a workforce where you have to THINK on your own.  Solve problems on your own, create on your own. . .  If we don't change as educators, we are dooming our students to a life of disability - the lack of creativity disability, or problem solving disability.  SO by saying you can't teach with included students because then you can't teach how you have always taught, you are ultimately creating a life of a different disability - the disability of adults who cannot think for themselves.  

A teacher in my school shared a great article to read that gave information regarding both "sides" of the argument for and against inclusion.  This Master's Thesis by Shannon Berg researches the whole picture and offers great insights.  Berg states that one of the reasons for inclusion is to deinstitutionalize those with disabilities because until recently these folks were "feared, ridiculed, abandoned or placed in institutions that isolated them from the general public" (p. 11).  She talks about the controversy of inclusion and states the opponents of inclusion often feel teachers are incapable of meeting the needs of these students and students in regular classes should earn their place.  In other words, if the student is incapable of the work they are offering, the student should not be there (p. 22).  I wonder by who's standard do we set that bar?  Do we only use the Program of Studies or does that acceptance also depend on the whether or not the student fits our standard of behavior?  Are these students fully compliant (even if we are incredibly rigid and have unrealistic standards?) to everything we do?  If not, they don't belong?  Sounds like an elitist attitude that does not belong in public education!

Have I answered all questions? Will I ever answer all the questions?  No, but I hope teachers in my school realize inclusion is here to stay and if they have no willingness to change their attitudes, their pedagogy, their culture in their classroom, they have no place in the changing landscape of education in Alberta.  Time to find a new "job".  Is that harsh?  I don't think so.  If you come to your "job" everyday hating it, why would you want to stay? If teaching causes an inordinate amount of stress, find something new.  Our students need and deserve teachers who are passionate about making sure every single student is successful. Our students deserve teachers who love them no matter what is hard or what is easy.  Our students deserve a teacher who embraces the changes in education, knowing the changes are a fact of educational life and they can't be "wished away".  Our students deserve the best!
Phew, that feels better. 

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