Monday, August 20, 2012

Favorite Reads of the Summer

As summer winds down, I thought I would share my favorite reads of the summer.  I am leaving out the books "The Daily 5" and "CAFE" as I feel they warrant a completely separate post because of everything that is in them that encourages student agency and because we will be working with them through the Literacy for All project this year and so I will be writing about them as we learn more. 

Seeing the Charade: What We Need to Do and Undo To Make Friendship Happen by Carol Tashie, Susan Shapiro-Barnard and Zach Rossetti

This book takes a hard look at how the special education system as it is designed right now plays a role in the social isolation of students with disabilities.  It works through the barriers to friendship for students with disabilities and give some suggestions related to how to overcome these barriers and support the development of meaningful, authentic relationships for students with disabilities.  I thought it was a great book but it is a book of challenge as well because as great as it looks on paper I was left wondering how you take what is on paper and turn it in to opportunities for these kinds of relationships for students with disabilities.  What I felt was the best suggestion in the book was to engage students in the question of how we go about making this shift, perhaps with a type of peer advisory group whose job is not to be a person's friend but to inform adults about the culture of the world they live and possible in points for friendship.  I like this idea.  In fact it was as I read this that I started to see a little seed for a possible masters thesis being planted.  It reminded me as well of the blog "Beyond the Crayon" and student inclusion action group that was created there. 

Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone by Douglas Biklen with Richard Attfield, Larry Bissonnette, Luch Blackman, Jamie Burke, Alberto Frugone, Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay and Sue Rubin

This is a powerful book and shows a different view of autism and disability then what seems to be the prevalent view right now.  A majority of the book consists of the stories of people with autism by people with autism.  Some of the people who tell their stories are people who have been perceived as being "extremely disabled".  These people tell their stories are communicating them through either typing or by a combination of speech and typing.  The book speaks (once again) to the need to always assume competence in those that we label as "non-verbal".  For me it was one of those books that reminds me (again) of how much we still have to learn and figure out when it comes to people with disabilities and how important it is not to define their cognitive capacity based on what we have figured out at this current time.  It also speaks to how important it is to always be looking for that communication system that allows someone to show their full potential and until we find it we need to assume complete competence.    

Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton

This is a book about social change.  The title is a play on the book "Getting to Yes" because the authors feel that when it comes to social change the best we can do is to get to maybe and then to start to explore what that means.  As I read through the book, I realized that "maybe" might even be more powerful than "yes" because "maybe" has the potential to engage others while "yes" really just creates a plan that others must blindly follow.  The book also talks about complex systems and how change in complex systems happens through relationships.  As I read through this part I thought that this might be part of why my own learning was ignited again when I started to get involved in learning online.  It was through all those points of connection that I started to think differently and started to think about the possibilities which results in acting differently.  It was a timely book for me as there are times when I get frustrated with the slow, non-linear changes that are happening for the students I serve and this book was a good reminder.  This book again started to ignite a bit more of the idea for my masters thesis.  The book talked about "Developmental Evaluation" as opposed to summative or formative evaluation in a social change process.  This is something I plan to dig in to some more. 

A Good Life: For You and Your Relative With a Disability by Al Etmanski

This was my "mommy book" for the summer.  My son is moving to junior high this fall and as we sit on the edge of this transition as well as making changes to his programming, I felt it important to project forward as see if we were focusing on the right things to set him up to live a happy and productive adult life.  One of the differences of raising a child with a disability is that you have to plan these things where as with other children these things evolve and you help but you also know that your child will take sole responsibility for their "good life" some day.  So this summer I started looking for life planning types of books and came across this book pretty early in the process. I was immediately drawn in as this is a book that is written by and with parents of children with disabilities.  These are the experts and the book was born out of a desire to make sure one's child would live the adult life we all want for our children.  It's basically a workbook that you and the team around your child would work through in planning for their future.  But in planning for their future you are actually planning for their now.

The most powerful statements in the book were related to research around what factors result in safe and happy lives for people with disabilities.  The number one factor tied to safety, healthy and happiness is the number of relationships that a person with a disability has.  The other interesting thing stated was that it matters that the people who have relationships with the person also have relationships with each other (like a spiderweb) as this is what accounts for an increased level of safety and happiness.  This book spoke to the idea of developing natural supports around a person.  This book also spoke to a little piece of each of the other books that I've read above.  And again... the idea of that peer advisory group to help us figure out how to 'do inclusion' as a masters project came creeping in.

It's obviously been a great reading summer.  I just want to say that I am not negating the importance of academic learning by focusing this much on relationships as I truly believe that learning happens in relationships and that people with disabilities can have them both.  It does not need to be one or the other.  I can't say that I have a list of things to do as a result of what I've read.  I can say that I think differently and there is a whole lot more "maybe" happening and I'm excited to see where it all goes as we move forward.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Find Joy in the Journey

Skrtic proposes that schools evolve into problem-solving organizations where the fundamental structure of the classroom is replaced with more flexible structures that are more adhocratic in nature or focused on problem solving – organizations in which educators customize programs for individual students.  For Skrtic, in a problem solving school, disability becomes an opportunity to innovate and improve.  “Regardless of its causes and its extent, student disability is not a liability in a problem-solving organization; it is an asset, an enduring uncertainty, and thus the driving force behind innovation, growth and knowledge.” (Effective Inclusive Schools, 2012, Thomas Hehir and Lauren Katzman)
Summer is quickly coming to an end and it is time to start thinking about another school year.  My job is different this year as the students who are on my case load will begin at their age-appropriate schools this fall.  Rather than being in one classroom in one school, they are going to be in several classrooms at three different schools.  The elementary students that I have now have had general education classroom primary placements for either 2 or 3 years and we are now looking to continue this approach as two of them move on to Junior high.  This will obviously present a whole new set of challenges as they will need to learn to navigate a much larger world then what they now know.  The high school students that I have will be moving full time to our division high school.  With them we are not looking to continue, but rather to begin, and our beginning steps will probably be little ones. 

