Prize the person to lift equity in the classroom

Claudia Vera
City Organiser

A strengths-based approach is needed in teaching

To cut through the barriers of attitude and resourcing that hamper the provision of high-quality public education for students with disability we need to make a paradigm shift in delivering education within a social or human rights model of disability.

Special education expert Michael Wehmeyer’s notes that in the past “we have taught people with disabilities that they are the problem”.

The aim of securing equitable funding is not simply for add-ons to fix “problems”: additional funding is not about creating further otherness by layering short-term supports onto an inflexible education system.

Instead, we need to look to personalisation through Universal Design for Learning and Response to Intervention. This sets a solid foundation for a strengths-based approach that focuses on the interaction between the student and the environment and responds proactively to the impact of social and emotional factors that can affect learning. In other words, as Alan E. Beck says, in teaching “you can’t do the Bloom stuff until you take care of the Maslow stuff”.

Flinders University Associate Professor Lorna Hallahan, a significant and long-term contributor to the development and analysis of disability policy, described personalisation as follows: “Personalisation is about prizing the person. Personalisation is about knowing the person deeply, having the courage to offer honouring relationships, holding an affirming vision of their life, knowing what is required to make things happen” (Lorna Hallahan, 2013).

The aim — from a campaign and professional perspective — is two-fold: supportive and supported teachers and schools within a supportive and supported system. For this, additional funding is needed to both:

1. engage teachers in ongoing professional learning, reflection and dialogue led and complemented by educational leadership that fosters a culture, as described in “The Future is in the Margins: The Role of Technonology and Disability in Educational Reform” (Rose and Meyer), that goes beyond homogenisation to diversification, where “individuals with disabilities fall along a spectrum of difference and the convention of the ‘regular’ student disappears as a normative model (p. 6)”, and

2. provide resources for the time and processes required for relationship-building, collaborative planning and development of flexible learning design and to establish and maintain technology and specialist intervention that are not merely inclusions but stem from an understanding of difference that removes existing barriers from the outset.

Addressing these aims requires time our students and profession cannot afford so we must act with urgency and intention.

The challenges to be addressed in the context of the Every Student, Every School (ESES) policy and the allocation of funding through the Resource Allocation Model include:

  • time and professional learning to deliver on personalisation through teaching and learning
  • Integration Funding levels
  • timely access to specialist support
  • Access Request and placement panel processes
  • provision of support class placements
  • equitable resource allocation to Schools for Specific Purposes (SSPs).

To achieve improvements in these areas we need to:

  • interrogate our own values in response to difference and diversity and our role in delivering quality education to students with disability
  • strengthen capacity and commitment to meeting and protecting the rights of students with disability
  • value, and demand the tools for, working in genuine partnership with parents/carers for their children
  • raise expectations of the opportunities and improved learning outcomes of students with disability
  • utilise Department resources in a transparent and targeted manner that genuinely meets student need
  • be proactive with the support available to schools by way of policy, funding and human resources
  • understand where teacher, school, network, state office, government responsibilities begin and end to ensure upward pressure is placed to secure additional resources when necessary
  • create a climate of advocacy over one of compliance and managing within limited resources.

Federation is supporting members in this vital work through:

a) direct information and assistance from Professional Support and local Organisers

b) resources to keep members updated on provisions for and developments in disability education

c) professional learning delivered by the Centre for Professional Learning — Teaching Students with Special Needs in the mainstream classroom

d) Trade Union Training to empower members to access necessary supports — Organising for Intervention

e) agitating for improvements via various forums with the Department of Education and NSW ministries

f) campaigning for the delivery of the Gonski Students with Disability loading

g) engaging in inquiries, consultations and broader campaigns relating to improved equity and life outcomes for people with disability.

We have everything to gain in pursuing these aims with vigour and tenacity both for students and teachers; in doing so we position public education as a model to lead overdue change in society.

Claudia Vera is the Officer attached to the Special Education Restricted Committee

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