Be brave, be kind, but be true! The children know, they really do!

Dear Teachers
When thinking about what to celebrate about a child in your class – if they are going to receive a certificate at a year end ceremony if the citation seems kinder than necessary then it’s probably just right! I have worked with thousands of children in my life and none of them are going home everyday to a perfect home, where they are affirmed for being amazing every second of the day! 

Our children live with loss, disappointment, fear, grief, anger, the knowledge that crime is real and can and does affect their families and communities. They live with the loss of loved ones through slow, painful illnesses. They live with the struggle of not knowing how to be be a good friend or having someone not being a good friend to them. Some of our children struggle with reading, being organized, with sharing their thoughts on paper or memorizing the facts for a test. Some really struggle to sit quietly in class for one minute some struggle to sit quietly for anything longer than one minute. They know and feel their shortcomings, sometimes it’s loud and clear like the clanging of two symbols when their inadequacies are laid bare and other times it’s a slow beating of a drum….so dear teachers write a citation on their certificate that is true….that resonates with their souls, that can be smiled at from deep within – Please. To those of you who get this right thank you. For those of you who are learning…. Thank you for trying. 
Ps. Children know when adults are lying or being insincere- I believe that they have known this since the beginning of time- so give them the benefit of the doubt- be brave – be kind-but be true.ūüíõ

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Read your child’s report like it is the beginning of the story…

Read your child’s report as if it is the beginning of the story…If you were to give yourself a report on your parenting for this quarter or semester, what would you write about yourself? If your child had to write a report about you or their teacher, what would they write?

Teachers and schools are required by law to provide the children with a written report. It in and of itself is not the absolute indicator of what your child is or is not capable of. When your child was born you did not expect to receive a manual, use that same common sense when reading their report. Their report is not a complete rendering of their life here on earth. Put it in perspective.

Please don’t read the criteria as absolutes. A ‘no’ on a report is not necessarily bad. For example, if your child is social/likes company and people then if it says they find it hard to sit quietly at their table- that is a statement of fact- it’s true of their character- it’s not negative! They genuinely like to chat and enjoy being with people.

If your child is not able to take turns again this is not negative, just an indicator of something you can work on- play a game at dinner which involves waiting for one person to finish speaking/eating/telling a joke before the next person eats/speaks or tells their joke. In the car- set up a roster between the siblings which determines who gets a window seat or gets to get into the car first ( this may help with getting to school on time) or who baths first every night, sets the table, loads or unloads the dishwasher- that’s turn taking!

If your child struggles with aspects of language please make an appointment with the teacher to determine which part exactly! Too often a global mark makes you think your child struggles with English/Afrikaans/Xhosa… That would be like giving yourself a mark for being married or dating – which part is difficult and which part is easy….which part is a challenge and which part is a breeze? For example, which part of the language is a struggle- is it preparing for orals and presenting ideas out loud in front of a group, reading aloud, recognizing words or making meaning, grammar,comprehensions, writing, spelling or phonics. Be specific about the details. Celebrate the parts that come easily or your child copes with well, and take it as an opportunity to learn the aspects that present a challenge.

Read your child’s report differently this term than the terms before. It is one measure of how your child is doing as a human being. It may or may not be a reflection of you- depending on your level of neuroses. It is an opportunity to ask questions and recognize your child’s characteristics as a human being!

Most importantly don’t forget to look for the most important characteristics or values you want your child to learn: opportunities they should have everyday in their schools to practice acts of love, kindness, tolerance, collaboration, empathy, creativity, critical thinking, compassion and courage…if it’s not reflected in your child’s report that is okay as long as they KNOW these are the values and characteristics we need in the newest human beings on the planet.image

Read your child’s report like it is the beginning of a story- not the end! And if it’s the end let it be the beginning of a beautiful sequel, trilogy or series!

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The curriculum is just a guide…

The curriculum is just a guide…children go to school to learn far more than the curriculum….

Children come to school to experience …
Joy

Disappointment
Excitement

Boredom

Noise

Silence

Togetherness

Aloneness

Quiet

Solitude

Compassion

Empathy

Kindness

They come to school to…

Learn how to live

Share
Play

Talk

Negotiate

Capitulate

Laugh

Share birthday joy

Share losing a pet grief

Share parents getting divorced sadness

Learn

Teach

Sing

Dance

Twirl

Make art

Find their voice

Lose their voice

Learn rules

Obey authority

Question authority

Take turns

Forget to take turns

Be frustrated

Be accepted

Be Included

Be Excluded

Meet new, interesting people who are different to them

Meet the same people, who are just like them

Learn how to think critically, creatively and philosophically

Learn to think a lot sometimes and just a little at other times

Practice having their point of view heard

Be understood and disagreed with

Have fun

Be anxious about tests and orals and learn about their anxiety, and mostly be supported to overcome their anxiety

Play games: imaginary games, games yet to be invented and games from years ago

Make rules

Break rules

Watch Popular culture explosions rise and fade away

Navigate their families’ values and find them matched or mismatched with the schools value system

See how the world works when it is fair and just or unfair and unjust

Hear languages that they are familiar and unfamiliar with and they get to see that all languages are precious and meaningful, to their friends and themselves.

