A friend of mine recently told me about dropping her son off at a city camp. It is in an old building, small doorways, small rooms, lots of stairs, parking lot is at the bottom of a hill, and the list goes on. It is not an inviting building to look at and it was certainly not created with accessibility in mind. However, she noted how inclusive and welcoming the camp is. Campers she knows as 'challenging' students appeared calm, happy, and relaxed. My friend said she was talking about these changes to a camp manager. She mentioned how inclusive the camp is and asked how they do it with such an inaccessible building. The response was simple, yet packed full of meaning 'We make it accessible'.
As educators, we are often hoping to improve our teaching practice after each lesson. We listen to what our students tell us, how they do in assessments and how engaged they are. But usually, our feedback is solely based on them. Our supervisors or administrators will come into our classrooms during visits and provide us with feedback, but this is definitely not a consistent teaching practice.
We are usually the hardest critics of our own practices; but, when it comes to reflecting on a lesson or an activity we applied, it is difficult to remember exactly how it went. So many other factors come in our minds such as student behavior, when the bell rang, who wasn’t in their seat, that we are rarely able to remember what we, as the instructors did.
September is around the corner! I would love to hear that all of you teachers sat back and fully enjoyed your holidays, but we all know you planned, prepped, and thought about the upcoming year. The problem is, you have no idea what the new year will bring! New students, new student groups, changes, new curriculum, so much new- how can you prep effectively for the upcoming school year?
In today's classrooms, with so much diversity, you need to learn about your students as individuals and as part of the whole group before you can really prep materials. You can organize your class theme, but really you want to wait and let the students do most of the decorating- it is their space after all! You can get some 'busy work' together and map out the curriculum, but you should wait and understand your students' needs before planning too many activities and lessons.
What you can do is plan out the systems and structures you want in your classroom to ensure all students are fully included as members of your class community. Your systems and structures need to be in place from day one. Of course you will adapt and revise them as necessary. BUT it is your systems and your structures that give shape to your classroom and meaning to your actions. They will ensure that all your prepping and all your planning is welcoming, accessible, and inclusive.
And ENJOY ENJOY your holiday!!!!
When I came across this cartoon, I could not believe how true and relevant it is to my professional experience. You see, this past year, I had the opportunity to work with an amazing little girl. She is funny, she is bright, she is interested & interesting, and she is a totally unique child. I am lucky enough to have her in my group this year! I love working with her, but I love what she teaches me about welcoming diversity into the school and running an inclusive class setting. She has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around. At six years old, she is driving her chair better than many twenty-old drivers. She is in and out of tight spaces, up and down on the playground equipment, and can independently play a game of tag. Amazing!
But, it was not always so amazing and it is still pretty awful at times. Not surprising, there are many obstacles for my student to overcome. The largest two obstacles are the physcial school building & the staff. She advocates for herself, her parents advocate for her, and I advocate for her. However, our school is old and it is not the most inviting spot for any child, especially one in a mechanical wheelchair. Every hallway has multiple doors that the fire marshal insists stay closed, there are stairs (no ramp) leading to the front door, the school sits in the middle of a large, often wet, field, door frames just barely fit her child-sized chair (like 1/2 inch clearance) and the one accessible parking spot is chained off from the school yard. Hmmmm??!!! More frustrating than old school buildings that will never be made accessible, despite the inclusion policy, is the mindset of some of the staff. It breaks my heart to hear some of the paraprofessionals say they refuse to work with her because she may run over their feet or a special ed teacher suggest tying a large bright flag to the back of her chair so everyone can see her coming. My response is it is a BIG LOUD CHAIR, you can see it, you can hear it, so move your feet. Some staff have gone as far as to not move until she almost runs over their feet and then they come and complain to me about how this child does not pay attention. Again, I say it is a BIG LOUD CHAIR, you can see it, you can hear it, so move your feet. We are not testing her, we are teaching her!!!! Grrrrr!!!!
A lot of my coaching sessions have centred around disruptive behaviour and how to handle these types of behaviours in the classroom. My clients will tell me they teach mindfulness techniques to their class. They provide examples like deep breathing, bubble blowing, figure eight breathing, yoga, and visualization techniques to name a few. They tell me about the different programs they use and the various speakers they follow. There is always a lot of excitement UNTIL they next statement. It is at that point that the frustration of mindfulness not working comes to light, they are still seeing highly disruptive behaviours in their classrooms. And I respond the same way all the time, but of course!
You see, like so many skills, mindfulness is a practice. It requires learning, it requires teaching, it requires repetition of skills, but, mostly it requires buy-in from the students. I do not, have not, and will not advocate for or against the different mindfulness curriculums. I have purchased different programs, but I have never fully implemented the teachings into my lessons. The reason is I do not practice mindfulness the way these programs outline. Their teachings are not authentic to me. To clear my mind, I throw on some tunes and go for a run in the woods. When I am angry at my children or frustrated with a day in the classroom, I blast music in my car or I exercise. I have been known to run over the lunch hours just to have a great afternoon- or at least one that I can handle! Systematic evidence-based reviews of many of the pre-packaged' programs fall short of their claim. Did you know that putting on music or exercising do have fabulous reviews for teaching children about self control and emotional regulation?!