Lessons from the Past Shape the Future


A friend of mine asked me how my job was going. At the time, I was working as a behavior support person in district where every day was a brand new adventure of finding the best way to educate students with various levels of trauma. I answered her in very general terms...my day had been spent jumping from meeting to meeting with various students, staff members, therapists, parents and social workers and I was exhausted. How could I explain the phenomenon of helping a student in crisis only to find another student, and another student, and another student in line behind the first.


“Wow,” she remarked. “Times have changed. We never had students like that in school when we were growing up. What has happened?” The remark was innocent enough. I began to scan my memory banks for a clue of how to answer her. My mind searched elementary and middle school files as I tried to remember students who were difficult to plan for...students who needed extra resources and consideration. I remembered the challenges of having child refugees from Vietnam in my early elementary school classes in Texas who did not speak English, which was the predominate language. These students were definitely in crisis and had been through trauma, but outside of this group of special children, I could not remember the type of support required daily to so many students with Emotional Disabilities.

I wanted to be thoughtful in my reply, because I did not want to be unfair to the teachers I had in school. I had some really great teachers and I do not have a memory of having a crisis intervention team entering our room to help with students. I don’t remember student disruption occurring beyond minor disagreements. I remember faces of the students who would have been considered as behavior problems. I remember the threat we all had hanging over us of going to the principal’s office. I remember those students being sent and sometimes never returning to class.

Suddenly the light bulb in my brain flashed on.

“Well of course we have always had these students.” I replied. “We just have not always been charged with educating them.” If students had a behavioral issue that was strong enough to be dealt with, the student was removed from school. No one wondered if something deeper, more pervasive was behind the student’s behavior. No one questioned whether the curriculum should be adjusted to try to help students. No one created an individualized behavior plan to try to keep students in school or found a therapist or social worker to help the student work through issues. The student was simply “let go.”

I had a huge realization that day about the state of our country. Students who were once forgotten and disposed of in our educational system are now being helped. Most of my career has been devoted to finding a way for every student to have the opportunity to learn and I am not alone. Across the state, every day, I am witnessing the same kind of compassion and careful planning for students who were once punished or removed. Teachers are looking for resources and striving to connect with students in new and groundbreaking ways.

I recently was given the incredible gift of being able to work with students and teachers of students who have Emotional Disabilities through The PATINS Project. The focus of this charge is to discover different ways to support individuals through technology, strategies and principles of Universal Design for Learning. Already teachers across the state are using relaxation techniques, self regulation processes and calming environments with students who are in crisis. Technology elevates those strategies in order to give students an independent moment with a calming app, self monitoring journal or video of the classroom activities while respectfully being given permission to de-escalate.

Teachers are understanding that along with the Emotional Disability qualification, a student might have an unidentified or secondary learning disability. To have a classroom that is already created to consider different means of expression and reception of materials is such a positive direction for students who might be struggling.  

I am so glad the viewpoint is evolving. Education is a thoughtful field and the endeavor of finding new ways to elevate self growth and understanding amongst teachers is a full time job. Challenging old ways of thinking and finding resources to help face this undertaking is only part of the battle. This is a time of enlightenment and consideration for all students. Placing value on ways to keep students in school, no matter how challenging the behavior, is a passion of mine and I am grateful to be a part of the revolution.

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Saturday, 16 December 2017

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