Including all children – a student teacher’s reflection September 20, 2016Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Inclusive Education.
Tags: children with special needs, teacher education
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By Robert Mccluskey
I am currently studying at Western Sydney University and am in my last year of the Master of Teaching (Birth-12) Program. I have recently completed a professional experience placement in a long day care centre.
During my time at the centre one of the learning foci in my studies was the design and implementation of an inclusion plan for a child with disability. This was a new experience for me, as I hadn’t worked with many children with disabilities before so I was initially quite nervous that it would be beyond my capabilities as a pre-service educator.
Initially, I was concerned that without knowing the specifics of a child’s diagnosis, and the impacts that it may have on their learning and development, it would be difficult to cater for any of the child’s additional needs. So I spoke with the parents and staff, to learn more about the strategies that were currently being implemented and to find out about the long term and short term goals. I also researched the diagnosis in greater depth, in an effort to understand the day-to-day impact that it would have on the child’s learning.
What did I do?
The main focus for the inclusion plan was for the child to initiate in parallel and social play situations. This was done by prompting the children to play in groups, creating situations for partner play through transitions, i.e. each child picks a friend, and a construction project in which the children built and evolved a miniature construction site in the centre’s outdoor play area. It was important when implementing any of the learning opportunities for all of the centre’s staff to be informed beforehand so they could support the inclusion plan’s success.
Benefits for the child?
I found that forming positive social relationships helped generate positive self-esteem in the child. (Dunlap, 2009). I also noted that through these social relationships, the child was also able to further develop important social and language skills. (Flint, Kitson, Lowe, & Shaw, 2014). Children benefit from positive social interactions with peers and educators they respect. The inclusion plan I designed was focused on the parent’s main goal of nurturing and expanding on the child’s social interactions. In developing this plan, I hoped to see a notable benefit to all the children. Throughout my studies I learnt that inclusive practices don’t only benefit children with disabilities, but can positively support the development of all children.
What made the inclusion plan successful?
The inclusion plan’s success was largely due to collaborating with families and the educators, the ongoing dialogue with parents and staff about the child’s progress which allowed for constructive feedback to be provided. Both these elements were critical to the development of the program and its success.
Benefits for me
In working with a child with disability, I was able to understand the importance of being able to implement a range of teaching strategies so as to be able to include all the children in my care. This is a lesson that I will definitely take into my professional future, it is clear to me that stronger inclusive practices are beneficial to all of the children involved.
Dunlap, L. L. (2009). The importance of play. In An introduction to early childhood special education: Birth to age five (pp. 352-387). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Pearson.
Flint, A. S., Kitson, L., Lowe, K., & Shaw, K. (2014). Literacy in Australia: Pedagogies for engagement. Milton, Australia: John Wiley and Sons Australia.
Robert Mccluskey is a final year student in the Master of Teaching (Birth-12) Program offered by the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. His post was initially published on the education blog site, Online Community of Practice, and is reproduced here with his permission.
Tags: positive psychology, teacher education, teacher wellbeing
Teacher stress is high; in fact teachers exhibit higher levels of stress than any other profession (Stoeber & Rennert, 2008). Whether this be day to day stress related to required tasks, or stress due to institutional stress factors, teachers are struggling (Curry & O’Brien, 2012). As teachers battle exhaustion, so does their ability to cope and remain buoyant in the face of the increasing social and emotional demands placed on them, which directly impacts wellbeing (Parker, Martin, Colmar, & Liem, 2012). How do I know this? Because I too am a teacher.
Supporting teacher wellbeing is crucial because:
“Teachers worn down by their work exhibit reduced work goals, lower responsibility for work outcomes, lower idealism, heightened emotional detachment, work alienation, and self-interest. When teachers become burned out, or worn out, their students’ achievement outcomes are likely to suffer because they are more concerned with their personal survival.” (Richardson, Watt, & Devos, 2013, p. 231).
A study in the UK went one step further to show that teacher wellbeing had a direct impact on students’ SAT scores with a variance of 8%. This means teacher stress and wellbeing has a direct impact on student outcomes (Briner & Dewberry, 2007).
Wellbeing is a broad and complex area that, when discussed in a school arena, is typically centred on meeting student needs. Yet go into any staffroom and the topic of conversation will be centred around how tired, stressed and overwhelmed teachers feel. While burnout is high in experienced teachers, of greater concern is the attrition rate of beginning teachers who leave the profession because of a “lack of congruence between expectations for one’s career and the actual reality of the work” (Curry & O’Brien, 2012, p. 179). The one thing we do know is that in order for students to be well, teachers themselves must also be well (McCallum & Price, 2010). So, what are we doing to support teacher wellbeing? More specifically, what are we doing to better prepare pre-service teachers who are entering the profession?
Thankfully, we are now starting to see interventions that support teacher wellbeing beginning to feature alongside student wellbeing programs (Jones et al., 2013). A major contributor to this could be the rise of evidence based interventions coming from the field of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is a field of inquiry concerned with what makes communities and individuals thrive (Waters & White, 2015). Instead of exploring a deficit model of what is not working by asking questions such as ‘what is causing teacher stress?’, it looks at what is working by asking ‘what does teacher wellbeing look and sound like?’
This means sharing with existing and pre-service teachers about the numerous domains of wellbeing and their associated interventions. These may be in the form of Seligman’s 5 pillars known as PERMA (2011), the 6 domains of psychological wellbeing by Ryff and Keyes, (1995), or the ten items for flourishing by Huppert and So (2001) . By giving teachers evidence based tools to strengthen their wellbeing, we are not only building well teachers, we are preparing them for how to better teach wellbeing to young people with simple and practical strategies. These interventions can range from reflecting on being our best possible selves, keeping a gratitude journal, performing random acts of kindness, working with growth mindsets, setting and achieving goals, and identifying character strengths.
This does not mean we throw out the good work that is already being done in teacher education; it means we need to review what is working well and plan for ways we can more specifically address these positive interventions. Just as we explicitly teach wellbeing to young people, we must also explicitly plan ways to build a more sustainable workforce.
Briner, R., & Dewberry, C. (2007). Staff well-being is key to school success. London: Worklife Support Ltd/Hamilton House.
Curry, J. R. P., & O’Brien, E. R. P. (2012). Shifting to a Wellness Paradigm in Teacher Education: A Promising Practice for Fostering Teacher Stress Reduction, Burnout Resilience, and Promoting Retention. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 14(3), 178-191.
Howard, S., & Johnson, B. (2004). Resilient teachers: resisting stress and burnout. Social Psychology of Education: An International Journal, 7(4), 399-420. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11218-004-0975-0
McCallum, F., & Price, D. (2010). Well teachers, well students. The Journal of Student Wellbeing, 4(1), 19-34.
Parker, P. D., & Martin, A. J. (2009). Coping and buoyancy in the workplace: Understanding their effects on teachers’ work-related well-being and engagement. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(1), 68-75. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2008.06.009
Richardson, P. W., Watt, H. M., & Devos, C. (2013). Types of professional and emotional coping among beginning teachers. Emotion and school: Understanding how the hidden curriculum influences relationships, leadership, teaching, and learning, 229-253.
Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being: Simon and Schuster.
Stoeber, J., & Rennert, D. (2008). Perfectionism in school teachers: Relations with stress appraisals, coping styles, and burnout. Anxiety, stress, and coping, 21(1), 37-53.