Monday, 23 December 2013

Crticial Conversations Make My Heart Pound #SAVMP

You know that feeling - your heart begins to pound, your hands get sweaty, you go over what you should say a million times.  Sometimes I dream about how the conversation will go down.  I will say all the right things and then all will be well...

Yah, right.  It doesn't always go down that way.  As an administrator and now as a supervisor, I still find this to be an area of growth.  It isn't that I am afraid of confrontation, but I just want everyone to do their job and to love all kids.  I know this isn't realistic but it is my wish.

It is true that I will dream the conversation the night before.  I have been know to write down what points I should say.  We are also fortunate in our district to have a consultant that will help us script a critical conversation so as not to mess up in terms of the ATA or the CUPE union.

Todd Whitaker's book, "What Great Teachers Do Differently" offered me an excellent understanding of what should be happening in the classroom and when things were not going well, I had a standard to share with the teacher.  However, I realized early in my admin career that I could not have these conversations without building a relationship with the teachers.  I needed to demonstrate my own integrity before I could even approach a teacher about classroom issues.  Unless something totally immoral was happening in my first year, I knew I needed to wait until I had built that relationship to a point where I could have a critical conversation.

I also realized that it was important to have a common language and culture in the school.  We worked to learn about being a professional learning community with a Leader in Me approach so we could have a common language with students and staff. At that point, we had a common standard as to how we would approach teaching and learning with a greater focus on how the student would learn.  This became the standard that I could base any necessary critical conversations.

Having these key factors in place, gave me greater confidence to have critical conversations when I needed to with either staff, parents or even students.

Now I am called upon to have critical conversations with folks I don't know as well.  Just the other day, I had to discuss adult behaviour with an educational assistant.  This was difficult in terms of me not really knowing her well and I would expect she might be annoyed at this top down direction.  I recognize the need for me to get to know the educational assistants in my schools as I am considered their direct supervisor.  I find it more difficult to do this than I did in my school.  I can't be in every school every day and I am pulled in many more directions, but even remembering a person's name or things about their families will help me build that relationship to a better point for the future.

It is definitely easier to build relationships with my team but I am still hesitant to venture into that land of critical conversations and the old heart pounding and sweaty hands have returned when I have to question what is being done or not being done. I am also expected to build relationships with administrators in the schools in my area.  While I have the background of being an administrator and understanding their point of view, this gives me a slight advantage when I need to talk about inclusive practices with them.  However, I don't know all the administrators and they don't know me.  Until I build that relationship, I am just a voice going Wah Wah Wah.

The confidence will come and it has always a part of my growth plan.  Will I get to the point of complete confidence?  I hope so . . .  As I grow into this new leadership position, I will learn the way to lead these conversations to ensure student success in inclusive classrooms as well as the segregated classrooms I work in. I expect I will get to the point of being able to have critical conversations with other administrators when it comes to inclusion and inclusive practices.

How to Include Parents #SAVMP

From the Master Teacher

In my new position, there are fewer opportunities to include parents.  Typically, our consultants meet parents to debrief any assessments.  That is what I will focus on in this post.  In some schools, this step is not thought of as important but we work to let schools know it is so important for parents to understand the assessments the school has requested.  Rather than using this as purely information for coding and funding, this information can help parents understand what kind of learner their child is.

I found an interesting blog post around assessment and how it can be used to change our teaching practice. It is so important for teachers to be in the debrief with the parents.  This gives the opportunity for parents and teachers to become partners in the education of the student who is struggling.  When they both hear the information regarding strengths and challenges for the student, they can begin the process of using those strengths and working on the challenges.

If parents are included with the teachers, what a powerful team we have created. Together with the knowledge from the consultant and then acting on the suggestions by this expert will result in success for the student.  However, this will only happen if the parents and teachers are on the same page.  Just as we hope parents will be part of the learning team for the student who is experiencing success, this team is even more important for the student who is struggling.

Often in the case of a struggling student, the parents become frustrated if nothing is happening in the classroom or they perceive nothing is happening because no communication is occurring with the classroom. This leads to frustrations and then no collaboration will occur.  It becomes a "them" and "us" situation where
no one wins - especially the student.

But if parents are considered part of the team, treated with the respect we give to other team members, and communicated with regularly, particularly in the case of the student with special needs included in the regular classroom, success is bound to happen for the student!

We continue to coach schools to make sure parents and teachers (and students when they are old enough to understand) are debriefed regarding the results.  This is an important piece of the assessment process.

Literacy for All Means ALL?

Did I mention I love my job?  This past month has been a flurry of activity in many schools but one school stands out for me...
In our district we have schools called Individual Support Programs.  This program is described as a class where students will "build functional and communication skills that enhance the quality of life."  As well, it is stated that "all Edmonton Public Schools programming is based on curriculum determined by Alberta Education. Students enrolled in Individual Support will receive the same high-quality education offered in all of our programs."  This sounds so promising and hopeful.  Who wouldn't want their child with complex needs to be in a small class where such learning will take place?

Fast forward to reality...

