When inclusivity becomes exclusion

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Despite legislation mandating that students with disabilities receive an education equal to that of any other student (Disability Discrimination Act 1992) the inclusion of students with Special Needs into the mainstream classroom is still a controversial debate in many staffrooms and school car parks.

Whilst such conversations are generally only had behind closed doors, as any opinion against ‘inclusivity’ would carry heavy consequences, those on the front lines are not always confident in their ability to best cater for our most vulnerable learners, resulting in a negative culture of exclusion developing in our schools.

A school close to home is currently struggling to accommodate for a spike in the enrolment of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). From a peer point of view it seems that teacher attitude towards these types of learners is fast becoming the greatest hurdle in achieving true inclusivity.

‘He shouldn’t be here’,

‘This isn’t the place for him’

‘It’s not fair on him’

These are among the more positive comments to be heard from the mouths of teachers and Teacher Aids in the past few months.

One particular child who lives with a co-morbid diagnosis, presents with a range of violent and unsafe behaviours and is struggling to ‘fit in’ to his first year of Prep. He currently attends school for just two hours a day, and last week within an hour of being in the classroom has struck a fellow student directly in the face, bitten two teachers, threatened to kill two classmates and kicked and punched the teacher aids.

The school appears to be doing all of the ‘right’ things to promote inclusivity for this child, but I do wonder if the lack of teacher training, paired with escalation of negative teacher attitudes is contributing in some way to this declining situation.

Parents are starting to whisper in the car park, teachers are up in arms at having to be subjected to such dangerous conditions and staff are losing patience. The requirement to ‘include’ this child without the proper training, and evidence based programs in place is fast becoming the reason for this child’s ‘exclusion’ from our school environment. By pretending to ‘include’ this child, we have ultimately contributed to his exclusion. Parents have already turned their backs on him, students are scared of him and despite their best intentions, teachers are fearful.

Who is to blame here? You see the problem cannot be that the child is just ‘not fitting in’, or ‘it isn’t the right place’, but more that the school has not genuinely adapted and properly prepared to accommodate for the arrival of the child. The school was reactive instead of proactive and action plans were being made as situations came to a head. A lack of current knowledge and evidence based practice is to blame.

When I hear people say, ‘This isn’t the place for him’ it drives me wild.

Where do they suggest ‘is’ the place for him? At home? Should he stay at Kindy until he reaches an age at which he is mentally able to cope with the demands of the school environment? He could be shaving before he makes it to Year 1!

Special school programs when they are available and within a reasonable proximity to the family, are limited in space and are often only able to consider Intellectual Disabilities as criteria for entry.

Students with ASD are being left out in the cold. Too left of centre for the mainstream, but to ‘normal’ for special settings. With the prevalence rate of ASD currently sitting at around 1 in 80 students, isn’t it about time teacher attitudes got a kick up the bum, and teacher training programs and systemic funding be modified to reflect this need in our classrooms?

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Public Vs Private (and then there is Catholic)

 

 

It is hard to believe that in just a few short months my first baby will be turning four. With another year disappearing fast, and the last remnants of my baby slowly morphing into a boy, it is time to start considering where this little man will be spending his waking hours for the next thirteen years. I am talking schools!

I know some of you are already freaking out. Yes, he is almost four and I am only just beginning to think about his schooling.  I know that being a teacher I should have this covered by now, but maybe this is also the reason why I have left it so late to make this important decision. Sometimes there is such a thing as having too much information.

Last week’s encounter with ‘Freak Out Mum’ has called me to action with this school business. Those with toddlers will be familiar with the ‘Freak Out Mum’. Freak Out Mum attends every ‘Mumsy’ type gathering within a 100km radius just to prove she is a good mum.  Freak out mum also takes it upon herself to initiate controversial ‘no go’ topics (or as I like to call them…arguments) such as Breast is Best, Dummies or No Dummies and Natural Births vs C-sections and my personal favourite Private school Vs Public school.

Our conversation went a little like this:

Freak Out Mum: ‘So, which school will your little one be going to?’ (translation; I have my child enrolled at a swanky, overpriced school that accepts the enrolment of a child in the womb and I would love you to ask me about this. Your thrilled reaction will also help me re-affirm that I have made the right decision here, even though I will not be able to afford to eat for the next 15 or so years. I hear the ‘no food’ diet is trendy these days anyway)

 

Me: ‘awww….yeah I’m not too sure yet, am waiting as long as I can to see which setting suits his personality’ Translation: What the hell? Actually no……what day is it? I hope I have my pants on the right way? He’s three right? Didn’t I just see him on an ultrasound?

