Ranting

De-Criminalizing Supports!

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Every morning of every day

what supports do you rely on

to help along the way?

We wake up in the morning,

our phones honk, chime or blast our favs

and we struggle to get out of bed

to music, horns and crashing waves

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Thank goodness for many alarm clocks

as some need extra help to get up again

and a dog licking their face 

because there are a few who are tier 3 before 10.

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Our coffee brews with the push of a button

or sometimes on its own,

with programmable toasters and microwaved eggs

as we look at the schedules on our phone.

 

The shirt we picked up from the dry cleaner

is nicely pressed and ready to go,

we even sometimes ask our spouse

if our tie matches our socks… or no?

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We get into our car with a keyless remote

and our seat adjusts to our height,

we program our GPS device

and then chose the guiding voice that’s just right.

We have choices of radio, books or music

to listen to as we drive

or we pick up a friend on the way to work

to chat with as we offer a ride.

 

An app buzzes to tell us to take our meds

as we roll in to park at our job,

and we look at the camera as we back up our car to park,

and lock it with the click of a fob.

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We talk to our colleagues about questions and topics

throughout our day as we work,

we bring and share snacks with those who may have forgot

and are hungry while they do paper work.

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On the weekends we have fun, and hangout with our friends,

we may choose to go to a movie or show.

Or relax at home, order pizza that someone else made,

as we celebrate our life with those we know.

And at the end of those extra hard weeks

or the last few days before spring break,

you might even catch us with a beverage in hand

or a little extra something in our shake.

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We build the life that we want, and seek supports that we need

to get through all our day’s pace,

choice and celebration we find

guide us to our success, and we realize that life is not a race.

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Now, lets change our perspective

to those who are scholars,

students who are very much like us

but just a little bit smaller.

 

Students who, like me

had to sit to their hands

so they wouldn’t count with their fingers

to make sure it was math they could understand.

 

Or those who are only allowed

to show their learning in one way,

rather than offering choice

and whether to go or to stay.

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Using calculators, or spellcheck

are all seen as them cheating,

they aren’t allowed to talk to others

and must be in rows while they’re seating.

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Trying to monitor advantages for some kids but not all

makes us weary,

forgetting we all have a reader and scribe in our pockets

and we all know her as Siri!

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We are running around

getting to everyone we can,

rather than building in supports from the start

helping everyone in the plan.

 

We will never have enough

staffing, funding, or time,

if we continue to retrofit our supports

instead of building it as part of the design.

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But in order to do that

we have to let go of the thinking,

that supports are only for some

and kids don’t need to prove that they are sinking.

 

And teaching instead when they need a support

to regulate their learning and others’

so they can know how to push themselves further

instead of relying on their mothers!

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Look at winter tires for a perfect example,

a support we all use to this day,

between October and March we change our tires over

so that when it’s icy our car does not stray

 

I can guarantee the mechanic would not say,

“WINTER TIRES?! Shhhh someone might hear!

Do you really want someone to know that you have them

Let hope they have plugs in their ears.”

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I can also bet that you wouldn’t hear

a tire shop owner complain,

that getting tires for winter should be something you prove

you really need before you get chains.

The best of all, (and it makes me laugh)

is thinking about winter tire reviving,

imagining if someone said to us, “Forget It!

You’ll lose the skill of bald tire driving!”

It’s ridiculous to think about,

because the opposite is true

it is changing our tires in winter that makes us good drivers,

not trying to just push though!

 

Pushing through winter conditions

even if only for one day,

can you imagine the Coquihalla

if people actually thought this way?

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Now if you see a driver with studs on in June

this might be a conversation upcoming,

or maybe they just moved to Canada and heard rumours

to get ready, because winter is coming!

 

But guess what?! It doesn’t matter!

Because I can definitely tell you,

that no one has been hurt by too many supports

but so many have been harmed with too few

 

Supports for all! This is the key!

let kids not be our education sequel,

where supports weren’t allowed and we weren’t taught to believe

that fair is not always equal.

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I will leave you with one last story to remind you

that support is not a bad thing.