In one classroom, the teacher worked to create "story boxes".  While these were designed according the website for students with visual impairments, they are brilliant for students with severe learning issues.  This teacher has created stories that are meaningful to the students with inserted experiences that included music, singing, actual objects to touch, see and smell.  In my observation, the students LOVED these.  ALL of them responded in some way and every student had an opportunity to take part.  The morning included three groups doing three different activities: gym, concepts (colors, letters, IPad activities - depending on the level and abilities of the group) and story boxes.  Because the story boxes were based on curriculum, the teacher could report to parents in a report card each term.  How exciting for parents to have their children take part in a regular rite of passage for every student.  This teacher used a resource called Tasks Galore to help shape her concepts time and her story boxes.  It was evident these students came to school to learn and not just sit.  Loved this class.

Now on to the others. These classrooms (and I am only speaking about two of the three classrooms I have visited thus far at the junior/senior high level) have little in terms of building communication skills.  There is NO planning of curriculum based on the Program of Studies.  Sure, there are "activities" and some may include math for some students... These rooms are glorified and very expensive baby sitting services.  A focus on compliance and being quiet equated to being good.  Lots of crafts being down by the grownups while the students sit quietly (that is the expectation of a "good" student).  Beautiful Christmas ornaments were made last week by two educational assistants while the students watched or didn't watch...

I am not sure what happened to these classrooms.  In one class the teacher said she was tired and had no ideas left.  In the other class, the very young teacher was doing the best possible with no training in this area. This was frustrating for me to see. My heart is hurting to see these students just sitting all day in their silence with no real stimulation.  How is that quality of life? 


My team was eager to make changes and in the one class, the teachers agreed to meet monthly so we could help with programming.  We began by completing a file review on each student to learn about past practices in terms of communication - what worked best and what assistive tech had been used in the past.  We learned about medical conditions that may be barriers and then we discussed what steps needed to be taken next for each student to overcome these barriers.  We listed questions we had for the team for each student. We learned A LOT!  And then we shared our learning with the staff.  They had never done this and were very appreciative of this action.  

Our next step is for the class to list all assistive technology they have in the classroom so our speech pathologist and occupational therapist will know what is available.
Then we asked for their daily schedule so we could plan the learning within their schedule so it wouldn't feel like they were doing more or extra.
Finally, we shared curriculum that would match parts of the program of studies and that had been piloted successfully by Alberta Education in the past two years using the Meville to Weville packaged curriculum.  Although the focus for the pilot was on elementary students, the actual curriculum can be used from k-12.  The teachers in the first class were appreciative of a curriculum to follow.  And we were excited to share.

Our next steps will be to meet with the teacher to help design the lessons to come to include all of the students and to insure the students ARE LEARNING and to meet these objectives as outlined on our website:
  • Structured learning environment with regular routines and close supervision
  • Physical accommodations such as wheelchair access, specialized furniture and assistive technology
  • Smaller classes for more targeted instruction
  • Community service providers offer additional services for students as needed
  • Opportunities to participate in school-wide and recreational activities
While we are excited about this move toward transformation, we still need to complete this same exercise for the other class.

This is a class that historically we have not been invited in.  Not sure why?  Anyway, I visited last week and offered the teacher the same services that we undertook in the other class. She was receptive and now I wait to see if the administration is also receptive.  Haven't heard back yet.  

These students are our most vulnerable. They can't speak up to tell us they are bored, they want more, they are unhappy.  We usually see this in terms of behaviour - behaviour that is punished by the adults in the room.  I can't imagine how frustrated I would be if I had to sit day after day and watch people do the things I wish I could do but couldn't tell anybody what I wanted.  I am grateful my team feels the same way and wants more for these students; wants to improve their quality of life. We have to presume competence in our students and as Doug Biklen stated, "Presuming competence is nothing less than a Hippocratic oath for educators. "  We MUST presume all of our students are competent and then move forward with them in their learning. Dr. Caroline Musselwhite shares several videos about good literacy instruction for all here. Great stuff to get you thinking and get started.  

I am excited also that Karen Erickson (one of the authors of the Meville to Weville curriculum) will be in Edmonton.  I have invited all principals and teachers to take part in this valuable professional learning. Another great tool for improving learning that I found is this great wiki including ideas and success stories.  

Finally, we have invited all staff to a regular monthly cohort to learn and share ideas.  All teachers expressed interest.  It is my hope the elementary teachers will come as well because their programs are full of learning and hope for these students.  I pray their enthusiasm will rub off on the teachers from the junior/senior high programs.  We will likely start in February and I am excited that great things will happen for these students; that excellent programming will occur in these classrooms; that we will improve their quality of life through literacy and communication instruction.

A big job? Yup, but I am energized to serve these students and their teachers.  I know that through regular collaboration we will see transformation in the classrooms.  Slow but steady change for students and staff alike.

Have you got any ideas for me as we move forward?  Love to hear them...

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Instructional Leadership #SAVMP

In this post we were asked to share how we build credibility so we can be strong instructional leaders. I thought about this and I have to answer in two ways: first as principal and then as supervisor (my new position).

As principal, in order for my teachers to really believe that I could offer them suggestions, I made a point of being in the class, working along side them whenever I could.  I have been their supply teacher often, I modeled what I suggested so teachers could see the suggestion in action, and I worked with the students included in their classrooms (with the ed assistant or as the supply ed assistant if needed).  If something needed to be done to support teachers, I did not hesitate to roll up my sleeves and get it done.  Teachers knew they could trust me to support them in every way.  So when we came to the point where we needed to change to move forward, the relationships were built and we could move forward.  The trust was evident and we could make the changes needed to ensure learning for all students.  

