Looking at pressing realities impacting education today, COVID-19 pandemic emergency and remote learning has placed a direct and bolder spotlight on issues of inequity that exists within schools and districts.
This is a reality that I’ve worked to address in my capacity as a Vice Principal. Whether it be a student’s lack of access to viable technology to a student’s mental health, inequity speaks to realities that impact students based on a number of factors including how cracks in the foundations of schooling can become wider and deeper for particular students. With some late night casual reading, I’ve been losing sleep thinking about students with exceptionalities, their relationship with literacy and how to best serve them.
This is to say that in looking at an exceptionality in literacy, I’m quite cognizant of the student as a whole person and the challenges that may exist at home, school, broader community and how multiple milieus potentially intersect. As a relatively new Vice Principal, I began my administrative journey at the onset of COVID emergency learning and have been very direct about the need to be responsive to all learners, especially those in need of meaningful intervention. I recognize my privilege in that my own home experience is quite utopian considering the circumstances of COVID. We’re a family with one-to-one technology, no issue with internet connectivity or limits and my children are without any cognitive barriers. Furthermore, we are a white family middle class family, which comes with other layers of privilege. Outside of the pressing realities of COVID and the challenges that any family is enduring, the experience of schooling is largely without issue.
I recognize that is not the reality for many students and their families. Regrettably as an administrator I’ve shared in many emotional conversations with parents who are seeking support for their special education child. This support must come with a shift in mindset; recognizing that schools are truly for all students.
As such, when it comes to intervention for students with Learning Difficulties / Disabilities, schools and districts must be responsive to the whole student experience. This speaks to the ideas presented by the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada and Putting a Canada Face on Learning Disabilities.
This notion of “putting a face” is more important than ever taking into account the realities of remote learning and large school district initiatives to offer fully online and/or hybrid based learning. Specifically, as noted in the document Putting a Canadian Face on Learning Disabilities, “there is a direct correlation between the problems not identified in school, and/or not accommodated in school, with the end result of low literacy levels. This, in turn, impacts the employment opportunities and the financial situations of people with learning disabilities. The issue is cyclical, because these challenges feed into one another. Low literacy levels, high rates of unemployment, lack of independence, and lower income contribute to higher rates of mental and physical health and impact the relationships of people with LD” (Learning Disabilities Association of Canada).
As such, it’s pressing that school leaders, program specialists, classroom teachers and system leaders, construct intentional plans of intervention that speak to issues of equity that impact student learning. As recommended by The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, the government must “build awareness and training among medical, mental health and educational professionals of co-existence of mental health disorders and learning disabilities in both children and adults. This would facilitate quicker identification and diagnosis of LD and provide families with early support, understanding and resources to reduce the likelihood of developing more serious mental health disorders” (Learning Disabilities Association of Canada).
With all of this, it’s critical to be culturally responsive both in teaching and leading. In the case of exceptionalities and interventions, “putting a face” on learning disabilities means knowing, respecting, acknowledging and responding to the whole person. As in any study of equity, educators must start with self. As shared in What Works ? Research Into Practice, examining one’s own beliefs is significant. Specifically, “it is important to examine your own belief systems with regard to students with exceptionalities. It may be helpful to ask yourself such questions such as: What experiences in my own schooling may have shaped my attitudes toward students with exceptionalities? Do I have a close relationship with a person who would be considered to have an exceptionality? Have I ever been incapacitateed in a way that allows me to view my environment differently? These questions may afford you the opportunity to identify ways in which personal beliefs and experiences inform daily practice in both positive and negative ways” (Bennett, 2009, p. 2).
Furthermore, for LD students to be truly served, a shift in mindset needs to take place at all systeem levels. This is referenced in Supporting Teachers to Work with Children with Exceptionalities.” Published in the Canadian Journal of Education, the researchers share “writing a policy that embraces inclusion involves much more than knowing how to accommodate students with exceptionalities or modify the curriculum. In order for the policy to be realized, a belief system that commits to inclusion is necessary” (Killoran, Zaretsky, Jordan, Smith, Allard and Moloney, 2013, p. 245).
There’s most certainly so much to think about but leadership must come with action. This means, that new learning and approaches are critical if all students are going to receive the education they so rightfully deserve.
For me, the learning continues.
Allington, R. L. (2001). Research on reading/learning disability interventions. In S. J. Samuels and A.E. Farstrug (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (4th ed.) Newark, DE: IRA.
Applied: Bennett, S. (2009). Including students with exceptionalities. What Works? Research into Practice, Ontario Ministry of Education, Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. Retrieve from: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/Bennett.pdf
Killoran, I. Zaretsky, H. Jordan, A. Smith, D. Allard, C and Moloney, J. (2013). Supporting Teachers to Work with Children with Exceptionalities, Canadian Journal of Education