If There is No Way, Create One! A Call to Add Twice-Exceptional Learners to the Multi-Tiered System of Support in Public Education
There is only 1 amazing YOU! When we get to know ourselves and how we learn, we can successfully make the education system work for us. What is your brainprint of interests, strengths, and challenges? We all have challenges, but there is always a workaround to help us push through those difficulties. It’s not cheating. My workarounds help me share all my learning with you.
Here are some of my workarounds.
What are your workarounds?
Layers of support for early literacy success are needed to ensure ALL learners grow into readers. When students are having difficulty learning to read they need access to an early, systematic, Tier 2 reading intervention. Since we do not know which students will have difficulty learning to read, it is imperative that students have access to Tier 2 supports at EVERY school. Providing access at every school is not easy in a district with over 17,000 students, but when you have an administrator with a dream, anything is possible! Napa Valley Unified was fortunate to have Dr. Laura Ryan, whose dream was to help EVERY child learn to read. This dream inspired her pioneering efforts which now ensures access to a Tier 2 reading intervention for students in the Napa Valley Unified School District.
Access to a district-wide Tier 2 reading intervention must be combined with an exceptional educator who intuitively understands the nuanced needs of her individual students. When learning to read is difficult, it takes a focused, skilled, caring champion to provide empathetic instruction and guidance. A person who believes we can and won't give up on us when we are questioning why, how, and when?
There is no accelerated path to take when pushing through an area of challenge. There is no "Easy Button" to push. It is the process of putting one foot in front of the other, slow and steady, day by day, wrapped in the light of a believer, that builds a reader who is able to crack the reading code. Mrs. Hattich this light is YOU!
Mrs. Sue Hattich was the exceptional educator that helped my son and our family see the light and persevere during a time when his academic challenges overshadowed many of his strengths in the classroom setting. She provided the scaffolding needed to successfully transition to middle school. Today our son is a reader and thriving in his last year of middle school. Today we honor YOU for the support you have given to our family and countless other students and families in our community. Thank you, Mrs. Sue Hattich for helping us grow!
My teaching adventure began in 1994. At that time, teachers were following the philosophy outlined in the 1990 California Department of Education's Elementary Task Force Report titled, "It's Elementary." This report spoke about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. It emphasized that making connections between subjects and integrating in the arts were vital in educating the hearts and minds of our students. I did not know that there was an education pendulum at this time, but began to recognize the swing I was on about 7 years later.
In 2001, the pendulum swung to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. We moved away from integration to a focus on individual academic standards. The arts were removed and testing became the focal point. I remember resisting this at first, but instinctively knew that something would be learned from this shift. Accepting this reality helped me to model optimism as my students and I found ways to weave creativity into mundane tasks and make a game out of standardized testing. We were making the system work for us as we rode this educational pendulum swing of change together.
2007 brought an opportunity to bring our educational pendulum back to some balance when the educators of Salvador Elementary School began collaborating with artists. At that time I was a classroom teacher and wrote this reflection, which was inspired by Louis Armstrong's song, "What a Wonderful World."
When describing what it is like to be a teacher in my class, I believe Louis Armstrong said it best: “The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces of people walking by.” Wonderfully diverse, Salvador offers a slice of the world in one small amazing school. My students are a reflection of my teaching and me. If they do not understand, it is my job to find a way to help them understand. We all learn in different ways. We are all unique and amazing individuals. A day is ideal when we all come together excited about what we are learning. A less than ideal day is when we are tired, hot and distracted. It is messy at times and flows smoothly at others, but it is that which makes us grow and move forward. If we did not have obstacles, we would become complacent and growth would be hindered. The power comes in finding a path to solve the problem and trust that there is never a task too great that can’t be solved if we work together.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is a perfect example of a path created in order to solve a problem. Its purpose was to ensure that we build the mind and character of every child by providing a rigorous curriculum to prepare them for the future. While the sentiment was sincere, I question the path it has taken. The arts have been pushed aside in order to fit in more standards. Teachers have learned the standards and children have learned great test-taking skills, but there is so much more to building a child’s mind and character. Has the pendulum swung too far? Where is the balance? Armed with our knowledge of the standards and content, we are now able to take the next step. How powerful “No Child Left Behind” would be, if we truly were able to access the multiple intelligences of our students. Exposing children to all modes of learning may help them find their own path and encourage them to forge ahead even when the curriculum seems daunting. The question is will it help or hinder our test scores? At Salvador we are piloting an art integration program. We are linking art to our standards; only time will tell how it affects our test scores. Above all, it has been amazing collaborating with artists and finding new avenues to reach the hearts and minds of our students.
One new avenue that came to Salvador through our collaboration with artists was the opportunity to develop an after-school program. I jumped at the chance to work towards creating a balance to the regular school day by offering students access to art classes that many families are unable to afford. Coordinating the after-school program has allowed me to teach all levels K-5. As I was leading the 3rd-5th grade homework, class, I realized that I was looking at my previous 1st and 2nd graders who I had introduced to their literacy journey. I remembered the days we spent learning letters and the sounds that they make. We would break everything down to the roots in order to extract the meaning. As I refocused my attention back to those 3rd-5th graders, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the novels they were reading. Yes, novels! Just then Emily raised her hand and said, “What does this word mean?” She pointed to the word GLEEFULLY. I thought back to our days together in first grade when she didn’t know how to decode the word, let alone ask the question what does it mean? I again thought about Louis Armstrong’s words, “I hear babies cry. I watch them grow. They’ll learn much more than I‘ll ever know.” What an amazing privilege to be the facilitator of a child’s educational journey. The roots had been planted and it was an honor to see the wings she had grown. Teaching, it certainly is amazing. “Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”
Now it's 2018 and I love looking back at the educational pendulum and seeing how we both have evolved since 1994. Each child is a neurodiverse gift to the world with his/her own unique profile of strengths and challenges. It is now clear that education is more than academics. Thankfully children no longer have to wait for art after-school. Families have more educational options than they did in the past. A conversation has been started about how we can meet the needs of ALL learners, whether they appear striving or advanced in the classroom. Innovative programs within and beyond our public education system are being developed and implemented to respond to both the academic and social-emotional needs of our children. Technology advancements provide easier ways to differentiate instruction for our students and technology tools allow students with learning differences to thrive.