It would perhaps makes sense at this point to lay out how I see this all evolving... to give a picture of what this might look like at the end.  But the reality is that this has kind of taken on a life of it's own and it is not solely mine to create.  Over the past two years I've become very aware that this is not about planning and executing every step we take.  There are too many factors that will bounce off of each other but, more important, there are too many experts that we have not yet identified.

Last year, I peeked in on the gym class that one of my students was in.  They were playing dodge ball and this was a student who becomes overwhelmed with noise and business.  When we operated from a self-contained approach, he would go and join his grade for gym class but never participate.  He would sit on the side of the room, turn his back to the craziness and "stim" to drown things out.  This past year, his primary placement became that of being with his grade level peers and he was able to be in the classroom during subjects like math and language arts when the classroom is calmer.  He was able to get his sea legs and start to build some relationships with the students around him.

That day when I went in to gym class, I was surprised to see him in the middle of a game of dodge ball!  I stayed to watch for a bit and realized that a group of his peers had brought him in to the game but not only had they brought him in to the game, they were protecting him from being hit by the ball by forming a sort of wall around him while they continued to play the game.  And then I noticed one of them hand him a ball so that he could throw it.

I went back a few days later to see him playing floor hockey.  This time there was not a group around him but as the puck came towards him there was a pause to see if he would hit it.  When he didn't, the game continued.  They were not slowing the pace of the game down but rather just either knowingly or unknowingly giving him enough time that he would be able to hit the puck if he so choose.

We can't write stuff like this in to a plan.  As nice as it would be for us to be able to make an inclusion plan and follow it step by step and see these students included in the end, sometimes not having too defined of a plan is the best plan because it leaves room for people to step in and be part of the plan.

As we sit on the edge of a new year with a whole lot of new adventures ahead, I am excited to see what we can build.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Contribution of Being

We know the research is out there to show that other students do not miss out when students with disabilities are included but what matters more is what others gain when students with disabilities are included.  The Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network website ( outlines that there are two ways for people to contribute.  The first is one that we are all well aware of and one that many "life skills" programs are built on and that is the contribution of doing.  We give students "jobs" around the school or classroom so that they are contributing.  This is a tough one because this approach can be taken to the point where we are actually defining the social status of a student by the jobs that we assign them.  It also doesn't get to the heart of contribution as it is often action without the affective component that is so vital to contribution.

PLAN also talks about the contribution of being and defines it as
These are contributions made by a person’s presence. Many people with significant disabilities offer grace, caring, attentiveness, wonder, acceptance, silence, receptivity, compassion, inspiration, pleasure, gratitude, loyalty, and friendship. These gifts – often overlooked in our society – are critical to society’s well-being. In fact, they are a necessary antidote to ‘too much doing.’
So...  What if we authentically looked at community building instead of classroom management?  Would people then see the students that I serve as assets rather than liabilities in this kind of classroom?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How about calling it community building instead of classroom management?

This was a great statement made by @AmyRass on twitter today.  It reminded me of this video about empowering people and how important the way we frame things is.

I am remembering back to when I first started to wrap my head around what "inclusion" actually means.  So often we go to the idea that inclusion means belonging but in the end belonging happens on a spectrum and it seems to be that at times this definition can actually work against the development of meaningful relationships for people with disabilities.  So I go back to my original idea of inclusion meaning being part of a community.  I think the extra that comes with being part of a community is that when you are part of a community you don't just take from it, you also give to it.

So back to that twitter question.  What if we authentically looked at community building instead of classroom management?  Would people then see the students that I serve as assets rather than liabilities in this kind of classroom?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Creating Resource Lists by Using Pinterest

I have been on pinterest for some time but have really not been motivated to use it.  This past week, my son ended up in the hospital with a terrible intestinal bug and I ended up with a lot of time on my hands while he slept, rehydrated and got back to being the healthy, happy little boy that he is.  So - I explored pinterest on my iPad a lot and came up with an idea.

What I'm looking to do is create "Boards" that link to each of the grade level units that the students on my caseload will be a part of in inclusive classes.  The ideas can be used either with the whole class if the teacher chooses or they can be used as a modification so that my students can actively engage in the curriculum objectives.  I'm including mostly hands on, non-writing activities as these are the ones that the students on my caseload need (and I believe there are many others who also need these types of activities but we don't always have time as teachers to find them and set them and link them to the learning that should be happening).

So I have begun and just wanted to share what I'm up to these days :).  I plan to also transfer these ideas in to unit binders over time so that we also have them in "hard copy" so that those who prefer that medium can also access it.  It's going to be an ongoing project but what I had been thinking to do even before this pinterest part of this is to create grade level unit binders that list possible adaptations and modifications that can be used as a type of resource to draw ideas from.  It would obviously be a dynamic document that gets added to as we move forward.  I'm thinking they may end up actually being binders in bins as the bins will include the adapted materials that we make as we go along.

Just looking to build a resource database and this is first step.  I have added a link to my pinterest page on the sidebar :).