February is Inclusive Education Month in Canada

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It’s National Inclusive Education Month! Check out the Inclusive Education Canada website for daily commentaries from educators, students, and parents on their views and experiences with Inclusive Education in Canada.

Our vision is that all people with intellectual disabilities are fully included with their peers in regular education, with appropriate supports from early childhood through to post secondary and adult life-long learning.

Visit: http://inclusiveeducation.ca/

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Chair Leader Advocacy Week

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During the week of May 25 to May 29, 2015, Spinal Cord Injury Alberta – Medicine Hat, will be hosting a week-long event of CHAIR-LEADERS in the community of Medicine Hat. We are inviting members of our community to participate in this advocacy event to draw attention to daily barriers to wheel chair users.

Chair Leaders is an event that focuses primarily on the issue surrounding accessibility and mobility for persons with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities. Developed in Nova Scotia, Chair-Leaders has already established itself as a fun and effective awareness effort. This special event had community leaders wheeling through their workdays, allowing them to gain firsthand insight into what those in the disability community face on a day-to-day basis.

Although the Chair-Leaders event is intended to be an eye-opener for participants, it also aims to raise funds during the campaign. These funds will be used to help Spinal Cord Injury (Alberta) in continuing to provide services to individuals who struggle with mobility issues in our community.

We invite you and other members of your organization to participate in this community event. Donations are welcomed, though are not a requirement to participate in this exciting event.

May 28, 2015

Hugh Lehr, Associate Superintendent of Learning Services will be participating as a Chair Leader for the day.  Donations will be accepted at the MHCBE district office.Chair Leader Handout (2)

Learning Assistant PD Day

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On January 23rd, the MHCBE Learning Assistants will be participating in a PD day related to the work they do with our school division.  Topics/Presentations will include:

  • Supporting all Students
  • FASD
  • Autism
  • Visual Supports for Regulation
  • Supporting Learners

By clicking on the Professional Learning tab at the top of the page you will be able to access presentations, handouts and other PD materials as we move forward.

Professional Learning Opportunity: Dr. Stuart Shanker on Self-Regulation

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Stuart Shanker (2013) defines self regulation as a group of abilities that we develop gradually throughout childhood, adolescence and even into adulthood. These abilities include:

  • The ability to attain, maintain and change one’s level of energy to match the demands of a task or situation.
  • The ability to monitor and modify one’s emotions.
  • The ability to sustain and shift one’s attention and to ignore distractions when necessary.
  • The ability to understand both the meaning of a variety of interactions and how to engage in them in a sustainable way.
  • The ability to connect with and care about what others are thinking and feeling; To empathize and act accordingly.

These skills are clearly connected to school and life success. A child who does not yet have the skills to independently deal with the stressors of day-to-day life may be impulsive, withdrawn, or even aggressive. The job of those supporting the growth and development of self-regulations skills in children shifts from that of regulating them when they are young to supporting them to build the skills that will result in the ability to self-regulate as they grow. This ability can take years to develop and will develop at different rates for each child.

Regulating children is the not about “making” children behave in certain ways. The focus is on developing self-regulation skills rather than on controlling and/or eliminating “behaviours”. Initially, adults help children manage their lives and move toward self-regulation by comforting them and helping them to calm when they are overwhelmed or upset, by providing them with predictable and stable schedules and routines, by monitoring their regulation state and providing the needed calming or alerting activities, by helping them to understand and manage feelings, and by guiding and supporting them in their interactions with others.

From day to day and situation to situation, a child’s ability to regulate their behaviour, attention, emotions and social interactions will vary. Some days and situations will be hard. In order for children to learn to self-regulate, the adults in their lives will need to help them to understand what sorts of experiences or activities leave them drained or overwhelmed and what they can do to feel better when this happens.

Dr. Stuart Shanker will be in Medicine Hat on March 17, 2015 to talk about the nature of self-regulation, the experiences that promote the development of self regulation, and the factors that impede it’s development. In his talk, he will provide information on what parents and those working in education can do to enhance the self-regulation of each and every child.

Click here to learn more about this learning opportunity or to register.

To learn more about self-regulation, check out the following article written by Dr. Stuart Shanker: Self-Regulation: Calm, Alert and Learning

Parent Perspective: Our Hopes for Hunter

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hopeThank you to Dan and Laura Bernhart for enhancing an assembly with the theme of hope by sharing their hopes for their son Hunter.

I am the parent of a ten year boy named Hunter. I was recently asked to speak at his school about what hopes my husband and I have for him. This is what we wrote.

What are our hopes for Hunter?

  1. Our hope is that Hunter will always be surrounded by people who love him as strong as we love him, and will advocate for him his entire life, even after we are gone.
  2. Our hope is that we, as his parents, can continue to make progress in our understanding of Hunter and who he is. Some days we feel so very far away. Every so often we get just the smallest glimpse of his world.
  3. Our hope is that Hunter is able to further conquer his behaviours in a constructive manner before he gets too big.
  4. Our hope is that Hunter learns to read and write, so he is able to communicate with our world and that one day we will be able to communicate with his world; that we can ask him all the questions we’ve been saving up all these years.
  5. Our hope is that on the rough days we are able to rest in the peace of Jesus and stay strong enough to help Hunter through the darkness. And on the good days that we can savour every second, every moment, and store those seconds and moments away in our hearts.
  6. Our hope is that Hunter finds his passion, finds the one thing that will drive him.
  7. Our hope is that Hunter continues to attract people that love him and want to be part of his life. Through his infectious smile and kind heart, Hunter draws the best out of people around him.
  8. Our hope is that Hunter will not be defined as “the autistic boy”, but rather the boy who is happy, caring, and makes people feel special and loved.

