Pacific school of innovation and inquiry

Today we went for a walk around at this new amazing inclusive school.  I was a little bit weary at first as I was not sure what it was all about.  After listening to what Jeff Hopkins, the owner of the school had to say I am sold!  It was like doing a 360 in the way you look at how education is traditionally set up.  It takes the ownership of learning out of the teachers hands and puts it into the students.  Students get to choose what they are passionate about and learn through that channel.  They can make connections to the outside world and then back to multiple subjects, better cementing the learning.  The students are not grouped together with age and grade but by interests and abilities.  This is such a novel idea, nobody is pushed to far or held back.  I was able to speak to a few of the students and they were all engaged and excited about what they were learning.  I was impressed with this school and am excited to see how it grows, maybe my own kids can go when they hit grade 9…

 

Interviews

Interview #1

I spoke with a grade one teacher at Sangster.  She has a background in special education and loves her job.  I was curious how she views an inclusive classroom, and what steps she takes to ensure her students behave in this manner.  She was very clear that it takes explicit teaching and constant modelling to steer her class down the road of inclusion.  She said she was lucky that she and her co-workers had training in a social thinking program that one of her coworkers taught, so she learned to use the language to encourage social thinking throughout her day.  In fact, all the teachers use this language so it is simply a habit formed within this school.  It was also very fortunate to have the children attend a social thinking class every second week alternating with music, so most of the students understand the language too.  She said that she sets up her classroom in a way that everyone is accommodated.  She uses a lot of visual schedules and everyone in the class knows what is expected of them.  She uses visuals for all new assignments and all new expectations.  I understand that to have an inclusive school everyone needs to be on board, the parents, students and staff.  The school itself is a hands off school with zero tolerance for bullying.  This is important as the students know how to conduct themselves and if they stray away from what is expected the behavior is promptly dealt with, and everyone moves on.  They are all in understanding that mistakes happen and what is learned from that mistake is what is important.  I can see it in action in Sangster on Wednesdays, that the students have respect for others and for themselves.

Interview #2 (Shelley Moore)

I was curious how to help educate parents and teachers to be more inclusive themselves.  The problem is that parents and teachers don’t see themselves as diverse and different.  As teachers we need to help others understand that it is our differences that make us diverse.  It is as simple as our interests, or the way we dress or talk.  All of these things make us different in turn showcasing our diversities.  Helping others understand that we are all diverse is the key.  She suggested I give an example like, a child has autism in your class, they are “special”, but you don’t have autism so doesn’t that also make you “special”?  The thing is that everyone is “special” because everyone is different form one another.  I understand now that because I already have this thinking, this is half the battle.  I can set up an inclusive classroom because it is me that determines the tone of the class.  I can set my classroom up so all children have access to the curriculum, and all children have access to every support, to ensure all students have the building blocks to feel success.  She said I need to have common learning goals to drive learning and build community.  As the teacher I need to be in tune with each students and understand their needs, and that behavior is driven by need.  She said that inclusion will look differently depending on the teachers, the school and the students.

Interview #3

I interviewed one 21-year-old student on the autism spectrum, and one grade 4 student who struggles in our school system, and one grade 4 student who goes to Sangster, and also is struggling.  I was curious about how they view the education system and what they believe needs to change.  The older student went to GNS and was with the same group of kids from Kindergarten to grade 12.  He was labelled in grade 3 and had to live with all of his regrettable behaviors from elementary through to middle and secondary.  He felt like he was the kid with Autism and teachers always labelled him as different.  He struggled with his ability to break free from his diagnosis as it was labelled as a problem not as a positive attribute.  He did not feel like his class or school was an inclusive one.  He always felt weird and different and did not learn to love, and accept himself within his school.  He wishes that going through school he would have had more acceptance and less segregated attention.

When I asked the 9-year-old from Doncaster elementary the same questions his answers were not that different.  He said that he struggles with sitting still, and has a hard time staying on task.  He often gets sent out of class and to the principal’s office for his shortcomings.  He hates being different because its those differences that get him in trouble.  His classroom is also not very inclusive, he is not offered supports because he has no diagnosis, even though he would benefit greatly from them.  This all seems so backwards to me.  If a child needs some supports to succeed and those supports are available, then why can’t they have access to them.

Both boys described school as a place they hate and where they don’t feel as though they fit in.  I think with the right teachers both of these guys could thrive in a classroom environment with the inclusive model.

The 9-year-old boy from Sangster had a very different outlook.  In his current classroom he has a wiggly seat to accommodate for his high energy.  He is behind in reading and writing.  He is smaller than the rest of the kids and the beautiful thing is that he doesn’t even know he is different because he says, “everyone is different”.  He is not treated differently than anyone else, if he needs some kind of support it is offered to him as it is offered to everyone in the school.  I think this is how a school should run and am so happy to see this is action.  This boy loves school and loves going to school.

 

What can inclusion look like in the classroom?

