I am a teacher and my mom would tell you that I have been teaching since I was a very little girl. I spent my time dreaming of being a teacher and those dreams got bigger when I listened to my grandma tell her stories of being a teacher is a one room school house, lighting the fire when she got there and using a hand cart on the railway to get to and from school. When I wasn’t dreaming, I was practicing by sitting my little sister in front of the chalkboard while I “played” school for hours and hours – always making sure that she was grasping the lessons that I was teaching (whatever they were).
Then I was teaching, in front of a room full of children and I felt excited – at first. It wasn’t long before I realized that all of my students weren’t learning in the same way. I knew I wasn’t reaching some of them and I felt like I couldn’t manage some of the behaviors that were constantly present. I grew more and more anxious and it wasn’t long before I was feeling that if these students weren’t learning the way that I was teaching then they needed to be somewhere else with someone else – after all I was trained to do was I was doing so if I was in the right place these students were obviously not. I really cared about them and wanted them to love learning and love being at school so I advocated having them working in a place that could meet their needs because I didn’t know how. Looking back I now know that I had a very single sighted view of the world of teaching.
So how did that change for me?
Something really important happened in my life that was truly a gift. My third child developed a serious retinal disease when he was 1 and we had to travel to Boston over 30 times for eye surgeries and eventually he had to have his eyes removed. He has been blind since the age of 3. He started his school journey early as a Program Unit Funded child and as he progressed through the grades I learned more and more and began to see the school experience in a completely different way.
I learned that the system isn’t designed broadly enough to authentically embrace all students. The focus is driven by mastery of content and the expected results are celebrated through academic achievement. The experience of parenting my son and my own research has taught me that a successful school experience is bigger than this – as teachers we are not just teaching content to the mind, we are teaching young people to discover themselves. We feed their minds by providing experiences for them to learn how to learn, to problem – solve to synthesize and analyze. We feed their bodies and minds by providing healthy, happy environments where they feel accepted, welcomed and belong. We need to continually remind them that they have a contribution to make and we need to partner with them so they can discover what their passion is and how to develop a lifestyle that allows them to do whatever they want to do.
For the past couple to years I was of the firm belief that implementing an inclusive education system could deliver on this agenda – an educational system where all students truly belonged and had successful experiences of making contributions. Recently I have been inspired and have learned that this dream of an inclusive education system isn’t big enough. Our schools not only need to focus on feeding the mind by teaching important learning skills and developing positive caring relationships we also need to ensure that we have healthy learning environments. Healthy learning environments ensure that our students are physically activity, eating healthy and have the social and emotional supports necessary for them to have a healthy emotional outlook.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have integrated the philosophical underpinnings of an inclusive education system and the comprehensive school health curriculum. I have developed a dream about what this could mean for our students. In this dream I am envisioning what our schools could look like if we were to successfully integrate these two powerful agendas.
I am a teacher but I also want to be a leader. I am busy defining my role in leading PSD forward in this work because at the end of the day I believe it will truly make tremendous difference not only to the students we serve but to all of us as well.