Did you wake up this morning Absolutely inspired to get up and go to work?
One of my favourite authors and experts, Simon Sinek makes a statement that I think is really powerful he says that loving your job is a right, not a privilege not just tolerating your job, not even liking your job, but loving your job.
The tricky part is that in order to love your job and to wake up every morning inspired to go to work, there are certain things you need.
Simon would say that, first and foremost, you need to know and to remember each day why you do what you do.
If you’ve ever checked out his work, you’ll know that he talks a lot about finding your “why.
” And I agree that’s pretty important.
As a matter of fact, I would argue that if you work with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, there’s a pretty big “why” built into the job the work you do every day has the power to change what that individual can do for the rest of his or her life.
I can’t imagine what could possibly be more inspiring or motivating than that.
I think that’s a really Important starting point.
But you and I both know that the work you do can be extremely challenging and sometimes even trying.
So although knowing why you do what you do is a critical piece of the puzzle, there’s more to it than that.
I believe that in order to love your job and to wake up every morning inspired to go to work, you also need to feel confident that you can do your job well.
You need to know that you have the knowledge, the skills, the resources, and the supports to make the difference that inspired your “why” in the first place.
If you don’t have those things, if there’s a gap, or maybe even a canyon, between the difference you want to make for your learners with ASD and the difference you feel you can make right now, then you need some more help.
The Autism in Education, or AIE, Partnership wants to help you out by providing you with more tools to support your learners.
The AIE Partnership is creating A unique professional learning experience that is designed to help you build, not only the knowledge but also the skills to put the theory you may have learned about working with learners with ASD into practice in your work, or in your specific setting, on a daily basis.
We also want to help you build the confidence to know that you can apply your learning in your own unique situation.
And if you haven’t learned any theory yet about working with learners with ASD, we want to help you out with that too.
We want to challenge you, and everyone who works with learners with ASD to think just a little bit differently about how we go about supporting these learners.
We sometimes approach teaching and supporting learners with ASD from a position of overcoming deficits.
We identify the skill deficits, the challenges, learning gaps, and we work to fill in as many of those gaps as we can in order to help our learners catch up as much as possible And that does certainly make sense We know that by definition, ASD involves skill deficits deficits in social communication skills and deficits with respect to particular behaviours, and we absolutely do want to work to address those.
But it may be valuable to shift our traditional way of thinking just a little bit Instead of starting from a mindset of overcoming deficits, we want to challenge you to think about empowering your learners to take flight to really take off by making a focus on strengths and potential the starting point.
I want to tell you about a boy named Zach.
Although you’ve probably never met Zach, I can almost guarantee that most of you know Zach.
He’s the student who some school staff may be nervous to work with because some of his behaviour can be quite aggressive.
He’s the student whose parents Have gone to the school board or district, to the office of the Minister of Education, or to the media because they don’t feel that their child’s needs are being met.
You might know Zach by a different name, but I have a feeling that most of you know him.
When Zach was in grade 3, at only 8 years old, his behaviour at school was putting people at risk.
Equally important, his behaviour was compromising his own learning and his ability to be part of the school community.
The ASD specialist was asked to go to the school to help with the situation.
When she slipped into the classroom to observe, she couldn’t pick Zach out from his peers.
She spent the first several minutes watching a group of cooperative, highly engaged students working on a numeracy lesson.
Then the subject switched to literacy.
The teacher started talking about the writing activity the students would be doing, and suddenly it was like the very air in the room changed.
The ASD specialist watched one round-faced, pink-cheeked little boy with spiked hair and round glasses go from working diligently on his math activity to pushing his desk, sending his books flying, and running from the room in a matter of seconds.
That was the ASD specialist’s introduction to Zach.
Over the next few months she got to know Zach pretty well.
She spent parts of many days at the school, working with Zach, working with the classroom teacher, and resource teacher, and with the administration team and Zach’s family.
There were lots of challenges, but over time there was progress; incidents happened less frequently, and some of the strategies the teachers incorporated were really helpful for Zach.
The ASD specialist worked to Slowly fade her presence out of the school but, there were still incidents and many situations at school continued to be difficult for Zach.
Everyone was working hard, including Zach, especially Zach, but the situation was tense and everyone was walking on eggshells most of the time.
The next year, grade 4 for Zach, picked up where the previous year had left off.
The district specialist was still involved, and as the end of August approached, she went to meet with the school team and family to help with transition planning.
But when she met the resource teacher, Mrs.
, who would be helping to support Zach that year, she noticed something interesting.
She couldn’t quite put her finger on it at the time, but it would turn out that Mrs. H. would play a key role from that point forward.
Mrs. H. didn’t have any particular training or expertise to work with students with ASD, but she had great intuition and she was very interested in learning.
The team started the year by looking at the “big picture” of all of the skills that would be essential for Zach’s success.
They looked at his strengths and challenges and set some priorities and goals definitely a great start.
But Mrs. H. focused on more.
In addition to his strengths, she chose to focus on his interests and potential.
She wanted to know as much as possible about the strategies that would help Zach the most.
She communicated regularly with Zach’s family, the school team, and other professionals who provided support to Zach.
She wanted to learn as much as she could about what would help her unleash the potential she recognized in Zach.
Mrs. H. took on the task of learning new strategies, practicing them, and using them with Zach.
She also provided support and encouragement to the rest of the school team.
As her skills and confidence increased, so did Zach’s success It certainly wasn’t a quick fix, and it wasn’t always an easy or straightforward process, but as Zach’s successes accumulated, Mrs. H. and the team became more and more determined to help him reach his potential.