A boy named Zach came up to me in Grade 8

and told me something that zinged.

 

He said, “Ms. Moore, you were my favourite teacher

but I definitely hated your class,

because you made me believe for a second

that I may have been good at math,

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and when Grade 9 arrived

it put me back in my place

and made me remember

that this is all just a race.

A race I’ve never been good at,

a race that I’ve never won,

that school is where I fail

not where I have fun.”

 

Think of your kids now,

what kind of teacher do you want to be

one that supports them to believe in themselves

or make them feel like they cheat and must plea?

 

Plea for their grades, for a pass,

or for their needs to be met.

Who is in control now?

Not the kids I suspect.

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Support them from the start!

With choice, options and many plans,

so when they look over their shoulder

They see a SWEEPER VAN!!!

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Let’s teach kids the skills and

de-criminalize supports they need to prevail!

They will self regulate their learning

and get what they need BEFORE they fail.

 

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This poem was from our first Richmond School District Ignite. 20 slides, 15 seconds each, 5 minutes… SO HARD!!!! And so naturally I thought…What a great opportunity to have a try at Suessonian Verse!

I will post the video here soon!

A Gay Danish?

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Ok, so this story is about my mom…well not completely, but it starts with her. But before I go further I should tell you a little bit about her.1458539_10154635398550131_1051224502576919098_n

Imagine a 5’2 3/4” tall, cute, nice, 63 year old with great skin. And now add a homemade colourful fluorescent moo-moo with matching crocs and a big smile. My mom (and her twin sister) are ACTUALLY the sweetest creatures that have ever lived. She is always happy except for these 3 things get her mad:

  1. Cable TV and how there is never anything on
  2. She thinks that there should be a grandfather clause that allows people over 60 to still smoke at the beach, and
  3. She can no longer buy fabric at Walmart

She loves lays chips and the colour blue, buying tables, going to the dollar store, quilting and the beach. In fact, you will often find her at the beach with a table, wearing the colour blue eating lays chips and quilting under an umbrella that she bought at the dollar store.

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Anyways, So her and I both live on Davie street, 3 blocks apart. Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 2.29.17 PMShe proudly declares herself as “living in the heart of the village,” and we will often meet at our neighborhood coffee local, Melriches.

One other thing about my mom is that she is very reflective and often bursts out profound one-liners. Like one time she called me up and left a message on my phone that simply said, “Shelley, I’M IN LOVE!” and then I made this face.Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 2.26.43 PM

Only to find out later that she had recently watched a documentary about Leonard Cohen and convinced herself that he was her true soul mate. ANYWAYS…So one afternoon, as we sat at Melriches, and she declared, “you know, we could all learn a lot from the gays.” And then I made this face.

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Before I could respond, however, she continued into a lovely monologue about how happy she is that she lives in a community that values diversity and how everyone is different and that it’s ok! And she’s right, people CAN learn something from people who are gay, and she CAN walk down the street in her fluorescent moo-moos and matching crocs, and the only people who turn their heads to stare, are women (and men) who want to know where they can buy a set.Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 2.46.50 PM

She absolutely meant no disrespect to gay people, (or her daughter) by calling us an adjective, so I used this opportunity as a teachable moment.

“So ma, you know that gay is an adjective right?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I mean that you can’t call people adjectives when we are people, we are nouns!”

“Oh…. Well that’s what I meant.”

Now one more thing you should know is that I inherited a few things from my mother. We are Danish, We both have cute toes Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 2.22.36 PMand apple shaped bodies, and we both manage some mental health issues.

“I know ma, but what if people called you an adjective, like crazy?” (Which we have both extensively experienced in our lifetime)…this one got her.

So we de-constructed this a bit, and discussed different adjectives we had experienced and compared them with each other. What made some terms ok and not others? Some terms were adjectives. Some were nouns. Some were used grammatically correct and others were not.

And some were mean and should never be spoken.

We used the stem, “If we saw each other walking down the street, what would we say?” as our litmus test. We tried everything!

