Sense of Belonging

Training Day Three:  The never-ending flow of information continues....the never ending parade of smiling faces continues....the never ending outpouring of positive energy and savvy advice continues.

It was a rather revolutionary day for me - for one main reason....but I'll save that for last.  

Today, the three big workshops were one on technology, one on becoming acclimated with the electronic database that our school system uses for grades, attendance, email, calendars, and networking, and a very powerful one on inclusion (including all students no matter what their special needs are in the regular ed classroom).

Lunch was provided by our local union while we filled out our state education association forms to join both the state and local chapters - which is pretty damn important right now in my state considering the disturbingly radical and unfairly unilateral decisions being forced through our state capital regarding public education funding.  Am I looking forward to losing a grand out of my paycheck over the course of the year?  No.  Is it worth the amazing work they do to protect our rights, fight injustices, and run conventions and workshops for us (among a million other things)?  Absolutely.

Once that paperwork was out of the way, we spent the afternoon learning about the extraordinary commitment our district has to integrating technology into EVERYTHING.  We have a middle school social studies teacher who after a successful grant, has eliminated textbooks and replaced them with iPod touches that the kids use to create their own textbooks over the course of the year.  We have elementary school teachers who produce adorable newscasts with their students (watch your back, CNN).  And we have high school teachers that use history and science classes as an opportunity to produce web videos featuring music, pictures, video clips and voice-over commentary to produce informative presentations on things like space exploration, prohibition (above), and the history of dance.  

Blogs - wikis - glogs - podcasts - youtube - smartboards - skype - twitter - flipvideo cameras - iPods - digital cameras.... they're ALL used by almost every teacher. They firmly believe (as do I) that you're working against the grain if you hold tight to your 20th century upbringing - and to describe their efforts as a "big push" to move forward into the 21st century is an understatement.   It's both really exciting and a tad intimidating to know that they expect you to embrace uber-creative ways to use technology in the classroom.  Perhaps, part of my fears lie in the fact that the entire district uses iMacs - in our computer labs, in our classrooms, in our libraries....everywhere!  Seeing as I've been a PC person my whole life, (though I've been dying to make the change to a Mac since last year), this means that in addition to learning how to integrate brandy new "webby" things like glogs & wikis,  I have to also learn how to use a computer again. 

But the real take-away from today came in the form of an unexpected epiphany that hit me like a ton of bricks.  During the morning, we watched a video called "Including Samuel".    It was a powerful documentary about a beautiful little boy named Samuel who happens to have a rather severe case of cerebral palsy.  His story is remarkable...his family is remarkable...his teachers are remarkable.... HE is remarkable.  But the real epiphany came after the lights came up, and our HR director spoke to us about what we had just seen.  

As a new teacher, the thing that has intimidated me the most has been inclusion.  Not because I don't believe in it, but because I'm nervous I will be inadequate at differentiating instruction and adapting the material for severe special needs learners, and therefore consequently fail to bring each student (including all of the other students) to their fullest potential.  Because of these fears, I've questioned whether or not it is possible to succeed with every student.  Because of these fears, I've questioned whether or not there are in fact, some cases where the special needs that students have are so severe, it might not be in their best interest to be in a gen ed classroom - perhaps here, they would be most successful in a classroom or school that deliberately specializes in special needs education.  

But then we watched that video... then we analyzed it from a civil rights perspective... then we talked about "separate but equal".... then we talked about the feeling of belonging and being included.  And let me tell you something - boy, do I know a little something about civil rights, "separate but equal", and the feeling of being included.  So, when our passionate HR director took a quiet moment to gather his thoughts and emotions in order to utter his concluding remarks before lunch, I was listening with my head and my heart - and what he said will stay with me forever.  "Inclusion is about one thing:  Belonging.  If you as a teacher don't BELIEVE in your heart that these children BELONG in your classroom, then you probably shouldn't be in public education.  You need to BELIEVE that they BELONG....that they deserve to be in your classroom along with all of your other students.  THAT is what inclusion is all about.  Believing that they belong."

Suddenly, all of the fears, doubts, concerns, and anxieties I had about my own abilities regarding the accommodation of special needs learners in my classroom simply vanished.  Even though I had already believed in inclusion, my entire perspective on its purpose has changed forever.

They belong...end of story.   

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