Before moving into my current role of consulting, I always looked forward to the summer months as a time for reflection and further growth. I was one of those teachers who enjoyed teaching and taking classes in the summer, along with picking up a part-time job to make sure I could make ends meet. The summer permitted lots of time for good reflection on my own personal teaching and on education as a whole. I still like to take some time each summer and review the overall state of education and have had some time recently to do so. I refer in this piece to two interesting articles and some my own recent travels to the Middle East.
I read an excellent piece the other day by Tom Whitby who called upon educators to take a strong stand on their own education into the ways of today's classroom pedagogy. He is absolutely correct in the fact that too many great ideas within education are not being shared due more to a lack of knowledge on the part of the classroom teacher. His point was to encourage and challenge teachers to do what master teachers have done for years; know your craft and continue to learn how it is changing. Ironically, he received a fair amount of backlash from those complaining about lack of time or institutional control. Like those complaints have never surfaced in education! Those are simply excuses!
The other piece I read was from a Special Education lawyer, Miriam Freedman, who wrote for the University of Chicago Law review. Her main focus was on the need to move away from the current IDEA structures to something more encompassing. Her statement, "Instead, we now need to focus on improved teaching and learning for all students. It is time to end special education as we know it." has also received some interesting responses. The underlying message here is that we need to shift our ideas about education. However, to see and hear people who read it or heard of it speaking out of context has been amusing and frightening. The amusing statements are from those who again know nothing about the offering of a free and public education to all students. They are whining about how teachers have it so easy. You know their "arguments" by heart! The frightening statements have come from those who believe she is wanting to eliminate special education as a whole. Not educating these children will cause serious societal issues that they don't want to acknowledge.
As I traveled the Middle East, I was excited to see the number of Ministries of Education that were beginning to put more emphasis on special education and their special needs students. With the growing number of students needing assistance, they are slowly moving toward what we are doing already here in the states. They are recognizing the impact these students do have on their societies.
So where do these ideas lead me at this time. Well, we know that the landscape of education has drastically changed. Those of you who have heard me speak know that I love to discuss the movement from local to global in the way our students learn. I am now starting to see the movement from global to universal. I saw it in action with a group of special needs students in Bahrain. When working with them, there was no language barrier, no cultural barrier, and no other barrier outside of communicating solely non-verbally. Technology has given us the opportunity to reshape education and many groups are doing it well.
When we supply our classrooms with the correct technology (that does not mean everyone has an iPad! Ugh get over that type of one-size fits all thinking!), those classrooms morph into open learning environments. Flipped classrooms are part of the whole when it comes to this movement to the universal. Distance learning is also important. However, the most important part is the individual student.
I heard a speaker in the 1990s refer to the fact that at some point, every child would have an IEP. In essence, he was correct in that we do need to have and can have that individualized approach thanks to some of these newer ideas in the classroom and new technologies. We do not need to move away from foundational information for our students. Rather, we just need to move away from the idea that all students should be assessed on the exact smae points, like that is a measure of who they really are! We do not need a full overhaul on the education system, but simply a tune-up keeping the students as the focal point. Special education and education come together here with that focus on the individual. The technology is what permits that universal connection with learning wherever the student is.
Thank you for reading this far! There are, obvisously, more points to be made, but this is enough for today!
I look forward to speaking with some of you at ISTE about these ideas!