Last night I started a new adventure: I am part of the instructional team for a 2 year Graduate Field Studies Program for teachers who are pursuing a diploma in Supporting Diverse Learners at a major university here on the West Coast. As it was the first night, I was a bit nervous – but mostly I was just excited about this fabulous opportunity.
So in this, the second week of school, at the end of a full day of teaching, these educators stepped into the role of learner and began a new school year for themselves. I am not under the illusion that I was the only one experiencing that lovely combination of anxiety and anticipation… the room crackled with energy at times.
Anxiety and anticipation: this is like the Chinese symbol for risk or danger that is identical to the symbol for opportunity. This speaks to me: there is a risk inherent in opportunity…
The opportunity created by our movements within our lives
and our interactions with others…
This room full of teachers gives me hope. These educators are willing to commit 2 years to learning more about their own teaching practice in order to understand and support the diversity that they encounter daily in their classrooms. These teachers can have an amazing impact. Along with increasing their own understanding, acceptance and ability to support those with diverse learning needs – they will likely have a far-reaching impact upon their students as they model the attitudes that we would like to see in children and adults alike.
And me? I am learning about my edges… where I leave off and another begins… and that space in-between of interaction. That space and these edges fascinate me. The intricate themes of interaction, self-determination and personhood apply to adults from all walks of life just like they apply to the special education students with whom I work.
I may be there as an instructor… but I am a certainly a student as well. I am curious about my teaching practice and what I might learn from my own attitude of inquiry as well as from my interactions with other educators as they make their way along their respective paths. The reality is that the perspectives of my students, whether they have been in grade one, twelve, or my adult colleagues, have always been a source of learning.
My experiences as a special educator and as a parent of a child with autism/Autistic child, have taught me much as well. It is when people, like this group of educators, or those of you reading my blog, make the effort to understand more about those who process and experience the world differently that we begin to see change. It might not be immediately obvious… but I have great hope for the possibilities: the hopeful action of the pebble in the pond.
I have hope, as well, for the understanding that I would like to see extended to my own son and the other amazing children with whom I work. Someday my boy won’t be as cute as he is now at 12. People (adults) think he is ridiculously funny and adorable much of the time and are willing to cut him a lot of slack. His social awkwardness has a certain charm at this point. However, I am noticing that adults do not necessarily extend that same understanding to other adults.
Perhaps you don’t live with or support someone with social cognitive challenges, but the chance is good that you or someone you know has contact with an adult or child who is struggling socially or perhaps is dealing with mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression. You don’t have to look very far to see someone who is struggling in some way and could use our support and understanding rather than judgement and condemnation.
Someday my child will be an adult – and the likelihood is that he will stand out because he is different… and that is not a bad thing. This group of teachers gives me hope that many of us are taking steps, this very day, that will move us all toward being more open to differences. When we live in a world that is more forgiving of error, and perhaps a little more reluctant to judge and take offence, we will extend those attitudes to the children with whom many of us work, or parent… and the adults that they will someday become…
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2011)