bcteachers

One Without the Other

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13434873_10157578761040131_1372935628471608044_nI am THRILLED to announce the release of my first book, “One Without the Other.” The first batch has been shipped and arrived this weekend. I was so excited I opened it right on the street! I also made sure to give my mom the first autograph 🙂

This has been a big year of writing and editing and editing and editing and finally the day has come! My first book release celebration with be in Prince George on Thursday evening, with another planned in Vancouver in the fall.13432223_10157578762625131_5427126051749118841_n
As an introduction, I have included the introduction! Below is a section of the text to get a sneak peak of the new book. For more information on how to order, there will be links below.

Introduction

I was teaching a course last summer at the University of British Columbia called “Conceptual Foundations of Inclusive Education.” Thirty or so practicing teachers from various subject areas, knowledge expertise, and experience levels from across British Columbia joined me for three weeks of deconstruction, inquiry, and reflection, creating an engaging community of learners. The course was in July, and on this particular day, it was my birthday. We started the class with some cupcakes and hung up “Happy Birthday” bunting across the whiteboard, before diving into our explorations and understanding of the concept driving learning systems all over the world – inclusive education.

I showed a slide to my students with four bubbles. Their job was to label the bubbles with the appropriate terms (inclusion, integration, exclusion, and segregation) based on their own experience and prior knowledge of the concepts.

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After some discussion, it was agreed that Bubble C in fact represented inclusion. This is the common consensus arrived at in many groups that I have worked with, both in pre and in-service professional development settings.

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After further discussion, however, a student commented, “Shelley, I don’t think that this diagram is inclusion either.” This caught me off guard.

“Of course this is inclusion!” I thought. I have shown this slide to hundreds if not thousands of people! What could she possibly mean?

She further explained, “Look what you have shown us. I see a bubble with a whole bunch of green dots. And then, there are a scattered handful of other coloured dots.”

“Yeah,” I said, “and…”

“Well, in my definition of inclusion, there is no other.

I stood there speechless, because she was absolutely right. The diagram I was presenting was not one of inclusion; it was an example of the traditional model of education. The model where our goal is to produce more of the same – lingering evidence of the factory model of education where we needed to produce and replicate people to meet the demand of the workforce during the industrial revolution (Robinson, 2009; Zhao, 2009). A model where our job as educators (and especially special educators) was to identify students who aren’t green and fix them. Send the red kids to the red teacher, the blue kids to the blue teacher and the yellow kids to the yellow teacher. This model of education is a deficit, medical model, and I was showing the class a perfect example of how it was still plaguing us today. But more and more kids are coming to us not green! Not only is this model less effective, but also we are running out of funding, supports and students to allow this model to continue. Some have met this shift in paradigm with panic – others are seeing it as an opportunity. An overdue shift to starting to match our goals of education to the goals and expectations needed to meet the current demands of our society –which does no longer want people to comply. This is especially true now, as more and more occupations involving compliance and replication, are being replaced by machines (Zhao, 2009).

Educational reforms are happening on a global scale, including British Columbia and other provinces in Canada, where the Ministries of Education are completely restructuring their curriculum, being designed and written by teachers for teachers, with the emphasis on moving away from classrooms of green students (BC Ministry of Education 2015). We are no longer living in the industrial revolution; this is the 21st century — where we need to value the strengths rather than deficits in learning. Rather than finding out why students aren’t green, our job is now to find out what their colour is. What do they bring? What can they contribute because of their diverse and unique expertise? For decades we have been trying to take this “colour” out of our of students, taking the special out of special education, the autistic out of autism, the language out of cultures, and especially, the indigenous out of First Nations, Metis and Inuit children. This is not teaching to diversity. This is not inclusive. Teaching to diversity and inclusion is where we value the characteristics that ARE diverse, and not try and homogenize them.

The class continued to discuss what the conceptual diagram of inclusion could be, and together we decided that the only way to ensure there was no “other” was not to make us all green, but instead to make as all “an other” (see figure 3).

