Promoting Authentic Inclusive Environments

“Necessary for some, good for all.”

I recently had a unique dining experience at Signs in Toronto. This restaurant employs staff who are deaf, and customers order off the menu using  American Sign Language. The menu and walls display images with gestures that assist customers when ordering.  Signs restaurant is the epitome of the quote, “Necessary for some, good for all.” It is necessary for the wait staff to communicate through sign language to do their jobs however, everyone benefits from a richer dining experience.

My experience at Signs  prompted reflection on our classrooms and schools. Do we provide rich environments that include students learning from their peers with special needs? How can we promote this form of inclusion in our school culture?

These questions must be at the forefront of our curriculum planning. Teachers must purposely plan opportunities to highlight the strengths and peer interactions of our special needs students.  In the article PEERS SUPPORTING AN INCLUSIVE SCHOOL CLIMATE, Toni Riester-Wood highlights the benefits gained by students with and without disabilities in a school climate that facilitates a positive peer to peer culture. Similar to the one at Signs restaurant.

Technology has always been a valuable tool to assisting students with special needs. Thankfully, it is becoming  more affordable, making it more accessible for students. However, it is important that we ensure that the way we use technology promotes inclusion and a culture of positive peer to peer interactions with students that have special needs. Facilitating collaborative learning environments, structuring activities that promote the strengths of all learners and encouraging a culture of diversity are ways that schools can foster an authentic inclusive environment.  My hope is then we will have more businesses like Signs.


Developing A Global Profession Learning Network

As a teacher, it is hard to connect outside the classroom with other professionals. Maybe your school is small and you are the only teacher at your grade level. Maybe your family commitments don’t allow you enough time to chat with your colleagues after school. Maybe the professional development you are required to do is not in your area of interest. Whatever your reason for feeling isolated, Twitter may be the solution you are looking for.

I have had a Twitter account for a few years, but it wasn’t until recently that I understood the value of using it for professional development. I had used Twitter in the past to post family pictures, classroom pictures and share random ideas. My account didn’t have a focus. Then an opportunity for a new job as a teacher-librarian came up at my school. I realized quickly that this role would support emerging technology which is my passion. Within a day, my Twitter account had a new focus, to learn all there was to know about the Library Learning Commons movement and emerging technology. I proceeded to delete all personal pictures from my account (that’s Facebook’s purpose). Then I started to follow leaders in library, technology integration and media. These leaders were selected based on their tweets. Immediately, I realized the potential of using this social media tool as professional development. The tweets I viewed were amazing! So many great ideas, connections to resources, pictures of examples, and video clips of concepts in action were just a scroll away.

Not only is Twitter valuable for learning new ideas but you can participate in chats about topics that interest you. My favourite is PubPD, which combines face to face socialization with a Twitter chat. PubPd takes place at a local establishment with like-mind people, and together you participate in a Twitter chat that lasts for an hour. There are also slow chat formats which allow participants more time to answer the questions on Twitter. Through these chats, you gain new ideas, resources, and connections.

Fast forward to today, I am now the teacher-librarian at my school. Twitter is used to share ideas about what is happening in our Library Learning Commons. Pictures and video of students using the makerspace, robotics, and green screen are frequently shared with followers. Twitter enables me to connect with colleagues around the world, some of which I have met and some I will never meet. However, the knowledge that I have gained from this group of people far outweighs any conference, workshop or course I have attended.

If you haven’t yet set up a Twitter account for the purpose of developing a professional learning network, I encourage you to try it today!

Reflection: The Road To Improvement


Image created in Snap

‘Reflection is part of your work’.-George Couros

Growing up in a family of educators, reflection comes naturally to me. I recall many family gatherings where my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins would discuss and reflect on what worked and didn’t work in their classrooms. Knowing this bit of history, it isn’t surprising that I grew up to be a teacher or that I continually reflect on how my students are learning and what keeps each of them motivated and engaged in the classroom.

Reflection is the road by which an educator can improve his/her practice. A teacher that instructs from the same lesson plan year after year is parked in status quo. My vehicle is never in park. Instead, I long for the open highway, the freedom to create new lessons each year building upon the knowledge gained from my past experiences.

Blogging is the GPS on one’s reflective journey; it is a valuable tool that helps you navigate and creates a history of your path. In a blog you can record your instructional route, highlight key moments and save them for future reference.

I have made small steps into the social media reflection process with my Twitter account. Each day, I try to post an image and outline some key learning component that happened to document my lesson. Tweeting has been a natural process since the character limits prohibit me from adding a lengthy description. I can still review my posts and reflect on what was successful.

I see the value that George Couros describes in having a blog. However, I am constrained by my reluctance to write and fear of audience response. On any trip, there are obstacles to overcome such as traffic jams, roadblocks, and detours. This blog challenge will not be easy for me, but I look forward to punching in my destination and seeing if the GPS takes me on the long scenic route of reflection.