I started writing this post a long time ago, but after this week it feels right to finalize it. At Academia Cotopaxi, we are an inclusive learning community and we accept children with a variety of learning needs. Last week, we hosted a two-day conference called Journey Toward Inclusion for schools in the region and then we had three days of workshops for our community members. To support our learning, we invited Kristen Pelletier, one of the founding Directors and Design Team Members of the Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI) collaborative. Kristen has us reflect upon inclusion, our learning support model and the importance of executive functions. Lots of thoughts and ideas have been going through my mind and I need to put them down.
Accessibility of learning
I have always worked in inclusive schools and I feel privileged to have been trained in the UK about fifteen years ago as a lot of those current conversations about accessibility of learning happened back then too. And every time I tried, as a teacher, different teaching strategies for make learning accessible to all learners, every time I hear about them in meetings when reviewing Individual Learning Plans (ILP) or in conferences/workshops I inevitably think: teaching strategies that should be implemented for particular students are effective for all students. Quality educators use a wide variety of teaching tools to make sure that address their students’ needs. That’s it. And thinking that there is too much content to cover, like it may happen at High School level, to take time to vary teaching strategies is to be on a path where content will be eventually internalized by a small proportion of students, whether they have ILP’s or not. The conversation may not be about specific students’ need, but it is about all students.
Co-teaching and co-planning
Through a meaningful protocol, Kristen Pelletier had us realise that our next step at Academia Cotopaxi is to focus more on the collaboration (co-planning and co-teaching) as a model of our learning service delivery. This is big. And it starts now as it means being creative with the resources that we have and purposefully scheduling for collaborative meeting time with the learning support specialists. Research is showing that this is the best model to support students with learning needs, but a tendency has been to have learning support specialists pushing-in in classrooms. A lot to continue thinking about and to plan for.
Kristen Pelletier also took a good chunk of time with a team of educators and students to help us deepen our understanding and develop good practices regarding executive functions. The focus was on Margaret Searle’s big 6:
-planning and problem-solving
While this sounds obvious since these are crucial for a robust learning journey, the big 6 need to be explicitly taught. Since we have started a school wide curriculum review, it may be time to develop a scope and sequence for executive functions so that we build those over the years.
Impact on recruitment
As the recruiting season unfolds, our work with Kristen Pelletier made me even more aware of the importance of strong hiring practices aligned with our inclusion policy. I am currently updating my bank of questions for interviews with all of the above. Prospective new educators need to know what we do and we need to make sure that their teaching philosophy and practices match what we believe in.
So, we had a fantastic five-day experience at Academia Cotopaxi with Kristen Pelletier. We can’t wait to put in place many of the ideas that have come out of the work we did together and we hope that we can continue our collaboration. Merci Kirsten!
For what it’s worth…
Searle, Margaret. Causes & Cures in the Classroom: Getting to the Root of Academic and Behavior Problems. ASCD, 2013.