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My child: 5 important things teachers need to know October 22, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Inclusive Education.
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 By Marion Sturges

 As a mother of a child with special needs, what follows are the five most important things I wanted to share with teachers as you undertake the very important job of teaching my child.

 1. It is important that you listen carefully – both to me and to my child. This is important for a number of reasons. Teachers may well know the curriculum, but as a parent I know my child and his issues better than anyone else. I have sat in on hours of appointments with specialists, itinerant teachers, doctors etc. I have held my child’s hand and wiped his tears when he underwent hurtful interventions or traumatic and risky tests. Further, I deal with the many day to day issues that arise with my child. I’m the one who comforted him when he was told that he couldn’t drive for an unlimited time two days after he got his L plates. I’m the one who ensures he is fed a balanced diet, is dressed for the day, does his homework and that he gets enough sleep. Teachers please don’t be afraid to tell me that you don’t know what to do when dealing with my child and when you are confused or don’t understand something. I love it when teachers are willing to seek my advice and knowledge. It tells me that you value my experience, my opinion and are willing to work with me in educating my child.

  2. Don’t be afraid to set high expectations for my child in your class. Sure, make allowances or adaptions or accommodations and yes provide scaffolding and direction, but also make sure my child is challenged. You need to truly believe that my child is capable of learning when given appropriate opportunities and supportive environments. You may just be pleasantly surprised by what my child shows you he can do. Further give my child a chance to experience success once you have challenged him and then celebrate that success with him. This encourages my child to always want to succeed. As I wrote this piece I asked my son what advice he would have for any of his past or present teachers and his answer was that he likes it when his teachers “treat him like every other child but also help him when he asks for it.” 

 3. Use any special knowledge or interests my child has to your advantage. Further don’t be afraid to use these interests in building your relationship with my child or as a motivational tool. Ensure that you provide ample opportunities for my child to tell you what he knows – there is nothing he likes better. For example, my son has always been incredibly interested in space – he hopes to be astrophysicist. I suspect his knowledge around space would rival most teachers’ knowledge – certainly he knows a lot more than me about it. What a wonderful human resource to have in your classroom. Let go of the need to be in control and let my child share his knowledge with others. You don’t always have to be the ‘teacher.’   

 4. Remember, however hard it might be dealing with my child or however difficult you feel my child is being, just getting through a day is challenging for him.  My son is exhausted when he gets home as he negotiates the physical, academic and social challenges he faces each school day. My son came home from a participating in a sports carnival in so much pain that we had to carry him to the bath. I imagine that the day was challenging for his teacher’s aide but I am certain she wasn’t the one sobbing from physical pain that night. 

 5. Look beyond my child’s disability. His disability is just one part of him. Just as other children have blue eyes or freckles my child’s disability doesn’t and shouldn’t define him. My son is more than his disabilities. I want his teachers to see the sensitive, smart, kind hearted and hardworking child he is. 

 My hope is that this has given teachers something to think about, both those just beginning their teaching journey and those more experienced. Most of the parents of a child with special needs that I know, simply want the same thing you do – the best for their child. My greatest wish is for supportive, thoughtful, caring, and knowledgeable teachers, as they undertake their all-important work in educating my child.

Marion Sturges is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney

Address to UWS School of Education Graduands – 26 September 2013 October 8, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Educational Leadership.
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By Gregory B Whitby

 As someone who has spent more than thirty years in education, I can honestly say this is a great time to be a teacher. And never before have we needed great teachers than we do today.

You are joining a profession that touches the lives of students each and every day, developing essential competencies and skills and nurturing values that will endure for a life time. All of this taking place in the context of a rapidly changing world.

 Author Daniel Pink calls this the conceptual age but I think this is the age of the learner and learning. The advances in technology just in the last decade have been incredible. I read an article in which a teacher and blogger refers to this as living in a moment of ‘ubiquitous learning’. The context may be global but for you as teachers, the challenges and opportunities are local.

 When I began my teaching career thirty years ago, the world was a very different place and so was schooling. I was handed the curriculum and with a pat on the back, I was sent into the great unknown.

 We have learnt a lot about the art and science of teaching since then. We have moved from an understanding that intelligence is fixed, a one size fits all model is the norm and that some students just simply cannot learn, to an understanding that intelligence is malleable, personalised learning is the norm and a conviction that all students can learn.

 None of us here needs reminding that schools and even universities today are under increasing pressure to improve. It’s not surprising living in a world that is changing and challenging us at incredible speed both locally and globally. Access to online learning is expanding at an incredible rate. This is the age of 24/7 connectivity and 24/7 learning.