  1. Oh look, there is a gay (no)
  2. Oh look there is a crazy (no)
  3. Oh look there is a Danish (I am not a pastry)
  4. Oh look there is Shelley! (Totally)
  5. Oh look there is Shelley, who is crazy (ummm still no)
  6. Oh look, the Gay Danish! (I don’t even know what this means)
  7. Oh look! There is my mom! (Yup)
  8. Oh look, there is Danish Shelley (sure…at a Viking festival)
  9. Oh look, its BGS!!! (Big Gay Shelley) – (only on the August long weekend please and thank-you)

So we eventually agreed to just call each other  by our names Ma and Shelley. My mom learned her adjective lesson, and we moved on to the next profound reflection.

BUT THEN!!! I started thinking (and we all know what that means) sleepless nights and multi-tasking through meetings. Labels! We all do it. We label and categorize our students all the time, well-meaning or not. Our days as educators are constantly FILLED with words associated with and used to describe kids.

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I remember the days when I was a student and the words used to describe me. I thought about myself as a teacher, a consultant, a speaker and a person and the words I use to describe others.

… And then I started to make a list, and I have been adding to it…for 3 days.

Let me also just mention that the words I have listed have been heard in a variety of contexts including (some more surprising than others)– My UBC class, a special education conference, a collaboration seminar, IEP meetings, a staff room, the pub, coffee with a parent and dinner with colleagues, to mention a few. Regardless of setting, person, time, and/or tension, labels and categories were present, and I am just as guilty as any.

May I present to you… the list.

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 2.36.58 PMLow, modified, bright, illiterate, adapted, gifted, slow, modified, special, low end, waste of space, gay, Deaf, learning disabled, bad, poor, handicapped, Queer, good, problematic, core, vulnerable, grey area, crazy, smart, problem, downs, normal, low and slow, mute, non readers, bottom of the barrel, Chinese, drug users, challenged, teachers pet, high flyers, special ed, behaviour kids, brown, life-skill, brain damaged, Tier 1/2/3’s, resource kids, risk takers, Natives, on the spectrum, Muslim… and lets not forget the acronyms!!!! A’s, H’s, G’s IEP kids, ELL/ESL kids, SPEDS AND of course the ever present – Those are “your” kids (which I realize is not an adjective).

NOW thank goodness I didn’t hear anyone say the R-Word because I may have tripped them.

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 2.38.35 PMI will let you decide which labels were used appropriately or not, but I will point out the discrepancy between positive and negative terms. Which labels were you called? Which would you add? I know you remember them; they are not words we forget.

Why do we do this? Why do we need to group people into categories? Is it more effective, efficient, shorter or easier to remember? Is it what we hear, or all we know? Or maybe we say them to harm. I have been told, that some people say them because they can’t keep up with the political correctness.

But I don’t know. Are these reasons good enough? I mean, would you ever see a person on the street and say, “Oh look, here comes a paraplegic” because it is efficient to say? NO!

Another important question that I ask myself all the time is, if you heard that, would you say something? And to be honest, I didn’t say anything anyone in my 3 days of listening. Why?

We (teachers, people, society) are SO focused on labels and categories. To be fair, however, I understand that sometimes they are helpful. They can define culture, build pride and even help bring to the table difficult and social justice issues. The “idle no more movement” is a perfect example of that. And if we are really being honest, labels and categories are the reason I even have a job! Categories are how schools get funding (although that’s not a lot presently!!)

Is there a point, however, where in our label obsession, we forget the person we are labeling? And additionally, how do the Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 2.51.25 PMlabels we place on others affect the people we are labeling? In the book “Choice Words” by Peter Johnston, he reminds us that the language we use creates us and defines the world we live in. The words we use also make a difference to how people see themselves and how they exist in our world. Words are powerful!

This issue has seriously got me thinking about how I use words my in my world. My friend Leyton also reminded me of an excellent point (as he often does) He gently asked me, “How many remarkable people in the world do not fit into ANY category, or into traditional systems and labels. Like you?!”