Now as a supervisor, it is up to me to build those relationships again with my new team.  I need to get to know my team and they need to get to know me so they can trust me in all things.  I need to earn their trust and respect.  I make sure I am trustworthy and what I say, I will do.  

In the short time I have worked with my team, we have worked closely together and have had many discussions around students, each sharing our expertise.  I have taken the time to go along with staff on student observations, we have talked about how they deal with workload and how I can make their work easier, and we have had many, many discussions about process as I learn so many new things.

Collaboration has become key in all we do and I think through this wonderful collaboration we will move the cause of inclusion further in our schools.  At the beginning of the year, we revisited the mission and vision statement of our board to see how our work aligns.  It was a good exercise to remind us about why we do the work we do.  We discussed our priorities for the year and how we would work to meet the needs of our students.  This set the tone for the year to be open and collaborative and on the same journey.  

I work with AMAZING people who have inclusion at the forefront of their work.  They want to see students successful in their community schools.  They are willing to work with staff to make sure this happens.  They are passionate and they love kids!  I am so lucky to have such a great team! 

SETT for Action

Last week we completed a SETT framework for a grade 9 student with complex needs. It was a great experience for all involved and will move the student forward.  This is how it went. . .

We started the meeting with our Inclusive Learning Team (including the speech pathologist, occupational therapist, psychologist, educational/behavior specialist, assistive technology specialist, physiotherapist and me), the father of the student, the principal of the school, the educational assistant and the student.  Unfortunately none of his teachers attended.

To begin, I gave each participant a copy of the student's main communication board and instructed all participants that they could not talk but had to use this board only.  The first part of the SETT is to gather information about the student.  Using the communication board, I asked everyone to tell me about this boy.  This proved to be quite difficult for all as the board was mostly nouns.  One person tried to tell me about his toileting, by pointing to the toilet and "don't want".  I played along and asked, "You don't want to use the toilet?"  She shook her head.  Another person pointed to swing but of course, she couldn't say he loves to swing.  Dad just pointed to "don't want" and I asked what do the student not want?  He said out loud, "I don't want to do this."  After a couple more minutes, we debriefed by saying how hard it would be for the student to communicate using just this board.  We all realized that something would have to change for this board in order for this student to be able to communicate more effectively.

The rest of the process was fantastic and we ended up learning a lot about the student through the first part of the SETT: S (Student).  Dad shared his hopes and dreams for his son.  Next, we learned much about the Environment (E) and found the student needs to make his way into the classroom each and every day but agreed that he needed to have purposeful activities when he is in there.

Next we defined what the tasks are for this student (T) and finally discovered possible tools (T). In the end we took all the information gathered and shared it on a Google Doc to see if we had missed anything. The process really teased out specific goals and gave the school information regarding what needs to be in the IPP and what steps are needed to transition this student to high school.  We looked at possible placements, including the student's community high school. It was especially important for the parent to share his hopes and dreams for his son so the school could act on this information also.

This was proof that the learning team must include all stakeholders and everyone must have their say, but most important we need to hear the family's hopes and dreams.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Sunshine Award!

This is the view outside my office on a sunny, but cold morning! Look at that Sundog!

I am honored to be nominated for a Sunshine Award. Blogger, Lisa Friedman, nominated my blog for the Sunshine award.  This is how it goes. . . 
The Sunshine award gives others an opportunity to learn more about me as a blogger and then, in turn, I will send sunshine the way of 11 other amazing bloggers for you to get to know!
Here are the rules listed by Lisa on her blog:
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)
11 Random Facts About Me:
1. I have 5 sons who are grown now but were born 7 years apart so it made for a very interesting early years.  We were never bored, that is for sure.  I remember some important dates and memories but a lot of what happened day to day is a blur!
2. I love miniature anything.  If you can show it to me in "tiny" I will love it.  I started a mini doll house as an older teenager but never finished it.  I did put hardwood floors (mini, of course) in it and wallpaper but never got the outside down or the furniture assembled.  Maybe one day I will have time.
3. I hate puzzles.  I try to understand the allure of a 1000 piece puzzle but I just get bored after a couple of minutes of lining up the outside edges. 
4.I never used to eat butter, or ketchup, or pickles and now, as an adult, I love all of those.  Weird how your taste buds change as you get older.
5. I am afraid of heights.  As a first year teacher, I took my students to the mountains to hike and I figured if I was going to get them to climb up high, I would have to be the role model.  Later I took them to a camp with a zipline and had to show my "courage" then too.  Little by little I am less fearful, but I still get butterflies when I am up high and near the edge of some structure (including the Chesapeake Bay Bridge last month in Maryland- soooo scary).
6.I love to garden but I hate to weed.  I have to really force myself to pull the weeds but it looks so nice when you get rid of all the old weeds and the beautiful plants have space to grow
7. I LOVE diet coke and even though my husband says it turns to formaldehyde in my body and is pickling me, I love the fizz and the taste.  I am trying to cut down the consumption and don't drink it every day anymore!
8. I am a pretty good (but out of practice) seamstress.  I used to make my kids' clothes and one year made all of their winter coats. I even made my husband's winter coat that year.  I made my graduation gown and a lovely winter coat with tailored collar and bound pockets in high school. Now you get things for so little, it seems a waste of time to spend sewing.  I still have a lovely sewing machine so maybe one day...
9.I LOVE lacrosse!  My boys all played.  I have been a manager, coach and jersey mom.  I even started a ladies' league for moms who wanted to give it a try.  I played for a few years and then ran out of time.  I just went to Baltimore as a manager with my son's team (he was the coach) because they needed a manager! I love the pace and the excitement of box lacrosse and the finesse and strategy of field lacrosse. I could watch my sons and now my grandsons play every weekend because I love the game so much. My youngest will be trying out for the Edmonton Rush ( a pro team here in Canada) next weekend so we will have all our fingers crossed as he does his best!
10. I twist my hair when I am thinking or nervous or just need a bit of regulation I guess.  My admin assistant used to laugh and wonder what I was up to when I started twisting and twirling my hair at work!  I guess I do it when I drive because she knew when she was driving behind me because I would get twirling at the stops.  
and finally
11.  I love to learn for the sake of learning.  I am taking a grad level course at the University of Alberta on Assistive Technology because I wanted to learn about it. I could go to school forever because I love to read and learn and write.

