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Diving Deeper on Learning Disabilities

On Friday February 15th, 2019 the GCCS Educational Assistants and Teachers gathered together for a day of listening, suggesting, and encouraging around the topic of learning disabilities. The day began by devoting ourselves to the stronghold we have in Christ. I read John 16:19-33 and spent some time dwelling on the hope we have in the courage Christ commissions us to display: ”And everything I’ve taught you is so that the peace which is in me will be in you and will give you great confidence as you rest in me. For in this unbelieving world you will experience trouble and sorrows, but you must be courageous, for I have conquered the world!”

We welcomed Deb McKelvey, a Speech-Language Pathologist, and her team to our gathering by doing a popsicle sequential circle that asked all the participants to respond to one of the following topics: something from your childhood, something you like to watch, or something you can’t live without. Creating a small relational connection allowed the room to feel more community-like. Our GCCS staff is fully committed to creating a culture in our classrooms that allows for vulnerability and expectancy. This same culture is needed and built in our staff gatherings as well.

Deb executed a presentation for staff that allowed us to listen to information about language development, both expressive (output) and receptive (understanding). Deb had a wonderful energy and passion. She reviewed these concepts with us while showing a deep understanding of the hardship this presents for students who struggle with either or both expressive and receptive language development. We discussed the red flags and soft signs we might see in our students and then spent time discussing and suggesting accommodations and modifications that we as GCCS staff can do for our students.

After a lunch break, I led the teachers through a time of debriefing about Deb’s presentation. We suggested and encouraged one another through our work relating to these four topics:

  • Empathy: Supporting both the child (the villager) who is struggling and also those around that child (the village) who are also trying to be a support.
  • Advocacy and Vulnerability: Fostering a culture in our classroom that encourages students to advocate for themselves and their needs while also helping them recognize that it will require some vulnerability for them to acknowledge when they need help.
  • Growth, not Necessarily Healing: Through providing accommodations and modifications we seek growth for our students with learning disabilities but we acknowledge that the disability isn’t going to “go away”, we need to find that balance when working with students and their families.
  • Investment in Time and Money: Our educators invest time in learning new programs and techniques associated with teaching and learning strategies. The school also makes decisions on how to invest money in those same programs and tools.

We then touched our Chromebooks and got a little hands on in our school’s Google Read and Write Program. I used the Restorative Practices protocol called Fishbowl to run a scenario and gain insight from a variety of staff on how to proceed. The Fishbowl Protocol gives space, time, and structure to safely discuss struggles.

Following our Fishbowl, a special student guest arrived to demonstrate an app that she and her parents developed. She worked on her iPad while it reflected on our big screen. We saw her show quiet confidence, careful attention to detail, and resilience for correcting and working with technology. The presentation illustrated great growth in this student. She is developing skills, learning how to work with her strengths and tools, but most importantly she is developing leadership to present her work to us. By coming in to teach the staff and then being willing to meet up with other students who would benefit from this app, this young student was an inspiration to all.

Student demonstration assistive application to teachers.

We ended our day with a Sequential Circle where we shared our learning and wonderings from our day of learning. It was helpful for me in my role as Vice Principal of Learning to listen to staff’s concerns and desires for moving forward. This week our Special Education Department will be starting our second round of Class Meetings. These meetings give our Special Education Resource Teacher and I time to directly discuss each student in our school with their teacher. We celebrate them and discuss next steps for continued improvement.

After a time of prayer, we closed our day together by listening to the song Be Still by The Fray. I selected this song for its understanding message and soft gentle tones. I wanted to leave staff with the courage and grace found in salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. A Professional Development Day about learning disabilities can be discouraging and even overwhelming, but the desire to help students and walk with them through their valleys is a significant mutual goal around our GCCS staff table.

If you forget the way to go
And lose where you came from
If no one is standing beside you
Be still and know I am

Tanya Pennings
Vice Principal of Learning
Grade 4 Teacher

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