Learning between crises-how we can all benefit from Special Education?

I met special education as a topic in 2016 when I first step into Finnish schools and met Erkki music teacher and vice-principal in comprehensive school. Mostly what attracted my attention to Erkki was his relations with students, and how that was something to be cultivated, cared for, and of course protected. Students knew they had that and so “they opened up”, they felt safe to be seen and to manifest.

I want my work to have meaning..it might be when you met a student and they might get that they are worth something, life is something, learning is something that they ca do.” (NIna Tervala, Special Education Teacher)

This article is opening a perspective on Special Education that is really and radically INCLUSIVE, and it started with a question I raised to my guest for this article, Nina Tervala, (why) aren’t we all special? 

Learning between crises

  1. Educational crisis: the school as we have it doesn’t work, see OECD work on future scenarios; it leaves us with burn out teachers and learn out students; the school as we have it now it is the result of collective limiting believes ( Peter Gray calls it history) and has nothing to do with logic or science ( Peter Gray, Free to Learn, author, esearch professor of psychology at Boston College)

2. Climate crisis; young people and learners are suffering as they do not feel confident there is a future altogether, they also suffer as they seem to have an intergenerational conflict with teachers, parents that might take this matter “as to easy” ( see in reference book by Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Club of Rome)

3. COVID-19 pandemics (we might no longer talk about one pandemic) and more than ever seeing that technology was here not to replace human interaction but to transform human interaction ( learning relations) and make them possible; with health and wellness becoming the number one priority so quickly for everyone. 

As to start with many principals and special education teachers saying “in our student life we all needed at least once the Special Education Support System”, I say now we are all there, we are all special and we all need it.

Let’s explore from this context some of the tools available from Special education and that we can extend to all learning systems:

photo with the courtesy of Eduardo Frutuoso, History of Art teacher from Portugal, on our climate walk on the island of Valissaari, Helsinki Biennaali, there is a little lighthouse between these amazing 2 islands
  1. Make your learning visible; as 21st-century education is about creating knowledge not reproducing it, we choose to focus on the process instead of the outcome of learning (let go of the control of that is really hard work we should acknowledge that, Lonka K 2019). While we focus on the process, there is this “loss” on the visibility of the learning; how you make the process visible. By tracking how the learning happens. You might like to choose to have a simple tool for your teaching reflection process ( I have seen this with many tutor teachers): what is your learning objective of the day, what are the steps, resources needed, and then a short rubric for comments when you reflect back (even better with a peer teacher asking and making space for constructive feedback). Make it visible! Also stands for Integrity, something of great value if we want to build vulnerable spaces in which student feel safe to create and imagine and make mistakes. Integrity in action can look like: a) say what you will do; b) do what you say c) the minute I can no longer do it announce it. Integrity with Special education is vital ( ask any caregiver; they always will say they ask permission with the student and announce what will be coming). 
  2. Breaking down the problem. Such tools will help students build up self-confidence as learners and also a positive image of life- meaning whatever happens around them “they can manage”, they can use a decision-making process that will allow them to enjoy life as it is. A beautiful example of breaking down the problem and teaching especially young children this with coding is introduced by Linda Liukas in the books HELLO Ruby. 
  3. Mutuality: we can also call it “ learning job skills” creating space and the mindset that will allow students to help you and teach you; 21st-century learning is a mutual relation learning, it is not a fix rol I teach, you Lean; we learn together. In practical terms, offer and create opportunities for students to help you with: technology, gamification, podcasts, video making etc any learning output that will keep both teacher and students accountable for the learning. “ we all feel the need to feel successful and to feel we help the someone”, we grow from a place of compassion (compassion being empathy in action).
  4. Be a Lighthouse: As teacher practice courage, and find the potential spot, we all have it, and most of the time it is the one around our challanging learning situations and stay there, practice staying there and offering practice to students till they are ready to see it and then they get their image as the ones learning. How you practice? Offer small personalised homeworks that allow each and everyone to come to that information on different paths and different ways and timing.
9 "Vuorio" profiles | LinkedIn

The guest for this article: Nina Tarvela: Nina is high school special needs teacher, in her own words “meaning I don’t really teach anything anymore. I do reading screens and lock tests, and I meet students in all sorts of study-related puzzles. In the meetings, we practice some study techniques or strategies to make the study run more smoothly. For example, we practice making a mind map, scheduling, breaking down a task into smaller parts, or we discuss what could be done for anxiety or fear. So my job is partly very close to the work fields of a school counselor and psychologist.”

Reflection questions and how to use this resource further in your everyday teaching:

  1. How am I special? How do I bring that in the class/school and how I allow others to come from their special condition as well?
  2. How do I need support, and how do I offer support?
  3. What is my “special education” team, what are 2-3 roles, people, that come to my mind and we can create a team for support?
  4. What tools for breaking down problems do I already use or like and how can I use them more frequently? 
  5. How do I make my learning with students visible, and how can that feel easier to us ( more embedded in the work we do) ?

Resources:

  1. Back to the future of education https://www.oecd.org/education/back-to-the-future-s-of-education-178ef527-en.htm
  2. Intergenerational dialogue on climate crisis Quel monde pour demain ?: Dialogue entre générations (French Edition), Sandrine Dixson-Declève
  3.  Braking down the problem and computational thinking with https://www.helloruby.com/
  4. Free to learn, book by Peter Gray
  5. The idea of the Lighthouse is inspired by the work done with students Yehudit Sasportas, international art teacher and expert, working with students that would build their work from one point of trauma ( collective trauma), many times special education intervenes from that point.

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