Shelley Moore “One without the Other”

This book embodies what I want for my own classroom. The book talks about how all children need support in some way and as teachers it is our job to make sure they have these supports.  It takes the special out of “special needs”, and makes us understand that children are just that, children, and they all have unique needs.  Just because someone doesn’t come to your class with a diagnosis doesn’t mean that all of the supports should not be offered to them.  Everyone deserves to use supports if they need them.  I really liked this concept because I think everyone can benefit from visual supports, and from earphones that block out sound, or a wiggle seat ect.  By offering these supports to everyone makes the supports normal.  This allows students to see that everyone is different, but the same as well.  UDL allows us as teachers to support everyone together, and by making them available in the class to everyone hopefully the students start using them independently

10 Examples Of Inclusion: For Those Who Need To See It To Believe It

http://www.swiftschools.org/overview

This website is amazing and offers so many different ways in which an Inclusive classroom is not only working but helping all students to thrive together.  This is so interesting because recognizing that all children have different needs

http://successfullearners.ca/

This weekend I went to the BCTELA.  I went to see Susan Bannister talk about her successful learners traits.

WOW! This aligns perfectly with teaching an inclusive classroom.  She talked about teaching 7 traits explicitly to help students be able to use the language to talk about their own work and effort they are putting in.  For example:  Was I compassionate today, or was I industrious.  She gave us so many tips on how to use this and how to teach it.  She talks about what traits lead to success.  Teaching these traits explicitly is what will help our students achieve success, especially the ones at risk.  Again modelling is the key for this to work.

“It has been my passionate belief that building capacity, resilience and compassion within our students is more important than teaching knowledge and skills in content areas. Consider that any high school student, with a mobile phone device, has more current knowledge than the entire faculty of their school. So why does our educational establishment continue to place such a high value on content-driven curriculum and testing practices? We are no longer living in an age where ‘access to knowledge or information’ is an issue. I feel that a content driven curricula actually undermines a relevant education for students. As educators, we cannot compete with google. We know that in education our priorities, methods, structures and testing practices must shift”

 

 

Social Thinking

This clip explains what social thinking is.  Michelle Garcia created the term social thinking.  She explains that it is the ability to consider your own and others (whether it be in a book, with peers or the teacher teaching in a classroom) thoughts, emotions, beliefs and intentions to be able to respond and understand what is going on through social interactions.  Think of a child reading a book and trying to explain the characters without the ability to imagine others experiences?  This would be really hard.  As teachers we need to bring in imaginative play in the classrooms to encourage good social skills.  We need to teach our kids social thinking skills at a young age so it becomes habit and they have a lot of practice.  We need to teach self- regulation so students can have successful interactions, instead of being seen as someone who freaks out, or a cry baby.  We need to help kids answer the question, how do I want people to see me?  We need to learn how to adapt our behaviour based on the people and the situation so people react to you how you had hoped.  We need to teach problem solving to help meet these goals.

There are a few social thinking curriculums that would be really classroom friendly.  The incredible flexible you (Michelle Garcia Winner) series 1, would be best with ages 4-8, but anyone on the spectrum would benefit from these skills.  The books, are about a group of children that go on adventures exploring a number of social issues.  The first being, whole body listening.  This seems like an easy concept but you would be surprised the amount of kindergarteners that need help learning this skill.  The next book is called Body in the group, teaching what it looks like to have your whole body participating in an activity.  They go on to, thinking with your eyes, which is like tracking and learning to look where someone is pointing.  The next 2 books are a little more advanced, they are called The Group Plan, and Thinking Thoughts and Feeling Feelings.  These books tackle harder concepts but build off of the first 3 books.  Understanding where thoughts and feelings come from, and grasping what others may be feeling is tough.  Working together in a group even though the group plan may not be what you want to do is hard for most adults let alone young children.

The second series is also wonderful tackling even more social concepts building off of the first series.  You can check all of these resources out and many more at the social thinking website.  https://www.socialthinking.com/Products You are going to be amazed at the wonderful resources that are available to you here.

The Canucks Autism network also has a free lending library for anyone who wants to read about social thinking or educate yourselves on Autism.

http://www.canucksautism.ca/Learn_more_about_autism/Autism_Lending_Library.htm

Michelle Garcia Winner is amazing at explaining Social Thinking skills.  I just found this interesting in this day and age where electronics play a huge role in everyone’s lives.  This is a quick video talking about the strain electronics is putting on our social skills.  When you are on social media you can multitask darting your eyes from different things and nobody cares.  When the switch happens to real people eye contact is hard.  Eye contact is essential to make connections and show that you care about the person your speaking with.  Families need to unplug and have time to communicate with each other to build these skills.  They need to learn to tolerate the good and the bad together.

Perspective taking

To understand perspective taking you really need to understand “theory of mind”.  This is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  To understand their mental state, this includes feelings, motives, desires and intensions.