Being on this pendulum helped me to understand and have empathy for the historical swing that my fellow educators were on in the years before I entered teaching and when I was a student in the classroom. This information was vital as I transitioned from a classroom teacher to district level positions supporting teachers, parents and administrators and now supports me in my work as an educational consultant. Understanding this pendulum has given me the confidence to follow my intuition in the ways I need to support students, families, and school teams. It has also taught me the importance of optimism and focusing on the "bright spots" that need to be noticed, savored, expanded upon, and multiplied as we continue this sacred work of supporting our youth, our future together in this wonderful world!
January brings a new year and reflections of all that was learned during the past year. I just reviewed the video below that I shared as we embarked on our hero's journey of 2017.
After watching it again, I realized that I go through this same process of reflection as we embark on each new year. I take time to notice, savor, enjoy, and celebrate the bright spots. I then acknowledge the dark moments letting them pass through me, as well as celebrate the resiliency it took to push through all of the hard things to be where I am today. We all have bright spots and dark moments through the year. This experience connects us all.
As we begin our hero's journey of 2018, know that a force field of "Love Light" surrounds us as we travel through the seasons of this beautiful new year together.
Cope Consulting's 2nd Vlog/Blog was inspired by Dr. Gail Saltz' book, The Power of Different-The Link Between Disorder and Genius. Dana Cope shares the Power of Me that she has gained by facing and pushing through her challenges, because if she can, you can too.
Here is our first VLOG/BLOG that combines video with my written reflections about ways to help our youth see every experience as a learning opportunity.
How do we ignite the creative flame that lives within us? As I connect the dots of the obstacles I have overcome to the place I am today, I realize that learning to listen to my intuitive "heart" voice has been the most important part of my journey.
Growing up I thought that being creative meant having artistic ability. When I picked up a pencil, pen, brush, opened my mouth to sing, or stood on stage to perform, I felt awkward and clumsy. At that time, I could not seem to release the beautiful images in my mind through these methods and thought that this must mean that I was not creative or artistic. Little did I know that these experiences were some of the important dots on my journey to now understand how my voice of vocation has revealed the creative and artistic ability that was suppose to be released through me.
I now understand that all of my life experiences inside and outside of the classroom were important on the road to discovering and sharing the creativity that lived within me. At 12 years old I knew that I was supposed to help every hurting child. The dots leading up to 12 and all of the dots connecting to becoming an educator, and later an educational consultant have provided me with the experiences that now inspire and help me to release my creative gifts. I realize now that I felt awkward and clumsy in my creative pursuits during my younger years because my creative and artistic dots had not been connected to my passion and purpose. Once I was finally in a position of supporting the educational development of children and their families, my creative and artistic flame ignited in all endeavors related to my "heart" work. I also found that there has been no challenge too great that couldn't be conquered when I was doing the work of my heart.
I believe that this is what our goal of education should be. As educators, we are "guides on the sides" helping our youth to connect their dots in discovering who they are. We need to support and encourage them to listen to their intuitive "heart" voice. We then need to help them to positively articulate their needs so that they can learn how to make the education system work for them. We need to support them through the challenges that they face on the journey and be there to celebrate their successes along the way. We are the village, guiding them to align their voice of vocation with their passion and purpose.
This sounds like a simple idea, although it is quite difficult to achieve. Listening to our inner "heart" voice can conflict with the established human constructs. To make this even more challenging, we are often given advice from those we see as experts about how to navigate our journey. Our fear response, "head" voice often responds by saying, "listen to the outside expert for it is he or she that knows the way." However, the expert only has expertise in navigating his/her path and does not know the potential that lies within YOU that is yearning to be realized. The expert can serve as a mentor, but it is only the unique individual, listening to their own "heart" voice within, that will ultimately know the road that is right for him or her. Only YOU can be an expert at knowing YOU.
I have been on a lifelong journey of striving to reach my full potential and it has been a combination of listening to my intuitive "heart" voice and trusting how my dots connect that have kept me moving forward. Once I found my voice of vocation, my creative flame ignited. I believe that as more of our youth begin to confidently listen to and follow the directions provided by their intuitive "heart" voice, we will eventually have a generation positively compelled to contribute their unique gifts to solving our most complex problems. A happier and healthier world is possible when those in it are doing the work of their hearts.
As I reflect on my experience with transitions, I now realize why they have all been challenging. We leave our pattern of knowing, to a new environment where we have to figure out a new pattern. Since we are navigating through the unknown, we do not have a template to follow. Instead, we have to trust that the transformational journey will be filled with all of the experiences needed to move forward in this new context.
While in my backyard and on walks this summer, I noticed beautiful butterflies fluttering by. This experience inspired me to ponder and create this infographic about how the transitions in my life have been like the life cycle of the beautiful butterflies I so admire.