SO, with the help of colleagues, a few articles and my mom, here is some criteria and guiding ideas to assist you in the use of words.

  1. Everyone can read, write and communicate – expand your definition – try and argue this with me!! (examples: non-readers/writers, non verbal, etc.)
  1. We no longer use these words: mute, mentally handicapped, illiterate, brain damaged, the R-Word or any statements that starts with “they suffer from…”

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  1. There are some groups that use labels to define their culture (for example Deaf, Queer, Danish, Muslim, Canucks, and Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 2.45.02 PMsome people with Autism.) If this is you, slap a capital letter on the word, put it on a shirt and wear it with pride because you were born that way baby!
  1. Say the following labels only if you want to get tripped by me. (Bottom of the barrel, low and slow, waste of space etc.) Just. don’t.
  1. PLEASE!!!!! Regardless of adjective or noun… Avoid “a/an or the”, followed by label and a period (For example, An Autistic. A Gay. The bright kids. The Queer. A gay daughter).
  1. And lastly, If your choice of words are not ones that you would say to a student or their mother’s face directly – complete the following procedure:
  1. Write it on a piece of paper
  2. Stick your gum in it
  3. Burn it
  4. Sweep up the ashes
  5. Put the ashes in a glass of diet coke
  6. Add Mentos to the glass

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As an alternative, try these:

  • There is a movement called person-first language that I encourage everyone to explore and reflect on. I have linked some articles below to help you do this. It is actually really easy, you do exactly what it says, use the person first (for example, a student with a disability, Joan who is Danish, Shelley who is gay, a kid who needs support, A student who has a learning disability, a teacher who needs a vacation).Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 2.34.59 PM
  • If you, by accident, use person-first language to someone who prefers the capital letter non–person first tshirt version – I PROMISE they will be less offended than the alternative situation. Referring to people first will never be politically incorrect – it’s safe.
  • If the above option doesn’t work for you, you could just try calling them kids, students or people.Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 2.36.40 PM
  • If the above two options don’t work for you, you can always call them Shelley, Kate, Leyton, Carole, Gillian, Faye or (insert name here).

Here is the bottom line because I have discovered that people like them. After my reflections and readings and discussion, I have come to this conclusion:

The only label that we should use before a students name is ‘ours,’ except for my mom, because she is mine.

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OH! And…. Sign the R-Word pledge. So I don’t trip you.

Person First Resources

People First Language: Dignity, Not Semantics

Showing Respect by Being Direct

Person-First Language

The Significance of Semantics

A Composition.

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Here we are again. Stuck in between the two historical and political silos: the government vs. the BCTF. I’ve been stocking up on Kraft dinner and hotdogs and watching this saga unfold for months. I agree with all things teacher, but there is one point, at the forefront of this debate, that I have been waiting for someone else to address … and frankly I’m tired of waiting.

The class size and composition battle has been ongoing. Personally, I don’t even know why teachers are negotiating this…you don’t see doctors striking for the rights of patients??? Regardless, there is ample  research supporting the teachers’ demands of lowering class size and I have no (nor want to have an) argument to counter this. Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 11.46.28 AM

The other one though, ‘composition,’ leaves not only a bad taste in my mouth, but makes me wants to convince both the BCTF (along with every teacher in every school district) and Christy Clark (and EVERYONE in the ministry) to take a Shelley Moore seminar about the actual implications of the word.

I have tried daily to (unsuccessfully) convince myself not read twitter; and/or Facebook; and/or the news; and/or (and especially) the comments and government propaganda. All I see are graphs, opinions, false statistics and creative M n M visual metaphors describing the horrors of this strike, including class composition narratives.

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The true horrors, however, are what fill my screen: Tweets screaming the atrocities of having “7 special needs students in a class…..SEVEN!!!!!!!!!” A website devoted to collecting the compilation ratios of teachers classes and graphs with the increasing population of students with special needs and English language learners in classes, displayed like these kids are a spreading disease with no cure. Another, BC teacher supported blog, carries a headline, “BCTF says class composition the worst it’s ever been in the province!” An additional Vancity Buzz article actually ranting about the disruption of special needs students in classrooms. And my favourite, a parent tweeting, who wants their kid in a class with special needs kids anyway?