1.If you could cast yourself in any reality TV show, which would it be and why?
I don't watch a lot of reality shows except for cooking shows and so I guess I would like to be Gordon Ramsey.  Don't laugh but he is so confident that I would like to be confident like that all the time too.  I would leave out the meaness to others and the swearing though.

2.Crunchy or smooth peanut butter?   A little of both depending on what is on sale.  I 
have been buying Wow Butter lately because one of my boys is allergic to peanuts.

3.Favorite place to vacation?  Anywhere I have to take a plane.  I love to travel.  I loved Mexico this summer even though it was REALLY hot.  I loved Seattle and being by the sea.  I love, love, love the mountains and Canmore, AB is one of my favorite getaways. 

4.What animal most describes your personality? Momma Bear.  Soft and cuddly looking until you go after one of my "cubs".  It could be a school cub or one of my own.  Then I might be scary!

5.Favorite ice cream flavor? I love Rolo ice cream but also like anything lemony.

6.Cookie or cake? either so long as some one else makes them.  I love carbs but recently gave up gluten so cakes or cookies that are gluten free are harder to come by. 

7.Describe your ideal day. Relaxing with a good book in my pjs and intermittently napping.

8.What is your favorite season? Summer for sure.  I love the sun and the warmth of the sun on my face. 

9.What is your favorite thing about blogging? Being able to reflect on what i have learned or thought about.  I love that I have a platform to share with others and like Lisa, I didn't think anyone would care what I was writing.  I am thrilled that others can find support or understanding from my writing.  I started my blog as a requirement for a class I was taking on Web 2.0 tools.  I never thought I would keep it up.  I am grateful to be able to share in such a way.

10.How do you relax? I relax by reading or doing yoga.  I didn't do any exercise for the past four months (not sure why) and I recently started again. I am so glad to be able to do so.  It really makes a difference in my ability to sleep.  I also love to listen to a variety of music from country to gospel to pop to rock. I love most music and music can soothe my soul. 

11.What did you have for breakfast? My son made bacon, eggs and raisin toast.  Delicious!

Bloggers I believe should get a Sunshine Award include:

These are all super educators/leaders who are making a huge difference in their schools and their communities.  I count myself blessed to have them in my PLN.  I would have nominated all my inclusion tweeps but Lisa already did that!  
Here are your questions besides the 11 random facts about yourselves:
1. sleep on your side, your back or your tummy?
2. Is the glass half full or half empty?
3. Would you rather read fiction or non-fiction? What book do you call a classic in your fav genre?
4. Secret guilty pleasure?
5. walk or run? What is your favorite?
6. What is your favorite treat?
7. How do you "leave work at work?"
8. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
9. What was your favorite subject in high school?  Why?
10. Socks with sandals? Yes or no?
11. Finish this sentence: When someone thinks of me, they think ____________.

Have fun with the questions and we will have fun getting to know about all these rays of sunshine!

Why School? #SAVMP

I watched this Ted Talk by Seth Godin last year and it piqued my interest greatly.  I have often sat back as a classroom teacher and wondered, "What is the point of everything I am doing?  Why do we have school? Why do we do the things we do?"  As many a night went by and I marked countless papers and added countless grades to some computer program, I asked those questions. I still find that question flitting through my brain - "What is the point of all this? and How could things be different for children?"

Last year, I raised the question with staff after referring to the video in my weekly memo.  I suggested that we do a mini book study from the transcript of the video.  That was toward the end of the school year and we never did get to that study as I moved to a new position.  But what a great way to start the school year.  You could promote such rich discussion by watching this with staff.  We did have discussion about the reason for some of our practices at school; the factory model to prepare children to be obedient factory workers, the need for bells to remind us of when our breaks would be on the job, etc.  I think it made some of the staff sit back and think about the "whys" of what we have always done.  Did it change the way things were done?  Not yet, but the seeds were planted.

