During the month of January, Holistic Learning Center founder, Hannah Sammy was asked to facilitate a workshop for NGO, ParentingTT. The workshop was designed around the overarching theme that teachers need much more than just information about Special Education. Rather, they need targeted and feasible ways of executing strategies to help students with special needs, in Trinbagonian classroom.
Trinidad and Tobago, despite putting into law the “Education for All” policy which states that no child should be excluded from educational attainment regardless of race, class ethnicity and need, lacks infrastructural and personnel related resources to truly achieve inclusion in mainstream classrooms.
Thus many teachers are left with a resounding feeling of neglect, isolation and hopelessness when faced with the challenge of catering to students with special needs in mainstream classrooms, alongside twenty to thirty other students.
The purpose of this workshop was not only to provide teachers with viable options toward inclusion for these students, but also to provide them with a platform, and a resource base from which they could acknowledge they are not alone, and in fact, throughout the nation there are many parents, teachers and students who experience the same challenges as them.
Here are a few of the themes covered, and activities that were done during the workshop.
It was truly an honor to be asked by ParentingTT to assist with their workshop, and moreover it was a pleasure being able to voice Holistic Learning Center’s values and ethos on a public stage, as more of the nation’s educators move toward embracing special need, rather than avoiding.
1. Fostering Relationships
Our first section included training in overcoming a very real challenge teachers face: fostering a safe and empathetic environment for students to function in.
Building from Holistic Learning Center’s mode of functioning, special education initiatives cannot being to take effect unless there is firstly a sense of mutual respect between teacher and student, and secondly a drive to understand rather that stigmatize, between students.
Thus the very first session included a few check-in exercises that required teachers to introduce themselves, by the meaning of their names, and to consider what they needed to make sessions successful. By using these check-in exercises, participants were able to center themselves, get familiar with those in the room, and gain a better understanding of their needs, as well as share theirs.
Such as abstract activity enabled teachers to divulge much more about themselves than they usually would given more traditional introduction activity. As facilitator I soon came to understand the ethnic backgrounds participants came from, how large their family was, what their likes and dislikes were, and possibly the most important detail: how participants felt about themselves. These tasks led participants to reveal information about their insecurities, what they were proud of, and what they valued about themselves, without even realizing it.
Imagine what these exercises would yield when kids (who are so much more carefree and whimsical) are involved.
2. Interpreting Psycho-Educational Evaluations
The second session included information about how to interpret and implement strategies that psychologists recommend for student with special needs, in the classroom. In Trinidad and Tobago, where classroom assistance is minimal, and professional involvement of counselors, social workers and therapists in school is even less, teachers often find themselves confused about how to go about assisting students.
Speaking frankly, it doesn’t matter how robust the evaluation is, or how sound the diagnosis. With the challenges of our current school system, teachers need realistic and tangible tools to use in the classroom.
This session took the form of a short presentation that explained the value of these evaluations, followed by an in-depth discussion guided by the interpretation of excerpts from a student’s psycho-educational report. Coming out of this, teachers gained insight about what complicated jargon translated into, and how which strategies can be implemented “in the real world”.
In essence the idea of an evaluation was redefined into this simple explanation. The purpose of evaluations are to bring clarity; they are an attempt to get to the bottom of what is happening within the student. This then brings us to establish techniques and strategies to assist the student; a clear path forward; a direction. Finally, after all is said and done, the final aim of these evaluations is to bring a sense of hope, not only to the students, but to those around them. Hope that improvement is possible, hope that the student can regain autonomy over his/her academic performance and moreover, hope that this unwavering, rigid education system that we function in, can in fact accommodate different need.
After the presentation and after all the discussion and debate, I finally revealed to the participants that the student’s report and profile we had been analyzing and critiquing was in fact mine.
I spoke for a few minutes that everything revealed about the student in the presentation was true. All the emotions, experiences, failures and successes were that of a real person, and that she was standing right in front of them.
There is hope for all special needs students – I know because I am one, and I continue to learn and grow every day, as a product of my special need and a product of the harsh and unforgiving mainstream school system. This is why I fight everyday for students…students like me. I fight to give them flexibility and second chances in the classroom – something that I did not have.
3. Designing Your Ideal Inclusive Classroom
This activity was particularly interesting as participants were given the opportunity to create their “dream classroom”. The purpose of this activity was to put aside the challenges of reality, and simply imagine what their ideal inclusive classroom would look like, given unlimited resources. This was followed by discussion about which of these strategies were possible “on the ground” and involved identifying the “hows” and “whens” of implementation.
4. Communicating with Students
Finally participants took part in a role-playing activity where they were asked to imagine themselves in the roll of “teacher” and “student”. The task of the teacher was to engage a discussion with the student about a given diagnosis and suggested strategies similar to what would be seen in a psycho-educational evaluation.
This was the most lively of sessions as participants in both workshops became immersed by the roles they adopted. The aim in this case was to attempt to understand how students may feel when engaged in a discussion about their special need, recognize how teachers feel about this communication, establish was techniques are useful in overcoming these barriers to communication and finally to remind ourselves that the first point of special need intervention is the student. If they are left behind, in the dark or out of the loop, the intervention cannot be a success.
Thank you for reading about Holistic Learning Center’s involvement in designing and facilitating this workshop on Special Education Strategies. It was truly a wonderful experience and gave the Center an opportunity to enlighten teachers about its functioning, vision and method of approaching special need and remedial education in Trinidad and Tobago.
H.L.C. is offering consultancy services for NGOs, School and other Institutions that are interested in running workshops for their staff or students.
Contact us for a free consultation, quote and more information about how we can help with your professional development initiatives.
Until next time!