100% of the adults are there for 100% of the students!

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Each fall, the Alberta Teacher’s Association Special Education Council hosts a conference for professionals who support the education of diverse learners. This year’s theme was “Celebrating the Challenges” and the pre-conference speaker was Dr. Paula Kluth.

“Dr. Paula Kluth is a consultant, author, advocate, and independent scholar who works with teachers and families to provide inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities and to create more responsive and engaging schooling experiences for all learners. Paula is a former special educator who has served as a classroom teacher and inclusion facilitator. Her professional interests include differentiating instruction and inclusive schooling.” (http://www.paulakluth.com/about-paula/)

Paula Kluth challenges her readers and audiences to recognize inclusion as a process that involves working toward increased student success through the continual evaluation and revision of practice. During her session at “Celebrating the Challenges” she stated that “we include kids to create life chances.” When a student who has a disability is placed in a general education classroom, the student and the team that supports his/her learning is able to focus on the process of profiling and using that student’s preferences, strengths and abilities to continually increase active participation in the same learning and social opportunities as his/her peers.

Inclusive schools value the inclusion and collaboration of all members of the school community – both students and adults. During her session, Paula Kluth stated that in inclusive schools “100% of the adults are there for 100% of the students.” In this way, the expertise of all adults and students in the school can be tapped in to in the process of supporting the diversity of learners that exist in to today’s classrooms.

The final major topics of the presentation were related to brain breaks and the sharing of websites that include practical information on a range of topics from inclusive practices to brain breaks. Websites to check out that were shared include:

http://www.paulakluth.com: Paula Kluth’s website dedicated to promoting inclusive school and exploring ways of supporting students with autism and other disabilities.

http://www.brainbreaks.blogspot.com: Dave Sladkey, a teacher from Napperville, Illinois shares ideas for energizing brain breaks that can be used in any classroom.

http://www.differentiationdaily.com: Paula Kluth posts a new easy-to-implement idea each day to help teachers reach and teach all learners in k-12 classrooms.

For more information, the handouts from Paula Kluth’s session can be found the conference website: http://www.specialeducation.ab.ca/conference-2014/celebrating-the-challenges-2014/conference-keynote-speakers-2014/speaker-handouts-resources

Learning Technologies: Information for Teachers Website

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In the book Resource Teachers: A Changing Role in the Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning, Jennifer Katz wrote about the need to consider our beliefs about students with learning disabilities in the process of planning instruction and intervention:

“There is a place in UDL for remediation. However, we must first determine the nature of our beliefs about students and their disabilities. When I ask an English language arts teacher whether a student with a visual impairment can receive an A in their course – even if the novel or play they are studying is not available in Braille, the answer is always yes. When I ask them how they would assess this student, they quickly respond that they would read the text aloud or use an audiobook, and then assess the student’s understanding of the book. For the sake of argument then, we are saying a student who cannot read the text can still receive an A in English. Yet when I ask teachers weather a grade 9 student reading at grade 3 level can receive an A in their course, the answer is almost unanimously no. When asked why, they respond that he student cannot read the texts required in the course, and is not meeting expectations for reading. In other words, a student with a visible disability can be excused from decoding, but a student with an invisible disability cannot, even if they have a documented disability. Why would we punish students with invisible disabilities? Is the act of reading about the physical ability to lift the word off the page? Or is it the ability to appreciate literature, make sense of an author’s communication, draw inference and make connections, analyze plot and character, and so on?

I am not suggesting that we just give a student a student an A, but I am suggesting that we make the same accommodations for a student with an invisible disability that we make for a student with a visible one, and then mark them on the depth of their thought, not on the skill of decoding. Similarly, if I ask a teacher whether a student who is quadriplegic and cannot physically write their thoughts on paper can get an A in their course, they almost unanimously reply yes. When asked how they would assess the student, they reply they would ask the student to express their understanding orally, then rate the depth of understanding. Even in English language arts, one can mark an oral presentation for sentence structure, descriptive language organization, and other mechanics of writing. So it is only the physical ability to put pencil to paper that is compromised , and perhaps their spelling. Many of the students with learning disabilities who struggle with expressing themselves in writing, yet demonstrate a high level of understanding during class discussions, are assessed based on written tests and assignments and receive poor marks, or fail, courses across the curriculum. Again, why would we punish a student for having an invisible disability?

We discussed in earlier chapters how we punish students with invisible disabilities by devising programs on an IEP that requires the student to spend all day doing what they cannot do, and failing. We do not expect a student with a visual impairment to learn to see or a student with a physical disability to learn to walk, but we force students with learning disabilities to spend years in remediation programs that only result in frustration and failure because we refuse to acknowledge that an invisible disability is un-fixable. Instead of helping the student see what they can do, and building on their strengths by teaching them how to adapt to their disability as we would do for the student with a visual or physical disability, we focus on what they cannot do and consider that, if we don’t keep trying to fix it, we are ‘giving up’.”

Source: Katz, Jennifer. 2013. Resource Teachers: A Changing Role in the Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning. Winnipeg, MB: Portage & Main Press.

Learning Technologies have the potential to break down barriers to participation and learning and support students in learning how to adapt to their “disabilities”.  The Learning Technologies: Information for Teachers Website has been developed for teachers, administrators, parents, learning assistants, students and others who want to know more about how educational and assistive technologies (learning technologies) can support student learning.