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The kicker, a Vancouver Sun interactive resource, where parents can go in and find the exact composition atrocities of their own child’s class online.

Ok everyone, enough is enough.

photo 4For some reason, class composition, has become synonymous with impossible teaching arrangements and a pessimism toward individuals with special needs that is rooted in the conviction that these students are incapable, and worse, a burden, to other students and teachers in public classrooms. Before these negotiations, the word composition did not just refer to ratios of diversity and ability.

In writing and art, the word ‘composition’ is used to describe “the plan, placement or arrangement of the elements of work.” In music, it is “creating and arranging an original piece of music.” In the digital world, composition refers to “the practice of digitally piecing together a video.” All of these have one thing in common – planning and arranging pieces together to create a whole. Another common theme? In every definition, compositions are original creations.

For too long, we have been aiming to teach homogenous groups of students who, as Ken Robinson so eloquently described, “have only one thing in common…their age.” I guarantee that more than just my music, writing, and digital composing friends agree that … “all the same” is not enough; it’s undesirable. With these homogenous standards, it is not just students with special needs who don’t fit the mold. More and more students (including me) struggle to find success in a teaching career that focuses on deficit rather than ability.

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The educational shift towards inclusion has attempted to counter this attack, by embracing diversity and creating classrooms that are not just geared towards the status quo. THIS is what we all should be fighting for (student, teachers, governments, parents, and tax payers). A shift in education to embrace all… not just some. Somehow though, this value shift has been left for the teacher’s to carry alone. It is because of this that inclusion (and composition) has become a contaminated practice, rather than a philosophy that binds us, and brings us, together.

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My lovely hairdresser, Missy, cut and coloured my hair yesterday (in exchange for an IOU) and in our chair/mirror discussion, she described her choir and their (sold out!) performance this summer. My ears perked when I heard her casually mention, “we have so many tenors this year!”

bc-class-compositionWhat didn’t follow, were these statements:
– “The tenor population has increased so drastically because we are so much better at identifying them”
– “Ugh, this choir year is IMPOSSIBLE, these 7 tenors are taking up SO much extra time”
– “We found an app that alters a tenor’s voice so we can fit them into our choir now…kind of”
– “We needed to compose a whole new piece for them! I don’t have time for that, so we found a piece that was similar that they can sing quietly at the same time.”
– “The tenors should probably just be in their own choir, they require a different set of skills that I am not specialized to compose.”

Or my most favourite:
– “We already have three tenors, sorry.”

AND, you will definitely never find a circle graph of current choir composition on Google images used as a strategic and political scare tactic.

The difficulty with these statements, more than just the obvious “oh, those poor tenors,” is that a composer would NEVER say this! Choirs NEED tenors! A choir filled with only sopranos would sound like shrill elevator music on repeat. I love you sopranos, but I feel like you appreciate the compliments of some tenor love as much as I like to turn up the bass in my car when I listen to Beyoncé.

Beyonce

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What Missy continued to describe (pay attention to this part) was how the choir, responded to having a lot of tenors. This choir commissioned a piece to suit their chorus. In the choir world, a piece is commissioned with the chorus’ strengths in mind. So, for example, if a choir has a strong bass section, the piece chosen highlights lower notes. Alternatively, if a soprano section of a choir is smaller, or developing, the piece won’t include an extraordinary amount of high notes. In other words, the structure of the chorus is manipulated to respond to the COMPOSITION of the group. Missy’s choir created an original piece so that the tenors (and everyone in the mix) could feel “included and have a contribution.” They didn’t make the tenors change their voices, they didn’t make them sing a different piece, they didn’t turn them away… those tenors were as a part of that choir as anyone else. There unique presence, however, informed them to the piece that was created for them for them. The composition utilized their strengths, for the benefit of all. At the end of the day, this choir performed an AMAZING piece (did I mention it was sold out) AND I bet not one person in the audience knew that there was an above average tenor population. The goal was met. Objective achieved!