 

Most children by school age understand this theory.  Some of our students of course will not.  For example, children on the autism spectrum have trouble understanding that everyone does not think what they thinking.  Just because they are thinking about cars and want to tell you everything about cars, doesn’t mean your interested in cars.  They wont ask you or notice your body gestures change to being frustrated or annoyed because you have been standing there for an hour listening to random facts about cars.  For these kids we need to explicitly teach this concept.

I found a book series called “Weird”by Erin Frankel .  There are 3 books and each book is from the perspective of one of the main characters.  It allows us the glimpse into all the characters minds to think about why they made decisions the way that they did.

“The Weird series encourages children that are being bullied to stand up for themselves . . . bystanders to act when they see something bad happening . . . [and] children who are bullying others to reassess their actions and motivations.” –“The Children’s Book Review”

I did a lesson using one of the books “Dare”, to teach perspective taking in a grade 4/5 class.  My goal was to help them look at the character Sam who plays the bully, and maybe have some empathy and understanding of why she might be a bully.  I read the story and then split them up into 6 groups, each group getting a different question about one of the three characters.  I was amazed at what the groups who had Sam came up with, the two questions were, “How could you help Sam to be a better friend?”, and “Why do you think Sam is a bully?”.  They said, that maybe Sam was lonely, maybe she was being bullied too (at home or outside of school), maybe she doesn’t know how to be a good friend, maybe she is nervous and uncomfortable, maybe she is shy, maybe we could model what a good friend looks like by being her friend… The other main goal was to have them understand that if your being bullied you need to change from being  a victim and learn to stand up for yourself.  They seemed to grasp both of my goals very well.  This was exactly what I was hoping for.  For the kids that could not answer these questions,  they now had an opportunity to learn from their peers, and then the last question everyone had to answer  was what did you learn from this lesson?.

 

Empathy

This short video helps the watcher to understand what empathy is and demonstrates and example of it action.
I think before we can demonstrate inclusion we need to teach our students about empathy.  I was researching what that might look like in the classroom and found the friend to friend group.  They would be a great way to teach your class about how we are all different and how its those differences which make us rich.  Using puppets, stories and real life scenarios would be a great way to learn about anything, right?
I contacted them and because I am not part of a non-profit organization they will not train me or give me the materials to teach this.  I will continue to look into it as this would be an amazing tool to have in any school, and especially in my own classroom.

Friend to friend http://www.friend2friendsociety.org/childrens-programs/puppets/

This is an inclusive program designed to foster understanding, acceptance and empathy in all who participate

Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society is a British Columbia-based not-for-profit organization formed in 2002 for the purpose of promoting mutually rewarding …
Many classes here in Victoria do a program called roots of empathy.  This is where they bring in a new born baby and together as a class they watch the baby grow for the entire year.  I think this is great for some learners.  My son who is on the autism spectrum disorder did not learn empathy this way.  He has no interest in babies at all, he finds them loud, smelly and boring.  He can’t understand why they have a different rule rubric then he does and is annoyed by that.  He would however respond to the puppet program.  I don’t think only one way of teaching anything is enough as there are 25+ students who all have different learning styles in every classroom.
The great thing about teaching Empathy inside a classroom is there are always teaching moments that will come up during the day surrounding empathy.  For example: If a students pet dies, we can talk about why this is upsetting and how we should be a little extra gentle or understanding as that student is having a hard day.  This will go hand in hand with perspective taking.  These skills are taught or should be taught all day everyday without even knowing it.  Its taking it a step further and teaching it explicitly for meaning that will make the difference for a lot of students.
A funny story about our own pet dying… My youngest son is on the Autism spectrum and empathy is a difficult piece for him.  My eldest son was very upset crying when George our hamster suddenly died.  My youngest son says “why is he crying so much?” I say “well typically when a pet dies it is upsetting and creates a feeling of sadness making people cry”. He responded with “well it wasn’t even a real pet, I never got to play with it”.  Fair enough.

Why isn’t inclusion easy?

All people have a deep desire to be included, yet we tend to surround ourselves with people who are most like us.  We all know how terrible it feels to be excluded, yet we all do this to other people.  How can we expect children in our classrooms to be inclusive and non judgemental when the teachers and adults surrounding them do not exercise this themselves?

This is a great book about making friends.  Its about self esteem and self worth.  Its about how it is ok to be different and its those differences which make us unique and special.  I think this is a nice demonstration of acceptance, not only for other people to accept us but how we need first to accept ourselves.  This would be a great book to lead into teaching how we are all different and we need to love who we are before we can really fit in anywhere.

I am always trying to instill this concept into my children who are 7 and 9 years old.  Before we go to bed we say “I love who I am”, along with one reason why.  At first this was very difficult for them as it would be for anyone.  Talking positively to ourselves is hard, but once we practice it becomes very easy.  It is like anything, practice makes perfect!  This is no different then teaching our brains to see the beauty in peoples differences, it takes practice.  Once we begin to see the how these difference help us grow, and how diversity is so beautiful, we can allow people to be who they are, and we can be who we are destined to be, ourselves.