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?

Monday, 21 April 2014

Sometimes You Have to Jump In and Show the Work!

Last week, my reading specialist colleague and I made our way to the classroom to model a lesson for the teacher to show her just how easy it is to do.  The focus for our lesson was Lesson #1 from Meville to Weville that focused on the word, "Me." We used the game listed in the lesson that included a spinner.  We used an electronic spinner (borrowed from our speech path - but I sure wish I could find one like it!) and gave each student a numbered page.  When the spinner landed on their number, we encouraged them to say, "that's me!" to hit the lesson home around the word me.  The students loved it!  It was such a simple lesson that the staff was surprised that was all it took.  We explained how this lesson could be used for an entire week so students could really grasp the concept of "me."  It was so simple, yet effective.  I can only hope now that they will take the lead and move on to the next simple lesson so we can be assured even students with significant disabilities are getting a literacy lesson as outlined in the program of studies.  Maybe all it will take is the opportunity to see how the lesson is done.  Perhaps it was necessary for my colleague and I to jump in and show "how it is done!" I will report back next week after our next visit!  Here's hoping!

Our First Book Talk

We had a great discussion for our first book talk using Jennifer Katz' book: Teaching to Diversity.  We started by discussing the first chapter and agreed the author was passionate about inclusion. We appreciated her program, Respecting Diversity.  Then our conversation took a turn to a dicussion about where teachers are at currently.  Most participants felt teachers do their best to teach to multiple strengths although often more could be done in this area for students with more severe special needs.  Folks felt teachers were inclusive when it comes to learning disabilities, teachers were growing in their abilities to differentiate for these students.  However, there still seems to be difficulties for teachers in including students with more severe disabilities.

I can appreciate the discussion from our group around the perception that the parts of Katz' program are not particularly new but the combination of the blocks contribute to a robust classroom where diversity is appreciated.  I remember running class meetings as a new teacher to help my students grow in their problem solving skills in an authentic situation.  I remember doing interest inventories and looking at multiple intelligences.  I remember asking students to write me a letter explaining how they learned best so I could incorporate their learning styles in my classroom.  I am excited that there is a "program" to follow that new teachers could embrace that incorporates tried and true methods in their classroom.  Apparently, Katz has a new book out called: Resource Teachers:A Changing Role in the Three Block Model of Universal Design for Learning.  In this book, she discusses how resource room teachers can partner up to create inclusive classrooms.  Maybe our next book study??

In the spirit of UDL, I will offer this platform for staff to take part in our study as well as a face to face opportunity.  We enjoyed good discussion and fantastic food at Uncle Ed's Ukrainian Foods.
Anyway, we are reading chapter 4 and 5 for next month.  I will post the questions closer to the date. Happy Reading!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Teaching to Diversity by Jennifer Katz

All of our staff in Inclusive Learning received a copy of this book by Jennifer Katz: Teaching to Diversity.  In order for our staff to understand what many teachers in the district have been studying, I thought it would be to our advantage to host a book discussion.  So tomorrow, staff who wish to take part will meet over a meal to discuss the first three chapters of the book.  Staff who are unable to take part are invited to add discussion to this blog.

Chapter 1: Diversity in Education
1. Katz gives a definition of diversity on page 3.  What resonates for you regarding her definition?  Is there more you would add to the definition?
2. Katz discusses emotional learning beginning on page five.  What are the components of emotional learning?
3. What does she mean by social inclusion/exclusion?
4. What does she mean by academic inclusion/ exclusion?
5. Why are these terms important for our students? classrooms?
6. Did anything else stand out for you in this chapter?

Chapter 2: Framework for Teaching to Diversity
1. What are the components of Universal Design for Learning? (see page 14-15).  Is there anything you would add or take away?
2. Katz talks about the 7 Ramps to learning?  What is meant by a Ramp?  (see page 17-19) How are these important to diversity?
3. Katz refers to Multiple Intelligences?  Do you agree these are important?  What about recent controversies stating it is unnecessary to "teach to the intelligences"?  see here and here and here
4. The 3 Block system is listed on page 25.  Comment on this system.

Chapter 3: Social and Emotional Learning
1. There are a series of lessons promoted on pages 35-45.  What do you think of these lessons?
2. "When soul enters the classroom, fear drops away" page 49.  What does this quote speak to?
3. Katz talks about "democratic classrooms."  From her description on page 53, do you think this is possible in the classroom?
4. What are the pros and cons of social emotional learning from your perspective?

Next month we will read Chapters 4, 5, and 6.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

I Think Being Positive Helps

A couple of weeks ago, the Reading Specialist and I were a bit disappointed when the material we had taken to a classroom had been sitting in a bag since the day we took it there.  While the teacher had indicated some "interest," nothing had been done.  The books sat in a bag beside the desk the entire time.  We left before spring break feeling a bit defeated that we had provided the fantastic material, Meville to Weville and nothing had been done.

So we put on our thinking caps and tried to come up with a plan that would help move along our plan for literacy in the classroom we were working.  We decided to model a lesson from the material and set everything up for success.  We created lesson plans, materials and gathered everything we would need.  

The day came to deliver.  We modelled a lesson that was enjoyed by many of the students (okay, not all but most...).  The staff could see that the students were engaged and the lesson was simple but effective.  We were enthusiastic and engaging.  We left, exhausted, but happy because we knew we had hit a home run. We left the material open on the teacher's desk so she could see 
where we left off.  Now we wait... We suggested that the lesson be repeated daily for the week and then they could move on to lesson two.  We plan on going back on the 25th to see if the baby steps we left have been practiced and with a second lesson to share. Fingers crossed!

I did leave some great IPP comment lists with the teacher.  But, I realized that without support of the administrator nothing will really change so I left him with the same material.  However, in a larger school, that may just be another piece of paper on his desk. I am not sure what next steps to take in this situation.  As a district, we have publicly stated that we are inclusive but until we start to really live what we say, it will be a long and hard journey to truly offer an equitable education to ALL students. At this point, it is so easy to plop our most vulnerable students in a classroom with little or no real education happening because nobody is complaining.  AND as long as no one is complaining, we bump along offering very little in terms of equitable education to our students with severe disabilities.  

Just seeing the excitement and engagement of these students and others I had shared literacy strategies with causes me to continue my work.  However, to be fair to staff, they have not had the opportunity to learn about the possibilities for our students.  For example, one little gal who is on the Autism Spectrum and is non-verbal actually sat through a session to "write" the alphabet through an Alternative Pencil for nearly 15 minutes.  Her EA was in shock that she was engaged as long as that with the activity.  This is the problem!  We underestimate these students over and over again.  We don't even have an idea of what each child is capable of if we only look at their deficits. We must look at the strengths and the possibilities and it is only then, will we see just how far our students can go.  
Being positive is the only way we will affect change and avoid disappointment.  So, I will don my cheerleader costume and cheer on staff as they recognize the possibilities!