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When looking at inclusion this way, it also helped us realize that this is no longer a idea specific to special education. There is a distinct gap between the silos of special education and curriculum (Pugach & Warger, 2001; Thomas & Loxley, 2007), but if we look at inclusion as a concept of teaching to the diversity of all, rather than just a special education initiative, we can bridge this gap. We are diverse, all of us. We all have strengths, we all have stretches, and we all need to get better at something. The difference in teaching to diversity, however, is that we don’t start with our deficits; we start with our strengths, and this includes students, teachers, support staff, custodians, bus drivers and parents. My good friend Leyton Schnellert refers to this collective as “the ecology of learning communities.” Inclusive education relies on the diversity of its ecosystem, to not only promote coexistence and tolerance, but to thrive on the learning and interaction of each person in the community

Through this discussion, I also realized that, if we can now extend inclusive education to include every diverse learner, then we also can also start to view inclusion as not something we simply do; instead it becomes something that just is. We cannot escape or avoid the diversity in our world by attempting to homogenize and standardize our classrooms and learners. Homogeneity is a battle that has never been won and never will. Civilizations have collapsed in their attempt to make everyone the same (Morris, 2013). This is no longer our vision of education (thank goodness) and we are long overdue in matching our vision to our practices in classrooms, schools and communities.

It was also on this particular day, that I was inspired to write this book, because it was on this day I realized that, if inclusion and diversity is something that just is, then it is also something we live, something we are, and something we believe in together. And it is through this common goal that we can also be unified: we can be one without being an other.

So please allow me to introduce to you One without the Other.”

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One Without the Other is available from:

Portage & Main

Amazon.ca

Amazon.com

Lessons from Daniel

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On January 16, 2016 I was wearing a new outfit, just bought new boots, had a fresh haircut and I was ready for my big day! I had friends and family come from out of town, and the chairs were filled with my people…it was like (and will probably be the closest thing I get to) my WEDDING!!!

January 16 was TEDxLangleyED, where I was invited along with an incredible line up to speak to24468365421_01bf95299c_z innovations in education. It was a day filled with inspiration, laughter, tears and connections. I will rate it as one of the top 3 days of my entire life without a doubt.24523633186_6d7b30c1c2_z

I was joined by the many speakers to share our thoughts and questions including Chris Wejr speaking to the incredible importance of teaching to strengths, Vikram Vij’s powerful metaphor of life as a Sword, and awed by the strength and talent of Amanda Worlmald. Along with the many other amazing speakers, I was also joined by my two bowtie wearing side kicks Jos Chois and Alexander Magnussen, who inspired us with amazing facts and shared stories of struggles and triumphs.

This morning, my video was released. I was so excited to see it because I was so nervous on the day of, I could barely remember what I said. I am pleased to share this with you having complete relief that my hair stayed in place!

Enjoy with hopes that you also learn one of the many lessons that I did from my student Daniel.

AND NOW, for you, my TEDx Talk: Under the Table: The Importance of Presuming Competence

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Other Videos of the day!

Jennifer Lee: My Best friend Max!

Dan Pontefract: How Schools Can Save Companies from Collapsing

Ryan Radford: Harnessing the Power of GEEK in your Classroom

Holly Clark: Are you ready to Disrupt Learning?

Hannah Perkins: When You Grow Up?

Nancy Crawford: Against the Grain: Creating Opportunities for Creativity

Cecelia Reekie: A Journey of Discovery, Truth and Reconciliation

Samantha Ettus: The Secret to Unlocking a Child’s Potential

Hugh MacDonald: Youth in Sport: Keeping Kids in the Game

 

 

The Sweeper Van

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UntitledSo, yesterday I was fortunate to spend the day co-presenting with two of my colleagues, mentors and friends, Faye Brownlie and Leyton Schnellert. The three of us were invited to be the featured speakers at the BCSSA Spring Forum, which brought together leaders including superintendents, administrators, directors of instruction and teachers from around the province, for a day with a theme of inclusive education. I contemplated writing about my session for you here, but my presentation was captured on camera! SO today, instead of writing, I get to TELL you about a moment in my life that has forever changed my practice and beliefs about teaching. I invite you to watch, share, and hopefully laugh without offence 🙂

May I present to you… The Sweeper Van.

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.

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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.