Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Indicators of Inclusive Schools

On Saturday I had the distinct pleasure and honor of presenting with two wonderful people: Renee Laporte (@beyondthecrayon) and Nathan Devlin.  This dynamic duo have worked together for many years as Nathan negotiated the education system with the support of Renee.  First of all, you need to know that we presented at #Redcamp14 which has become an annual gathering of educators from Alberta who meet to discuss current needs.  In the morning I joined a conversation about High School ReDesign. What exciting times are ahead for children in high school!  Next I joined a conversation about Equity in the schools and watched a video of Stephen Murgatroyd:
It gave us great points for discussion and we looked at the GERM framework vs the EQUITY framework.
Another opportunity to take part in an excellent discussion.

Finally in the afternoon the three of us presented the Indicators of an Inclusive School package.  We looked at the five dimensions of an inclusive school and Nathan shared the indicators in each dimension that he thought were the most important.  We talked about the importance of looking at our assumptions around inclusion.  It is so easy to say, "I believe in inclusion so long as the student can manage in my classroom."  But we forget that all behaviour has a function of communication.  Every behaviour has meaning and it is up to us to figure out what that meaning is.  It isn't up to the student to measure up.  We talked about how students with significant needs must repeatedly prove their right to a classroom while all other students can simply be there as their "right to education."

Students with "behaviours" have reasons for their behaviours.  Yes, they are difficult to work with but imagine their world, their needs, their turmoil...  Unless we try to step into their world and the world of their parents, we cannot begin to understand and meet their needs.

We talked about the need to engage parents and how that was different from interacting with parents.  We have to get past the activities we get parents to "do" such as book parent, fieldtrips, and such.  To truly engage parents, we need to have dialogues that get to the depths of their child's education and needs.  We need to really listen to parents' hopes and dreams for their children and include this in their IPPs.

Nathan made the biggest impact, I think.  His voice and his choice of important indicators of an inclusive schools.  He made it clear what would need to happen for a school to be truly inclusive.

Should you take a look at this tool, you will find surveys to give to all stakeholders to start the process. You will find a tool that will help your staff examine their own assumptions and barriers to true inclusion in the school.

After figuring out the barriers, a tool is provided to create an action plan or IPP for your school.  You can create goals for each dimension along with room for objectives and strategies to insure your school meets its goals toward inclusion.  It is a fine, yet rather unknown tool that has been updated recently by Alberta Ed.

This summer I look forward to figuring out a way to introduce this tool to all principals in our district through a series of tip sheets.  I hope this series will help folks in our district to examine their underlying assumptions about inclusion, face them and move forward for all of our students.

And What Will Be Next?

Last week was an amazing, totally full week of transition meetings with school principals, as well as a day of professional development to look at the Meville to Weville materials with Alberta Education.

Meeting at the end of the school year provided the team an opportunity to see what needs still need to be addressed for students who are transitioning to a new classroom or new school.  As well, we looked at the needs of new students coming to the school.  This team work has become the collaborative norm for the consultant and school team.  Together we have addressed the needs of students to insure success.  I look forward to next year as we further evolve to true collaborative problem solving.  Wouldn't it be great if we could simply focus on the strengths of the student and help teachers provided strategies for students to use these strengths to promote success.  Unfortunately we still live in a world of codes, and funding so the necessity to do formal assessments are still there.  I know our consultants would love to live in the collaborative problem solving world but still must address the reality of our system.

As well, this week, we found out that our district will send a team consisting of two teachers of students with significant cognitive difficulties, two speech pathologists, a reading specialist, and another supervisor and myself to a professional learning week with Karen Erickson.  If you don't know Karen's work, she is amazing and believes ALL students should learn to spell.  Whether students need to use "alternate pencils" or are able to use a regular pencil, they should all learn to spell. I can't wait for the two teachers to learn a new way to set up their classroom to insure these students learn to read.  This will be an amazing journey for our team as we hope to have two "showcase classrooms" to share with other classrooms of kids with significant needs.

Finally, five staff from three sites attended a professional development opportunity through our regional learning consortium. We listened to three presenters share the four block model for students with significant disabilities. We learned that all students need the opportunity to do guided reading, self-selected reading, word work and writing opportunities.  We learned about alternate pencils (see here and here and here) Throughout the day we had the opportunity to discuss how this could work in their classrooms.  I am sure the angels in heaven broke into song when one of the teachers said to me, " I am going to have to change how I teach in my classroom.  I only have _________ for one more year.  I wish I had more time with her."  Another admin who was there asked how she could insure this was happening in the classroom and we talked about how we can work with the teachers in terms of plans and watching lessons to insure the work is done.

This is a classroom we have been working in all year; modeling lessons, sharing materials and offering suggestions.  I am so excited the teacher sees the need to add to her tools and skills to make the learning better for all the students in her class.

This is what makes my position rewarding.  This is why I do this work.  I look forward to help her implement the lessons as she moves forward.  Our next big step will be to address IPPs to make sure each goal is aligned to the Alberta Program of Studies.

Another move forward was the suggestion by the staff who attended to create a cohort or community of practice where we could meet regularly to plan and discuss how to implement this material in our classrooms.  Another amazing aha moment.  I have wanted to get this started, but how much more powerful when the suggestion comes to the staff.  We were all invited to apply for an Alberta Ed  community of practice which the staff I was sitting with thought was also a great idea and they planned to apply to take part.  Aha! We also got invited to share in some great information at the literacy for all wiki that is chock full of great information shared by other Alberta teachers.

And finally, our district will have five common PD days next year.  This group thought this would be a perfect opportunity to have intentional, directed PD for their classrooms. Another aha moment! What a great idea.  When I ran it past the principal of one of the programs, he agreed it would be a powerful opportunity for staff to join other staff to learn further how to insure learning was happening in the classroom.
Things have never looked brighter for our most vulnerable students.  Remember that commercial in the past where one person tells another who tells another and so on and so on?  It is my dream that one teacher will tell another teacher about the importance of literacy for all students who will tell another person who will tell another and so on...

Our vision for equitable education in Edmonton Public just got a big boost - Perhaps through this learning, these students will get the equitable education they deserve.