Inclusive Education for Everyone
a) Transition Journey
Paige Winfield graduated from the Mount Royal University Bachelor of Education program in the spring of 2015. She completed her final practicum with the Calgary Board of Education’s Glenbrook Elementary School. During this practicum she became very interested in working with special needs students and she had many conversations about this student population with her Vice Principal.
Towards the end of her practicum Paige had an interview with the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) where she was able to express and demonstrate her interest in working with special needs students. She soon got a call from the CBE Board Office inviting her to be a member of their new teachers’ special education cohort.
b) Board and School Orientation and Support
This special education cohort was composed of 25 new teachers from across Canada. Once they were all hired they began a two month training period from May to June. Three days a week they received special education training from CBE specialists, and learning consultants from external organizations that covered a breadth of special education concepts, such as mental health, developmental disabilities, complex needs, English Language Learners (ELL), Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Visually Impaired, and Physical Disabilities. Tuesdays and Thursdays they traveled to different schools and sites in Calgary to observe students in special education settings. These visits included Louise Dean School, William Roper Hull, Children’s Village, Christine Meikle School, and Gordon Townsend Children’s Hospital School. While visiting these sites, they were able to engage with students in Bridges classrooms, Communication, Sensory and Social Interaction (CSSI) classrooms, LEAD classrooms, and other specialized settings.
Paige indicates that “the experiences were endless and it was an experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I also met a new friend from Nova Scotia who was part of this special needs cohort and we are now living together in Calgary. She is now teaching in a CSSI classroom at Brentwood Elementary. After this training, I really felt like I was part of the CBE before I started teaching in my own classroom this year. We had time to be mentored and learn all the key CBE policies and procedures, get all our paper work complete, and set up our CBE Internet accounts. Towards the end of June everyone in our cohort was getting calls for interviews for special needs positions for the coming school year. I got a call for a Grade 3 & 4 ELL position at Colonel J Fred Scott. I called my Vice Principal at Glenbrook for a reference and she was like no, my gosh, you can’t go for an interview at another school – so she offered me a job right on the spot. Next morning I received a contract at 8am and here I am now in my Grade 5 & 6 classroom at Glenbrook”.
In terms of getting prepared for the new school year, Paige was in regular contact with her Vice Principal all summer. Since the school was being painted she had to wait until August 20th to get into her classroom. Originally, there was going to be two grade 5/6 classes with a wall between them so Paige set up one side of the room for herself and her 28 children. But . . . the day before school began the school administration came and explained their vision for an open, team-teaching environment for the two Grade 5/6 classes. So at the last moment Paige had to totally revamp her teaching space but she indicates that it is working very well as “my teacher partner and I complement each other – we are yin and yang”.
Paige admits that her first year teaching experience has been a lot of work but that “our school administration always has my back especially since I did my 4th year placement at Glenbrook. We had already established a relationship of open communication, mutual respect, and trust. Last Friday we had a bit of a curfuful, because we are still trying to build our classroom community and the kids are not yet all nice to each other. Some rude words were written during a team building activity and I called my Vice Principal for help. She was here in an instant and she gave it to them and today was so much more successful because they know that she is my backbone. In terms of school support every Friday we have half days. For the first part of the afternoon we do school wide PD on specific topics. Last week we did Mathletics and the week before that we had a session on Self-Regulation. We do these sessions for a about an hour and a half and then we meet in our grade teams. There are five of us in the Grade 5/6 team. I can reach out anywhere in this school and get support when I need it and hey, I was just elected to be our school’s Alberta Teacher Association (ATA) representative, and I’m excited about giving back to my school in this role”.
c) First Year Teaching Goals
My ultimate goal for this year is to become a confident and competent teacher. I want to look back at my students’ growth at the end of the year and be proud of the strides they've made. One of my largest areas for growth exists in assessment, but I am hopeful that with timely, and proper documentation, I will be able to provide constructive feedback and fair assessment to my students.
d) Anticipated First Year Teaching Challenges
The largest challenge that awaits me in this teaching position is the team teaching aspect. I have been paired with a teacher much different from myself. We share a large space with 60 students. I feel this will be a difficult adjustment, but I am hopeful that with careful and thoughtful planning, we will be able to work it out so that our skills complement one another and enhance the student's learning experience.
e) MRU B.Ed. Preparation for First Year Teaching
Looking back on her time at MRU, Paige stresses that she “would never chose another institution or program for my B.Ed. degree. The best thing about my degree was the small class sizes and getting to know my professors so well and the support that went along with that such as getting an email when I did not hand in an assignment. In other universities you are just a number not a real person. The conversations are definitely deeper and more meaningful in a small class”.
“And, the friends I made in my Education classes are my friends for life – we bonded, we needed each other. Practicum is really tough and on those days when nothing works for you – you can always reach out to the other MRU students at your practicum school. Even if they are not your best friends they will still always support you – to eat lunch with you, to bounce ideas around together. When the CBE interviews came around one of the other MRU students at Glenbrook was so nervous about her interview that we sat for an hour and half after school one day and had a mock interview with her”.
f) Recommendations to Improve the MRU B.Ed. Program
Paige did indicate that she had a few recommendations for improving the MRU B.Ed. program. “I had a really amazing special needs course at MRU but I think the focus on inclusive education to emphasized more in the MRU B.Ed. program – not just one course. The idea of diversity and differentiated instruction needs to be an overarching theme throughout the entire program. The students I have in my class now are diverse like in any other CBE class. I have 12 students with Individual Program Plans (IPPs), another 3 that are currently being assessed, and others that are never going to be coded yet still have special needs because of their home lives – they don’t have positive role models. I mean we talked about that in our other classes but not to the extent that we should have and this needs to begin in first year by doing a case study on a child. Choosing a student in a class that obviously stands out for a behavior reason or some sort of other challenge and then doing a case study on them, reading through their cumulative files and then writing an IPP. This is not something I learned while at MRU. You also need to learn how to set goals for students with special needs and then be able to work with parents on how their children can achieve those goals. I would also recommend that all students in the MRU B.Ed. program receive the Hull Service Therapeutic Crisis Intervention training and certificate as I think this will be very valuable in their future teaching practice.
g) Advice to First Year Students
Finally, in terms of advice for 1st year students in the B.Ed. program Paige would like to emphasize that “teaching is a very difficult profession and that when you are teaching not to give up because it is very easy to say this isn’t for me in your practicums or as a first year teacher. Don’t give up if teaching is your dream and always ask for help. Never close your classroom door – network, network, and network. Developing your professional learning network in the MRU B.Ed. program will be the key to your success as a first year teacher – make sure somebody has your back – it’s who you know who will help you get you your first job”.