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Strength based teaching is not a new phenomenon, and there are many frameworks that can support the spectrums of language, culture, gender and every other unique identity marker you can imagine…including cognitive ability. These supports are effective in both challenging AND creating access for everyone, and I encourage you to read other entries on this blog if your curious.

There are teachers all over this province trying to create learning opportunities for all their students because of this diversity, not in spite of it. This is inclusion. These classrooms, however, are having a harder and harder time. There is an expired expectation that teachers simply teach, to a homogenous group, in isolation. How hard can it be right???? There are many difficulties with this longstanding image of classrooms, especially classrooms trying to move towards a place of inclusion and access for all. Inclusion cannot happen alone.

Inclusion needs time for collaboration to create a plan that can highlight all abilities.

Inclusion needs assistants and specialists to provide multiple pathways for success.

Inclusion needs resources and funding supports to make a plan acknowledging alternate ways of knowing and understanding the world.

Inclusion needs time and space for teachers to grow and change their professional practice to respond to the changing structures of their classes.

Inclusion needs a government that supports the efforts of teachers, who are caring for and facilitating the growth of the next generation of our society that will require the skills and experiences of learning from, and with, diversity in all its forms.

These are not teacher ‘benefits;’ they are the blueprints of inclusive education. Let us not lose track of what we are fighting for. There is a bigger picture to these negotiations.

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There is one more factor for inclusion to be successful. And I argue, the MOST important one! Inclusion NEEDS a diverse composition. Without this, we are simply cookie cutter assembly line workers. Without this, teachers cannot be the creative composer. This is our career, this is our skill, and regardless of how many massages or fertility treatments we require per calendar year, we are skillFULL composers.

Lets look to our teachers as composers. Let us all consider them the skilled professionals that they are, collaborating together and delicately weaving the diverse abilities, interests, and characteristics of our students into creative, original and carefully planned arrangements. Professionals that need support to exist. From everyone…even you.

For all of you who scrolled to the bottom to find the answer, here it is.

Instead of fighting for class size and composition, how about we fight for class size and SUPPORT for class composition. BOOM. That was easy.

Inclusion: It’s Critical

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I ask groups of teachers all the time, “Why Inclusion? Why are we doing this? Why are we bending over backwards, spending money, striving to make this happen in our schools? Why? What’s the point?”

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Answers range from: “because it’s the real world” to “because it’s the right thing to do…” and they aren’t wrong. But they are missing something…critical.

Here is a story. A story about bowling. Most of us have been bowling. Balls, pins, stinky shoes, glowing, garlic fries… bowling.

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When we go bowling, we throw the ball down the aisle. We try to knock down as many pins as we can. We contort our body and limbs into strange positions after we throw the ball because we think it will help. Sometimes we get gutter balls and that feels bad and sometimes we sometimes we get a strike… and that feels good! We aim down the middle, at those little arrows on the floor, and once we release the ball… all we can do is hope as we peer anxiously down the alley.

We listen to the sounds with trembling anticipation, of pins falling, and hope to avoid what usually happens to me when I throw the ball down the middle… the split.

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The 7-10 split is the most difficult shot in bowling. When the only pins left are on either side of the aisle. Even though we have another ball, the chances of knocking down both pins, is rare. In fact, in the last 50 years of televised professional bowling, a 7-10 split has only been hit 3 times.

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Sometimes we have great games, sometimes we have crappy games. If we practice, and get coached, we will get better, bowling takes skill. But even after the skill development, coaching and practice, a perfect game…even for professional bowlers, if very difficult.

My brother and I joined a league once. I liked to ignore all the coaching and whip the ball down the aisle as hard as I could. My brother, on the other hand, slowly lined up his legs on the line. He pulled back the ball between his knees and catapulted the ball down the aisle…so slowly I thought it would come to a full and complete stop. But somehow… he knocked down more pins than me. And more pins than most kids his age, as he bowled with 2 hands and fluorescent pants all the way to a provincial bronze medal one year. Little bugger. If anyone knows me at all, you would know how nuts this drove me. He still hangs his medal up in his house when I come over.

