Discuss the strategies teachers are likely to use to help exceptional students be part of the social and academic life of the classroom?
This chapter really spoke to me because I think it got to the heart of inclusion. It isn’t enough to just have exceptional students in the classroom, we have to include them in the social network of the classroom. I think this is an area teachers have held themselves back in because they don’t want to interfere with children’s friendships. I think it is generally felt that adults can’t and shouldn’t dictate to children who they are friends with. However, in an age of anti-bullying education and inclusive education it is time to re-evaluate these opinions. Chapter 9 does a really good job of explaining how a teacher and school community can help exceptional students form friendships.
The first strategy the chapter demonstrates is probably the simplest strategy but can go along way. It is the description of the teacher addressing the class and explaining the exceptionality to the class and then stating the student would be a full member of the class. Right from the start this teacher is establishing an open relationship where it is okay to discuss the exceptionality in a respectful way and an expectation that the student would be included. I think children are often more accepting than adults because our social fears limit us. This example resonated so strongly for me because it related to some of the experiences I’ve had with my father. My dad is a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. My little cousins weren’t born before his accident so they are growing up knowing him in a wheelchair. They are much less awkward than many adults are with my dad. When small they would push him around thinking he was the best adult and they loved taking a ride with Uncle Neil. Where most adults are scared to ask questions and worry about offending these children are open and accepting of my dad. They ask him questions and if he doesn’t want to answer or it may be awkward he addresses this. I think that the teacher in the text example set a good example for her students by allowing them to address the exceptionality and natural curiosity that happens when someone is different from ourselves. It’s not rude to ask questions if it allows you to build a relationship. By having the teacher there to aid the student in this initial encounter they can help address questions that may be too personal.
I think that the next step that needs to happen after this first encounter is to help students to find activities that they can share and participate in. The example with the blind girl is a case where this step wasn’t applied. The more chances you can give the students to have meaningful exchanges the more likely they are to build a relationship. This is true of all people that friendship grows out of shared common experience. As a teacher I was glad to see that the IIP has a space for friendship goals and also areas for outside activities and organizations. I was glad because I think that for a friendship to grow there needs to be contact between the students outside of school. The more involvement the student has with peers and activities the more shared common ground will be created.
I also liked that cooperation was stressed over competition. In traditional schooling competition is an important element. However as an educator I have tried to stress cooperation because I have found that it has created healthier relationships between my students. Even with my efforts there are elements of competition I can’t completely erase such as ranked grading. However, by stressing that by working together we all achieve better results we can make it more of a team effort. I think especially for exceptional students competition can be difficult because rarely is the playing field even for them. My dad would play basketball with my sisters and I but rarely did he win when playing one on one because the net was that much higher for him and he didn’t have much of a jump shot. However, when he worked on a team with one of us he was amazing at defense and his teammate could take the shot. Together his team often won our matches. Putting students with exceptionalities on our classroom team means we all can succeed in ways we might not have even imagined.
I think the last part of mediating social relationships is helping students learn how to handle difficulties. I think teachers are getting better at this skill because of the rise in anti-bullying education but there is always room to grow. Giving students chances to practice social skills in structured settings is an important part of this education especially for students who might not have had much interaction with peers in the past. Through social stories and role plays examine student responses both positive and negative to situations. Developing empathy for each other is important to so give students a chance to see what it is like in another students shoes through these type of activities.
As apart of the wider school community I look for ways I can build anti-bullying programs into the school culture. I’ve seen several examples of this but the most common one I’ve seen here in Regina is the Circle of Courage that a lot of public schools are using. Sometimes teachers can have a lot of say in the school culture just by their behaviour in the staff rooms and staff meetings. I have found that it is most important for me to be an advocate for my students in these spaces especially students that are perceived as challenging. Often teachers can become negative in these spaces and it can undermine the efforts of the school to be a welcoming space. That’s one of the biggest traps I’ve noticed teachers falling into and that negativity has trickled into their classroom and interactions with students. This can undermine all the best efforts they’ve put in. Negativity can be even more contagious than chicken pox I’ve noticed in my work history. So I want to be a positive role model for my students and bring that positive energy into the staff areas to help create a healthy staff climate that hopefully ensures that positive results for students.