Monday, June 27, 2016

Harvard Day 1: Part 2: Inclusion

or, as an alternate title, "There is no autistic McDonalds."

Our first speaker in the morning was Dr. William Henderson. He was incredible. All of the world's people should hear his message.

My paraphrased and hopefully accurate version of his story is this: He was a principal of a school. In his 30s he learned he was going blind. After he received the news, some people encouraged him to move on from principal-ing because some thought it would be impossible to continue without his vision. Not only did he prove them wrong, but he went on to lead one of the most inclusive schools in the country. After his retirement, they named it after him. So he's like, really awesome.

He explained that he sees his challenges just like everyone else's challenges. One thing every person has in common is that we've all been doubted because of something we can't control - age, gender, disability, etc. He inspired me to remember that when people doubt me, I have grit and determination on my side. Specifically, he said to "exude determination and grit." We were encouraged to leverage faith, family, friends, and fellowship when our work is hard and take baby steps to get a little better every day.

His description of how his reading evolved was the most fascinating to me. He described having to enlarge print so drastically that he could only keep a few words at a time on a screen, and connected that to students who spend so much mental effort decoding that meaning is lost. I thought of a lot of kids.

As educators, we don't have to know all of the answers but we have to find multiple ways to learn. We were encouraged to connect with others' struggle by recognizing the ways we struggle.

My oft mantra of "do hard things" fit right into his talk!

Dr. Henderson pointed out some realities that we must confront as school leaders. That "normalcy" is a myth. That 60% of kids in Boston juvenile detention have learning disabilities, and I imagine this is mimicked around the country; this is an educational failure, in my opinion.  That there is no autistic McDonalds; we have to prepare all students for life outside of school, and excluding them from our general education environments simply doesn't do that.

My big takeaways:
1) Some of us take better care of our cell phones than our bodies. To be an effective leader we must practice self-care.
2) If we lower our expectations for students with disabilities we are insulting them and enabling their failure. Instead we must accommodate and maintain a high standard. This reminded me of Liz Murray and Breaking Night.
3) There are multiple ways of being successful and the standard or "normal" way doesn't work for everyone.
4) There are no achievement gaps. Only opportunity gaps.
5) It's true that inclusion won't work for everyone, but it will work for most. Research shows that exclusion to specialized classes simply doesn't work. If we don't create inclusive classrooms we are deliberately going against the research.
6) Inclusion has to be everyone's job.

This post feels a bit all over the place, but I learned so many things in the short time of Dr. Henderson's talk. I know I said it already, but he is inspiring. I am so thankful that I got to learn from him!

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