February is one of my favourite months of the year, report cards go out…get a little relief and some new units, inquiries, experiments and whatnot going within the classroom. Just that first rejuvenation, and or breath of new fresh air is a relief….not to mention the days get a little longer as the sun begins to go down a little later in the evening as well!
This year its a little more so pleasant as I begin reflecting and thinking about what Microsoft Canada is promoting and getting behind with its #MSFTInclusEd program http://bit.ly/2BURpp7, Which you can check out here. So, thinking ahead throughout the month I want to make the #Inclusive Education piece prominent as an educator it is so key and so important. Therefore I was thinking a reflection upon the past, present, future and finally a final reflection during the four weeks of February, based upon Inclusive Ed and Accessibility for students.
Before I jump into my first reflection piece from the past I want to briefly share a blog posting by Luara McKenna on edutopia.org (which is a fantastic sight for educators to read, reflect and think). Here is the link shared by my friend Brian Aspinall; http://bit.ly/2BTIxjK
based on ‘Will Letter Grade Survive’? I know, I know at first thought you are probably thinking how does this apply to Inclusive Ed…well here it comes. Within the blog it indicates; “Competency-based education is a growing movement driven by educators and communities focused on ensuring that students have the knowledge they need to flourish in the global economy” and an executive officer indicating that; “The future of jobs and the workforce will demand a new set of skills, and students capacity to solve complex problems for an unknown future will be essential” which if anyone whom knows me I totally agree! This is why I love the computational thinking and coding movement as it exemplifies and provides a fantastic means for students to begin using, working with and learning new 21st competencies (which can be found here http://bit.ly/2nnuOxv)
As Laura indicated within her blog; “Grading systems right now are demoralizing and is designed to produce winners or losers” and that; “The purpose of education is not to sort kids – its to grow kids…..but with grade, teachers turn into judges”. My theory has always been student first, recently in the past two years I have adapted my professional pedagogy to provide feedback and not grades. That is not to say I do not grade students; I do but they need not to know the final grade, they read into the feedback. The only time they see a grade is IF parents let them see their report cards; which I strongly encourage parents not to do, only provide feedback as well. Now, my leap into the past for the #MSFTInclusEd piece….(I may sound like a leap into something else but keep reading please).
I remember one of my very first experiences in education in a very difficult classroom of Mixed Exceptionalities (anything from behaviour to Learning Disabled, MID, Developmentally Delayed, Austism etc…the list goes on and on) also grades 4 to 8. This was an eye opening experience for me, but the beginning of when and why I used my Masters Thesis; Education for ALL using Technology.
So, now my case study; I remember one unit we dived into like it was yesterday. We were investigating the future and jobs students wished they could and would consider doing. One lady was really struggling, which caught me off guard a bit as most kids love the fun police, fire fighter, doctor, vet type jobs….but she couldn’t decide. She was caught in a moral dilemma, as her grandmother, mother and elder sister all were unable to perform in school due to minor intellectual struggles and could not obtain a highschool diploma nor ever hold a job. They all receive government assistance to live and this girls ultimately said I will never amount to anything, therefore I will just do what my family has done in the past.
Yikes, heart dropped, then broke and I really struggled with the notion of early defeat and not an ounce of hope. It was my mission from that point onward to make the possibility of an education hopeful for this student.
Jumping into the inclusive education pieces years ago is a bit of a struggle as we did not have the many resources and applications that Microsoft O365 suite now offers use, but there was technology….simple things such as word and the ability to spell check was key. We also used Dragon Voice Dictation to place thoughts, feelings and brainstorming ideas on paper (as she could barely write a 4-5 word sentence in grade 4). These two simple tools became her go to’s, however she was reluctant at first, but lots and lots and lots of persistence from me, she began to use them daily! She actually started training others within the class in the same manner that she was with me. She started to obtain a voice within herself, begun advocating with other teachers during ‘integration’ periods for gym / health and science. They seen a new ‘student’ then what they previously knew.
These two simple yet powerful tools to provide her with the ability to be included eventually lead her to a 90% inclusion by the end of the first school year with me in regular classes….the other 10% was always a check in with myself and my EA’s at the time. The inclusiveness became empowering and this girls self-confidence, self-esteem and even the way she walked altered drastically. I remember asking her at the end of the year what she wanted to do as a job when she grew up; the answer was instant…..so many things! She went on and on for five minutes and then stopped….and said much more then before Christmas eh?!!? Enough said….
Now going back to the notion of grades. This particular student was obsessed and so driven by past failures and told she was / would never amount to anything…..it was ingrained within her! She was instilled and thoroughly believed there was no hope for her! So, my question is why define kids by a grade…..what are we actually doing by giving kids an actual letter or numerical value!?!? Nothing but problems….it was demoralizing for this girl and designed her to be a consistent loser. We need to dive into the unique abilities of each student within our rooms, provide them with the means of becoming inclusive dispite struggles and or issues they may have…..empower and be that person for them!
My goal has always been to be that teacher; I remember Mrs Kinnear, Mr. McAurther, Ms Field and all the things they did for me when I struggled as an IEP student myself. I spent most of the time in the resource room. Becoming that teacher allowed me to meet the needs of all my students; and in this case got me an invite to grade 8 graduation even though I left the school two years before. Watching her strut across the stage with her certificate was awesome especially seeing the smile on her face….best part was she told me she was going to be integrated into regular classes in highschool when she started in the fall because SHE requested it and proved to her teachers whom advocated on her behalf too!
The power of Inclusion is remarkable! It can make a significant difference in peoples lives…I am looking forward to this Spring….it will be this gal’s final year in HS, I am hopeful, wishing I get that call again to see the ear to ear grin as she gets her diploma this time around proving to her family and others, but mostly to herself that hard work pays off and that SHE CAN amount to anything she sets her mind too!!
Thanks for listening!