 

I couldn’t believe my ears. Freak Out Mum was deadly serious. She had in fact attended a pre-enrolment interview for her daughter whilst still pregnant with her.

The battle of opinions on Public Versus Private schooling that followed amongst the other mums bordered on disgraceful, and the more and more unsubstantiated rubbish that I heard pouring from their mouths, the more I backed away from the conversation, Until…..

 

‘You’re a teacher, what do you think? Public or Private?’

 

‘Oh no, I hate this question…Don’t ask me’. To be honest, it would have made little difference anyway, they were a pack of wolves.Some people will go to ridiculous lengths to justify their personal choices.

From someone who has worked in the Catholic Education system for 14 years, what I wanted to say was:

Every child is unique. There is no such thing as a super school that will be a ‘best fit’ for every child in the universe. Each school setting, whether it be public or private will be able to offer a unique gift to your child’s learning. Look for their learning style and choose a school that fosters this, not one that highlights a weakness. It drives my wild when a student is diagnosed with a Learning Difficulty and the parent make the assumption that sending them to a Private / Catholic school will be the best option. This is NOT always the case. As a result of reliable state funding, government schools can often provide greater access to other professional services such as Occupational Therapists, Speech therapists and Psychologists. Some of the best Special Education Units in Queensland and South Australia are based and funded by the state governments. If my child was learning with a disability, I would most definitely be sending them to a state school.

Expensive school fees, do not necessarily equal a high quality curriculum and quality teaching methodologies. It may give a good indication as to how well resourced a school is but research indicates (Hattie, John. 2009) that it is what the ‘teacher’ does that matters most in terms of student achievement. In short- There are good teachers at every school, and yes there are also the lemons…I have certainly encountered some big, fat juicy lemons in my time. Expensive schools do however offer that ‘boys club, wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ old scholar aspect to education. They do say it is who you know not what you know that is the key to gaining that perfect opportunity.

Then there is the religious aspect. I believe you should choose a school that will support and reflect the morality and values you plan to instil in your own home. For me personally, this may mean a Catholic School for my boys because I am Catholic, and because I know I am not fighting a different agenda or set of values outside my own. However this is not to say that a religious school will be the correct setting for all children….because it will not be. As a public school student myself, I know that a Catholic School Education is not the ‘essential’ ingredient to being a ‘good’ person.

A good school is one that sets high expectations for all students, not just the ones who are academically inclined. A good school has happy teachers and happy students. A good school is inclusive. A good school is a safe school where there is zero tolerance for bullying. A good school is one helps your child fulfil their own unique potential not one set out by a standardized test. A good school can be State, Catholic, Christian or Muslim School or even a shed in the middle of the Northern Territory.

I wanted these mums to stop trying to keep up with the Jones’ and to think about what is best for their child. It is not about that fancy college sticker that you can place on the back of your 4WD like a badge of honour.

So my decision for my own little man? I enrolled him at three different schools and will figure this out later! Instead of rushing my 3 year old off to school, I want to enjoy the time I have left with him at home instead of wishing away the next year.

where do you stand, Public? Private or are you in the who really cares camp?

For those of you interested, have a look at John Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning’. This book will really change any ideas you have about improving student outcomes. Amazing Research!

Ipads and Toddlers : Babysitters or Brainfood?

Just scan around any family restaurant or shopping centre and it is clear to see ‘Times are a changin’. Toddlers as young as one can be seen scrolling through Iphone Apps, playing with Ipads and navigating their way through complex web sites and it seems we as a society are still divided on whether or not this is best practice.

This controversial topic has been bouncing around in the media for quite some time. Although not a new debate, the issue of parents using technology to ‘babysit’ their children has now reached fever pitch, with our heavy dependence on Ipads, Iphones and other portable ‘Smart’ devices achieving a record breaking level. A recent U.S marketing poll revealed the ‘average’ user to be spending no less than an hour a day surfing and pinching our touch screens.

The ‘for’ camp are all about keeping up with the times and preparing our children for a techno dependent future, and yes there are also the damn ‘lazy’ ones who think that Ipads are the new ‘pacifiers’. Those against are screaming ‘Bad Parenting’ with the implication of negligence and a call for parents to spend more quality time with their children.