Children do not primarily go to school learn the content of the curriculum. The curriculum is secondary, it is a guide- it is meant to maintain standards and to measure big groups. It is just                  a small part of what your children come to school to learn, to do, to be!

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A plea to all schools…open your hearts and then your doors will open – Inclusion is love!

  Once a week at least, I meet with or get an email, or a phone call from a parent- a mother or a father…asking to meet or for a telephonic consultation… And we meet and chat about the possibility of their child with usually quite complex special needs, coming to our school. Because of the sheer number of requests we get we are often as disappointed as the parents that sometimes we cannot accommodate their child at Pinelands North. What I find interesting however, is that as frustrating as these meetings can be there is still a sense of hope for the parents as they walk through the passages of a simple, public school where children with special needs ARE INCLUDED. They need to see what is possible. They need to see a place that has said yes, we will try!
More and more it is becoming apparent that other schools MUST start opening their hearts…then they will open their doors! We don’t need beacons of hope or centres of excellence dotted about….we need waves and waves of schools willing to try, galaxies of great places and spaces where children can learn together.
There are many factors that allow for this sad situation to continue in other schools, this is not a definitive list but these are some of the reasons I have had parents tell me, or even other teachers tell me to explain why inclusion just does not seem possible. I will just list them as the explanations make me angry… Because all we are doing is explaining ways to exclude instead of looking for ways to include.
Lack of leadership
Lack of will

No

Conservative thinking

Discriminatory thinking

Prejudice

Bias

Ignorance

Our premises are not suitable

Standardized test scores

Maintaining the status quo

It is too much work

Curriculum based approach

Being strangled by tradition 

Inflexibility

Fear

I am appealing to you, if you work at a school, if you have a friend in education, if you are married to a principal or in love with someone who works with children….please start the conversation, ask them to investigate the possibility of trying something new and changing one child’s life at a time. It is vital that every child is given the opportunity to be the best person they can be, and if that means we are pushed out of our comfort zones, and are shaken to the core about our beliefs about what education is, then we must do so and now!
The Igbo and Yoruba proverb says, It takes a village to raise a child….I think it takes a child to show us how to raise a village!!!!!! 

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Do you have a question about inclusion?

Do something! Stop waiting and contending with what is.  Make a plan. Ask a question. Attend a workshop. Present a workshop. Ask some questions. Learn more. Question assumptions. Don’t accept the status quo. Ask even more questions.Try something new. Have a trial run.

  
Yes, children with special needs can be included at mainstream schools, we will never know what level of support every child needs until we try. It is not good enough to say no we have never done that, that reason may be the best reason to try.
At our workshop on Inclusion today *we asked the participants… “Do you have a question about inclusion?” If you have a question it means you care enough to want to find out more! Do you have a question about inclusion? Ask me, ask your friend with special needs what they would have needed at school, ask your family member with a child with special needs what works and what doesn’t? 

Remember we don’t ask questions just to get answers…we ask questions to start a conversation,to challenge and be challenged, to find out more about what we don’t know and to question the assumptions about what we think we know!

*Michele de Lange and I are running a five week course, for two hours every Thursday on Inclusion for Naptosa (National Professional Teachers’ Association of South Africa)

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Some lessons learned about inclusion from a road trip through South Africa

We recently went on a road trip through South Africa which allowed me many different spaces and places to introspect and reflect on inclusion.

Cathedral Peak in the distance

Cathedral Peak in the distance

We met such incredible people along the way and it was wonderful to chat to them even for brief moments (I do like to chat, but more than that I am actually interested in connecting with other people who cross my path). So we are back from our road trip- Cape Town- Karoo National Park- Bloemfontein- Cathedral Peak in the Giants Castle Nature Reserve in the Northern Drakensberg Mountain Range of Kwazulu Natal РHluhluwe and Ubombo- Durban- Bloemfontein РNieu Bethesda РGraaff Reniet and back home to Cape Town. Our children returning we believe, with more of a perspective about South Africa- geographically, socio-economically, racially and also about the privilege they live with because they live in a big city and have access to so many things!

I am grateful to Brandan who drove every single safe, km… All 3800 of them, don’t judge this as a sexist, patriarchal arrangement! Someone had to do the navigation, check on the snacks,keep the kids entertained or remind¬†Brandan of his turn in the current game we were playing. As well as knitting, ¬†reading and we had decided beforehand that that person would be me! We spent a lot of time together as a family and I enjoyed this tremendously-an opportunity to spend time with our two precious gifts- our children Kai and Ella, when I spend most of my working life with other people’s precious gifts! It was joy-filled to spend so much time with the love of my life-Brandan, practising being patient and kind- it’s a road trip it would have been be painful any other way! Kai and Ella were very accommodating of the changing landscapes and the different provinces, cities and beds we slept in every couple of nights. When they developed laughing and giggling fitsimage¬†(at times which were just inconvenient for us as adults) usually just as were we were finding our accommodation, listening carefully to directions or on long swathes of road with not too much to see outside except the exceptional landscape perfectly suited for a silent retreat….. we were reminded that laughing uncontrollably should be an essential part of sibling life and life in general for children- we really paused to think and question why we were asking out giggling children to stop!

