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I have been an elementary and secondary school teacher and administrator. Currently, I am a faculty member in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. My M.Ed. and Ph.D. had a focus on the educational and linguistic experiences of children who moved from other countries to Canada.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What does special education look like in international contexts?

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking at the National Institute for Learning Development annual conference in Toronto. A few days later, I was in a session at University of Calgary where we discussed inclusive education in the islands of the Pacific. Although seemingly disparate topics, I found the two settings and discussions illuminating on how we perceive learning differences and the contexts within which we support students with special education needs.

At the NILD conference, I highlighted research that has been done over the past twenty years that explores the plasticity of the brain. Some of the books that have impacted my thinking in this area include Norman Doidge's The Brain that Changes Itself and Sally Shaywitz's Overcoming Dyslexia. There are many others who have contributed to this conversation including Barbara Arrowsmith Young, Robert Marzano, and David Sousa. As a result, therapeutic approaches to learning disabilities have emerged including NILD, Arrowsmith, art therapy, horse therapy, dolphin therapy, dog therapy, play therapy, music therapy, and nature therapy to name a few.

What is interesting to me is that school systems continue to rely on a traditional approach to students with special education needs which is largely focused on providing accommodations and developing coping strategies for the classroom. I think that NILD is on to something ... an individualized and therapeutic approach seems much more wholistic and life-impacting.

Which brings me to the Pacific islands.

Being able to support students with special education needs has been a focus of countries in the "developed world" for the past 30+ years. It has been a challenge in many other countries to allocate resources to do the same. An interesting framework is emerging from the Pacific where small island states are considering what inclusive education can look like. Researchers and government bodies have developed a framework for what inclusive education should look like (click here to learn more about the Pacific Indicators for Disability Inclusive Education - P-INDIE).

There is much to learn about education from different parts of the world. As we learn about individualized therapeutic and cognitive approaches, such as those developed by NILD, we also need to be mindful of how we can support students in inclusive settings where everyone is "differently-abled" and teachers work from a strengths-based approach to support every child in the classroom. 

This consideration of both the "individual" and the "system" needs to be the target for effective teaching and learning to take place globally.

Ethical Blogging: A version of this blog post has been sent to NILD and the principal investigator in the P-INDIE project.

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