This year my team has a different mandate: to support students with exceptional needs in inclusive or congregated environments.  I am wondering how we could use this same video to promote discussion in our platform?  I wonder where the discussion would go from their point of view?  I will add it to my weekly memo as a video of interest and see where the discussion travels. . .

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Just Too Easy?

This week our team began the task of completing file reviews for a group of students in a class for students with severe or complex needs.  Many of these students are in wheelchairs.  Most of these students are non-verbal.  All require a great deal of care throughout the day.  We found practices in the past that appeared hopeful -  practices to break down barriers of movement and barriers of communication.  Students were introduced to switches to turn on their own equipment such as music and a fan.  Students were introduced to low tech communication devices that allowed them opportunity to communicate needs and wants. IPPs were full of goals to move forward.

Fast forward to today.  Students no longer use these communication devices.  The focus in the IPP is on actions such as reaching for an object.  Students are lined up each day and put through the same paces - simply existing in a lack lustre room that does not even get dressed up for Halloween.  I will add that the staff in the room does care for the students.  That is not the problem.  That they care, is evident.

The problem as I see it is this -
Nobody has any hope for these students.  We have given up.  We try nothing new.  We presume these students are incapable of anything much.  We do their art for them.  We park them in front of the video player and play Dora every day because "They love it."  We just deliver the same old tired program day in and day out.  We keep these students hidden at the back of the school and we even feel the need to "give the teacher a break" because it is just so hard.

I am not saying that programing for students who cannot give you verbal feedback is easy.  I am not saying that you have to do much with little money.  BUT I am saying that these children deserve our very best just like the gifted and talented student down the hall.  These students deserve an equitable education and when everyone else has given up hope, we MUST be the advocate for these students.

I wonder how our most vulnerable students do not have access to the very best possible communication devices.  I wonder how our most vulnerable students do not have access to curriculum as directed by the government?  I know we will have to make modifications but they deserve the curriculum as well.

Check out the story of Nathan who has been included since kindergarten thanks to the adults around him who have been his advocates.  Who will advocate for the students locked away in these segregated sites? When will they have the opportunity to be with their peers?

Unless we stop opening up more and more sites to keep these kids segregated, we will continue to forget about their needs and simply move through the motions, hiding behind our wall of "care" all the while giving up hope for these young people.  Unfortunate because these kids need  an advocate to bring them back to the group, back to being a part of society instead of living on the fringes and simply surviving.

Jeff Johnson, Minister of Education wrote to parents:
As a parent of three kids, I understand the hopes and dreams you have for your child. You hope that through an excellent education, your child will reach their full potential.
In Alberta they can.
We continue to build our world-class education system, delivering 21st century learning through the vision of Inspiring Education*. This vision identifies the competencies of a successful Albertan – an engaged thinker who is ethical and entrepreneurial – and lays the groundwork for how to promote those values in our youth and the learning community.
The goal is to prepare students so they not only have the knowledge to succeed but also the skills and competencies demanded of their future world – a world that will have different types of jobs that require new skills. To get students ready, you will probably notice your child’s education is a bit different than when you were in school.
Classrooms are set up to invoke critical thinking where solutions are often found by the student, not just the teacher. This is all part of developing real-life skills in students, especially in our digital age where there is an abundance of information readily available – often in the palm of your hand. 

I wonder what plans Jeff has for our most vulnerable students.  No mention of our students with complex special needs.  We read on the Alberta Ed website:

When we think about each student we must consider different definitions of student success.  An inclusive education system does not mean everyone attends the same type of school, rather it means we create education settings where each student finds success.

This is where it gets sketchy.  Who decides what is success?  It is successful if no one is noisy and nothing rocks the boat?  Or will there be direction as to success for all?  This is where it is frustrating. Success seems to only indicate what our Ableist society sees as success in the traditional school program.  We need indicators for success for our kids with complex needs also.

I am thankful for the start our team has taken to make a difference for these students.  I look forward to see what our next steps will be.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Do We Really Believe Everyone Should Have a Voice?

I have been heavy of heart this week.  I visited a class where I could not find evidence of student communication for students who are our most vulnerable.  These students have complex disabilities and many are unable to speak.  They cannot say when they hurt, when they are bored, when they are frightened.  They have no means to explain some of their behaviours, especially those self-injurious behaviours that we ableists do not understand.  We watch and we wonder why a person would want to hurt himself but we do not delve deeper to find out the reason, we just think it should stop and we tell him that.  We tell him to quit doing that because we have told you many times not to.  

What are we thinking when we say that?  We are NOT thinking... We only see something that think is wrong.  

I read Carly's Voice last year and it changed my opinion about students without a "voice".  For so long this young lady could not communicate and sensory overload resulted in her injuring herself and yelling to get some response.  When it was discovered she could type, she definitely found her voice and could explain some of the things that she did.  For a brief experience having no voice, visit Carly's Cafe: 

I know I cannot sit back and watch our students leave our district with no voice or way of communication.  I am excited our team wants to make a plan to bring communication to the classroom.  I look forward to working together with these brilliant individuals to give each and every student in this classroom a voice.