This was an amazing holiday- we took our children to the place of my birth high atop a mountain in the north east corner of rural KZN, to Bethesda Hospital. It started as a mission hospital built by the Methodist church and now is a provincial hospital in KZN serving a very large community!

Walking down one of the original passages of Bethesda hospital.

Walking down one of the original passages of Bethesda hospital.

We inserted a mini reunion with my parents and sister, her husband and their children for the weekend in Durban and they had the happiest day ever with their cousins at USHAKA marine world in Durban and fitted in some swimming in the Indian Ocean during July ‚Äď wonderful!

One of the highlights was our last night in Hluhluwe, KZN playing a game called… how would you describe (insert name of person)? You choose a family member and all the other players describe how they would describe the person and then you choose the next person. I would suggest you play the game on short drives and long ones and as often as possible- because everyday we reveal more of who we are to the people around us! As we drove to Moses Mahbida stadium with my parents shortly after arriving in Durban, Ella suggested we play the game in the car and it was so affirming for everyone! In terms of intergenerational relationships, hearing Ella hear my parents affirm me and affirm each other and then she was beaming when we were affirming her! Games like these, which make us think about each other and our characters, can help us round the edges off our neuroses and expand the reasons for being more creative/generous/loving/ joyful!!!!

Preparing for this trip I looked up some games and ideas to make the long car journeys interesting. We generally drove about 500-600km when we were moving from place to place and one activity I did not think of was one our daughter decided upon and this is a really good idea- and it certainly kept her entertained. In terms of temperament, she is more of a social being than her brother, he loves people too but is much more comfortable in silence, like his dad. Ella on the other hand is more like me and enjoys and feels quite energized with long interactions with people. So we started a dialogue journal, well Ella did, she would write me a note on my iPhone and insert a picture and would include a question, which meant I had to reply. It was a very enjoyable way to fill some of the hours that took longer than others. If your child is not as comfortable writing, you could do voice notes to each other and send those back  and forth. See examples of some of our notes.imageimage

A final thank you to the people we met on our travels…some we knew well, some we met and some we will never know!

On our last night away, in the freezing -1 degree, town of Graaff Reniet, our holiday serendipitously collided with the last night of our special friends, the Tooke family’s holiday. Ella and Matt Tooke are in the same Grade 2 class at Pinelands North. Matt has Rubenstein-Taybi syndrome and because of his parents bravery and advocacy (but not solely based on this) and because our school is an Inclusive school, this has ensured that Ella and Matt, are classmates and friends. This may not have been possible just a couple of years ago in South Africa.

Ella and MattElla and Matt

Matt is one of the most amazing people I have met and I see him a lot- everyday at school, besides our social interactions as two families. At school I see Matt walking down the passages, lining up for computers, reading with his facilitator Lisa, presenting drama’s with his friends, signing to his teacher while sitting on the carpet with the rest of his class, playing with his friends at break, using the app his mom has placed on his iPad based on the concept is he is covering in class. He is currently showing other teachers what is possible when we include those who have every right to belong! Matt is paving a new path for many other children and this makes me incredibly proud to know him and his family. This is the link to Matt’s blog http://www.matthewtooke.blogspot.com

I also have a new awe, awareness and respect for the many,many truck drivers we passed on our travels. I believe that many of them play a big role on our roads as they silently care/ guide/ show Ubuntu through the use of their hazards, moving over to the side, acknowledging your presence on the road and making the journey safer than it would be otherwise. I think they have a very tough job and want to salute those who made this experience what it was.

To the kind attendant at the garage outside Hluhluwe who came running out with the Mail and Guardian I left at the counter! To the family friend we literally bumped into at Cathedral Peak, the son of one of my mother’s most cherished friends, (who sadly passed away this year) who had actually visited my family at our home in Ubombo where I had lived from 1977-1980 and could share his experiences of their family holiday at the place of my birth. To the enthusiastic/passionate attendant at the iphonography¬† stand at Gateway Mall in Umhlanga who shared with us his dream for graffiti to be recognized as an art form. We got talking because he was standing in front of Brandan’s 2014¬†iphonography submission … a photograph¬†called “fish” which Brandan took while standing in line at our local Fish and Chip Shop back in Cape Town. He has since given the block mounted photo to the owner of the store where it now hangs on the walls. There is kindness in the world, in South Africa…Inclusion is Love!

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Inclusion is Life!

Inclusion is difficult, uncertain, noisy, argumentative and justice seeking!

Inclusion questions and answers and then asks more questions.

Inclusion embraces uncertainty and ambiguity, sees all the colours not just black and white.

Inclusion can be frustrated, irritated, excluded and lost.

It can also be found, understood, included and at peace.

Inclusion asks why and why not? Who and who else? When and whenever? Where and wherever? How and how not?

Inclusion is quiet and loud, talkative and silent, a listener and contributor.

Inclusion is life!

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