An often said and generally accepted universal truth is that CHANGE IS HARD. Certainly, at least in educational circles, volumes of literature and much discussion has centred on this theme. Some might postulate that there is more “discussion” than actual change attempts.
Transitioning from a traditionally segregated service model of delivery for students with special needs to a fully incisive supportive practice at a system level certainly qualifies as worthy of the category of change.
Avon Maitland District School board chose change. Thoughtfully considering their special education programs and services at the time, they opened a discussion that had at its core “What works best for our students?” “Are we meeting their needs when they leave our schools as adults?” Reflective processes can be pretence; confirmations of hackneyed and long accepted practices with affirmation of continuation that has at its culmination an informed decision to maintain the status quo. Thoughtful consideration can lead somewhere different. It can lead to an opening up of possibility for a different outcome. It can lead to change and that takes courage. Change is brave.
Effective change cannot happen in isolation. How everyone is impacted by change can be vastly different. Change is complicated. Bringing together the voices of those experiencing the transition was essential. To support this process Avon Maitland District School Board brought in an independent research team from Brock University to collect the voices of individuals who were experiencing the change process. This opened the stream of information and added to the information available. The partnership allowed for the expansion of voices and assisted in shaping the change as it was evolving into practice. Students in self-contained classes were transitioning into supported inclusive classrooms. The creation of the role of inclusion coach was implemented to support educators in the regular classrooms. Children’s lives were expanding and a cacophony of voices was speaking to this change.
Thoughtful consideration turned into purposeful action is a long term and complicated process; saying, thinking and then actually doing takes planning and commitment. Change is work. Training, professional development, scheduling, role definition, job descriptions, transportation, buy in, and a host of unavoidable but necessary factors are part of any system. Thinking about what might happen in change and experiencing the reality of what that entails can often be the point at which change becomes just a good idea that someone once had. The day to day, week to week, month to month and then year to year commitment to change takes perseverance and knowledge brokers who know their job and are committed to the small and large pieces that are a necessity.
Reconceptualising service delivery, obtaining appropriated buy in from necessary partners, providing needed information and operationalizing planning are time consuming tasks. Working with School Board Leadership, individual schools, parent groups, and educators the process of transforming the vision for what was to come consisted of multiple meetings, some large group and some, when needed one on one.
The work of change does not have an end point. Change is fluid. It requires commitment and active participation. Re-examining what is working well and what may need more support is essential. Continuing to provide opportunities for professional growth, enhanced learning and socialization as well as access for all students and making sure that eyes and ears are kept open. Reflection serves to ensure that change continues move in a positive directions. Goals need re-examination, plans need to adjust and vision needs to be reinforced. Sustained effort and commitment are necessary elements of achieving excellence in inclusive practice. Change is happening.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.