Last week I had the pleasure in attending the Syracuse University Summer Leadership Institute. The institute is in its fifth year and the brainchild of Julie Causton-Theoharis and George Theoharis. (I highly recommend administrators take a team as this was very inspiring to all.)
The closing keynote speaker was Keith Jones. What he said resonated with all of us in the room and he kept asking, “Why do we educate?” Just so you know, Keith has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to be mobile. What he said to us was the we are the lynchpin to our students. We can put up a brick wall for them or we can be the launch pad. We can send them to the moon or to prison. We are the lynchpin to a greater society or a worse society.
He continued his talk, advocating for inclusive education. The challenge: That kids’ disabilities do not define them. The teacher does not make the student the oddball and the common denominator is humanity. Wow, how powerful is that! He told us the we as educators have the power to change the dynamic. He asked us, “Where are your special education classrooms located?” He told us that we are the teacher and we have the power, the power to influence and create a better society. The power to mentor and create our future. He also reminded us that “It’s about the kids and not the test!”
It was a powerful talk to end a powerful conference. The take away for me was this: I question sometimes what we are doing with our special education classrooms. Why aren’t we more inclusive? Why do we have 15:1+1, Lifes Skills programs, BOCES programs, pullout services? Why are our neediest kids being pulled out of the instruction that they need, and from their classroom teacher? These are many questions that we ALL need to think about when we are serving our students, because it’s about every student. Keith puts it simply: “Kids with disabilities suffer because expectations are low.” Wow, that was a powerful statement and true!
Folks, watch Including Samuel, the fabulous documentary by Dan Habib. See what inclusion does for your students. I know that after this three day institute, I will be looking at what we do, day in and day out, in a new perspective and question the adults that are making decisions on why we are moving students out of the classroom. We need to change our way of thinking and our belief systems and create learning spaces for our neediest population and include them into the general education classroom with the right supports. They deserve it and have a right!