Saturday, 28 January 2012

What does it mean to be included?

This has been a topic of discussion in our school community as of late. Parents and grandparents have made comments about how "this inclusion thing" is "ruining" our school. This short-sited view is conceived out of ignorance and my goal is to educate all of parents (and staff who may hang on to this view) that not only is inclusion here to stay, but it is the right of all students, regardless of disability or ability to be included as part of the school community. Until we begin to see this absolute right for students in the larger society, we will continue to bump against these negative views from parents. It is interesting to note that this view was directed at particular students who have visible disabilities when in reality, the child of this particular parent could easily be directed to his physician for possible attention deficit disorder. He has extreme difficulty focusing and remaining on task. However, this parent doesn't see this as a disability; it is just how he is; he is a boy. Really, it all boils down to perception. We include this child because it is his right. Just as it is the right of all students.

Paula Kluth, inclusion advocate, writes,
We often hear teachers and families talking about inclusion as if it were a policy that schools can choose to adopt or reject. For example, we recently met a teacher who told us that her school "did inclusion, but it didn't work," so the school "went back to the old way." Similarly, a parent explained that she wanted her child to have an inclusive education, but her neighborhood school doesn't "have inclusion." Special education is not a program or a place, and inclusive schooling is not a policy that schools can dismiss outright. Since 1975, federal courts have clarified the intent of the law in favor of the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education (Osborne, 1996; Villa & Thousand, 2000a, 2000b). A student with a disability should be educated in the school he or she would attend if not identified as having a disability. The school must devise an individualized education program that provides the learner with the supports and services that the student needs to receive an education in the least restrictive environment possible.
While this points out the law in the US, Alberta is in the process of creating standards for inclusion and re-writing the new School Act. The standards are outlined in the Setting the Direction project and will be laid out further in the near future. One point that really resonates is "taking a strengths-based approach to meeting the needs of students with diverse learning needs and placing the emphasis on what students can do, rather than the limitations of their diagnosed condition."
Take a look at this great video that promotes inclusion. . .

And another promo made as a project at a school by students.

Both great tools to share with parents and staff. I plan on showing the first one to my parent advisory group. I will keep you posted on how that went.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

James Hobley: A Success Story - Autism, Disco and Me - BBC Three

I just watched this on TV. What a success story. . . Here is a boy who by all definitions was failing at school. Rather than giving up on him, his mom looked for something where Jimmy could shine. In the video, he says, "Before dance, I couldn't read or write." We just never know what the possibilities are for a child if we continue to observe through a deficit lens. It just simply will not do if we allow our colleagues to continue within this framework. We must speak up and spread the message of looking at possibilities and what our students "can do". Staffroom conversations such as "my class is so low this year. . . I have no clue how I am going to reach such low students," must be stopped. If we don't see the possibilities in the students entrusted to us, we are condemning them to a life of mediocrity. What right, as educators, do we have to give up on our students and offer them a substandard education because we have decided they are not capable or worthy of more.

What if Jimmy's mom had accepted a lower standard, because, after all, he wasn't reading or writing. Shouldn't she be happy that he would learn "something"?

Liz Bloor writes about her encounter with Jimmy who told her "When I'm on the dance floor I feel free and like I don't actually have a disability, I feel like everybody else."

With such confidence, Jimmy's potential is limitless, and all because someone looked at his possibilities rather than his deficits.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Happy New Year

Bold acrylic necklace
Hard to believe it is 2012. I recently read a couple of posts by Will Richardson asking the question, Are you an old school or a bold school? This post outlines the realities facing schools today and included:
Reality #1: It’s clearer than ever that the Web has fundamentally undermined the main premise upon which our schools and systems were built—namely, the assumption that access to teachers and information is scarce.
Reality #2: Despite the 180-degree shift that the Web represents, schools as we know them are not going away. Society, specifically the two-income family, would be hard-pressed to adjust to millions of school-aged kids staying home to take courses online.
Reality #3: Given all of that, schools and communities that are not undergoing a serious process of reinvention will find it difficult to remain relevant in an era of abundant personalization in learning, especially if passing the test is the ultimate goal...Sooner rather than later, therefore, we need to be asking the question, “What is our value in light of the challenges and opportunities that the Web now brings to education?”
In another post, Will gives a list of qualities that would be evident in a bold school:
1. Learning Centered - Everyone (adults, children) is a learner; learners have agency; emphasis on becoming a learner over becoming learned.

2. Questioning - Inquiry based; questions over answers

3. Authentic - School is real life; students and teachers do real work for real purposes.

4. Digital - Every learner (teacher and student) has a computer; technology is seamlessly integrated into the learning process; paperless

5. Connected - Learning is networked (as are learners) with the larger world; classrooms have “thin walls;” learning is anytime, anywhere, anyone.

6. Literate - Everyone meets the expectations of NCTE’s “21st Century Literacies”

7. Transparent - Learning and experiences around learning are shared with global audiences

8. Innovative - Teachers and students “poke the box;” Risk-taking is encouraged.

9. Provocative - Leaders educate and advocate for change in local, state and national venues.

This caused me to think about my school and our recent discussion about meeting the needs of all of the students in our building. We talked about putting faces to the names of the students we called "at-risk", we talked about doing work that made students comfortable even if that meant we were uncomfortable. Teachers had the opportunity to view the faces of each student they had identified as at-risk. Putting the faces to this group made a significant difference. These kids were people who deserved an excellent education in spite of their situation.

If we use this list as a guide, I know we can meet the needs of all of our students. Are we all learners in our building? We are becoming more comfortable in saying, "I don't know but I want to learn." In the silos of the past, admitting your "not knowing" would be tantamount to saying you "sucked as a teacher." We have to get past that. It is okay to not know. It is okay to search out an answer. Our collaborative teams are getting to the point of collaborative problem solving when there is a problem.

Are we questioning or still giving the answers? We are still working on this area. We find it hard to let students figure it out without our input. We still want to give solutions because it is quicker and we have a curriculum to cover. That change will come, I am sure as we experience the same from administration. I have to step back and let teachers solve problems instead of offering them an answer that I may have.

As for the rest of the list, we are a work in progress; to become digital, to provide authentic tasks, to become transparent in the global sense, to allow for innovation without worrying that first we have to cover the curriculum in the same way we always have and for all students to grow in literacy (including all of our students identified with a special need).

How do you lead this in your school?