The school happened to be a K-12 school, and although Mrs. H. wasn’t directly connected to Zach every year, she became a valuable resource for all of the teachers and support staff who worked with Zach throughout the rest of his school career.
Equally important, she became an advocate for Zach and a safe place for him to go as new issues and challenges came up.
So I’m happy to be able to tell you that Zach graduated from high school, something that many people worried may not happen during those early days of overturned desks and flying books.
If that was where the story ended, I think we’d probably agree it would be a huge success.
But that’s not quite the end.
On a June day, the same ASD specialist who had gone to Zach’s school for the first time almost ten years before, was sitting in her office when the phone rang.
She had moved on to a new job a few years earlier, so she was surprised when she heard Mrs. H’s voice on the other end of the line.
She was even more shocked when Mrs. H. said, “I’ve got someone here who’d like to talk to you,” and Zach came on the line.
He wanted to share the news that he had been accepted into a post-secondary program that would give him the opportunity to continue to build on his interests and strengths.
And I think that, by any standard, meets the definition of overwhelming success.
Zach’s story could have ended very differently, and for many learners with ASD and diverse needs the story does end differently.
Not every situation you’re facing with every learner with ASD is as challenging as Zach’s was.
Maybe you’re working with Jonas, who doesn’t have the functional communication skills that allow him to let you know what he needs or wants.
Maybe the one critical skill that could help him take flight would be to learn to initiate communication and tell you when he needs help, when he’s hungry, or when he doesn’t want to do something.
You might be teaching Sophie, but she spends most of her day off-task and you just can’t figure out how to get her to attend to her work or to engage in what she is supposed to be doing.
Maybe you’re supporting Isaiah who seems to take off running every time you look away for even a second or every time you take him into the hallway, into the gym, onto the playground, or outside to line up for the bus at the end of the day.
You know that if these learners developed some key skills, they would be much more likely to take off and soar, but you just can’t quite break through the barriers standing in the way.
You may have had the opportunity to participate in some professional development and training to learn strategies to help individuals with ASD.
Various provinces and departments have provided professional learning options which have been extremely beneficial for staff and for learners with ASD.
But we know that learning is a continuous process, and the AIE partnership wants to help you feel confident supporting the learners you work with each day.
I think there are three important lessons we can take away from Zach and Mrs. H. about what we need to do to help you and your learners with ASD take flight.
The first lesson is that we need a whole army of Mrs. H’s in our schools.
We need all of the resource teachers, learning centre teachers, classroom and subject teachers, educational assistants, and support staff, in all of our schools everyday to be equipped with the tools and strategies to support learners with ASD and to help them achieve their potential.
Many of you are working with these learners now, and if you’re not, you probably will be at some point in the future.
Across the Atlantic Provinces, just like across Canada and across North America, the number of learners with ASD is on the rise.
The prevalence rates for ASD went from 1 in 150 in 2002 to 1 in 110 in 2006 to 1 in 88 in 2010, and to 1 in 68 in 2012 Most school boards and districts have specialists who are trained in the interventions that have been proven effective for learners with ASD, but we know they’re a small group.
Helping all staff within every school to gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence to effectively support learners with ASD is essential to equipping those learners to take flight.
The second lesson is that we have to help everyone working in our schools build practical skills in a way that’s effective and manageable.
It’s not enough to provide good information and expect people to remember all of it.
We also need to help them translate it into their daily work.
It reminds me of an analogy I heard about a ship in a bottle.
Have you ever seen one of those?
The glass bottle, completely sealed, with a cork in the neck of the bottle, and a perfectly formed model ship filling the inside of the bottle?
I remember being amazed the first time I saw one, and I couldn’t figure out how someone could get that ship into the bottle.
I remember thinking that maybe they had a bottle without a bottom on it and then once the ship was placed inside they somehow attached the bottom.
As it turns out, I was completely wrong.
As some of you probably know, The artists who build those do start by building the ship outside the bottle, but they build it in sections that they can collapse, making each section small enough to fit through the neck of the bottle.
Once it’s inside the bottle, each piece is expanded and put into place, fitting all of the details together, one piece at a time.
Some of you may have participated in a variety of professional development opportunities related to working with individuals with ASD.
You have the “big picture.
” You have knowledge and information.
You’ve built the ship outside the bottle.
Now what we are going to do is to break everything down into its component parts and fit each small piece through the neck of the bottle.
The learning resource that we’re building an online video library is designed to help you learn and give you resources to practice each strategy until you can put the pieces together in your daily work.
Each of the videos in the series will be 15-20 minutes long.
That’s long enough to share something valuable, but short enough that you can watch them anytime you have a few spare minutes and maybe even watch them more than once.
Each video will focus on practical examples and strategies and a printable resource will be provided with each video in the series.
And the third lesson, and maybe the most important, is that while we help our students learn the skills they need to reach their potential, we also remember to celebrate success.
Inspiration comes from seeing success and from hearing the success stories of others, and from knowing you can make a difference for your learners.
We need all of you, all of the Mrs. H’s in all of our schools, to share your success stories.
We need you to tell all of us about your “AH-HA moments;” your triumphs, big and small; and the exciting things that happen when you and your learners take flight.
We know there are teachers and support staff and specialists who have absolutely inspiring stories of learner success to tell.
And we hope there will be many more who will use the new strategies they learn to discover potential they may not have even known their learners had.
We want to build you a stage to share your success stories and to inspire all of us, and we’re going to do that as part of this professional learning series.
The Autism in Education Partnership will be adding new videos and resources to this online library on a regular basis, so keep an eye on our website for each new learning opportunity.
Get started today by checking out the first set of videos in this series.
We are looking forward to hearing how you’re using these strategies to help your own learners take flight.