Otherwise, we will be just like every person who thinks it is enough that we "allow" these students in school; that they have a place to "go" everyday but is that enough?  Absolutely not. These students deserve our very best work to give them a voice.  If we believe it, we need to follow through.

Time for ... #SAVMP

AND GO!...

steven covey, seven habits, time managementThat seems to be the way my week starts every Monday.  As the principal of a small school with no assistant principal, there seemed to be so many things to accomplish every day.  While I wished to be in Stephen Covey's Quadrant II, I often found myself responding to crisis, whether it was a student, a parent or a teacher or answering the many many emails that came my way.  Meeting the needs of the folks in my building was part of relationship building but I still felt like I was simply putting out fires.  I spent a great deal of time in classrooms but that was definitely part of my job and in my opinion, QII.  
If I really wanted to get some quality planning time in, it was necessary to be in the building quite late or very early.  I know this work was important but was more reactive rather than proactive.  Our school staff and parents were trained in the Leader in Me program and by the second year, if I put my door hanger on that said, "I am in QII, please leave me alone," they would do just that.  However, I felt kind of awkward putting the sign up because it felt like I was ignoring the people I needed to build relationships with in QII.  In my last year in the principalship, I was learning to take the time to do the those important tasks and feeling okay with asking people to make appointments to see me.  I found if I did this, I wasn't at work until all hours of the night or coming home, slamming dinner together, only to sit down and work remotely on what didn't get done during the day.  

This year, I still feel like I am running, but I realize I have much to learn in my new position.  I did ask a staff member to come and see me this next week for a longer appointment because I had some important QII items to complete on Friday.  And you know?  I didn't feel so guilty. It felt so GREAT to get everything done that needed to be done on Friday.  I think I will continue to grow in my ability to manage my time appropriately. I need to remember what my bottom line is; what is my purpose and the vision of our department and ultimately our district.  Like a friend of mine said, "You gotta keep the main thing the main thing."  And what is our main thing? Supporting students and staff to provide the best and most equitable education for every student in the classroom.

I love this quote and I think I will keep it close in the future...
Start by Doing What’s Necessary, Then What’s Possible and Suddenly you are Doing the Impossible..
~~ St. Francis Of Assisi 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Presuming Competence

Last week in my Assistive Tech class, we had the honor of meeting a young lady who came to show us how she uses her AAC (Augmentative Alternative Communication) device.  She was unable to use her own voice and had a form of cerebral palsy that did not allow her to have regular control of her arms and legs.  However, she had control of her head and that is what she used to activate switches.  She had a two switch system with an Eco device to communicate with the class.  She was very adept at utilizing the two switches to communicate with the class.  Even so, waiting to hear what she had to say required us to be patient because while this gal was quickly using the switches, it took time for her to formulate her sentences due to how the device functioned.

It was amazing in terms of her perseverance to see the hard work she needed to do to complete a sentence.  Many switch activations were required to create each word.  But the bottom line was that even though this was hard work, she had a voice.  No matter what else is discussed, she made it clear that she was happy that she had a voice and was able to communicate.  She used her skills to write poetry and to put the poetry to music.  She texted her friends.  She could use social media.  All the things a teenager finds important today.

Seeing her in the class made the urgency to work to give our students who are non-verbal a voice even more urgent to me.  In the past I was happy to give students low tech devices such as pictures for picture exchange.  I  know this has a place for students as they learn, but I was soon to find out the limits of such communication. As part of the class we had to do an experiment with pictures.  We were to set up a communication board of no more than 25 pictures and then sit down and have a meal with others, using only the board to communicate. This was my board:
I decided to give my son the task to use the board so I could observe and take notes.  We were having a family dinner with his brothers present and we were watching Sunday night football while eating.  I had to remind him a couple of times that he could not talk and could only use his communication board.  After about ten minutes, he declared, "This is stupid.  You don't have the right words on here."  He was frustrated that he couldn't join in the conversation about the football game and couldn't request certain foods because they weren't on his board.

This gave me a lot to think about.  We often give students boards that we think will be suitable without creating different boards for different situations.  We think the board we set up will be fine in a variety of situations and often populate the board with nouns to name items.  The boards I have seen do not incorporate the 5 W's that are so important to conversations. The board is limiting in conversations with others in social situations and make it difficult to interact in a conversation, forcing the person to sit on the sidelines of a conversation.

While the AAC device this gal was using allowed her to create the topics, it still limited her participation because it was slow to create what she wanted to say.  In order for her to fully participate, it would require others in the conversation to be patient while she responded. This does not appear to be the norm in our society.  We are so impatient that to really "let" a person in the conversation does not seem to be a possibility in a classroom unless a skillful teacher created the space for a child to participate with an AAC device such as the one this gal was using. This would be the key - a teacher willing to make that space happen for a student using an AAC device to fully participate; to be fully included in the classroom.

In the next while, I will sit in on a SETT framework for a student who is non-verbal.  Our goal, at this point, is to get him ready for high school.  Currently, he uses some picture exchange to communicate.  I hope to try an experiment at the start of his meeting.  If my colleagues agree, I would like to create a copy of his current communication device (pictures) for each participant in the meeting.  To start the meeting, I will make the rule that only I will be able to talk, and everyone else will only be able to communicate with the pictures.  I will bet that this little experiment will not last long.  Hopefully, that will lead us to a discussion around what this student will need to communicate as he moves to high school.  Although I do wonder why nothing has been done before now. . .