 You have had the benefit of attending the University of Western Sydney – a university that doesn’t treat you as a number but as a learner – a university that recognises that in order for you to be successful teachers; you need to learn to teach in the same way you expect your students to learn – a university that utilises today’s tools to support good teaching.

 You leave UWS today with the knowledge AND the skills to be able to think critically, to solve problems creatively and to work collaboratively. These are the skills we want all learners to have – and our schools are faced with the very real challenge of ensuring a relevant and quality learning experience for every child no matter what their learning style or background.

 You represent a new generation of teachers who will not simply deliver the curriculum but design it. You represent a new generation of teachers who see themselves as co-learners and who see learners as active participants in the learning process. It will be your imagination, professionalism and relentless commitment to improving student learning outcomes that will drive change and shape the future of Australian schools.

 There will always be people with ideas about how schools should operate and what the role of teachers should be. And there will always be competing agendas, external requirements and daily distractions. I think beginning teachers need a degree just in the educational acronyms used – ACARA, AITSL, ATAR, PISA, TIMMS and NAPLAN. The list goes on.

But if you are to stay focussed in all of this, it is important that you keep returning to what is important. Thankfully we know a lot from decades of research about how people learn. It is this multi-disciplinary research that helps us to be more effective in teaching and the technological tools to support us in our work in ways not possible before.

 We know from the learning sciences that teacher learning is just as important as student learning. The more we learn about learning and the more teachers learn about their students’ learning, the more influential and important teaching becomes.

 Harvard Professor Richard Elmore once said “teaching isn’t rocket science; it’s actually far more complex and demanding”. He’s absolutely right. It recognises the role of teachers as team members of a learning community – engaged in the practice of reflective dialogue, collaboration and inquiry in order to continually improve the learning and teaching in schools.

 I know each of you is capable of meeting the challenges of teaching in today’s world because you have had the benefit of being taught at a university that is committed to excellence and innovation. Of course, with the challenges come the great rewards. Sometimes it’s the ordinary events that will have the most extraordinary significance. I want to share with you a story about one of my former students that reminds us of what is at the very heart of our work as teachers.

 A few years ago I received an email that asked whether I was the Greg Whitby who taught English at Liverpool Boys High School in the early 1970’s. The writer said that he just wanted to thank me for being such a great teacher. It was signed Ron Hawkins, Chief Consultant Virtual Storage, Hitachi Systems, Hong Kong.

 Ron’s face came straight back to me and I could see him sitting in the right hand side of the classroom. I would have to say he was a challenging student. We began to correspond by email and eventually, in passing through Hong Kong, we were able to catch up together. It was a great trip down memory lane. When we were leaving he said he wanted to show me something and pulled something out of his wallet – he handed me a piece of paper – and told me it was something I had written on one of his English assignments.

 I opened the paper and it was a comment I had written on an assignment on a text we were studying. On it I had written that it is easy to judge people from your own shoes but very different when you stand in another person’s. Ron told me that it was the best piece of advice that he had ever been given and that he refers to it regularly in his work. You would understand how moving that moment was for me. To know that you have had such a profound influence on someone’s life and his achieved so much because of the education he received.

 There are thousands of stories like this that reveal a universal truth – teachers do make a difference. They reflect what the late author Morris West called ‘moments of grace’. I don’t mean grace in the religious sense but in the sense that you often, in teaching, get the opportunity to see the extraordinary in the very ordinary work that you do. I hope there are many moments of grace throughout your careers.

 There has been debate about the role of teachers in today’s world – are they mediators of learning or sages on the stage, are you a teacher or a learner? I say you are all of these but I believe teachers in today’s world are also prophets.

 The word ‘prophet’ comes from the Greek word (profetes) meaning advocate. Biblical prophets were advocates – agents of social change through their words and actions. You are advocates for a new way of learning and teaching that is relevant to today’s learner and today’s world.

When you walk into your classrooms every day, remember that what you are doing is transforming children’s lives by giving them opportunities to become better learners and better people. You are shaping the future of our nation.

 I trust that each member of today’s graduating class is leaving the University of Western Sydney with fond memories and life-long friends and of course, as life-long learners.

 Congratulations to each of you on the occasion of your graduation. I hope that you find yourselves in positions where you are supported by the strength, wisdom and experiences of others. I trust you will find personal meaning and significance in the work you share with your colleagues.

As the great American pedagogue John Dewey said “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” I wish you every success – stay passionate and stay learning.

Gregory B Whitby is Executive Director of Schools, Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta

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