Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Inclusion and Emerging Leaders

For the past month, along with colleagues from Inclusive Learning, I have supported a group of emerging leaders in our district. Our module was focused on how to support inclusion in a school.  Participants read and discussed articles, listened to presentations and on the last day, listened to a panel share that included two principals, a teacher and a parent of two students with special needs.

We started by hearing the mom's story.  She shared about her fears and her hopes for her two sons.  She talked about how she searched for understanding for quite some time before landing on a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome for her older son.  Did the diagnosis make it easier for her?  No, she worried about how school would be for this boy.  She said she was so relieved shen she was crying for help in the office and  the principal of her school said, "We can do this.  No problem."  And that was just so.  The principal and teachers worked to find ways for this child to be successful and through learning about him and learning about Autism, the staff realized that this student and his diagnosis had been a gift to the school.   This caused them to have to see learning differently and therefore, see their teaching differently.

When her second son struggled in school, the principal and her staff learned that patience was the key with this child who had a learning disability and was challenged to pay attention and focus in class. They realized that all of these "kinds" of kids are indeed different and are on different journeys in their learning BUT that is okay.  They still needed to find ways to overcome any barriers.

From the teacher's perspective, she described how using Universal Design for Learning was not only good for students, but also for her own self-preservation. She talked about the need for support from her administrator to try new things in the classroom, even if sometimes, these things failed.  She allowed herself the freedom to try and fail, because she said, "I wasn't performing brain surgery, so no one would die if a centre was not the best.  Instead, I could change it up."

Another principal shared about her very diverse school where students could celebrate difference.  She found success was less about diagnoses and more about relationships with students and parents.  The question became, "How do we CHANGE how we TEACH?" to meet the needs of our students.  They learned that it was necessary to work with parents and not against them.  They knew they had to look for creative solutions to meet the needs of the students in their building and did so by landing on very creative flexible groupings.  The teachers are learning to look beyond IQ scores and think about potential.

Discussion surfaced around parent's fear of coding that we have created as a district.  This fear seems to centre around how much support a child will get depending on the code.  OR whether a child will  be labeled for life and be relegated to a sub-standard education because of the code assigned to the child.

Final bits of discussion produced the thought that maybe teachers fear inclusion because it challenges our values and carries a high emotional charge that makes us shiver in our boots.  Do we value every member of society or are some of less value because in our perception, they cannot contribute in the way we see as valuable.

Do teachers carry fear about inclusion because they might fail in some way?  They might not know all of the answers?  They might have to ask for help?

It was exciting when one participant said this learning we have done should be mandatory for every employee in the district?  Wouldn't that be the day when everyone had a discussion around inclusion to challenge those assumptions and those hidden values?

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