In the case of the student who visited our class, her mom took the bold move and presumed her daughter's competence.  She believed her daughter was intelligent and needed a way to communicate with others.  I wonder if this other student's parents did the same or were they encouraged by the experts to believe he was not capable enough to communicate.  Bilken and Burke (2006) state that it is up to the observer to admit that one cannot know another's thinking unless the other can reveal it. It refuses to limit opportunity; by presuming competence, it casts the teachers, and parents, and others in the role of finding ways to support the person to demonstrate his or her agency. (p.167)  It is up to us to find a way to let these students demonstrate their abilities.  We need to see their strengths and look for the best way to find their tool to communicate.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Sharing the Great Stories

During the summer I was pretty pumped to be a guest on Nicole Eredics' podcast; The Inclusive Class.  I was very proud to share some of the wonderful things that had been happening in my prior school with our students who were successfully included.  Here is the link to the podcast:

I must say it was a funny way to have a conversation because we couldn't see each other's faces to get cues to wait or to continue.  Our topic in class this week is all around sensory disabilities and this gave me only a tiny insight to what is must be like to be visually impaired.  I certainly cannot say I can even pretend to understand what a person experiences when visually impaired but I did get a little taste that helps me undertand.

Enjoy the podcast. .  .

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Reflection Please /SAVMP

Our latest suggestion as part of the virtual administrator`s mentor program was to think about the purpose of blogging and what benefits there are to doing so.  As I think back on the couple of years when I began my blog as part of a class to learn about Web 2.0 tools, I realized in the beginning I was simply responding to an assignment as required.  Typical of a student!  However, as I began to have the freedom to share according to my passions and thoughts around inclusion, this became a platform to think through my experiences and the actions I observed from others.  I used my blog to share experiences and by doing so, this allowed me to reflect on those experiences.

Simply taking the time to write down my thoughts and then read them, allowed me the opportunity to reflect on what was good and what should change.  To take the time to `close my door`and think to myself is a gift; a gift we must give ourselves and do so often.  Only by thinking through our actions and weighing what to keep and what to change will we move forward in our journey.

This past month in my new position feels like a whirlwind where I have not taken the opportunity to just sit and think.  It seems to me that there is always something that must be attended to, something new to learn, something to read.  I will take this reminder to actually close the door and take time to reflect comes at a most needed time.  I definitely need to take many more opportunities to close my door and reflect on my thoughts and actions, reflect on insuring I am keeping the main thing the main thing.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Promoting Critical Conversations #SAVMP

Out in the Schools
This past week has offered many opportunities to promote critical discussions particularly around the need for assessment in our schools.

It is often regarded as a work of magic whereby an assessment by a reading specialist and a psychologist offer all the answers for the school requesting these.  We have had to have those critical discussions around limited resources in people and time in this day and age of fiscal restraint.  These conversations are not comfortable but necessary and while I am focused on the time and energy of my staff to complete assessments only during the daylight (unfortunately they have to sleep sometime!), I am cognizant of the urgency felt by the school.

However, just putting these facts out there causes school staff to reflect on the purpose of a referral.  Why do we want this information?  If we are programming for students and have had an assessment in the past, why is it necessary to do another one?  Do we need this referral for district requirements (I get this one!) or do we just think things will be that dramatically different?

From a growth mindset, I realize we may need an updated understanding of our students, but I believe a teacher should have a great handle on that.  I do realize that our current funding model causes us to have to assess a student repeatedly and I look forward to the day when we will empower (or train, if you prefer) teachers to complete level B assessments purely for programming purposes.  If the teacher understood the tool and could complete an assessment, that would give her/him a greater understanding of what part of academics a student was struggling with. Rather than relying on someone who does not know that student to complete such an assessment.

But the bottom line is very few people to do the vast amount of work that is needed or wanted by schools.

But I digress. . .
Perhaps the focus should be on the critical conversations that we need to have at the government table about how we fund schools to meet the needs of students included in our classrooms.

With My New Team
On my own team this year, I am working to create a space where we can disagree or staff can suggest what changes I need to make to create a culture where it is safe to take risks and perhaps experience failure.  WE are creating a culture of dialogue; comfortable or uncomfortable but open communication.  An example would be our schedule of team meetings.  Staff were divided in teams and met once per month.  This structure was inherited and not really working for anyone (not me for sure).  So at our last meeting, we put it on the table for discussion and came up with a new alternative that, I believe, makes better use of everyone's time.  I look forward to more open discussion as we meet monthly all together.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Participant or Observer - How Can We Break Down the Barriers for Our Students?

"Where there once was an observer, let there now be a participant"     Eliot Eisner

Last night in my university class (Assistive Technology), we learned about the SETT Framework created by Joy Zabala. And not only did we learn about it but we were graced with Joy Skyping into our class. What lucky students!

She shared about the components of the SETT framework and how important it is to consider the student, the environment, the tasks and then the tool.   So many times in classrooms, we see the next shiny thing on the market and purchase it before we consider the first three important components: the student, the environment and the task. We see the apps available on the IPad and figure this will be the answer to solve all of our problems.    

