My Special Education Learning Journey with OPC SEA

I think of my journey as building a house. My journey started with me solidifying my philosophical foundation related to special education. Central to developing these core sets of beliefs was understanding the theoretical underpinnings of special education and the legalities that govern special education in Ontario. A strong structure or framework is essential for the effective delivery of special education programming for our students. Each truss and beam represents the kinds of supports that we must have in place for us to have a strong special education delivery system at a system level and at a school level.

With a solid foundation and a sturdy framework i.e system and school-wide special education supports, we then need to ensure that the occupants of the house are supported in the delivery of special education programmes. To this end, we must ensure that we have a system in place to provide teachers with the necessary professional learning, especially in the area of special education.

This house must be maintained as the materials may succumb to wear and tear. An audit of what we do and how we do it at both the system and school level  must be done on a regular basis to determine the effectiveness of the system in delivering special education programming and services.

The maintenance that I can conduct at the school level could include:

  • Including a special education component in our weekly memo to staff
  • Including a special education component at our monthly staff meetings
  • Creating professional learning opportunities for staff re:
    • IEP’s
    • Accommodations/Modifications
    • Programming for students on an IEP
    • Learning for All

This maintenance is an ongoing process both at a system level and at a school level and is essential to ensuring that our Special Education House remains strong.


How to Start Leading and Stop Firefighting

There are days that every administrator feels like they are being pulled in so many different directions. It may even feel like you are putting out one fire after another with no end in sight. It is in our nature to want to help and to solve every problem that is brought across our desk. Indeed we may even have delusions of grandeur thinking that we are just like super man or superwoman because we are able to solve everyone’s problems and do so much in such a short period of time. Take a moment to step back and reflect on whether you are merely firefighting or truly leading.

My leadership journey as it pertains to Special Education has gotten me to ask myself the following questions:

  1. How have I built the capacity of staff to provide the needed supports for their students with special needs?
  2. In what ways have I facilitated staff planning and learning together to further the success of their students with special needs?
  3. In what ways have I specifically supported best practices/ high quality instruction for students with special needs?
  4. How have I enabled co-planning, co-teaching and co-assessing that supports students with special needs?

These are crucial questions that must be foremost in our minds if we are to be an effective leader in special education.


Inspiring Action Through Your Leadership

This video by Simon Sinek got me thinking about the key concepts that he was espousing and how they apply to my leadership in Special Education.

Sinek is trying to convey to us is that we will be more successful if we know our WHY. Knowing our WHY is the driving force behind achieving long term buy-in from all stakeholders and achieving our goals.

His key concepts as gleaned from the video are as follows:
* People don’t buy what you do? People buy why you do it?
* What you do proves what you believe.
* If you talk about what you believe you will attract those that believe what you believe?
* It is those who start with why who have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.

What does all of this mean in terms of my leadership in Special Education? I truly believe that all students can learn given the right conditions and programming. This belief needs to become a passionate rallying cry that will invoke the appropriate action on the part of all learning facilitators(teachers). Students must know at all times that we as educators care about them. ALWAYS! We cannot anticipate that they are going to be successful academically if they don’t feel that we care enough about them as individuals. We also need to acknowledge that students learn differently and that it behooves us to provide learning experiences that allows them to use their best style of learning. Regardless of their learning style and their learning needs, students have a yearning to be challenged according to their needs and to understand the relevance of what they are learning. We have to oblige them as educators so that they are excited to come back the next day to learn. In order to create the conditions so that all students can learn we need to consider and agree to the ideal learning conditions for all learners, we need to empower teachers, and we need to change our language as it pertains to special education(Bea McGarvey, 2015).

I recently read an article by Mea McGarvey(2015) entitled Creating a New Vision: Three “Re-Thinking” Breakthrough – Her three breakthroughs for creating a new vision for education are as follows:
#1 – Start with the ideal learning environment – what is the ideal learning environment for all our students?
#2 – Empower Teachers – building the capacity of teachers should be an ongoing endeavour as the special education needs of our students are very diverse.
#3 – Change your language – what are we saying to our staff? Does our talk reveal our leadership bent for special education?

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