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Archive for September, 2010

Adding to My Own Bag of Tricks

September 19, 2010 6 comments

When my son suggested that I sign up for twitter, I couldn’t understand why.    He’s the one I rely on to show me the things I don’t know how do do on the computer.  If the dvr has to be set on the TV, it’s him again.  If we still had a VCR, you know who would be responsible.  It’s not like  I’m totally inept.  I learned enough of the basics of computer usage to do whatever I had to do at work or at home, and that was enough for me.

 I didn’t even know what twitter was.  He assured me that I would like it, that I could connect with other educators.  Still not knowing what he was talking about, I decided I had  nothing to lose  so I figured I’d give it a try.   After helping me to set up my account, my son  tried to explain the basics to me.   It’s amazing  how  this creative, patient, talented teacher forgets that he has  all of those qualities when he has to explain something to his mother.   Be that as it may, I, with his assistance, plodded through the initial use.   He suggested people that I could follow , which I was grateful for.   Then I tried to follow the tweets of  those people.   Oh my, not an easy feat.   As you know, those tweets come fast and furious and it is quite a challenge to read them all.    My initial reaction was, this is not for me, people are talking in stream of consciousness, it makes no sense.   Frustration was setting in and I just couldn’t make sense of my relationship to twitter.

The turning point for me was #spedchat.   Here I found my niche.  Though the tweets are fast, the topics are interesting.   Since special education is my field, I felt that I could contribute some valid tweets.  It is clear that the people who come into this chat are caring, committed educators who want to make a difference in the lives of their students and their families.   Along with teachers,  parents, administrators, advocates, and  organizations, participate in this chat.   They are the pioneers of change who are questioning the system.  They are the innovators who understand the importance of not accepting the status quo.  They are the life long learners who soak up knowledge.   Some are new to the field and others are close to retirement, or like me, retired.   No matter what, they are the people who stimulate my thinking.   Reading  their ideas, sharing  thoughts and insights, offering suggestions,  is what twitter  is about for me.  My son, who is a third year teacher, but is teaching children with disabilities for the first time, participates in this chat as well.   I find myself looking forward to Tuesdays at 8:30PM (EST) to get involved in the lively, invigorating discussions .  Thanks to  @spedteacher for organizing these chats and  @damien613 for skillfully moderating them. 

The other part of twitter that I find intriguing is being able to speak to people who are all over the world.   How interesting it is to hear how schools in other countries operate but more interesting, to hear the commonalities amongst the  fabulous educators who  are striving for what is best for their students.  All this, without having to leave my home.

So as I reflect, I must admit, I still don’t get all about twitter that there is to know and I probably never will.  (Hopefully reading  Twitter for Dummies will help.)   What I do know is that I am learning more everyday.  I am directed to posts and blogs that are inspirational  and useful to read. (thanks to @gret for her last blog which inspired me to write this one).  I can make comments on the blogs of children in Argentina (kudos to @gret),  as I read their thoughts and dreams.  I can share information with hundreds of people at once and get immediate feedback. And to think,  I, who didn’t know what twitter was a few weeks ago, now has my own PLN.

   I plan to speak to my student teachers about the benefits of twitter as a way to enhance their knowlege and experiences.   I will  encourage them to sign up,  read some blogs, try some of the chats and develop their own PLN.   I will  tell them that this is a guaranteed way to add to their developing bag of tricks.  

  Many thanks to my son for sharing the innovations of twitter, encouraging me to blog. and adding  something extremely valuable  to his mother’s bag of tricks.

The Other Side of the Table

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment

A lot of thoughts are going through my mind after being a part of the first #spedchat last night.  There were so many wonderful strategies and ideas shared by a very committed group of educators.  One of the discussions that I gravitated to focussed on  parents being involved in the IEP of their child.  This reminded me of a true encounter I had about 20 years ago.  I was a unit coordinator.   I was in charge of a few classes at an offsite of our school.  I was an experienced educator in the field of special education,  taught for many years, wrote a myriad of IEPS,  attended many trainings on the IEP process and did  turnkey trainings as well.

 I was asked by a colleague of mine,  Ms. D,  to accompany her to her son’s IEP conference at the Committee on Special Education.  The purpose of this meeting was to discuss  moving her son, who was already in a class for children with  disabilities, to a more restrictive environment.  His school felt that he wasn’t doing well in his current setting;  too many behavior issues.   Ms. D  thought  that I could help her negotiate the process and I was happy to assist.  Sure, I was a professional;  I held IEP meetings in the school many times;  I  knew how to write IEPs:  this would be simple.  Nothing could have prepared either one of us for what we encountered.

  We were greeted by a social worker who alleged knew Ms. D’s  son so well that he could make all of the recommendations for his educational future.  He rattled off the results of the tests, using terminology that was unfamiliar to Ms. D.   He listed all of the negative qualities of her 7 year old and made his case for why this child needed a more restrictive environment.   He monopolized the conversation and made Ms. D  feel like she was a bad, unconcerned parent.  (let me mention that Ms. D was a hardworking single  mother of 3, divorced from her husband, a drug abuser.)  If  Ms. D  asked a question, the answer was trite and flippant.   The psychologist  was a bit more compassionate  but certainly not an advocate.   I,  someone who is usually very verbal, was so shaken,  that I had little to say.  Ms. D and I left the meeting  feeling  angry and disheartened.  It was not the issue of her son being moved to a different school.  Ms. D felt that he would have greater supports and opportunities for success in an environment where the staff was more experienced in working with children with emotional disabilities.   She was optimistic about the change.  The issue for her was the way she was treated at the meeting.  The issue for me was the way she was treated at the meeting.

 As someone who takes every experience as a learning experience,  this was a big one.   I reflected on my school,  how we wrote IEPS,  how we embraced parents, how we made them feel (or not feel) welcome as partners in the education of their child and as stakeholders in the school,  how we valued their input and insights about their child…I realized that,  as much as I thought we were inclusive and welcoming,  there was certainly room for improvement.   Being on the other side of the table at that IEP conference taught me so much.

 A few things that I learned and believe:

 Parents need to be listened to,  no one knows their child better than they do.  They provide invaluable information that helps us to more completely understand and work with their child.

 Parents need to be acknowledged.  Though we may not always agree, we need to respect what the parent is saying.

 Parents need support.  Many have been beaten down by the system for  years,  told that their child is” less than” and made to feel that they are” less than” as well.  In our role as educators,  and in turn nurturers,  parents need nurturing too.

 Parents need ongoing information about the school,  its values, policies,  how the IEP process works and what their rights are.   Transparency is crucial.

 Parents need to learn and believe that they are the main advocate for their child;  their voice is stronger than any teacher’s or administrator’s.  Information about advocacy groups,  parent support groups and  agencies that provide service should be made available to them. 

 There is certainly much  more to add to this, which I hope some of you will. 

 So the end of this story:  Ms. D’s son flourished in his new school,  felt valued, and instead of getting a steady stream of negativity,  both son and mother received much positive feedback.   He is an adult now,  finished high school,  attended college and is a successful,  contributing,  working,  member of his family.  After the meeting I called the chairperson of the Committee on Special Education to complain about the lack of professionalism and insensitivity on the part of  the social worker and psychologist.  He assured me that he would address them.

Now,  over 20 years later,  I can thank that social worker and psychologist for the horrible way they conducted the meeting and treated Ms. D.   They certainly helped to change the way I  value and work with parents.