It is the New Year, and with that comes a gift in schools. I posted previously about what I call the “prime instructional real estate” that exists in schools, and suggested strategies for teachers to take advantage of this gift of time in students’ learning that exists at this point of the year.
The time of rest and relaxation that has just occurred for students, parents, and school professionals allows for a fresh start and new beginnings for all. The remaining part of the school year will increasingly become busy and harried, tests and high stakes standards will push harder towards the end of the year – but now, a naturally occurring time for enriched learning and focus exists for teachers and students alike…a true gift. It is my belief that this gift comes with choices.
My advisor, Dr. Lou Brown, an inclusive education guru and life-long advocate for people with disabilities, has been known to talk about the good “whys” and the bad “whys” as to making choices for our kids with disabilities in schools. With so many differing opinions and methods, tests and assessments, and ways to think about kids in schools every day – I believe these choices are extremely important for us to be considering at this point of the year on behalf of our kids.
When making choices for what we are expecting students to learn, and especially those students with disabilities, Lou reminds us that, according to law, what children with disabilities learn should be meaningful to them. How does he define meaningful? He replies,
“[When].. they earn respect because of what they learn, [when].. their parents shed tears of pride, [when].. they feel better about themselves, [when].. they learn to do things for themselves, [when].. they realize the privilege of privacy, [when].. they make choices, [when].. they gain dignity and [when].. the government becomes less involved in their lives.”
Those are good “whys”.
He reminds us that our task is to prepare children with disabilities to live, work, learn and play in an integrated world – to teach a child to function as an individual, right alongside people without disabilities, by age 21. There isn’t much time to do what needs to be done. Choices need to be made and IEPs need to be written accordingly. Lou reminds us that after age 21 there are no legal entitlements, only discretionary services. He says,
“The fewer services your child needs at 21, the better. The more relationships with people without disabilities your child has at 21, the better. Remember, your child is seven, going on 21.”
Lou also talks about the choices we make in schools for kids with disabilities that are the bad “whys”. When asking “why did you pick that?” – if the answer is: because it is how I was trained; or because someone went to a conference and now I have a manual that I need to follow; or because I don’t know what else to do with all of these kids in my class — he says those are bad “whys”.
Instructional practices that are based on something other than individual strengths or needs, preferences or dreams, or because the institution or the culture of the school itself lends itself to a particular practice, despite kids not thriving within it – those are not acceptable for kids, any kids, whether they happen to have an IEP or not.
My hope through this post is to spark some thinking in teachers, so they can question the “whys” of what they are doing at this critical point of the year, so as to take full advantage of the gift they are given annually with the New Year.
- What are your good “whys” of what you are doing from day to day with your students? Why did you pick that? Why did you teach it that way? How do you define meaningful?
- Conversely, what are the bad “whys” that you hadn’t thought of until now? Why did you pick that? How can you change it? Who needs to help you?
Lou used to say that teaching dumb stuff to people who have a hard time learning is more than a waste of time, it is a monumental waste of time, since each of us only a finite number of hours to learn, and to learn dumb stuff is to whittle away precious hours. Well said, I believe – succinct and to the point, not a bit of candy coating! If you know Lou, you know that is exactly how he rolls…
The New Year is a perfect time to realize the merits and weaknesses of why and what we are teaching — of our choices we make every day for the remainder of this school year for the youngsters that we serve. What are your good “whys”? Please share, so we can all learn from them!