I just returned home from an amazing convention! A colleague and I were fortunate enough to attend the Geneva Centre for Autism’s International Symposium in Toronto. As a teacher to students on the autism spectrum, just about everyone I would want to hear speak was at this conference.
Even more fulfilling than what I learned there was the knowledge that my school district appreciates me enough to invest in this professional development experience. In a time when budgets are so tight, it really warms my heart that I am highly valued as a professional educator. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I’m really excited to share the highlights with you.
We had one full-day session with social thinking expert Michelle Garcia Winner. She was so engaging and offered tons of ideas I can use the second I step back into my classroom. Lately my “bag of tricks” has felt a little empty, and she swooped in with Santa’s sack chock-full of goodies.
In particular, Ms. Winner discussed finding the line between “can’t” and “won’t” with our students, and told us it’s okay to have students do work they think is pointless. That was something I really needed to hear! It would be great if every student saw the value in learning how to check an algebraic inequality problem for accuracy—but when Johnny wants to be a chef, it’s a little difficult to convince him of its importance . . . and that’s okay. Everyone has to do some stuff they don’t like; that’s just life and we can’t completely shield our students from it. Ms. Winner even had a strategy for getting students to read when they feel the work is meaningless—and this will definitely be used in my classroom!
I also got to hear from Paula Kluth, a consultant who specializes in inclusion. She was an amazing speaker; she told the audience she likes to speak from the floor instead of the stage because sometimes she gets a little too animated and falls off! The best take-away from her was that inclusion is not “real-estate”; it is not a place in a building or a certain room in the school. Inclusion is a process.
I loved Kluth’s statement that our goal should not be for people to say, “You can’t tell who the kids with special needs are in this class.” Instead, the goal should be to hear, “You can’t tell which role each adult in the room is filling.” How true! Full inclusion would have general educators, special educators, and paraeducators working together to direct the same show. It’s not about “my” students and “their” students; they are OUR students—every one of them, regardless of IEP status.
And then there was Temple Grandin. I had wanted to hear her speak for years, so this was really a dream come true. I actually spotted her before the session, just walking through the convention center. I can’t say I would have been any more excited to see some gigantic Hollywood star (although I guess that does kind of include Temple these days—she did mention that her movie is now available on DVD!). Her presentation was even better than I had imagined it would be. She wore one of her trademark Southwestern outfits and tossed in several funny stories throughout her speech, my favorite of which is probably a little too colorful to share on Reality 101!
Overall, the conference was exceptional and definitely one of the highlights of my career thus far. I have so many new ideas I don’t know what to try first. And it’s so nice to know that I am valued as a special education teacher in my district. It makes me want to stop giving 110% and start giving 120%!