In the past year, we tried a shiny new Ipad with one of our students with Autism. We didn't consider the student.  We didn't intentionally ignore his needs but we just thought this would be a good tool for him to use to learn letters.  Why did we think he needed to learn letters?  We didn't really think it through carefully, but thought, this is grade one so must be a good idea. We didn't consider the environment.  What was happening in the classroom?  How would the IPad fit into the lessons?  Nope, we didn't think about that. . .  We didn't really consider the tasks the teacher was setting up in the classroom.  I think it all boiled down to how we really only wanted to keep him occupied.

Well, you can guess what happened next. . . the IPad was a complete flop.  It was the wrong tool for this student.  He got really stuck on the IPad and had a hard time stopping the activity, resulting in some huge meltdowns!  After some time, he was just swiping the screen and not really paying attention.  Did he learn letters?  Maybe, but the over-stimulation was the over riding factor that covered up any potential learning he may have done or could have demonstrated to us.  If I were to go back in time, I would have addressed the situation following the SETT framework completely differently!

I would have asked these questions first:  What is the functional area of concern? What does this student need to do that is difficult or impossible to do independently at this time? What are the student's special needs that contribute to these concerns? What are the student's current abilities that contribute to these concerns? What are the student's interests? (From Ready, SETT, Go!  )          

If we had started there, we would have been more specific about his lack of communication.  That was our foremost concern (not learning the alphabet!). He could not communicate independently. He had only a few approximations of words to communicate his needs and wants.  And while he was interested in computers, there are many other ways to communicate that are low tech.  We could have used a picture exchange and later on we did use simple signs that allowed him to share his needs or wants with us.

We fell into the trap of a quick fix and did not take the time needed to really investigate the full situation.  And we paid for it with a student who was frustrated and angry much of the time because we did not understand him.  The IPad, although shiny and exciting, was not the correct tool for our guy! It pains me to think how terribly we failed this little guy for the first three months at school.

Looking forward, I am grateful for learning about this framework that will allow me to improve, maintain, or increase functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. (from our lecture last night). I will work to remove barriers to performance for our included students.  In Canada we don't have a law that insists we look at AT as an option.  It is my experience that AT is considered as a last resort rather than up front.  I have heard about the SETT framework in the past from two individuals, a speech language pathologist and an occupational therapist.  But it has not come up any other times in the years I have worked with students with special needs. However, with this new knowledge in my toolbox, I will share with staff in the many schools I am working in this year.  My past mistakes will inform my work as I move forward.

I am excited to work with a speech pathologist who is about to go through this process with a youngster in a kindergarten class who requires some AT to participate fully in class.  I hope to learn a great deal from this colleague and see the framework in action.  I will keep you posted.                               

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Building the Plane While Flying It #SAVMP

Today I attended an intial meeting to begin the work with the Edmonton area Regional Collaborative Service Delivery or RCSD as we are fondly calling it (and no, that is not the Roman Catholic School District!).

 The vision of the RCSD is to "deliver regional supports and services to enable Alberta's children and youth to succeed in their learning and well-being" (Strategic Plan, June 26, 2013). At this time, service to children is provided by School boards, some service by an outreach team that travels all over Alberta, some service by consultants through SHiP money, and some through home care. Lots of people doing similar jobs.

 While we all mean well, there is a lot that can be improved to give service to our students in terms of speech, occupational therapy, physio therapy, psychology, reading specialty, mental health and home care. We talked about the need for the children of Alberta to be at the centre of everything we do. We talked about the "threat" we might feel about changes that might occur and we also talked about the "threat" of remaining status quo. Would that be best for children?

 The vision for the RCSD is to "work collaboratively through inter/multi-disciplinary teams to provide the right support and services at the right time and place by building the capacity of school staff, service providers and families in enhancing student success." We realize that only through collaborative problem solving can we do the best for children. That we must look through multiple lenses to really see what is best; the lenses of the child, the parent, the teacher, and the principal to see what service is best and by whom. We can no longer work in silos and only use our personal lens to see the needs and solve the problems presented. That will definitely change the current landscape for our individual teams. Is that fearful for staff? I would think so. . .

 We asked the question: "How do we get from multiple teams to one single team seemlessly delivering service?" We know that processes exist in each group that are not the same. We have multiple referrals processes, multiple rules for consent by parents, and multiple ways of sharing information gathered. What will it take to get to that single team?

 After an excellent process of examining the facts, reflecting, sharing emotional reaction, considering next steps and stating decisions to move forward, we realized this is a one year process, a year of transition, a year of "building the plane while flying it." We know that this transition will be difficult for our staff and staff in schools to understand completely, however, we realize the need to push onward to create a system that will best serve the students and schools of Alberta. We are hopeful that we will work to create such a system while each team skillfully shares the common message of this transition. We expect our new system to be efficient and effective. I am excited that our included students will have streamlined service from all service providers in a timely manner to promote each students' personal potential. I look forward to sharing more of the building of this plane as we fly through known and unknown territories, building as we go...

Thinking back to my last post on innovation.  Here we will see innovation at its best.  Great minds coming together to realize a vision and a goal of effective and efficient service delivery.