Winnipeg Warmed my Heart!
Winnipeg...you have some pretty awesome people living there!
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to Parents, Educators, Educational Assistants and Special Friends about children with Down syndrome.
I was blown away with the attendance at this conference..it warmed my heart knowing so many people were interested in learning more about individuals with Down syndrome and how having Down syndrome affects their life and their learning.
Being in Education is not easy these days...many educators entered that particular career choice in hopes of making a difference in the lives of children, creating "ah-ha" and "EUREKA" moments throughout their lessons. It’s a career chosen based on a passion for children and a belief in the importance of learning. A desire to be a lighthouse in the foggy sea of education.
Unfortunately, the reality is that many teachers never discover the true impact they have had on their students until a long time later..if they are fortunate to be connected with them in the future and hear directly or indirectly about how they made an impact ...they are very lucky.
Amongst the many messages I had shared with these Educators and E.A's, one in particular was right from my core. "The students who are hardest to reach will make you a much, much, better teacher. You HAVE to find ways to reach them. Be more creative, be silly, be loud, be new, be exciting, use as many senses as you can.....do... "WHATEVER WORKS"...find another approach - just don't give up, don't write them off - your students matter!"
In my teaching career, I went on to be a pretty good teacher, award winning in fact ...HOWEVER, if it weren't for my most difficult and complex students and trying to reach them...that would never have happened.
I distinctly remember sitting in the staff room while class lists were being created and when other teachers would say, "I would prefer not to have THAT child" ...I would say, "I want THAT child."
I had many who were considered "THAT child" and I would choose them all over again in a heartbeat!
THAT child taught me that even though he was fidgeting, sideways in his chair and his desk was a disaster zone ...he WAS paying attention - he just needed to move.
THAT child was the one who taught me that humour works with his anger issues.
THAT child taught me that if I respect him, he could then respect himself and others.
THAT child taught me he wanted to read but needed to know how exciting reading could be and where it could take him.
THAT child taught me he wanted to read but needed other methods to help him read.
THAT child taught me he wanted to behave but he didn't have the tools.
THAT child taught me that all children want to be included no matter their ability.
The cumulation of "THAT childs" were the ones who made a significant impact on ME and made ME find different approaches over and over again in order to reach them....THEY made me want to shine brighter to guide them through the choppy waters of their education!
I honestly believe they taught me more than I could ever teach them.
I was truly inspired to see so many who were genuinely interested in reaching their students, in particular, their students with Down syndrome. The questions, the emails and the comments were heartening, raw and honest.
So many Educators WANT to be that light but do not necessarily know HOW to reach them all. Particularly, their students with complex needs or their students with brain based level differences. By attending PD days and conferences is a good start AND by working WITH parents is an even greater start.
I spoke and listened to both Parents and Educators.
Parents want to help, they want to be involved and they want communication - daily. I met many passionate parents so desperately wanting to be involved. Many of our children are non-verbal and cannot come home and chat about their days. Educators, please find whatever method you can - keep it simple and efficient but find a way to reach every student and communicate with your parents... my new friend Lori Lester said to her school, 'I am her voice from home to school, you need to be her voice from school to home."
I heard the same theme from many parents..."I want to know that you KNOW my child."
Most parents try to be realistic in establishing expectations of their children's teachers. We can, however, sometimes lose patience or understanding if we feel our children have been misunderstood, mistreated, or evaluated unfairly.
Most educators are dealing with 24+ students in the class. Many with multiple needs, juggling teacher assistants, marking, creating lesson plans, attending meetings, sending home updates and logging parental communication. They, too, can lose patience or understanding and feel they are misunderstood, mistreated or judged unfairly.
I spoke and listened to Educational Assistants. They are the least certified and least credentialed working with our highest needs population. They are craving time to learn, they want Professional Development. They want to learn strategies to help them better deal with their students. They want time to communicate with the teachers to whom they are assigned. They want to be able to communicate directly with the parents.
Unfortunately, I was not able to speak directly with the two administrators present, other than to tell them they ROCK for being there! I was so pleased to see them attend. The support and guidance MUST come from the top down. It's crucial that administrators have an understanding of special education and their role. It is paramount that the administrators support their educators with PD, programming and strategies to help them deal with ALL the children in their school, particularly those children with special needs. Administrators must be the ones to set the example and demonstrate that ALL students matter.
As educators, you have an important professional perspective and we, as parents, have a passionate parental perspective. We want you to listen to us...just as much as you want us... to listen to you.
After my experience in Winnipeg and seeing such an active, passionate group of parents from the Manitoba Down Syndrome Society who know their children so well and seeing the amount of
teachers who know the educational curriculum so well and willing to learn more about our children with Down syndrome...it gave me hope for the future...
I know they will work together in order to meet or exceed the
needs of our children....whether they are typical, complex, on the spectrum or with Down syndrome. I know these educators will be
teaching to their WHOLE being and with the child's best interest at heart...
"All behaviour has a purpose. All behaviour is communication. It Is our responsibility to find out just what our children are trying to communicate."