Don’t Dis my Ability

As a teacher with a learning disability (and yes, I still hate that word) I work to create inclusive and equity based learning communities. But in actuality, as a teacher, coach, and leader, I often hit a wall when it came to certain learners. In those tired times I asked myself;

How do I reach this kid?
This worked before for a kid just like this, why won’t it work now!
Why are they _____ instead of _____?
What am I doing wrong?
What if I fail this learner?
How can I get the parents to work with me on this?

In those moments, I have been really lucky to have worked within systems that have support for diverse learners. Over my teaching journey I have had to reach out, and collaborate with my squad. I had to call on the experts and take feedback on how my inquiry-based-brightly coloured room might need to be toned down, how my white visual thinking papers may need to be printed on a soft blue, and how my rocking fun dance parties might be distracting.

I have been told how my preference for all-black attire might be off-putting, or how my invitational provocations might need explicit direct skill development front-loading with some children. How differentiation might not be enough, how the kid rolling on the carpet or hiding under the table.. well, he or she is still learning.

I came to ❤ specialist and support teachers. They are highly trained in their field, take the time to learn a myriad of strategies, and are hired specifically to help children and teachers succeed, inclusively.

I have got to know one such teacher this year. Always smiling, always working toward inclusion, I met Erin Madonna this year when I moved to Shekou, China. Over my short few months I have learned a bit about her story. As a young teacher Erin chose to spend her first decade of teaching at Title 1 schools in Delaware, USA .

When she first told me that, I nodded a Canadian clueless nod. These must be the best schools after all, they are numbered as 1. I later Googled “Title 1 Schools” and found that Title 1 Elementary and Secondary schools have high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families, that require additional financial help from the government to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards. These children are often housing and food at risk. Erin shared the story of a Grade 2 child she taught that looked after a toddler sibling- cooking meals, washing clothing, changing diapers- because mom was in prison and Grandma (the primary care giver) had cancer and was listless on the couch. These children had real and significant crisis needs, and Erin was there to help them learn in the best way she could.

Now, half-way across the planet Erin faces different challenges. I watch her work to increase equity with the local Chinese teachers around her, provide free professional development sessions to those who are willing to come. She advocates for the learning needs of the children in the school no matter their difference and educates parents and teacher on how they can work in partnership for change.

She does this while being a mom, a quilter, and a Pierogi making fiend.

I am telling you, as a kid with a disability that remained undiagnosed until my thirties, who was teased and misunderstood, and who came from a poor family- Erin is the kind of teacher with the kind of skills that I dreamed one day would save me.

So why am I telling you this story? Because Erin is coming to Level 5, and she is going to help teachers answer the same questions I asked in my practice so long ago.

Children are remarkable, complex, and sometimes challenging. The way we plan for them and react to their diverse needs can mean the difference between constant power struggles and smooth sailing. In her workshop, you will learn how to build consistent relationships with every child in your classroom. We will think about voice, energy, function of behaviour, explicit strategies, and evidence-based programs.

Join us to develop your inclusive skills and realize that you don’t necessarily need a dance party to infuse joy into our classrooms.

Join us at Level 5, December 1 & 2nd for the workshop on reaching Diverse Learners.

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