Supporting Diverse Learners: Visual Notes and Other Perspectives

I have a social hangover…

I am spent…

I haven’t yet been able to get to the place where I feel caught up, but like I shared in my previous post – it has been an intense, but positive, couple of weeks.

I went directly from the IASE Conference, to working as a part of the instructional team for the final week of a two-year Graduate Program for Educators with Simon Fraser University.

I began working with this group of educators as a mentor and a part of the instructional in September 2011. My reflections from when this program was just beginning for these teachers are below:

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

This is the Yin and Yang of possibility…

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 on the autism spectrum, 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 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…” (L. Kelley, September 2011)

Working with this group of educators and the other members of the instructional team has been an amazing experience; one that has stretched me and challenged me, and one that I would certainly repeat. And this week… we wound up the final leg of the learning journey that lies within this program. It has been so interesting to be a part of the support system during their inquiry process – and I feel comfortable in sharing that this wonderful group of educators has completely fulfilled my expectations.

We spent Monday and Tuesday celebrating and listening and sharing their final presentations and reflections about their learning, their inquiry, and their practice as educators.

Here are my visual notes from those two days:

SDL Visual Notes. Leah Kelley.jpgThese Teachers give me hope!

Related post on visual note-taking and perspectives: Where choice lives… and thoughts on perspective


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 (2013)   

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
This entry was posted in Aspergers, Autism, diversity, Educator, Journey, Neurodiversity, Public Education, Sometimes the pace chooses me..., Special Education, Teacher and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Supporting Diverse Learners: Visual Notes and Other Perspectives

  1. Brilliant, Leah! Will spread this post far and wide in the ASD and Mental Health communities… researchers, advocates, and people with lived experience. Thank you for sharing. Most encouraging!


  2. Hello Leah – I am a teacher – I teach in a specialist ASD school in the UK and travel to mainstream schools to train and support teachers and pupils about ASD. Your blog seems really interesting and I will keep on looking at it to see what I can learn. Thank you. Lynn


  3. Elissa says:

    Although I have to admit that your visual notes present information in a way that is far from how I best understand it, I also have to say that they are beautiful! They capture meaning in so much more of a nuanced way than any of my plane-jane, logical and ordered ways.


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment. Logical and ordered ways are good and needed as well.

      There are many different learning styles and ways of listening… and organizing and processing information.

      These visual notes serve an additional function for me as they assist me in focusing and listening attentively, which can be a struggle at times.


  4. Leah, I’m so encouraged to find educators like you who will spread understanding and advocacy far and wide on behalf of neurodiverse individuals. I’ve learned, as a therapist, and as a father of a child on the spectrum, of the importance of individualizing parenting and treatment to reflect each person’s unique strengths and learning styles. I love your drawing!!!


  5. Pingback: Famous People With Autism - Tim Burton

  6. Alana says:

    Social hangover.

    I really love that phrase.

    It is so ridiculously applicable to my life right now.


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