Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Birthday Wish

On my birthday, I had the perfect end to the work day - I attended the final celebration of a group of teachers who had been inquiring together all year into the inclusion of all learners at secondary.  There is nothing better to lift your spirits and remind you of possibility than listening to teachers share their research and reflect on how to improve their practice.  The presentations began with an inquiry into the transition process for autistic children from elementary into high school.  The teacher revealed her motivation - her son Zachary is autistic.  Her inquiry revealed that many teachers at her high school (good, caring, thoughtful, experienced educators) didn't feel they knew enough about autism to teach an autistic child effectively and didn't have a clear idea about where to find out more or how to be involved in powerful planning for the student.  She asked this question of us:  What if we were able to tell each autistic child, "Come to our school.  We know our stuff and we will make you feel welcome here." 

It strikes me that if we could make this true for autistic children, if they were truly welcome and deeply understood, we would be a long ways toward making it true for all kids.  What's important for autistic children - that we value their strengths, that we understand their unique challenges, that we seek diverse ways to meet needs and leverage strengths, that we have a plan to provide the ongoing support they require throughout their school years to thrive - is important for all children.   All we have to do now is to open our minds and hearts wide enough to find ways to include the most diverse of our diverse learners.  But it won't be by doing more of what we've always done.  It won't even be by doing some things better.  If we are going to include all learners in a rich meaningful education that allows them, to use Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser's phrase, to cross the stage with purpose, dignity and options, we'll need a revolution. 

Zachary goes to high school in seven years.  When I spoke to his mom later, she said she wasn't optimistic.  She holds out little hope that schools can change enough.  I, however, had just listened to a half-dozen passionate, committed and generous educators and still felt the glow of possibility. 

And so when I blew out my candles, this was my birthday wish - let's make school ready for Zachary.  We've got seven years.  Can anything else be more important?

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