My tongue is now the size of an emaciated Tic Tac. It has been bitten too many times, during too many ‘silly’; conversations between groups of parents, so now it is my time to weigh in.   Am I qualified to do so, well probably not- I am no expert, but I am a mum of a toddler and I have also experienced the consequences of ‘parental choice’ (positive and negative) in the classroom, so from both ends of this loud and opinionated spectrum.

After hearing one particularly ignorant and stupid parent say ‘It’s disgusting that kids are allowed to just play on computers at school instead of doing proper work’ it was time to unleash some truths…well my truths anyway.

Firstly, we need to wake up and realise that Ipads and Smart devices and technologies in general are not a choice, they are now a necessity. No longer do we as a society have a ‘choice’ as to whether we participate, they are our present and our future. Our school Frameworks and curriculums have had provisions for Technology outcomes since the late 1990’s, and our current Australian Curriculum clearly defines the place of essential technology skills as paramount in any contemporary education system.  It seems those that lack skills in this areas are the greatest opponents of change.

Children in Kindy/Prep/Reception are currently using Ipads and Smart boards everyday as part of their core Literacy and Numeracy lessons, surprise, surprise- they are not playing candy crush or updating Instagram! One could suggest that it was be negligent ‘not’ to allow your child opportunities to experience technology before school age. Success during the schooling years will be highly dependent on their ability to use these devices to their advantage. Technology is the tool we use to facilitate learning, just as a painter uses a paintbrush and a butcher uses a knife.

Of course the benefits of Ipads can only be realized when used appropriately. If your toddler is checking out Miley Cyrus trying to ‘wreck another ball’ on Youtube, then of course little will be gained here. If the Ipad is purely another way to transmit a movie or cartoon while mum or dad scroll through Facebook in peace, then again, there is no value. It is all about choosing educational content. Apps are the ‘new’ books, and if you’ve bothered to look lately you too would be blown away at what the children now have at their fingertips. There are many Apps directly linked to curriculum outcomes including a great Aussie series from the makers of the high;y successful Reading Eggs Program ‘Eggy Phonics, Eggy Maths etc. I’m not sure about you, but I have never told a child they are spending too much time reading, and learning!  ‘Hey kids, put that book away’ mmmmm…..not lately.

I could also talk for hours about the proven benefits of Ipads and Apps for children with Special Needs, in particular Non- Verbal Disorders such as ASD and Vision Impairment

There are those that say ‘It’s creating a generation of people who lack communication skills’. Well this is very true, we’ve all encountered groups of teenagers sitting in the same room instant messaging each other and giggling to their screens….me included, not the teenage part of course. Is the device to blame or the way in which it is being used? Or perhaps we’ve dropped the ball in explicitly teaching our children social skills and face to face etiquette such as greeting people, and polite conversation?

It is all about contents and limits. There are thousands of exceptional educational Apps which when used ‘with’ your child, can be a fabulous way to spend some quality time together. Another point that I hear spouted often is ‘Parents shouldn’t be shoving their children in front of computers, they should playing them’. It is absolutely ridiculous and irresponsible for parents to ‘occupy’ every minute of their child’s life. The development of Independence and independent play skills are vital, and this means giving them ‘unstructured’ time to be in their own space, playing by their own rules for a little while. Children who have been over managed, over parented and overscheduled stick out like Rudolph’s nose in a classroom setting. They are the ones who cannot work independently and have poorly developed problem solving skills or put simply the ‘needy ones’. But that is a blog for another day!

Anyway, end of rant. You have probably guessed that my own son is allowed to use our Ipad on a regular basis. I feel it is my duty to provide him with essential ‘life’ skills, and whether you like it or not…using technology is one of them.

 

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This is why I do it………….

This is why I do it…………………….

Today was my first day back in the classroom since going on Maternity Leave in December. My work email had been re-activated and was flooded with mostly spam and then a diamond in the rough, and email that unbeknown to me had been sent to me two days after the birth of my son….I have not edited this at all, and please be aware that Rosalita is Portugese and speaks English as a Second Language. The most amazing part of this story is that Roman is on the Autism Spectrum and I hadn’t spoken with him about my baby since at least October of the previous year. This is why we teach. This is why I leave my own children for the day. This is why we keep going back.  I didn’t realise at the time that Roman even understood that I was having a baby. These beautiful children are absorbing the world, without the world even noticing.

Sent: Thursday, 21 March 2013 9:36 AM
Subject: A baby boy!