The point of this story is not that fluorescent pants will help us succeed in life, it is instead, about teaching. My question to you however, and I encourage you to really think about it is, how is bowling…like teaching?

Here are some answers I have collected over time:

–       The teacher is the ball, the students are the pinsbetween legs

–       Bowling is loud

–       Sometimes my lessons are a strike!

–       Sometimes the ball is so off the mark, I don’t even knock down pins in the next aisle

–       Teaching takes balls (seriously…this was an answer once!)

–       A perfect lesson is hard to do

–       Teaching takes skill, and practice

–       We get more than one chance

–       We get to wear radical shoes

–       One teacher flipped my whole metaphor around and said, “well I see the ball as the students, and the pins as teachers”…think about that one!!!

After some discussion, we usually come up with something like…we teach as best we can, and hope to get to as many kids as we can, but the reality is, there are kids left over that we cant get to, even if we want to.

Kind of a depressing metaphor actually.

I thought about this one afternoon. I was cleaning my kitchen and was watching the sports channel. I love sports as background noise. Football calls, cheering crowds, skates on ice, car commercials, crashing bowling pins. And then I saw it.

I stopped and watched. Professional Bowling. So fast, great outfits, serious faces…and one more thing! I noticed, not a single one of them threw the ball down the middle. I jumped on the computer and did some bowling research! This are the types of things that keep me awake at night…

FRED BOWL (1)

Let me just tell you, there is not a professional bowler, even my brother, who throws the ball down the middle. Professional bowlers throw the ball down the aisle with a curve. The ball spins so close to the edge of aisle, we think it almost defies laws of physics. At the last second, however, it curves and… STRIKE! These bowlers aren’t aiming down the middle; they are aiming for the RIGHT POCKET. (Note to the reader. I only know this because there was actually a professional bowler in one of my sessions once who told me this) For us non professional bowlers, aiming for the right pocket is… aiming for the pins on the outside of the lane.

Professional bowlers do not aim for the head pin. They do not aim for the middle. They aim for the pins that are the hardest to hit. The probability of pins getting knocked over is higher, if they aim for the pins on the edges, because these pins help the others… fall down. If those outside pins weren’t there, it would be harder to get a strike.

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Now…. Just think about this!!!!

We teachers are taught to teach, grade 4 math, and grade 10 science. We are taught to teach to the middle and simplify or water down content for those students who are having difficulty. Pairing up students who need more support with  students who need more challenge, is the limit of many teachers’ differentiation and accommodation strategies. We often teach how we were taught, and in my case, I went to school during times of streaming and segregation of special needs students who were never educated with me. Classrooms have changed…for the better I think…but our education system hasn’t. We need to teach to diversity rather than to a group of students whom (Ken Robinson said it best) all they have in common is their date of birth.

What if we totally changed how we plan, teach and assess? What if we started to look at our classes and students as different communities, different communities that we also teach differently…even if they are taking the same course. Offering students varying amounts of support…not because of their special needs category or label, but just because they need it.

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What if when we teach our students, we think not about our status quo middle of the pack or the head pin (which is shrinking I might add) and instead, on Monday morning, we look at our kids we think,

“Who are my kids that are the hardest to get? What do I need to do so that THEY get it?”

Yes, because they have a right to learn. Yes, because learning within diversity is the real world, but yes, also because these kids have contributions to make. Whether they have special needs, or didnt eat breakfast that morning. Are English language learners, or have a hard time getting to school on time. These kids who are the hardest to get to, have so much that we can all learn from, and if we get them… we can get everyone.  This symbiotic learning environment is important for inclusion to work and be sustained. Inclusion, especially in high school, is often limited to physical and social contexts. In order for inclusion to be effective and efficient for teachers and students however, we need to extend this idea to not only physical and social communities. Inclusion also means contributing to academic communities. It is critical. It is critical, not just for students with special needs; it is critical for every one of us. And this my friends, I would even argue to say, is the ultimate in life skills.