Dear Mrs B

Congratulations on the arrival of SAMUEL! We are so happy for you and your family!
Just wanted to let you know something that Roman said over the weekend.
I was driving to the beach and out of the blue said “Mum do you still have Mrs B’s number because you have to call her, and then i said ” why ?” and his answer” the baby is hatching soon” and i said What you mean? He answered “the baby is coming on Tuesday Mum you have to call her! But how do you know? His answer “what number is Tuesday? I said the 19th,his reply “thats it Mum thats the day.
Yesterday i went to the parent interview with MR W and asked if he knew if you had the baby  because of what Roman said and he said that it did happen on Tuesday that they just had the email from you .I was “oh my God!” This morning we were still talking about it,he said  this is amazing you have to tell Mrs B!
Roman also mention many times that was going to be a boy, last year and this year he always said it’s a boy Mum! I send you and the baby all our love and
stay well and all the best .
By the way Roman is doing great with Mr W,
Love ,Rosalita

My Reply …………………………6 months too late!

Hi Rosalita and family

How are you? I hope you are keeping well. I have just gained access to my work email today, it had been frozen whilst I was on leave. I was just going through old mails and got your beautiful well wishes for Samuel. What A lovely surprise to open my email and read that!

It’s really funny actually, I had my first day back at work today, and I bumped into Roman at Morning Tea, I was so hoping I would. I was so amazed at how beautifully he spoke to me, he sounded so grown up and gave me the biggest hug. He has come such a long way! Rosalita, You must be just so proud of him, it was so great seeing him. I am so glad that he is having a great year, could not have asked for anything else.

Hope Paul, Isabella and the rest of the family are doing well.

P.s- You and Roman really inspired me last year, I enrolled back at uni and have started studying for my Masters In Special Education with a focus on Autism/ Aspergers. Despite having taught many children on the spectrum he has really left an imprint in my heart.

All the best
Mrs B
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Goldilocks is a thief!

Goldilocks is a thief!!!

I learnt early in my career that children are very literal beings. My first year of teaching was full of funny one liners from students who hadn’t yet realised the confusion that is the English language. When you think about it there are so many things that we say, and don’t mean, terribly confusing for children, particularly those with Special Needs who need instructions broken into small, explicit steps.

Phrases like ‘ Grab a chair’ or ‘being as quiet as a mouse’ would end up with children literally grabbing chairs and creeping around the room making mouse sounds instead of being silent. These phrases you learn very quickly are best avoided with 6 year old’s.

With this in my mind, it is also important that we understand that children of a certain age will also interpret texts very differently to the way in which we intend them to.  Goldilocks and the Three Bears for example. You remember it as that cute little story about the girl who ate porridge and wore a frilly dress….but no! in actual reality (or reality according to a 6 year old) Goldilocks was a Thief. If she lived on the wrong side of tracks she would have been taken to the police station and charged with the following offences:

1. Break and Enter: the narrator claims she found the door unlocked, but can we really trust the word of a porridge stealing youth?

2. Trespass: Not only was she in someone’s house without permission, she also had a nap in their bed!

3. Leaving the scene of the crime: Once discovered by the bears she ran off towards the woods…hardly the actions of a remorseful offender.

4. Property Damage: She broke several pieces of furniture. As the children in my class also inquired ‘ Where do bears go to get their chairs fixed?” This would have caused great inconvenience for the bears.

5. Drug Use: Really Goldilocks??? You say a family of bears were living in a house, wearing clothes and ate porridge not people? You certainly added more than sugar to the porridge.

If you look hard enough at many of our Fairytale favourites…many of them involve the main characters committing terrible crimes.

Hansel and Gretel: Murderers….pushing people into boiling pots in awful way to go.

Three Little Pigs: Property Damage, attempted grievous bodily harm

Jack and the Beanstalk: Cannibalism, theft.

Snow White: Attempted murder (by way of poisoning)

Little Red Riding Hood: Identity theft. Obtaining food or children by deceit.

The harder you look the more our favourite characters become less likely to be awarded ‘citizen of the year’. What message are we sending our children?

Obviously this post is all in good fun and the dark side of our literary favourites has been covered many times before. I will continue to use Fairy Tales to teach Narrative…but I do wonder what goes through those little minds when hearing these fabulous tales of talking animals, nasty stepmothers and naughty children.

No wonder I found my son’s big teddy bear facing the wall last week. When I asked him why he said….”.He was looking at me!”

Fair enough I say.